philosophy, theology

Stephen Law, his evil god, and radical skepticism

My contention is that Stephen Law’s epistemological approach to his “evil god challenge” to Christianity entails radical skepticism. Because his challenge entails radical skepticism, Law has forced his cohorts to choose between the seeming irrationality of that position or a denial of the power of the “evil God challenge.”

Entailment of Skepticism

Stephen Law’s “evil God challenge” presents the following:

Suppose the universe has a creator. Suppose also that this being is omnipotent and omniscient. But suppose he is not maximally good. Rather, imagine that he is maximally evil. His depravity is without limit. His cruelty knows no bounds. There is no other god or gods – just this supremely wicked being. Call this the evil-god hypothesis. (Law, “The Evil God Challenge,” 4, cited below)

Now, the point of this challenge is:

the challenge of explaining why the good-god hypothesis should be considered significantly
more reasonable than the evil-god hypothesis.

Law argues in his paper that any theodicy used for the “good god” can be equally used for the “evil god.” Therefore, the theist has yet to show why one should favor the good god over the evil god, and so cannot rationally hold to belief in the good god over the evil god.

Law’s primary support for this supposition is his symmetry thesis:

I shall call the suggestion that, in terms of reasonableness, there is indeed such a rough symmetry between the good-god and evil-god hypotheses, the symmetry thesis.

Nowhere does Law explain what “rough symmetry” means or how balanced the evidence really is between the good god and evil god. Rather, he just uses the phrase “rough symmetry” and argues as though this is enough to discredit the good god hypothesis.

Now notice that the very heart of Law’s argument is something similar to this:

1) If one has no reason to believe that hypothesis a is “significantly more reasonable” than hypothesis b, one cannot rationally hold a over b

It is exactly at this point that Law’s entire epistemology must collapse into radical skepticism. Why? Simply because I can construct parallel but contradictory accounts for nearly any object of knowledge that is not a necessary truth. Just because Law is able to [unsuccessfully, in my opinion] construct a “parallel” system of explanation to that of the ‘good god’ hypothesis does not mean that his parallel is on the same level or even a challenge to that hypothesis.

To see why constructing parallel explanation of reality does not somehow undermine reality, consider two scenarios I constructed to outline this exact point.

The 5 minutes ago challenge

Scenario 1: Our universe was created 5 minutes ago with all our memories and experiences implanted into us.

Those who are familiar with epistemology and philosophy of mind will recognize this as a very pervasive scenario throughout the literature. But how does one go about solving a problem like this? Consider a defense of what seems to be everyday experience.

a) it does not seem to me as though the universe was created 5 minutes ago. I have vivid memories of ten years ago and can interact with others about some of those memories.

The problem with a), of course, is that it exactly lines up with the notion that the universe was created 5 minutes ago with our memories and experiences implanted inside our heads.

Unless I’m very much mistaken, I think I could construct a similarly parallel account for any possible defense of experience of more than 5 minutes ago.

Therefore, I conclude with Law that because the “5 minutes ago” hypothesis is has “rough symmetry” with the hypothesis that our universe is 16 billion years old and the like, it is unreasonable to embrace either proposition. After all, the 5 minutes ago thesis seems extremely improbable, and it is roughly symmetric to the ‘everyday experience’ hypothesis. Law’s symmetry principle applies and undermines all of our experience.

The Cartesian Demon Hypothesis

Scenario 2: A Cartesian Demon (again, those familiar with philosophical literature will likely recognize this one) has us all under some kind of magic Matrix-like spell where we live our whole lives in our minds even though in reality our bodies are being tortured. The demon delights in our blissful ignorance of the horrible state of our souls and so he continues to implant memories as our lives continue on.

Again, I can’t think of any defense of everyday experience I can’t parallel. Therefore, we should not believe that our everyday experience is correct, according to Law.

I could continue with examples. The problem of other minds is another that immediately jumps out: how do we know there are actually minds in those walking people we see around us. They could just as easily be [philosophical, not pop-fiction] zombies walking around mechanically acting as though they have minds inside them. Again, parallels=>skepticism about whether other minds exist.

Ultimately, Law’s “symmetry thesis” leads us into radical skepticism and even solipsism. That seems to me enough to reject it.

Challenge to Christianity?

So how exactly does Law’s evil god challenge present any difficulties for Christianity? Honestly, I’m not sure. Unless one is convinced of the solipsistic scenarios outlined above, one should not be convinced of Law’s evil god challenge. His symmetry thesis is the only way he can press this challenge, and that same thesis undermines all knowledge of experience and induction. It doesn’t seem like much of a challenge to me.

Law’s Odd Conclusion and My Conclusion all at once

Law’s conclusion states that:

The problem facing defenders of classical monotheism is this: until they can provide good grounds for supposing the symmetry thesis is false,
they lack good grounds for supposing that the good-god hypothesis is any more reasonable than the evil-god hypothesis – the latter hypothesis being something that surely even they will admit is very unreasonable indeed.

Now, one again must see exactly where this is leading. Suppose, as a theist, I find the evidence for the existence of a god to be very convincing. Suppose further that I find the theodicies Law parodies to be sound. Suppose that I think that Law’s evil god hypothesis meets these theodicies equally. Now, according to Law, I am in the state of “symmetry”; I have no reason to prefer the good god over the evil. Law maintains that this means not just that I can’t rationally hold to either, but rather that because the evil god hypothesis is “very unreasonable indeed” I should also reject the good god.

But of course the theist we are supposing to exist believes that the good good hypothesis is extraordinarily reasonable. And because Law’s thesis works, according to them, following Law, they have no reason to believe the evil god is any less probable than the good god. Thus, according to this theist, the evil god hypothesis is not improbable but rather extraordinarily probable.

What Law has done is pretty simple. He’s argued that the good and evil gods must be on the same level of rationality. Because he (apparently) and others reject the evil god out-of-hand, he argues that they are on equal footing and so one should reject the good god. But again, what if the theist agrees that these hypotheses must be on equal footing and that it’s not that both are improbable but rather that both are extraordinarily probable?

All Law has said in response to such a person is that the evil god is “very unreasonable indeed” but why? Law has just spent over 20 pages arguing that the evil god is actually reasonable. Suddenly, the evil god is worthy of rejecting a priori? How does that work out? Law hasn’t done anything to dissuade the convinced believer. The only way his argument works is if one thinks that the good god hypothesis is barely rational. If one follows his conclusion and thinks god’s existence is very likely, then they must follow it all the way through: the evil god’s existence is very likely too. Law just imports this unreasonableness from his own a priori denial of the existence of God.

So what, at this point, does the believer do? Well, it seems we’re back to my first point. One can either believe the symmetry thesis and thus devolve into radical skepticism, or one can reject it and thus throw Law’s argument out the window where it belongs.

Finally, it’s worth noting that there are other reasons to reject the “evil god challenge.” First, it doesn’t take into account the whole range of theistic argument. For example, the ontological argument is based upon the notion of God as maximally great. Law would have to argue that an evil being could be maximally great. Good luck.

Links

William Lane Craig and Stephen Law debated some time back. I wrote a review summarizing and analyzing the arguments.

Glenn Andrew Peoples presents Law with a formidable challenge on the Unbelievable? Podcast. 

Edward Feser weighs in on the evil God challenge.

Glenn Andrew Peoples’ podcast on the evil God challenge is phenomenal.

Max Andrews weighs in, arguing that even though Law’s argument is much like the Cartesian demon, we should take it seriously.

Luke Nix at Faithful Thinker comments on the same argument from a different angle.

Source:

[Cited as directed here:] STEPHEN LAW The evil god challenge. Religious Studies, Available on CJO doi:10.1017/S0034412509990369

SDG.

——

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About J.W. Wartick

J.W. Wartick has an MA in Christian Apologetics from Biola University. His interests include theology, philosophy of religion--particularly the existence of God--astronomy, biology, archaeology, and sci-fi and fantasy novels.

Discussion

73 thoughts on “Stephen Law, his evil god, and radical skepticism

  1. Outstanding post, and the first 3 parapgraphs of the last 5 are especially powerful. I think this is one of the most clear and sufficent rebuttals to this I’ve seen, and you dissect exactly where his logic breaks down in his attempt at an imperative. Excellent job.

    Regarding the 4th of the last 5, I say that the solution is the *hope* in an maximally good (and optimally good-causing) God. On reason and observation alone, I don’t think we can get there (I’m an opponent of the Ontological Argument).

    Posted by Stan | August 27, 2012, 3:05 PM
    • Thanks for your very kind words. Since you oppose the ontological argument I think that may be one of the only ways to go about answering the radical skepticism apart from rejecting his symmetry thesis. But what of the moral argument? I don’t see any way for the evil god challenge to stand up if the moral argument is successful.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | August 27, 2012, 5:07 PM
      • I do not think the moral argument is successful!

        I don’t believe in objective morality, that is, morality divorced at its foundation from dependence on valuing subjects. Fans of objective morality need something non-subjective down there, and decide to treat God as a kind of “morality spirit” (rather than just another valuing subject who happens to be omniscient and omnipotent) in order to fill that slot and create a referential dead-end.

        Which is fine, a person is free to do that. But when that person THEN turns around and says, “And since we all agree that there must be a referential dead-end because objective morality is true, what can qualify other than God?,” then the question-begging is fully underway. :)

        Posted by Stan | August 27, 2012, 5:39 PM
      • Stan, you are one tough guy to pin down. Needless to say I do not think your objection to the moral argument is successful, but regardless, I think Law’s argument fails utterly. Basically he’s saying “I think the evil god is really unlikely and the good god is just as unlikely. So should you, because I make an argument that shows they are similar in likelihood.”

        Posted by J.W. Wartick | August 28, 2012, 11:08 PM
      • We’re agreed on that!

        Posted by Stan | August 29, 2012, 1:02 AM
  2. “The problem with a), of course, is that it exactly lines up with the notion that the universe was created 5 minutes ago with our memories and experiences implanted inside our heads.”

    The problem with this claim is that it is clearly false.

    Last Thursdayism is in no way symmetrical with its denial because it invokes a flagrant parsimony violation. It asserts a fundamental ontological distinction between two temporal sets of events — requiring extra bits in the description string — which performs no observational work in the model.

    Posted by Staircaseghost | August 29, 2012, 9:54 AM
    • This begs the question. The notion of parsimony in our universe could just as easily have been part of the experience implanted in our heads. Sure, parsimony may “do work” in a pragmatic sense, but how do you know it is actually an objective facet of reality, particularly when we know that it isn’t. Parsimony is a principle of research, not an ontological reality.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | August 29, 2012, 10:03 AM
      • One issue at a time.

        The issue here is your claim that Last Thursdayism has “rough epistemic symmetry” with its denial. I pointed out that it clearly does not.

        Try it and see. Try to think of a way to uncompress the string of observations from a model string which contains the information “popped into existence 5 minutes ago” which is shorter than any comparable model string which does not.

        Model building may be a subjective exercise, but comparing string lengths (i.e. parsimony costs) is as objective an exercise as there is. An exercise Last Thursdayism fails, objectively. Therefore, the hypotheses are anything but symmetric. Therefore, this objection fails.

        Posted by Staircaseghost | August 29, 2012, 1:19 PM
      • Again, all you’ve done is beg the question. Furthermore, your notion of parsimony is clearly weighted towards denying “Last Thursdayism.” For one could argue it is in fact much more parsimonious to adhere to “Last Thursdayism” for, after all, the events, beings, etc. which occurred “before” last Thursday did not in fact happen. Thus, an untold number of past entities are parsimoniously cut away.

        Posted by J.W. Wartick | August 29, 2012, 1:39 PM
  3. I would love to have you as my lawyer if I ever get pulled over for a traffic violation. “Your honor, they say my client was speeding, but the sign that said ‘School Zone: 15mph’ was clearly weighted towards preventing people from going 65!”

    It is not “my notion” of parsimony. It is the formal information-theoretic definition used for half a century.

    You can argue that LT-ism is more parsimonious, but you’d be wrong. Remember, it is the more parsimonious account that successfully compresses all the observational data. If you don’t understand what the bolded phrase means, please ask. Under LT-ism, all memories prior to the ontological warping point remain uncompressable, and need to be added to the model string as nonfitting data, making it vastly longer than the model where presently-operating dynamic laws + initial conditions entail the observations.

    Posted by Staircaseghost | August 29, 2012, 2:53 PM
    • Staircaseghost, why are the initial conditions mentioned at the end, ostensibly conditions from a time billions of years ago, necessarily “simpler” than initial conditions being “the universe last Thursday”?

      Forgive me for using layman’s terms.

      Posted by Stan | August 29, 2012, 5:09 PM
      • This is exactly the point I’m trying to make. I don’t see how

        A) The universe is 16 billion years old with x number of beings and events which must be explained over the course of that time.

        is simpler than

        B) The universe is 5 minutes old with x-y number of beings and events which must be explained.

        I think that intrinsically, the reply is question begging: let’s just assume that everyday experience is correct, and therefore it is the most parsimonioius.

        Posted by J.W. Wartick | August 29, 2012, 5:12 PM
      • Initial conditions here does not refer to the origin of the universe. It refers to the state of any system at time T when you are trying to derive what the state of that system will be at time T+1. For example, take the time a few years ago when I had just let go of my cell phone, unaware that I had missed my pocket. From these [initial conditions + laws of physics] we can predict i.e. derive, formally, my phone shattering on the ground at T+1. Which it did. So we can reconstruct my observation that it indeed fell and broke without having to include the observation “it fell and broke” in my model. The total number of bits of information needed to describe the world is therefore compressed i.e. more parsimonious than a description “this observation then that observation then this observation then that observation….”

        It may help to think of it this way. Take the dataset {2,4,6,8,10,12,14,16,18,20,22,24,??,28,30,32}. That took a while to type out. The most parsimonious compression of this dataset is “y=2x”. See how that’s simpler? Instead of carrying around that big long cumbersome string of data, all you need to do is keep “y=2x” and then plug in whatever value of X you’re looking for. See how, intuitively, the most parsimonious answer for what the “??” entry might be is “26″? This is how induction works, on a fundamental level. It generates predictions based on the most reduced description. It’s how NASA was able to predict how a certain object travelling at a certain speed through a certain atmosphere would behave, and therefore to land a robot on Mars, even though we had never observed that specific object at that specific time.

        Any proposed model for my observed experiences must be able to recover all of my experiences, either as a consequence of [initial conditions + dynamic laws] or as nonfitting data (nonfitting data meaning data I have to write out as “this was observed, then that was observed etc.” because I don’t know how to compress it.) Curiously enough, the parsimonious dynamic laws governing the way dropped objects behave in the last 5 minutes of my experience are exactly the same as those governing the state-transformations a few years ago when I dropped my phone!! So, by holding on to this reduced description, I can reconstruct the data describing my memory of those events.

        The Last Thursdayist says those events did not happen several years ago, because there was no “several years ago”. But the LT-ist is still stuck with adding those memories, which exist now, to my total world-model. Unlike a normal case of mistaken memory — which can in principle be identified and corrected by additional information — the LT thesis adds the description “didn’t actually happen” to the majority of my memories, where the bits encoding the string “didn’t actually happen” have zero observational consequence, even in principle.

        So we have the string

        {all of my observations}

        which I do my best to compress to the shorter string

        {[dynamic laws + initial conditions] + nonfitting data}

        where the LTist wants me to say

        {[dynamic laws + initial conditions] + nonfitting data + an observationally inert claim about data “prior” to a short while ago}

        The third string will always, always, objectively be longer than the second string. Which is exactly the same thing as saying #3 will always entail a parsimony violation against #2. Which is exactly the same thing as saying 2 and 3 are not roughly empistemically equivalent. Which is the same thing as J.W.’s claim in this post being wrong.

        Posted by Staircaseghost | August 29, 2012, 6:23 PM
      • Okay, thank you for the explanation. Here’s where I think it fails:

        The Last Thursdayist says those events did not happen several years ago, because there was no “several years ago”. But the LT-ist is still stuck with adding those memories, which exist now, to my total world-model. Unlike a normal case of mistaken memory — which can in principle be identified and corrected by additional information — the LT thesis adds the description “didn’t actually happen” to the majority of my memories, where the bits encoding the string “didn’t actually happen” have zero observational consequence, even in principle.

        Let me put it simply: which is more ontologically parsimonious? The existence of untold numbers (x) of objects throughout all time, or the existence of only those objects from 5 days ago? I think the answer is obviously the latter. You have been trying to use parsimony objectively to cut across all possible worlds, but have failed to take into account the ontological status of possible worlds. The possible world of the ’5 days ago’ thesis is very much more ontologically parsimonious in terms of the sheer number of actually existent objects and events than any other data set.

        Your response has been to observe only one facet of the argument and deny that the data can be compressed. Are you suggesting that parsimony is reducible to only that fact? It seems that it is not. By setting aside the ontological parsimony I have been pressing and focusing on compression of data, you can make your case (maybe), but to do so is to ignore the broad spectrum of uses of parsimony. So I could easily concede that perhaps my thesis is less data-compressible, but it is still far more ontologically parsimonious. To deny that is mathematical falsehood.

        Posted by J.W. Wartick | August 30, 2012, 10:52 AM
      • Staircaseghost, thanks a lot for taking the time to explain. Do you reject only J.W.’s 5-minutes-ago analogy, or do you reject the thesis of the post entirely?

        Posted by Stan | August 29, 2012, 7:33 PM
      • “Let me put it simply: which is more ontologically parsimonious? The existence of untold numbers (x) of objects throughout all time, or the existence of only those objects from 5 days ago?”
        “Ontologically parsimonious” is a solecism. Read the article on MML again. Parsimony is about the fit of models to data, not data to objects. It is more parsimonious to believe that 40 raised that 10 ton stone monolith than that 1 person did it — persons with the ability to lift 10-ton rocks being unknown in our world model, but persons acting in groups being a commonplace.
        Models to data. Descriptions to experience.
        Not a lot of people outside a few specialist communities ever really stop to consider what parsimony is or how it works, which is surprising given that it is the absolute bedrock principle of inductive reasoning used by every person every minute of every day. They certainly don’t teach it in the apologetics literature, and that’s a disservice.
        I have no idea what possible worlds has to do with anything, or what point you are trying to make by bringing them up.
        “Your response has been to observe only one facet of the argument and deny that the data can be compressed. Are you suggesting that parsimony is reducible to only that fact?”
        Not suggesting. Telling. Demonstrating, with citation. If you have an issue with that definition, take it up with the last 50 years of mathematics.
        Do you now agree that according to this widely-agreed-upon definition, there is a dramatic epistemic asymmetry between the two theses, and therefore this specific objection to Law’s argument fails?

        Posted by Staircaseghost | August 30, 2012, 7:40 PM
      • Here’s the problem with a definition war: you can always find dissenting defintions.

        You wrote, “Not suggesting. Telling. Demonstrating, with citation. If you have an issue with that definition, take it up with the last 50 years of mathematics.”

        Interesting, because when I look up the definition of Ockham’s Razor in the Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, I find it telling me that it’s:

        a methodological principle commending a bias toward simplicity in the construction of theories. The parameters whose simplicity is singled out for attention have varied considerably, from kinds of entities to the number of presupposed axioms to the nature of the curve drawn between data points.

        Suddenly, Parsimony doesn’t look as cut and dried as you claim it is.

        But wait, when I look it up on the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

        Before looking at approaches to answering the epistemic justification question, mention should be made of two positions in the literature which do not fall squarely into either the pragmatic or epistemic camp [regarding the nature of ontological parsimony]. The first position, associated primarily with Quine, argues that parsimony carries with it pragmatic advantages and that pragmatic considerations themselves provide rational grounds for discriminating between competing theories (Quine 1966, Walsh 1979). The Quinean position bases an answer to the second question on the answer to the first, thus blurring the boundary between pragmatic and epistemic justification. The second position, due to Sober, rejects the implicit assumption in both the above questions that some global justification of parsimony can be found (Sober 1988, 1994). Instead Sober argues that appeals to parsimony always depend on local background assumptions for their rational justification.

        And then it continues to outline a further debate. The rest of the article brings up any number of differing interpretations of parsimony and its ontological implications.

        Is it possible that you just picked a source you agreed with to try to argue your way out of Law’s radical skepticism? Yes, it is possible. But perhaps you were just unaware of the debate. That’s possible too.

        Now that you’re aware that parsimony is not reducible to only compression of data, perhaps you can see why I find your objection weak. All you’ve done is restrict yourself to one interpretation of Parsimony, claim that is the only possible one and that it is unanimous in the literature, and then use that to try to get around my argument. Yet, I have just demonstrated that it is not unanimous. There is a great deal of debate about what parsimony means and what it means for ontology, again despite the fact that you seem blissfully unaware of the notion that parsimony is indeed used to exclude modal possibilities.

        So no, I am not convinced. At all. Your idiosyncratic usage of parsimony may allow you to dismiss my argument, but you haven’t presented an argument for your position, and you’ve betrayed your lack of concern for the actual debate about the notion in philosophy.

        Posted by J.W. Wartick | August 31, 2012, 12:05 AM
      • “Now that you’re aware that parsimony is not reducible to only compression of data, perhaps you can see why I find your objection weak. All you’ve done is restrict yourself to one interpretation of Parsimony, claim that is the only possible one and that it is unanimous in the literature, and then use that to try to get around my argument.

        The thing about symmetry (the thesis we are discussing, remember?) is that it only takes one asymmetry to destroy. Your face is asymmetrical if there is even one sense in which the features on the left do not appear on the right. If I point out that you are wearing an eyepatch, it is no argument at all to say “yes, but according to the criterion of having the same number of ears on each side, my one-eyed face is perfectly symmetrical!” So I am quite sure I’m not the one who is desperately definition-shopping here.

        Do you or do you not concede that there is an epistemic asymmetry between LTism and its negation that is not present in Law’s argument?

        ” Your idiosyncratic usage of parsimony may allow you to dismiss my argument, but you haven’t presented an argument for your position, and you’ve betrayed your lack of concern for the actual debate about the notion in philosophy.

        Sigh. Is this really called for?

        “Idiosyncratic”, when I provide links to the technical literature? “Haven’t presented an argument” when it is right there, in black and white, at length and in detail? “Lack of concern for debate” when I’ve gone out of my way to try to decipher barrages of random malapropisms? (“Exclude modal possibilities”? Huh? What other kinds of possibilities are there? etc.)

        Do you or do you not concede that there is an epistemic asymmetry between LTism and its negation that is not present in Law’s argument?

        Posted by Staircaseghost | September 2, 2012, 1:40 PM
      • No, I do not concede that, at all. Law’s argument is based on his symmetry thesis, which is ill-defined. As I quoted from his article:

        I shall call the suggestion that, in terms of reasonableness, there is indeed such a rough symmetry between the good-god and evil-god hypotheses, the symmetry thesis.

        Does he define that? No. You have done your best to try to assign various positions to his argument, but they aren’t there. All he calls for is “rough” symmetry, whatever that means.

        Posted by J.W. Wartick | September 2, 2012, 11:50 PM
      • I’ll recap the discussion. Your primary point has been:

        Last Thursdayism is in no way symmetrical with its denial because it invokes a flagrant parsimony violation. It asserts a fundamental ontological distinction between two temporal sets of events — requiring extra bits in the description string — which performs no observational work in the model.

        Yet, as I’ve pointed out, there is nothing in LT that cannot be explained just as much by it as a hypothesis. Furthermore, your contention is that it is a “flagrant parsimony violation.” Yet how? As I’ve pointed out:

        which is more ontologically parsimonious? The existence of untold numbers (x) of objects throughout all time, or the existence of only those objects from 5 days ago? I think the answer is obviously the latter.

        Note that what I’m charging is that irregardless of which may be easier to “compress” (which seems to me debatable), last thursdayism makes “everydayism” flagrantly violate parsimony as well. After all, the number of ontologically existent events and entities is multiplied beyond all calculation.

        Your response? Here:

        Parsimony is about the fit of models to data, not data to objects.

        Now, you accuse me of definitio mining. All I did was go to two well-respected resources of philosophy to show that this definition is extremely debatable.

        Therefore it seems to me that what we have is this:

        Either data compression or minimizing ontological entities is primary in parsimony.

        Now it seems to me the latter is far more parsimonious. Why? Because, again, there are exponentially fewer objects. All you’ve done is press your definition as the only one. Again, a definition war is all too easy.

        To me, it boils down to the question I asked towards the beginning, which you dismissed without argument:

        “[W]hich is more ontologically parsimonious? The existence of untold numbers (x) of objects throughout all time, or the existence of only those objects from 5 days ago?”

        I still think it is obviously the latter. A definition war won’t convince me otherwise. Which of those do you think is more parsimonious?

        Posted by J.W. Wartick | September 3, 2012, 12:04 AM
    • Let me point out that once again you are using an inductive principle objectively. Parsimony may be pragmatically useful, but to use it to ontologically exclude certain states of affairs is pretty ridiculous, because it is inductive. Please do feel free to explain what you mean by the phrase in bold.

      I’m going to refocus on what Law’s challenge has done, though. What Law says his challenge is based upon is the symmetry thesis. Now, show me how this symmetry thesis could not be equally applied to ‘last thursdayism.’ After all, Law doesn’t require a more parsimonious view: what he requires is, to quote “rough symmetry.” I have presented two scenarios with rough symmetry. Law’s symmetry thesis => radical skepticism.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | August 29, 2012, 5:10 PM
      • Let me put this another way: unless you’re suggesting that parsimony is a necessary truth, then all your objection amounts to is this: “on the assumption that the universe is as we think it is, it is more parsimonious to explain it as such.”

        Posted by J.W. Wartick | August 29, 2012, 5:19 PM
      • The ontological implications here are interesting, but a red herring, since nothing in this discussion turns on them. You asked for an epistemic asymmetry, and I’ve pointed out a whopper of an asymmetry. An in-principle, objective, mathematically definable flaw based on the fundamental process of empirical reasoning itself. LTism and its negation are formally asymmetric in a way that goodgod/evilgod are not — but interestingly enough, in precisely the way that goodgod/nogod are.

        Posted by Staircaseghost | August 29, 2012, 7:34 PM
      • Again, is empirical reasoning objective or contingent? If the latter, last thursdayism wins. If the former, please provide an argument to show that empirical truths are necessary truths.

        Posted by J.W. Wartick | August 30, 2012, 10:53 AM
      • The reason I press this objection is because the Last Thursdayist could reply and continue to modify their scenario a la Law with the evil god challenge and say: “That’s well and good, but the laws of physics/etc. prior to last thursday were different and parsimony did not necessarily observe for compression of data sets. Furthermore, if you respond saying that continues to multiply entities for explanation, I just note that that’s not an actual law of our universe on last thursdayism. All you’ve done by saying that is begged the question against my position.”

        The last thursdayist could appeal to any number of arguments to continue to refine and defend their position. So unless you’re suggesting that the empiricism you’re referencing is a necessary truth (in which case you must show how it is), then as a contingent truth it can’t be used in a non-question-begging fashion to undermine last thursdayism.

        Posted by J.W. Wartick | August 30, 2012, 10:59 AM
  4. I’m truly sorry, I have literally no idea what some of your sentences and phrases mean. Some of them I can’t even parse grammatically. “parsimony did not necessarily observe for compression”? (what?) “Using an inductive principle objectively”? “Ontologically exclude certain states of affairs”? “Suggesting that parsimony is a necessary truth”? “empirical reasoning [is] objective or contingent”? (when did those words become antonyms?) “that’s not an actual law of our universe on last thursdayism” (what is the antecedent of “that”?) “empiricism you’re referencing is a necessary truth” (huh?)

    I’m not trying to be difficult or obtuse here, I genuinely can’t understand what your objections are because I can’t make heads or tails of significant portions of your verbiage.

    My honest, best-attempt, good faith guess at what you are trying to say is that parsimonious induction is not a guarantee of truth. Well, of course. But 1) note that this does not in any way affect the point that there is an asymmetry in your example which is not present in Law’s argument, therefore your objection to him still fails 2) not being a guarantee is not the same thing as being just as good as a random guess.

    Take the dataset {2,4,6,8,10,12,14,16,18,20,22,24,??,28,30,32}. The missing data could turn out to be 27. Or negative 11. Or “purplemonkeydishwasher”. But I ask you to give your best guess what the missing data is and you tell me your first guess isn’t 26, I don’t believe you.

    In fact, some parsimonious inductions are so strong, they even permit us to “throw out” bad observations! Like our induction about the normal range of human body temperature. If your thermometer tells you your child has a fever of 9 million degrees, you’re not looking at a dataset with uncompressable discontinuities. You’re looking at a broken thermometer.

    Posted by Staircaseghost | August 30, 2012, 8:02 PM
    • I leave aside this part of the argument. See my other comment. The way you write is as though you are instructing me about parsimony, yet it seems you remain unaware of the actual nature of the principle in the literature. I admit I by no means have comprehensive knowledge of parsimony; but I at least have demonstrated the humility to acknowledge other possibilities, which you go so far as to pretend don’t even exist. See my other comment. Summed up: your argument fails because you haven’t even interacted with the great difficulties facing the principle you attempt to use to ontologically exclude my thought experiment.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | August 31, 2012, 12:08 AM
      • JW, I think it has become increasingly evident that you like to string together four syllable words, in no clear sequence or meaning, and claim you’ve logically deduced your argument. That isn’t hard to do. It certainly isn’t indicative of a well-founded claim.

        With that said, you mentioned that you have the “humility” to acknowledge other possibilities, while your debating opponent (in your eyes) has pretended other possibilities don’t exist.

        Do you also have the humility to acknowledge that, logically speaking, God doesn’t exist? Or, does that not fall within your realm of possibilities due to your rigid worldview…

        Posted by Andrew Marburger (@AndrewMarburger) | August 31, 2012, 12:17 PM
      • You’ve made a claim here: “God doesn’t exist”… what do you have to support that claim?

        Posted by J.W. Wartick | September 1, 2012, 1:29 AM
  5. By the way I read your comment policy. My comments are not hit and run, as I will most certainly be back! ;)

    Posted by Andrew Marburger (@AndrewMarburger) | August 31, 2012, 12:18 PM
  6. I have a complete lack of evidence for any god.

    Surely somebody as well versed in logic as you are understands where the burden of proof is in this discussion, no?

    Posted by Andrew Marburger (@AndrewMarburger) | September 1, 2012, 9:09 AM
    • Burden of proof isn’t a principle of logic. It’s a pragmatic principle of debate… Surely someone as well versed in logic as you, Andrew, would know that, no?

      Posted by The Janitor | September 1, 2012, 10:00 AM
    • You made the claim. You said “God doesn’t exist”: that is a claim and it needs to have evidence. The one making the claim is the one who must provide evidence. Now of course I do claim that God does exist and have argued extensively towards that point. But look at it this way, if I say “God exists” then you are free to ask me why I’ve made that claim. Similarly, when you say “God does not exist” I am free to see why you’ve made that claim. So far all we have is hand-waving about a “complete lack of evidence for any god.” That’s convenient. I suppose you would agree that I should be free to say: “there is a complete lack of evidence for the proposition that there is no god.” Of course, I think both statements are false.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | September 1, 2012, 10:17 AM
      • Your series of arguments are really just new spins on old ideas. After all, what makes any of those arguments unique to the Judeo-Christian God? Could those arguments not also apply to, say, Zeus or Horus or Thor? More contemporaneously, what about the Abrahamic God worshipped by Muslims? Indeed, your arguments are a better demonstration of deism than they are of the Christian god.

        And yes, the burden of proof is yours when we’re discussing god. The idea of god is fantastically more complicated than explaining the phenomena of life, existence, sentience, etc. through scientific means. It completely disregards Occam’s razor.

        I can’t prove god doesn’t exist. I also don’t need to. I would point to empirical explanations of natural phenomena, which exclude any reason for god. You desire to explain those same phenomena through fantastical means. You owe the explanation, not me.

        (I do believe I read on your blog that you reject young earth creationism though, so that’s good. YEC is truly beyond the pale in intellectual discussion.)

        Posted by Andrew Marburger (@AndrewMarburger) | September 1, 2012, 10:57 AM
      • Are you therefore casting aside your positive claim of God’s non-existence?

        Regarding the arguments and deism: check out this post. The key thing to note is that while its easy to throw out your claim, it is done so without argument. Note again: you’ve made a claim, and you need to back it up. So please explain how Zeus, a personal deity with limited power who is said to be part of the universe and who is morally faulty is somehow equivalent to the omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent creator of the universe argued for in the KCA, teleological argument, ontological argument, moral argument, and the like?

        Yes, I do reject YEC. I think that those who hold it do so out of genuine concern but are unfortunately greatly mistaken.

        Posted by J.W. Wartick | September 1, 2012, 11:02 AM
      • Andrew,

        i) What good does it do to point out that the arguements JW has offered don’t point particularly to the Christian God? This is just a red-herring, to avoid having to deal with arguments for theism. You are, after all, an atheist–correct? So arguments which support theism would still undercut your atheism.

        ii) Zeus, Horus, and Thor were not thought of as creators of the universe. So that answers your question as to how JW’s presentation of the KCA doesn’t apply to them. And JW’s the Case for Christianity post excludes Islam. So it looks like instead of actually reading and *interacting* with JWs arguments you’re just giving pre-packaged, scripted responses you’ve learned from other internet atheists.

        iii) You assert that the burden of proof is JW’s because it is “fantastically more complicated” and “completely disregards Occam’s razor.” But the idea of parsimony or Occam’s razor is itself just an artificial convention the help simplify things *ceteris paribus*. There is no principle of logic or ontology which tells you that a simpler answer must be true over a more complex one. Nor is there a principle of logic or ontology which tells you that a more complex answer shoulders any burden of proof.

        iv) I disagree that the idea of God is more complicated than a non-theistic view of reality. So you’ll need to give some argument to support that assertion… if you want to convince anyone who doesn’t already agree with you.

        v) Even if empirical explanations can account for phenomena of life, existence, sentience, etc. this won’t necessarily show that there is no good evidence for God’s existence. You can explain all these things without appeal to my existence either. But there may still be good evidence that I exist.

        vi) You’ve claimed there is good empirical explanations for phenomena of life. So then: what is the empirical (non-theistic) explanation for the phenomena of objective morality?

        vii) Explaining objective morality through empirical means strikes me as fantastical. So you owe the explanation, not me.

        viii) I’m a YEC. I’m interested to know what your argument is that puts it “beyond the pale in intellectual discussion.”

        Posted by The Janitor | September 1, 2012, 11:44 AM
  7. I hold that the nature of god is unknowable. This makes me more agnostic than anything else. I self-identify as atheist to dispel confusion for people who don’t understand the difference. I’m motivated by religions’ hostility to science and humanism to self-identify as atheist as well.

    You’ve also made a claim and you say you’ve backed it up. I disagree. Your premises are largely false or make too large leaps from one idea to the next. Take the cosmological argument for example. You say everything in the universe has an explanation. I’m with you. Next, you say if the universe has an explanation, it is god. Wait, what? Why would it necessarily be god? That does not follow.

    The point of mentioning ancient pagan deities was that any “creator” could be inserted into your arguments. What about the Flying Spaghetti Monster? What if I believe his Noodlyness created the heavens and the earth? Could your arguments not support that idea?

    Posted by Andrew Marburger (@AndrewMarburger) | September 1, 2012, 11:23 AM
    • Again, another unsupported claim. What argument do you have to show that the nature god is unknowable?

      Saying my premises are false does not make them so. Regarding the Leibnizian Cosmological Argument, I made an argument that goes far beyond what you wrote there. I’d like to interact with you on it, but I can’t if you’re not addressing my actual arguments.

      The FSM is corporeal, so no.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | September 1, 2012, 11:26 AM
      • FSM is not corporeal. How do you explain that?

        You never identified why your proofs are unique to the Judeo-Christian God. You keep asking for my own explanation, shifting burden of proof. Wouldn’t you agree that not all ideas carry an equal requirement for positive demonstration?

        Here is an explanation for atheism: god has failed to adequately reveal his nature or demonstrate his involvement in human affairs. This is evidenced through continued lack of intervention via prayer during natural catastrophe, wars, genocde, etc. Therefore, I see no reason why I should be compelled to subscribe to his rules, his plan for salvation, or other Biblical precepts. (and I’d love to get into the “morality” of the Bible…but no time)

        Basically, at the end of the day, if god exists, he sucks at his job. His plan for salvation is a complete failure (unless you consider 28% success a good plan), he ignores prayers from starving children, and he scores touchdowns in close football games. I see no good reason why I should even want to pray to him.

        And something else that’s been bothering me: how could Eve have understood the error of her ways (eating the fruit) if she did not yet have the knowledge of good and evil?

        I’m heading out to consume large quantities of craft beer and watch college football. I will respond when I can. I’ve enjoyed talking with you, enjoy your Saturday!

        Posted by Andrew Marburger (@AndrewMarburger) | September 1, 2012, 11:49 AM
      • Are you suggesting that spaghetti is incorporeal? The FSM is made of spaghetti. Therefore, it is corporeal.

        Hold on, you’re the one who said that the proofs can be used for Zeus, Thor, etc. Please demonstrate this.

        In all honesty, you need to either stop making claims altogether, or you need to support them. So far, all you’ve done is rattle off arguments that I could find in a list by googling for arguments against Christianity. Support your case. Provide evidence or stop pretending you’re being reasonable.

        Explaining atheism =/= argument for atheism.

        Your view of God as a divine dispenser of fix-everything is skewed.

        I am also enjoying football.

        Posted by J.W. Wartick | September 1, 2012, 11:53 AM
      • i) If FSM is not corporeal, then FSM is not actually made of spaghetti, because spaghetti is a corporeal entity (as well as a nonsentient one). And as we start to cash out exactly what the FSM is, as above, we see that the FSM loses its force. The force of the FSM appeal is to try and make God-belief look ridiculous. But all that is ridiculous about the FSM is bound up in the fact that it’s spaghetti. In so far as the atheist tries to jump around and make the FSM mirror the god of traditional religions, it loses its rhetorical force. Hence, the FSM is a rhetorical gimmick that gets a few laughs at first but when you cash it out it turns up empty. But if the FSM mirrors all the points of theism that are supported in the arguments for theism… you still have to deal with the arguments! Just laughing about FSM won’t cut it.

        ii) JW gave you a link that had another link to a bunch of various arguments. One of those links was “The Case for Christianity for 15 minutes (or less)”. So it’s odd that you say JW has never identified why his proofs are unique to the Judeo-Christian God. Apparently, you didn’t seriously consider JWs offered support. So I’m wondering whether you’re interested in a serious discussion or interested in getting of pre-scripted talking points?

        iii) Even if not all ideas have an equal burden of proof, you would still need to show why atheism or agnosticism is one of those ideas.

        iv) How does God not answering prayer support the idea that God doesn’t exist? You’ve only hinted at an argument here. Why not spell it out and see if it holds up?

        v) Suppose everything you said about God ignoring prayers from starving children or scoring touch downs is true. How does that prove God doesn’t exist?

        vi) Eve could have understood false thinking without understanding sinful thinking.

        vii) I’ll pray that your football team scores a touchdown ;)

        Posted by The Janitor | September 1, 2012, 12:03 PM
  8. Can you prove the FSM doesn’t exist? Can you prove Zeus doesn’t exist? Can you prove Mohammed didn’t actually receive a revelation in the desert?

    The points made in the video, still, are not unique to Christianity. Your faith mirrors dozens of other faiths and deities throughout ancient history.

    Atheism doesn’t require a demonstration because it’s the baseline, if you will. It is no god. You believe in the Christian God while our neighbor may pray to another god. The atheist is not making claims outside of the normal perception of our world. You are. Therefore, I don’t really owe an explanation…I just don’t believe in supernatural causes because I see no evidence that points to supernatural causes.

    God not answering prayer doesn’t demonstrate that he doesn’t exist. It just demonstrates that if he does, he sucks, and wouldn’t be a figure I should wish to emulate.

    Eve could understand false thinking? What does that mean, and where is that in my bible?

    I will drink a craft beer for you haha!

    Posted by Andrew Marburger (@AndrewMarburger) | September 1, 2012, 12:18 PM
    • Andrew,

      I may need to stop responding here because you’re being very disingenous. You’re the one claiming symmetry between FSM, Zeus, Allah, etc. with the deity I have been arguing exists. You refuse to support those arguments. When I ask you a question, you refuse to respond. When I point out that the FSM is corporeal, you immediately change the subject. I doubt your sincerity in this discussion.

      Atheism is a worldview as much as any other worldview is. Unless you deny you have beliefs (and we’ve seen how well that works out elsewhere), then you have a worldview and it needs just as much defense as any other.

      So I’m going to sit back now, and ask you: either be honest with your comments and be willing to engage me rather than constantly switching gears when I defeat your arguments, or just stop commenting and go back to whatever sites you get your one-off answers from.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | September 1, 2012, 12:27 PM
      • Who’s being disingenuous? You can’t answer what would amount to a simple defense of faith? Corporeality doesn’t negate the possibility of anything. Also, you do realize “Allah” is just Arabic for “god” right? They don’t believe anything less than you do. Why are you right and they’re wrong? Why is your faith, considering its truth, declining in numbers worldwide while Islam is growing?

        Atheism is not dogmatic, as badly as theists such as yourself wish it was. It is simply the absence of belief. I have other worldviews of humanism but that’s a different discussion.

        My favorite part of arguing with theists is the pretentious dismissiveness when your faith becomes untenable. And it is.

        You haven’t defeated any arguments. You’re giving yourself too much credit. Your arguments on your other pages are similarly unsound. I will have to address those in more depth later.

        As another commenter addressed in this thread, you have an interesting habit of stringing together pseudo-logical statements that SOUND intelligent but, upon further inspection, are rather inane.

        You’re not as good at this as you think you are. Too bad for tired hateful Christianity I suppose.

        Posted by Andrew Marburger (@AndrewMarburger) | September 1, 2012, 12:37 PM
      • Andrew,

        I appreciated our discussion, and I’m sorry to see that you refuse to answer any questions and dogmatically presuppose your view is the only one that is correct. It is highly telling to me that this image could be applied without restriction to our discussion.

        I’ve shown how the FSM could not possibly be analogous to theism: the FSM is corporeal. The theistic arguments entail an incorporeal, omnibenevolent, omniscient, etc. deity. Your response was to say: ” Corporeality doesn’t negate the possibility of anything.” Failure to respond to argument? Check.

        I distinguished the Muslim God by using their own word for God, Allah. Your response: ” Also, you do realize ‘Allah’ is just Arabic for ‘god’ right?” Hypercriticism that is unrelated to any point I made? Check.

        I pointed out that you have a worldview. You responded: “I have other worldviews of humanism but that’s a different discussion.” My point is therefore conceded.

        So what do we have? We have you insulting me and refusing to answer any calls for evidence for your position. I provided evidence and you hand-wave to dismiss it. I think that meets the definition of disingenuous. Our discussion is therefore over. I don’t have time to answer to people who dogmatically deny anything they disagree with and refuse to provide evidence for their assertions.

        Posted by J.W. Wartick | September 1, 2012, 12:49 PM
      • “You haven’t defeated any arguments.”

        You haven’t presented any arguments to defeat. You’ve only asserted that you do not need to present arguments.

        Doesn’t this support JW’s disingenuous charge? You claim you need to give no arguments and then puff your chest that no one has defeated an argument that hasn’t been given…

        Posted by The Janitor | September 1, 2012, 12:57 PM
      • Yep. What arguments?

        Posted by J.W. Wartick | September 1, 2012, 1:03 PM
    • i) The FSM is an incoherent concept, since spaghetti is a material wheat-based nonsentient entity and the FSM is, at leas by your account, non-material and sentient. So either there is no FSM or the FSM is not actually a flying spaghetti monster.

      ii) Again, JW linked to a post that presented evidence specific to Christianity. Not sure what you gain out of ignoring that.

      iii) How is atheism the baseline? What if I merely asserted Christianity is the baseline. Would you be satisfied with that? I doubt it. So why do you think your own mere assertions are sufficient for this discussion?

      iv) What relevance does the fact that your neighbor may pray to a different god have to do with the topic at hand?

      v) Since the majority of people in the world are theists and claim to have theistic experiences, on what basis do you claim that atheism is not making claims outside the normal perception of the world? It seems that the normal perception of the world is that there is a god or gods.

      vi) As JW has already pointed out, we can just turn your claim on its head: I’m not an atheist because I see no evidence that points to atheism. As Greg Koukle is fond of saying: how do you answer the question “Does God exist?” You either answer No, I don’t know, or Yes. If you say “no” then you surely must have some reason for thinking so. Let me help you out in this regard. It looks like you want to present an argument along the following lines: If God exists we should have access to evidence of his existence. We have no access to evidence for his existence. Therefore, God does not exist.

      The problem is that the two premises are contested. You yourself already seem to have denied the first premise in saying that you believe God is unknowable. And JW has already given you his own resources trying to show that the second premise is false.

      So the ball is in your court, not ours.

      Now maybe you have a different or a better argument in mind. If so, you can present it. I’m just trying to give you a shove in the “reasons-giving” direction.

      vii) Claiming that if God doesn’t answer prayer, God sucks is just substituting one assertion for another. The issue was does God exist, not does God suck. You still need to present some kind of argument for that conclusion.

      viii) Eve could understand false thinking means that Eve could recognize an unreasonable position or argument. Her ability to do this is implicit in that the story presents her as assessing the serpent’s words. (BTW, I don’t hold that “knowledge of good and evil” refers to propositional knowledge but experiential… Nevertheless, I’m responding to your argument on your own assumptions to try and show that it doesn’t even succeed granting those.)

      Posted by The Janitor | September 1, 2012, 12:50 PM
  9. Arabic Christians’ bibles say Allah. That wasn’t hyper criticism. Don’t get your panties in a bunch.

    There is no evidence for God. THAT is the evidence of my position.

    Never ceases to amaze me, though, how much defense an omnipotent being requires. You would think it wouldn’t be so difficult wouldn’t you?

    Posted by Andrew Marburger (@AndrewMarburger) | September 1, 2012, 1:00 PM
    • Again, all you’ve done is throw out the FSM, which was defeated. Throw out some other analogies: defeated. Now, you turn to insults. It’s like the script of the average internet atheist playing out in front of me.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | September 1, 2012, 1:04 PM
    • i) But JW has already presented you with what he takes to be evidence for God’s existence. So simply asserting your case again isn’t moving the discussion forward or interacting with what you’re being presented with. You’re just repeating your original conclusion in the face of counter-arguments. That strikes me as dogmatism.

      ii) Further, there is the question of whether absence of evidence is evidence of absence in this case. So your claim has plenty of weaknesses that it needs to overcome.

      iii) Why think the difficulty is with the omnipotent being and not, rather, with your own stubbornness? After all, both are possible, right? A task may be difficult because of the nature of the task or because of the nature of the one(s) engaging in the task.

      Posted by The Janitor | September 1, 2012, 1:07 PM
  10. I’m not a Christian anymore following Russell’s “Why I Am Not a Christian.”

    I share the logical deduction of the problems with the arguments for God’s existence.

    I would also argue that lack of belief does not require the same level of explanation as belief does due, in large part, to Occam’s Razor. Theism is not logically conservative.

    Posted by Andrew Marburger (@AndrewMarburger) | September 1, 2012, 1:11 PM
  11. Atheism as a baseline? Perhaps. Materialism as a baseline? Most normal infants are born with belief in the immaterial (Cartesian mind). See Bloom’s work.

    The whole “lack of belief” definition is a dodge. It’s for armchair skeptics who don’t feel like making a positive case for their belief.

    Posted by Zia | September 2, 2012, 7:50 PM
  12. JW, I just want to tell you that you’re brilliant, I’ve spent a lot of time debating Christians, believers, and even pastors of big churches. I’ve left them all stammering.

    You’ve left me stammering. I still don’t believe in god, I find the idea preposterous, but you’ve helped me understand that I need to support that idea. And all ideas. It is insufficient to simply make a claim, however obvious that claim may be.

    It’s nice to debate someone who knows more than I do. You know more than I do. The great thing is, I only need to read to remedy that!

    I will read, and I will be back. Thanks again for helping to sharpen my skills.

    Posted by Andrew Marburger (@AndrewMarburger) | September 2, 2012, 8:24 PM
    • Andrew,

      Thanks for your extremely kind words. May I suggest that as you read and sharpen your skills you read both sides of the debate. To read that which just confirms your view will not broaden your mind. Find the best authors on the other side and engage with them. I’ve tried to do this with Stephen Law and I’ve done it elsewhere with Graham Oppy and others. Don’t sell yourself short. Read top Christian scholars as well.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | September 2, 2012, 11:56 PM
  13. Atheism is a worldview as much as any other worldview is. Unless you deny you have beliefs (and we’ve seen how well that works out elsewhere), then you have a worldview and it needs just as much defense as any other.

    Is atheism really a worldview? I see this all the time from theists but I really don’t get it. Being an atheist does not attribute anything affirmative to my view of the world. It just says what I’m not!

    Posted by Nth_dimension | September 3, 2012, 3:27 PM
  14. That it says what you are not (a theist) is irrelevant if what you are denying has important worldview implications. For instance if I said “I’m not a materialist” you could still figure out something of what I do believe by what I do not. 

    So can this be the case with “world views”? I don’t see why not. If we could agree that materialism is a worldview, then saying “I’m not a non-materialist” tells you what my worldview is in that regard. 

    It seems this is the case with atheism too. Atheism and theism are core beliefs. They play a very important role, usually, in how one views the world, humans, society, etc. 

    To a degree it depends on how broadly or narrowly we want to define the word “worldview”. We could define it in such a way that there is no atheist worldview, but this might alo mean denying that there is a theistic worldview or even a Christian worldview, which is something most atheists probably aren’t willing to concede as they seem to want to attack “religion” or “theism” or “Christianity” in the abstract, worldview sense.

    The “atheism isn’t a worldview, it’s just the negation of theism” line is more often than not just another bit of rhetoric to avoid having do anything other than play the skeptic who must be convinced. Because even if not believing in God isn’t a worldview, whichever atheist we’re speaking to most certainly has one and most certainly believes no God exists, that needs defending just as much the belief that God does exist in such debates. 

    Finally, the atheist Alex Rosenberg agrees with me that atheism isn’t just a lack of belief in God. He says, 

    “Most people think of atheism as one big negative. But there is much more to atheism than knockdown arguments that there is no God.

    There is the whole rest of the worldview that comes along with atheism. It’s a demanding, rigorous, breathtaking grip on reality, one that has been vindicated beyond reasonable doubt.”

    (source: here

    So ha! :)

    Posted by The Janitor | September 3, 2012, 4:56 PM
  15. Sorry, still don’t get it :)

    If being an atheist means not believing in a god, then that opens up a huge realm of possible world views for one to ascribe to, without forcing anyone to choose a particular one. If however, you are a theist in the normal judeo-Christian sense, then it’s pretty much layed out for you.

    All being an atheist does is say that you do not believe in god…. There is NOTHING else involved. How can that sign you up to a specific world-view?

    Posted by Nth_dimension | September 3, 2012, 5:48 PM
    • Are you saying you have no worldview?

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | September 3, 2012, 5:49 PM
    • Nth, your reply looks largely non-respomsive to what i wrote, simply reiterating you original point. Stating that there can be various options compatible with a belief does not show that the belief does not itself carry enough baggage to be a worldview. There are, after all, various belief-options compatible with Christianity and we see the broad spectrum in practice.

      Does that range of divergence mean there is no Christian worldview? Seems like you’re not willing to grant that. So you’ll need to spell out for me what you think the proper limits of belief divergence are that makes atheism a non-worldview and Christianity a worldview.

      Usually I wouldn’t bother with this issue though. I don’t really care if you want to call it a worldview. Obviously some atheists (Rosenberg) see it as one. And ive already explained why the fact that it denies something isnt sufficient to show that it doesnt at the same time entail other things that are worldviewish. The more important thing in the context of apologetics is not letting the atheist shrug his intellectual responsibilities. Does God exist? “Yes, no, or I don’t know” are your options. Any answer you give should be accompanied by reasons (again, I specify in the context of these debates. I’m not an evidentialist in the sense that I think every belief needs rational justification in order to be warranted).

      Posted by The Janitor | September 3, 2012, 6:18 PM
  16. nth, let’s forget about the word ‘atheism’

    You are a naturalist correct?

    Posted by Cornell | September 3, 2012, 8:38 PM
  17. I’m short on time, but I am curious to know what characteristics you consider to be a part of the “atheist world view”.

    Posted by Nth_dimension | September 4, 2012, 4:53 AM
    • See Alex Rosenberg’s book The Atheists Guide to Reality, where he lays out the atheist worldview. Now on some points, Rosenberg might be overreaching. But that doesn’t mean enough of his points aren’t correct and that these points aren’t enough to be called a “worldview.”

      And, on some of the points, some atheists might *think* atheism doesn’t require what Rosenberg says (e.g. no real morality). But I think this is just because they haven’t thought about the implications of their atheism carefully enough. In other words, the atheist is being inconsistent with his worldview at this point :)

      But, again, I wouldn’t want to get hung up on this issue. If the atheist wants to be a stinker I’m happy to just go back to the question I asked earlier *or* simply say that by “atheist worldview” I mean “any of the varieties of worldviews that have atheism as part of their ‘furniture’.” This allows us to make claims that are substantively the same, but can’t be sidetracked by whether atheism is a worldview or just a piece of furniture in a worldview.

      Posted by The Janitor | September 4, 2012, 8:25 AM
      • Yes, atheism is a worldview in the most basic sense of the idea. However, it is also quite broad, while also being somewhat unique. It is broad in the sense that it doesn’t have a set list of ideas that other deity-rejectors must adopt in order to assume the title “Atheist.” In that sense it is inherently non-dogmatic. Other, spiritual-based are necessarily dogmatic: one must do or believe a certain criteria in order to adopt the title of the creed. A Christian must believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. A Muslim must believe in the revelation to Mohammed. And so on. Atheism believes (understands?) that nothing is inexplicable or occurs outside of the realm of the natural world.

        It can also be ambiguous. I, for example, self-identify as an Atheist for the express purpose of dispelling confusion for people who aren’t familiar with agnosticism. I really think it is folly to say, with any certainty, that there is definitely no god. I doubt that there is, but there could be. But when it comes to pragmatic discussion of, well, anything, identifying as agnostic only stifles the conversation (in most cases) because people think I am leaving an out for god.

        Richard Dawkins ran into this problem when he admitted in an interview that he couldn’t be sure god does not exist. He was being rhetorical, and intellectually consistent. He can’t be sure god doesn’t exist in much the same way people can’t really be sure he does, in fact, exist. I’m sure he’s since learned, as have I, its easier to just wear the Red Letter A than to try to explain the inner-dealings of non-belief and skepticism.

        The argument that morality can’t exist outside of god is false. There are strong biological implications / indications for why we understand morals, borne out of biological products such as empathy, altruism, and humanism.

        Posted by Andrew Marburger (@AndrewMarburger) | September 4, 2012, 2:00 PM
  18. Hmmm… tried to post a reply but I’m not sure if it went through because I don’t see the usual “comment waiting for moderation” thing. I’ll wait to see if it went through. If not, I’ll post it again.

    Posted by The Janitor | September 4, 2012, 8:28 AM
    • I’m assuming your comment was the other one here. I approved it, hopefully you didn’t have one disappear, which sometimes happens.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | September 4, 2012, 11:02 AM
      • Thanks, glad to see it didn’t disappear. I wrote it out before logging in and after hitting post comment I was taken to the WP log in screen and then back to another screen where I didn’t see the usual “your comment is awaiting moderation” message.

        Posted by The Janitor | September 4, 2012, 1:15 PM
  19. “The argument that morality can’t exist outside of god is false. There are strong biological implications / indications for why we understand morals, borne out of biological products such as empathy, altruism, and humanism.”

    This kind of misses the point. Theists generally don’t argue that morality can’t exist without God, or that atheists cannot be moral. Indeed, there are times when atheists seem even more moral than theists. But the point is, on atheism there is no objective foundation. Is there any obligation to be moral if there is no ultimate judgment? If naturalism is true, is doesnt make a difference in the grand scheme of things whether you died as a saint or a devil. And evolutionary psychology/biological evolution can certainly explain how morality arose, but it cannot tell us if that morality is right or wrong.

    Posted by Zia | September 4, 2012, 5:19 PM
    • Interesting ideas / questions, man!

      No, there is no obligation to be moral if there’s no ultimate judgement. On the other hand, those who believe in a final, supernatural judgement occasionally behave as if there isn’t one. There are bad apples in every camp, of course.

      I believe that morals are largely the subjective result of cultural meme pools. We culturally deem sets of behaviors acceptable or unacceptable. Some memes / ideas, like genes, are stronger than others. I also don’t believe that the subjective nature of these standards make the ideas any less compelling as cultural forces.

      In the grand scheme of right and wrong…that is probably subjective too. For example, I believe that forcing women to wear burqas is “wrong” but billions of Muslims would argue with me on that one. Of course, religion is the underlying factor there. Not surprising.

      I would argue that right and wrong, as related to morality, can be summed up through a litmus test of whether the outcome of the moral question results in the impediment to a person’s free pursuit of life satisfaction, assuming of course that pursuit doesn’t impede the pursuit of others.

      Posted by Andrew Marburger (@AndrewMarburger) | September 4, 2012, 7:42 PM
      • The problem is it impossible to calculate the consequences of our actions as we cannot fully predict every moral outcome from every moral action that occurs. Something may appear to be right in the short term, but that doesn’t mean it will stay way in the long term. So if it is impossible to do something, then we have no obligation to do it.

        Also, To a moral nihilist you are religious it doesn’t matter if you believe in a God or not, if you think your life has any purpose given a purposeless natural origin that doesn’t care about your existence, then you are indeed living with a religious mindset.

        Posted by Existential Nihilism... | September 6, 2012, 6:24 PM
  20. “The argument that morality can’t exist outside of god is false. There are strong biological implications / indications for why we understand morals, borne out of biological products such as empathy, altruism, and humanism”

    First off all this can all be true if Theism is correct, so for you one you beg the question that Naturalism is true. You can’t say “well look we have all these products so morality can exist without God, this makes the assumption that God does not exist”.

    Secondly you need to define ‘morality’. Do you mean instrinsic value and moral obligation exist? Or is our value subjective? Next up as far as obligation goes: What is the goal in life if we came about a natural purposeless origin via the big bang?

    Posted by Existential Nihilism... | September 4, 2012, 5:26 PM
  21. Law’s argument is very weak. It is obvious that he has nothing better to do, than to think up hypotheticals, and attempt to make a legitimate argument from them.
    And that is precisely the problem. They are hypotheticals. There is no logical beginning or ending.

    Take the expression ‘Holiness of God’ for example. [this is my own argument]

    How do you argue for the affirmative, or for that matter, the negative?
    Does anyone have a yardstick by which they can measure “holiness?”

    Of course not. There is no one holy, but God.
    So upon what basis does anyone argue that God is Holy?

    On secular experience maybe?
    On the material? On earthly existence?
    You see, you cannot measure holiness.

    And so it is with Law’s argument. He offers nothing but hypotheticals, and quietly laughs to himself
    as he sits back and watches those fools who rush in to counter his argument.

    Any argument outside the biblical narrative, is an argument not worth engaging.
    But some of us will never learn.

    Posted by david | September 14, 2012, 12:58 AM

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