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atheism

Atheists and Unicorns: Emotional Appeal

You may have heard it before. “I’m an a-unicornist, just like I’m an atheist.” “I don’t believe in unicorns, nor do I believe in God.” “There’s as much evidence for unicorns as for God.”

What are these statements supposed to show?

Whether intended or not, these kinds of statements are simply emotional appeals. The atheist is attempting to psychologically discredit Christianity without ever engaging any kind of logical reasoning.

Think about it, when you hear these phrases, what rational process goes on? There is no rational link between unicorns and theism. There is no reason to correlate the two.

Theists could just as easily use psychological appeals, but there is no need to do so. Such pejorative language doesn’t serve to foster discussion. It’s preaching to the choir. It is useful only for increasing dogmatism. So why do atheists use it so frequently?

Again, the key is to note that those who use this phrase are not doing so in the interest of academic honesty or discussion, but in the interest of psychologically weighting the discussion in their favor before it even begins. Rather than looking at the evidence, they dismiss it.

But what about another common use of the unicorn within atheism? Namely “I can’t prove there is no God, just like I can’t prove there are no unicorns.”

While this initially seems plausible, it only remains plausible if one assumes positivism. We can actually prove there is no God. If the Christian’s account of God was found to be incoherent, then God would not exist. It would, in fact, be impossible for God to exist were his nature contradictory.

So even in this use of the phrase we find that the atheist is committed to a dogmatic assumption of positivism. By assuming that God can only be disproven by empirical evidence, they uncritically advance a philosophical enterprise which has largely been abandoned within modern philosophy.

A word of advice: focus on the arguments at hand, not pejorative language.

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

64 thoughts on “Atheists and Unicorns: Emotional Appeal

  1. I really enjoyed this post, J.W.,very insightful. I often get tired of the ‘unicorn’ argument. One reason I think atheists like to use that one so much is because unicorns are mentioned in the KJV Bible, which if you studied language and the Bible you would know that it is referring to the rhinoceros!

    Posted by Greg West | June 24, 2011, 10:21 AM
  2. OK I’ll bite…
    You may have heard it before. “I’m an a-unicornist, just like I’m an atheist.” “I don’t believe in unicorns, nor do I believe in God.” “There’s as much evidence for unicorns as for God.”
    What are these statements supposed to show?
    – They’re supposed to show that arguments for culturally contingent concepts with no positive evidence are generally not viewed as persuasive unless a religious evocation is involved.

    Whether intended or not, these kinds of statements are simply emotional appeals. The atheist is attempting to psychologically discredit Christianity without ever engaging any kind of logical reasoning.
    -People tend to respond better to emotional appeal than to logical reasoning. Otherwise we tend to be told we need faith and to stop being so cerebral.

    Think about it, when you hear these phrases, what rational process goes on? There is no rational link between unicorns and theism. There is no reason to correlate the two.
    -The rationale link is that both are agents which are supposed to be doing something, but which are completely outside the realm of verification. They are ideas passed on from pre-scientific cultures through folklore and word of mouth, and defined in such a way so as to appear exactly the same whether they are there or not.

    Theists could just as easily use psychological appeals, but there is no need to do so. Such pejorative language doesn’t serve to foster discussion. It’s preaching to the choir. It is useful only for increasing dogmatism. So why do atheists use it so frequently?
    -Theists regularly use psychological appeals. How many times have I been stopped on the street and asked why don’t I love Jesus, and don’t I appreciate him dying to pay my debt. Pascal’s wager is an undisguised baiting tactic. The entire argument about having no motivation to be good without God is a psychological appeal.

    Again, the key is to note that those who use this phrase are not doing so in the interest of academic honesty or discussion, but in the interest of psychologically weighting the discussion in their favor before it even begins. Rather than looking at the evidence, they dismiss it.
    But what about another common use of the unicorn within atheism? Namely “I can’t prove there is no God, just like I can’t prove there are no unicorns.”
    While this initially seems plausible, it only remains plausible if one assumes positivism. We can actually prove there is no God. If the Christian’s account of God was found to be incoherent, then God would not exist. It would, in fact, be impossible for God to exist were his nature contradictory.
    – If you want an argument about positivism I’ll oblige… but I don’t really feel like opening up that can of worms if I don’t have to.

    Posted by JWW | June 24, 2011, 10:23 AM
    • Again your post smacks of positivism. Are you denying that there is philosophical evidence for the existence of God? It seems that elsewhere you’ve admitted as much.

      You wrote, “- They’re supposed to show that arguments for culturally contingent concepts with no positive evidence are generally not viewed as persuasive unless a religious evocation is involved.”

      “No positive evidence” is a universal claim. Have you analyzed every piece of supposed evidence and concluded that there is none? Have you examined every corner of the galaxy, every philosophical inquiry, and determined that there is “no positive evidence”?

      You wrote, “-People tend to respond better to emotional appeal than to logical reasoning. Otherwise we tend to be told we need faith and to stop being so cerebral.”

      That doesn’t mean it’s useful. This unicorn analogy is a farce and nothing else. Those who use it are not interested in intellectual integrity, but psychological appeal.

      You wrote, “-The rationale link is that both are agents which are supposed to be doing something, but which are completely outside the realm of verification. They are ideas passed on from pre-scientific cultures through folklore and word of mouth, and defined in such a way so as to appear exactly the same whether they are there or not.”

      Historical evidence for the resurrection, philosophy, and big bang cosmology say otherwise.

      I’m surprised at you, JWW, it seems of late your comments have gotten more and more steeped with positivistic thought. What evidence do you have to show that only those things we can touch/see/taste/feel/hear exist? And, how have you shown that there is “no positive evidence” for God?

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | June 24, 2011, 10:37 AM
  3. I agree with Greg that the traditional definition of a unicorn is a rhinoceros. I have a 1935 Websters dictionary and it says defines a unicorn as such. I also came across a video breaking this down. Maybe I’ll post it on CAA and see what everybody thinks. But regardless of the facts about unicorns or rhinoceroses, the argument is still usually intended to be an emotional swing against the Christian faith. Good post, J.W.!

    Posted by Chris | June 24, 2011, 12:23 PM
  4. OK I guess we’re gonna do this ;)…
    I do not deny that there are philosophical arguments for God’s existence, but my reason for continuing to ask for something empirical is that these arguments can get construed either way depending on who’s doing the thinking. If I seemed to endorse any of these arguments I was only trying to make the point that they play on intuitions that people have in such a way so as to make the proposition seem eminently plausible. That seems great, but what I contend is that the intuitions supporting the arguments, while applicable in many everyday situations, are almost certainly not applicable to the entirety of the cosmos (they’re based on things like folk psychology and an intuitive physics that in other areas doesn’t track empirical physics). I think I have a more or less robust logical case against God, but when I explain it, it is apparently as unconvincing to the theist as their case is to me (part of the confusion may be that part of my argument is that there are areas where the absence of detectable effects of God are particularly conspicuous. This isn’t positivism in and of itself, it’s a logical argument that God should be detectable in some quarters, combined with the observation that He’s not). When you hit that wall, you can either keep arguing or look for something empirical. I’m prepared to defend what I say with more argument, but the stubbornness of personal bias and the malleability of intuitions makes the process exhausting and maybe even futile. And so when the theist then tells me that their claim lies entirely outside the realm of empiricism – despite the fact that the Christian religion is based on the notion that the early church fathers were convinced by some very impressive and tangible miracles – my frustrations and suspicions are aroused.

    At the same time, I make no apologies for subscribing to something along the lines of logical positivism (I’m not a philosopher by training or profession but from what I’ve read that is indeed what I am). I think there’s room for inference and deduction, but ultimately I do think that observation is indispensible for robust knowledge, and empirical verification is the most robust form of observational evidence. If you like you can think of it as the skeptic’s version of prophecy – it proves that the person knew something they shouldn’t have known if they were wrong. I think all of us are functionally epistemic positivists in most of our daily routines. “Actions speak louder than words.” The idea is that as slivery as an argument may be, there’s no substitute for cold hard facts. Silvery arguments still count, but facts count more. This resonates with me on an almost intuitive level, and it’s something I’m not used to arguing for.

    Consider the claim that ‘everything material has a cause.’ This is not an irreducible and necessary axiom wrought straight out of the heart of reality, it’s just an idea we have in our heads that seems to track reality quite well in lots of cases. We can’t justify it, it just seems right and in most cases turns out to be right. But our intuitions are modeled on reality and experience, not the other way around. If we find cases where things really seem to happen without a cause, it’s our intuition that needs to change, not the universe (you have argued before that QM events that get trumpeted as causeless are actually caused by the background laws and systems. Here I’d use a more restrictive definition of ‘cause.’ Namely, a ‘cause’ is an event that necessarily precedes the effect). Or if we are trying to consider a realm outside of the material world of which we have no experience, we then need to acknowledge that this intuition becomes a liability because it is being deployed in a dramatically different setting where its traditional subjects and objects don’t even exist (large material things acting on other large material things in space and time).

    This brings up a point about logical contradictions. You have accused me of imagining a square circle when I imagine a universe without God. Here I want to distinguish between what I’ll call ‘literal’ contradictions, and ‘natural’ contradictions. A literal contradiction would be like a square circle, or saying that 2=6, or something like that which is irreducibly and obviously contradictory. A ‘natural’ contradiction would be like a wood furnace burning at 1 degree C under 1 standard atmosphere of pressure. We can imagine the scenario in detail without obvious difficulty, but nevertheless at the level of the universe there is a natural contradiction involved. The nature of reality is such that wood simply does not burn at 1 degree C, despite the fact that there’s nothing contradictory in our heads when we imagine it.

    Before moving on, one interesting thing I’d like to point out. You might expect that natural contradictions simply reduce to literal contradictions if we look at them closely enough. But this is not necessarily the case – in QM (yes I really am bringing it up again) particles can supposedly be in multiple places at once. This seems like a literal contradiction (although a weak one), but it may be that the natural contradiction is to say that a particle can only be in one place at a time. I would argue that the natural contradiction is borne out by ‘true’ logic (‘the mind of God,’ so to speak, or the ‘purified language of science’ pursued by the logical positivists), while the literal contradiction is more an element of language and human psychology, useful though it may be.

    OK moving on. When you say I imagine a square circle when I imagine a universe without God, I presume you are accusing me of a natural contradiction, not a literal one. A universe without God is easy enough to imagine, especially if you don’t consider what’s outside of it (considering anything other than 3D space with a one directional arrow of time is tough work). But if you need to, I would say just imagine some sort of infinite quantum foam with no particular imposition of chronology which bubbles up things like universes which can contain an arrow of time. I know there’s no fully developed science with a totally gelled model of this sort of thing, but there’s nothing contradictory (at least nothing literally contradictory) about the idea as far as I can tell, and it is certainly where many physicists seem to be heading.

    On the other hand, when you say that God is a mind without a body, I suspect this entails a natural contradiction. I grant you that there is no literal contradiction involved – it is easy enough to imagine a disembodied mind – but it simply doesn’t track well with our observations of people and the way their bodies affect their subjectivity. My impression is that it is (naturally) logically impossible for minds to exist without some sort of physical framework.

    So as far as pure logical argument goes, we are at something of a stalemate. You have a hunch about the natural world requiring a divine artificer (among other hunches), and I have a hunch about the connection between mind and matter (among other hunches). We can argue about the available evidence for our positions, but that has to come down to observations. If it can come down to observations about which we disagree about the expected outcome, we could actually make headway, because we could go and look.

    So, the point about positivism is just that people aren’t perfect reasoners (except for me of course!) and have disagreements that do not seem to be easily amenable to philosophical reasoning. We have incomplete information, we’re not privy to the fundamental nature of things, we have biases, our intuitions morph to suit our expectations, and we can get fooled by quirks of our own language. These are things we have to live with, and most of the time we can without any problem. But whenever we have to deal with something very far afield from things which we are good at intuitively understanding (like macro economics or N-dimensional space), empirical verification becomes increasingly more important. The stranger the subject matter, the greater the need for empiricism. And by strange I don’t mean just ‘weird,’ I mean concepts which aren’t routinely vindicated by our use of them.

    “I’m surprised at you, JWW, it seems of late your comments have gotten more and more steeped with positivistic thought. What evidence do you have to show that only those things we can touch/see/taste/feel/hear exist? And, how have you shown that there is “no positive evidence” for God?”
    I have not argued that only those things we can touch/see/taste/feel/hear exist. Instead I have argued that only those things we can touch/see/taste/feel/hear or things which have some effect on the things we can touch/see/taste/feel/hear can be known in a remotely convincing way. Presumably you disagree, so it’d be good to explain to me what this sort of completely non-physical knowledge is like. I frankly have trouble picturing the concept of what it would mean to know something that had aboslutely no effect on anything physical. I don’t see how it could be done without positing a 6th sense or something. The closest I can think of would be the belief that other people have a sense of self similar to your own. But that is a belief with physical ramifications: it’s extrapolated from first person experience, and entails lots of behavioral predictions which get verified as soon as you talk to someone else about what it’s like to be them.
    I’ll back off the claim that there’s “no positive evidence for God,” and settle for the less sensational “no evidence for God I’ve found persuasive.”

    Posted by JWW | June 24, 2011, 4:07 PM
    • Okay, sorry it took me so long to get back to this.

      You wrote, “This isn’t positivism in and of itself, it’s a logical argument that God should be detectable in some quarters, combined with the observation that He’s not). When you hit that wall, you can either keep arguing or look for something empirical.”

      Who determines that God “should be detectable?” If God exists, God is a personal being. The evidence for His existence might be only available for certain purposes.

      You wrote, ” (you have argued before that QM events that get trumpeted as causeless are actually caused by the background laws and systems. Here I’d use a more restrictive definition of ‘cause.’ Namely, a ‘cause’ is an event that necessarily precedes the effect)”

      This isn’t something I just made up. QM is a well-established field, but the interpretations vary wildly.

      You wrote, “We can argue about the available evidence for our positions, but that has to come down to observations. If it can come down to observations about which we disagree about the expected outcome, we could actually make headway, because we could go and look.”

      Why? What principle do you have to support this claim?

      The whole comment simply assumes observation is the basis for discovering “real” reality. But why?

      Again, ” I have argued that only those things we can touch/see/taste/feel/hear or things which have some effect on the things we can touch/see/taste/feel/hear can be known in a remotely convincing way.”

      Right, where’s the argument? Thus far all I’ve seen is several assertions: our intuitions can fail, we need to observe things to figure out if our intuitions are correct.

      But why? What argument has established this. And, if it’s intuitive, it’s self defeating.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | June 27, 2011, 10:01 AM
  5. I’m very glad that Apologetics 315 put this link into their mailing. Excellent article, and a good length. People like me are not interested in long philosophical discourses and arguments of that nature (I have no idea if you do that in the rest of your writings), so when that stuff gets wordy, we move on. Busy, and stuff.

    You made the point very well. One thing that I use in the unicorn argument (as well as the Thor argument) is that we do not have millions of people claiming to believe in unicorns or Norse gods, nor do we have evidence that they exist. We do have evidence that God exists, and that the Bible is reliable.

    But I’ll be glad to add the point about positivism that you made. Thanks again!

    Posted by Piltdown Superman | June 25, 2011, 10:53 AM
  6. I, too, have encountered the “unicorn” non-argument along with the Santa Claus one. I see those statements as red herrings, meant to distract rather than provide valid evidence, meant to end serious discussion rather than engage in it. The fact that unicorns don’t exist doesn’t prove God doesn’t exist. There is no evidence for the former while there IS evidence (cosmological, teleological, axiological, ontological, historical, experiential) for the latter. I appreciate the fact, JWW, that you have stated that you realize there is evidence, but it’s evidence that you reject. Too many atheists simply say there is no evidence at all, thereby relieving themselves of the need to discuss the matter. Thank you for your honesty about it.

    Here’s the problem I have with atheists who, purporting naturalism, tell me they won’t believe evidence that isn’t material, that is, evidence that we can see, hear, touch, taste and smell. They insist they don’t believe anything without such evidence, but, in reality, they do. Take human consciousness for example. Atheists seem to accept its existence. But they cannot see it or hear it or touch it or taste it or smell it. It’s invisible and cannot be measured or weighed or put in a test tube for examination, but it’s real. Such is the case with God. You can say, “We see the outcome of human consciousness”. Well, yes, and we can see the outcome of God, too. The apostle Paul noted that in the first chapter of Romans, saying that there is no valid excuse for men NOT to acknowledge God. Some simply choose to repress their knowledge of him.

    We, of course, have all kinds of non-physical knowledge about ethics, beauty, joy, dignity, honour, honesty, the meaning of life, etc. Mathematics, the language of science, is non-material, but I’m sure the atheist believes in it and considers himself to have knowledge of it. Science has its limits. Naturalism can’t explain everything. It’s what philosopher, J. P. Moreland, would call a “thin” worldview because there are so many realities of life that it cannot address.

    Then there’s this issue of logic and reason. If we are simply products of Darwinian evolution, that is, random chance, mere accidents of nature, where does the atheist’s sense of logic and his ability to reason rest? When Dawkins says religion is a virus of the mind, how does he know that he isn’t the one with the virus in his mind and that the theist is the one who is thinking correctly?

    If each of us is the result of mindless, purposeless chance, what makes one person’s reasoning better than that of another? When asked why he thinks his ability to reason is reliable and better than that of the theist, what can the atheist respond? He has nothing to say but, “Well, random chance made my ability to reason better than yours.” In other words, he’s saying that his ability to reason is better than that of the theist because his ability to reason is better than that of the theist. That’s just circular reasoning and that’s fallacious.

    The Christian, however, understands that he is made in the image of God. God has the ability to reason and apply logic. Therefore, being made in that image, human beings have the ability to reason and apply logic. Sin has marred that ability, of course. That means that only when an individual allows the Holy Spirit to instruct him in his logic and reason can he truly understand God’s truth. But, when you get right down to it, logic makes sense in the Christian worldview. It makes no sense in the atheist/naturalist worldview.

    Indeed, science owes a great deal to Christianity. Scientists such as Newton and Kepler and Descartes looked at the world and thought, “God is an orderly God who created an orderly world and we should be able to figure it out using the reason he has given us.” That was the epistemological basis for science for centuries.

    Thank you, J. W. Wartick, for a thought-provoking article. It’s my first visit to your site and I look forward to returning when I have more time to do some browsing.

    Posted by Mary | June 25, 2011, 11:52 AM
  7. -First off, I just want to point out that we’re using a slightly watered down definition of evidence here, so before everyone gets carried away with the atheist who admits there’s evidence for God lets recognize that under this loose definition there’s also evidence for all these other crazy things. If second hand testimony of a fantastical nature counts, its not hard to find some evidence for any old proposition you like. A friend of mine is dating a guy who thinks he’s a psychic and a reincarnation of Sitting Bull, the Native American chief who killed Custer. If I were to interview him, I’m sure I’d get a total divulgence of anecdotes that lead him to this conclusion. But if I then asked him to predict something in front of me, I bet I’d discover some exaggeration was involved in the quality of his psychic powers. My best friend from college’s Dad thinks he was abducted by aliens on several occasions and had his semen harvested. Are either of these stories evidence for anything? In one sense yes, and in another no.

    Mary,

    -In all of your non-physical points, from beauty to logic, I think your assuming the atheist has a similar conception of them as you do. My notion of ‘beauty’ is not some platonic thing, but rather an impression people have of things. One way to think of it might be analogous to the ‘wetness’ of water. ‘Wetness’ is not a thing, its a concept. But its a concept we couldn’t do without. I’d veiw beauty in much the same way. Its not a thing, its a concept used for describing things. And your point about logic being suspect since we are all mere products of evolution is precisely why empirical evidence is so important. We’re NOT perfect reasoners, theists or atheists. We are really good at rationalizing any position we like, and there are some serious schools of evolutionary psychology that suspect that notions like logic and language evolved, not to necessarily ascertain the truth, but to win arguments in social settings. The need for empirical evidence is encapsulated entirely in the fact that we’re imperfectly evolved primates who screw up!

    And I don’t see any difference between an atheist saying chance made him a better reasoner and a christian saying accepting god made him better at recognizing the truth.

    Piltdown,

    Your point about unicorns not having legions of avid subscribers is well-taken, but not so on Thor. Millions of people HAVE believed in Thor. Entire cultures have lived and died (and still are living and dying) praying to and sacrificing and killing for entire pantheons of figments of their own imaginations. This should look absolutely astonishing and make us seriously question beliefs we hold that look similar. But ultimately, who cares how many people believe in it. Billions of people have been wrong before, and Billions of people will be wrong again.

    Posted by jww | June 25, 2011, 1:34 PM
    • “Entire cultures have lived and died (and still are living and dying) praying to and sacrificing and killing for entire pantheons of figments of their own imaginations.”

      That is a very broad generalization. Can you provide any kind of evidence for your claim, especially that people are still “praying to and sacrificing and killing for” Thor? I’m not talking about history, and the variations on that god throughout history. I’d like to know if you can substantiate your claim.

      While I’m waiting, I will imagine something new to bow down before.

      Posted by Piltdown Superman | June 26, 2011, 5:50 AM
  8. I read your blog post today, and posted a counter argument on my blog to your claim that atheists make an “appeal to emotion” when stating that there is as much evidence for god as there is for unicorns.

    http://aisforatheist5760.blogspot.com/2011/06/of-god-and-unicorns-why-jw-wartick.html

    Posted by Cathy Cooper | June 25, 2011, 6:56 PM
    • I appreciate your interest in my post. I think the whole case really boils down to this statement you make in your response:

      “The correlation between the two [God and unicorns] is the fact that there is no evidence for either.”

      This is a completely unsubstantiated claim. Have you examined every piece of evidence brought to the table to defend theism? Have you explored every corner of the galaxy? Have you read every philosophical work presenting logical evidence for the existence of God?

      You’re making an assertion of a universal negative. You must support that claim somehow, yet in the whole post you don’t. And that’s the problem with statements like the ‘unicorn’ phrase: they are mere assumptions.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | June 25, 2011, 11:10 PM
      • Enjoying this post and the exchanges here, JW.

        What is most interesting to me amongst dear atheists is their willingness to engage in debates as if anything matters anyway. I mean, atheists explain to us theists: In a universe that is ultimately meaningless and purposeless (in which no relationship / deed / word is ultimately of any value or meaning), why would you care what anyone believes about anything? In the end, it’s all just chemicals and meaningless; what we do, say, believe, and, yes, write, is less than nothing in your worldview.

        I think the answer is obvious: the spark of care and concern that the Creator has put into your conscience forces you to act hypocritically (to believe that the universe and all in it is purposeless and meaningless, yet to pretend as if it does). After all, isn’t saying / believing one thing and doing another what defines as hypocrite as such?

        What do you think, atheists? My ears are open…

        Joshua

        Posted by Joshua | June 26, 2011, 7:26 AM
  9. Exactly! That’s my whole point! Christians claim to “know” god exists, is not a claim of knowledge, it is a mere assumption. How does a Christian know that Brahman is not god, or Zeus is not god, or that unicorns do not exist? Have they been to every corner of the galaxy? Now do you see the correlation?

    The theist is the one that is making the claim they know something exists. Where is the evidence? Just like the unicorn may actually exist, but where is the evidence? The fact that you cannot present evidence, does not mean that the unicorn does not exist. Likewise, with Brahman, Zeus, or any other god or goddess.

    Posted by Cathy Cooper | June 26, 2011, 12:28 AM
    • You’ve made use of an interesting tactic, trying to shift the burden of proof. You have made the claim “There is no evidence for God’s existence.” I’m asking you to support that claim rather than present red herrings.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | June 26, 2011, 12:38 AM
  10. Piltdown,
    Why does it matter if it was in the past that people believed in Thor? With regards to the present, my point was about new pantheons- take Hinduism for example. My point is just that sheer numbers don’t get you anywhere, because billions of people are regularly fantastically wrong.

    Joshua,
    Thinking you have god on your side doesn’t give you a monopoly on caring. As far as I can see the difference between us is only that I find meaning in myself, while you reference it to a deity.

    Posted by Jww | June 27, 2011, 8:04 AM
    • I was not resorting to an ad populum fallacy, I was asking you to substantiate your claim. Frankly, your comparison to Hunduism is not only invalid, but reeks of red herring. I prefer mine smoked as well as marinated, with colby-jack cheese and crackers, if you don’t mind.

      Posted by Piltdown Superman | June 27, 2011, 9:45 AM
      • I think there is a bit of confusion about what exactly your initial argument was supposed to entail. It seemed to be that based on a large number of believers, one could dismiss claims like the atheist/unicorn.

        Posted by J.W. Wartick | June 27, 2011, 9:55 AM
    • Hey, jww!

      Well, I didn’t say or think I “have god on [my] side” and we have a “a monopoly on caring”. I was pointing out how I think it’s interesting that atheists do act hypocritically. Atheists pretend life has meaning and purpose, yet believe it has neither, yes or no?

      And where and in what you find meaning is just as meaningless. If I gathered my meaning from collecting Transformers(TM) or in God, on atheism there’s no qualitative difference. In the end, does it even matter?

      To love someone or hate them; to kiss them or kill them, neither is of more consequence than the other in the end.

      Theists care because of their perception of ultimate reality (things that exist are the product of a Personal Creator; they have inherent value and meaning). Atheists care in spite of of their perception of ultimate reality (things exist from nothing for no reason at all; nothing ultimately has value or meaning).

      So, please share: Why do you care about what we think or believe or teach?

      And, you know, I really appreciate that you do care, in spite of your worldview. The world needs more people who do and we could each do more of it.

      Joshua

      Posted by Joshua | June 27, 2011, 11:06 AM
  11. To continue, first, let me remind you that I am an Ignostic Atheist. By Ignosticsm, I mean we use the physical sciences to explain the world around us, and there is no need to posit the hypotheses of gods/goddesses. We have better hypotheses to explain events in our physical world. I have no need to assert that god does not exist. However, I do refute arguments for god’s existence, and show that such hypotheses do not do a better job.

    I stand by my negative claim, with regards to the lack of evidence for God’s existence.

    A person is justified in believing that X does not exist if all of these conditions are met:
    1. the area where evidence would appear, if there were any, has been comprehensively examined, and
    2. all of the available evidence that X exists is inadequate, and
    3. X is the sort of thing or entity that, if X exists, then it would show.

    In this case, “X” is the evidence for god’s existence. On the above grounds, I am justified in claiming there is no evidence for god’s existence. If anyone provides me with any new evidence, I will weigh it accordingly.

    However, for the sake of argument, let’s assume that there is some evidence for the existence of a god. The strength of the unicorn argument is that the evidence for god’s existence, if it exists, is no stronger than the evidence for unicorns, or leprechauns, or Zeus, or Brahman, or Diana, or……..thousands upon thousands of other posited gods and goddesses.

    Note, that the above fact undermines the Christians claim that Yahweh is the one and only god. So again, the strength of the unicorn correlation is to remind Christians that there is as much evidence for their god, as there is for unicorns, and that their lofty claims of “knowing” god exists, has no foundation or support.

    Posted by Cathy Cooper | June 27, 2011, 10:19 AM
  12. Yes, and plenty of philosophers and others were convinced the world was flat–but that too turned out to be false.

    Posted by Cathy Cooper | June 27, 2011, 11:52 AM
    • You didn’t answer my question.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | June 27, 2011, 5:05 PM
      • My referent is any kind of evidence. In the end I believe all the “evidence” fails, or is inferior to other, better hypotheses and explanations.

        But again, for the sake of argument, let’s assume you can provide some evidence. This is another strength of the unicorn argument. Can someone provide evidence for god, that doesn’t also apply to the unicorn? And if so, for the Christian, does it apply (the SAME or similar kind of evidence) to Brahman, Zeus, Jupiter, Diana, and so on? This presents a dilemma for Christians who claim there is only
        one god, and that god is Yahweh–as that evidence would also prove Brahman, Zeus, Jupiter, Diana, and so on.–Reductio ad absurdum.

        As stated above, the strength of the unicorn argument is that the evidence for god’s existence, if it exists, is no stronger than the evidence for unicorns, or leprechauns, or Zeus, or Brahman, or Diana, or……..thousands upon thousands of other posited gods and goddesses.

        Note, that the above fact undermines the Christians claim that Yahweh is the one and only god. So again, the strength of the unicorn correlation is to remind Christians that there is as much evidence for their god, as there is for unicorns, and that their lofty claims of “knowing” god exists, has no foundation or support.

        Posted by Cathy Cooper | June 28, 2011, 7:22 AM
      • You wrote, ” In the end I believe all the ‘evidence’ fails, or is inferior to other, better hypotheses and explanations.”

        Again, as has happened before, you’re equivocating. This sentence implies there is evidence, but that it fails. That is not the same as the universal negative, “There is no evidence.”

        You wrote, ” Can someone provide evidence for god, that doesn’t also apply to the unicorn?”

        Not sure if this is even a serious question, but obviously the cosmological argument (both Leibniz and Kalam) along with teleological, ontological, moral, etc. are evidence that would not apply to the unicorn. A unicorn cannot even fulfill the requirements of them.

        You went on to say, basically, that the evidence could be used for other gods. This is simply false. Show me manuscript evidence that says Zeus is a maximally great being–the “form” of the good. Show me manuscript evidence that states that Brahman transcends the world and is not the world itself, etc, etc. As usual with atheists when they talk about gods, you have made them all the same. Maybe that makes it easier to reject them, but it’s not based upon facts.

        Posted by J.W. Wartick | June 28, 2011, 9:34 AM
  13. JW:
    “Who determines that God “should be detectable?” If God exists, God is a personal being. The evidence for His existence might be only available for certain purposes.”
    -Basically, the short version is that it seems odd that a God who intends a loving relationship with us should hide from us. Most conspicuously, evolution fills a role in our picture of the world that, it seems to me, you’d expect would have been filled by God if He were there. I don’t think we need to get into the full thing now though. I grant you that God COULD be lurking behind the veil of our perception, holding everything together but intent on not being directly observed, but that seems too much like the man who can only turn invisible when no one is looking.
    “This isn’t something I just made up. QM is a well-established field, but the interpretations vary wildly. “
    -I didn’t mean to say you made it up, I was just illustrating the point that we can be confronted with situations where our intuitions don’t track reality, and it’s our job to change our intuitions to fit reality and not the other way around. Maybe the Monty Hall problem or different Time Dilation problems in Relativity would be less cluttered with interpretive issues but still suit the purpose.
    “ Thus far all I’ve seen is several assertions: our intuitions can fail, we need to observe things to figure out if our intuitions are correct.”
    Do you deny those assertions? They seem uncontroversial to me.
    Piltdown:
    “I was not resorting to an ad populum fallacy”
    “One thing that I use in the unicorn argument (as well as the Thor argument) is that we do not have millions of people claiming to believe in unicorns or Norse gods”
    That’s just what it looked like to me then I suppose. My point about Thor was that the absence of his subscribers is more an artifact of the cultural era into which we’ve been born than the amount of evidence for him. With regard to Hindus, they are polytheists (a pantheon) and India, as multicultural as it is, regularly deals with Hindu/Muslim/Sikh/Christian ethnic violence (I don’t know all the details of who’s instigating what, but those are the factions). If you want details, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religious_violence_in_India#Punjab_militancy_and_1984_Anti-Sikh_Riots.

    Joshua:
    “Atheists pretend life has meaning and purpose, yet believe it has neither, yes or no?”
    -Yes and no ;). It doesn’t have purpose in the sense that nobody put it here for anything. It does have purpose in the sense that we have goals and desires and so forth, and we’re part of the universe. The fact that our goals and desires are products of neutral processes doesn’t make much difference to me. I guess I’d call it a genetic fallacy to say that our desires don’t count because of where they came from.
    “And where and in what you find meaning is just as meaningless. If I gathered my meaning from collecting Transformers(TM) or in God, on atheism there’s no qualitative difference.”
    -I think you can play this game with any worldview. You can always take a step back in perspective and ask why it matters. People say that without God the universe is meaningless. Well, even with theism, couldn’t you say that the universe/god system is meaningless? There’s a whole argument to be had there, but that’s the short version. My point is that whenever you talk about meaning, you have to make some sort of an a priori declaration about where the ‘meaning buck stops.’ I think consciousness is a good enough place as any to ground meaning.
    In the end, does it even matter?
    -I suppose this is theism’s one strong claim over atheism in terms of meaning, but I don’t quite buy it. It is true that on atheism, the chances are we’re all going to end up dead regardless of what we do in the mean time. But the connection between meaning and chronology doesn’t seem airtight to me – if you have one perfect day, that counts for something even if ends, doesn’t it? The point is that it’s not the ending up dead part that matters, because who cares about being dead. It’s the ‘what we do in the mean time’ that counts.
    “So, please share: Why do you care about what we think or believe or teach?”
    Why does a painter paint ;)? There are plenty of political concerns lots of people have, and I share them, but I suppose the bigger thing for me is that I just find the idea of large scale misinformation (my perspective, not claiming any monopoly on truth with that statement) worn so close to the heart distressing. One of my best friends is an IT tech who doesn’t believe in evolution. He says things to me like ‘Of course humans and chimpanzees are genetically similar – there are only four letters of DNA code!’ And this is a guy who spends his days and nights talking to machines in binary. That’s weird enough to me on its own. But perhaps more distressing is that as decent as he always is to me, he’s living his life fully expecting the rapture, and to be up in heaven watching his best friend from high school burn in hell for not accepting Jesus. It leaves me not quite sure how to take it when he acts perfectly casual and friendly toward me, as much as I appreciate it.

    Posted by JWW | June 27, 2011, 12:52 PM
    • JWW,

      You wrote, “-Basically, the short version is that it seems odd that a God who intends a loving relationship with us should hide from us”

      Earlier, you wrote, “” I have argued that only those things we can touch/see/taste/feel/hear or things which have some effect on the things we can touch/see/taste/feel/hear can be known in a remotely convincing way.””

      Can you touch/see/taste/feel/hear either of those propositions? If not, then they aren’t very convincing, giving the thesis you’re proposing. It’s self defeating. I can’t touch/see/taste/feel/hear that I need to physically observe something in order to know it.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | June 27, 2011, 5:10 PM
  14. All the important points I wish to respond to were made made by JWW on posts 16:07:11 and 13:34:18 so I will concentrate my responses on those.

    “I do not deny that there are philosophical arguments for God’s existence, but my reason for continuing to ask for something empirical is that these arguments can get construed either way depending on who’s doing the thinking. If I seemed to endorse any of these arguments I was only trying to make the point that they play on intuitions that people have in such a way so as to make the proposition seem eminently plausible.”

    Not true if you are dealing with a rigorous philosopher. Thinking that these arguments depend on “intuitions” just shows that you are ignorant of them (using the word ignorant in the etymological sense, not as an insult).

    “I think there’s room for inference and deduction, but ultimately I do think that observation is indispensable for robust knowledge, and empirical verification is the most robust form of observational evidence.”

    You had better shore up your philosophy a little better. Logical positivism is a *philosophical* position for which there is *no* empirical evidence available. To justify it, you need… a philosophical argument. So it is ultimately self-refuting.

    “Consider the claim that ‘everything material has a cause.’ This is not an irreducible and necessary axiom wrought straight out of the heart of reality, it’s just an idea we have in our heads that seems to track reality quite well in lots of cases.”

    No, it is simply the basis of *all* science. Throwing it away means accepting that things can happen without a cause and concomitantly, the death knell of science. And to quote Berkeley, if you accept *that*, you need not, methinks, be squeamish about any point of divinity.

    I hasten to add that invoking QM to deny the principle of sufficient reason is faulty for at least two reasons. First, QM events *do* have a cause, what happens is that the causality nexus is not deterministic but probabilistic. And the fact that this is so, is attested by the very fact that QM theory exists in the first place! I mean, just look at the equations. The second reason, is that the usual Copenhagen QM interpretation smuggles in a whole lot of metaphysical assumptions which are unwarranted. IOW, there are *interpretations* of QM where the strict deterministic nexus of causality is restored. I myself, tend to be partial to D. Bohm’s interpretation, since it seems to me that the usual EPR experiments indicate very strongly that quantum states are not local, but whatever stance one adopts, the point I want to make is that what is involved here has more to do with the interpretation of QM, an eminently philosophical task, than with QM itself.

    “But if you need to, I would say just imagine some sort of infinite quantum foam with no particular imposition of chronology which bubbles up things like universes which can contain an arrow of time. I know there’s no fully developed science with a totally gelled model of this sort of thing, but there’s nothing contradictory (at least nothing literally contradictory) about the idea as far as I can tell, and it is certainly where many physicists seem to be heading.”

    I am not sure at what you are driving at, but let me just note that there isn’t a single iota of empirical evidence for this to be the case. In your logical positivist opinion, is it reasonable to conjure possible scenarios with no empirical basis just to deflect philosophical arguments? The fact that you can imagine such scenarios is really no different than saying that since you can imagine that unicorns exist than well, they must exist. That there are quantum gravity theories where such scenarios are possible does not automagically grant them any ontological force.

    And to be fair, there is *no* consistent quantum gravity theory with *any* testable consequences yet. Conjuring such a theory is a task facing enormous hurdles on all fronts: technical, empirical and philosophical (e.g. what does it mean to say that the probability of our universe tunneling into being is X? It’s not like we can set up an ensemble and see what the results are…).

    “So as far as pure logical argument goes, we are at something of a stalemate. You have a hunch about the natural world requiring a divine artificer (among other hunches), and I have a hunch about the connection between mind and matter (among other hunches). We can argue about the available evidence for our positions, but that has to come down to observations. If it can come down to observations about which we disagree about the expected outcome, we could actually make headway, because we could go and look. ”

    No, it is not just a hunch. These are rigorous philosophical arguments. They are debatable, sure; but if the premises are true than the conclusion follows. If the premises are more reasonable than their denials, then it is rational for us to accept the conclusions. So if you want to escape the conclusions, you better show that the premises are false or at the very least, their denials are more reasonable.

    And then you smuggle again your scientism, which as I have said above, is a self-refuting position.

    “But whenever we have to deal with something very far afield from things which we are good at intuitively understanding (like macro economics or N-dimensional space), empirical verification becomes increasingly more important.”

    Sorry to be blunt, but this is plain baloney. We can reason in a perfectly adequate and reasonable way about infinite-dimensional spaces, space filling curves, fractals, transfinite arithmetic, paradoxical decompositions, and whatever bizarre and utterly abstract mathematical objects you can think of without making a single experiment. Philosophy stands about in the same position. Of course, if you discount mathematics (or philosophy for that matter) as knowledge then you also throw away the empirical sciences as well.

    “We are really good at rationalizing any position we like, and there are some serious schools of evolutionary psychology that suspect that notions like logic and language evolved, not to necessarily ascertain the truth, but to win arguments in social settings. The need for empirical evidence is encapsulated entirely in the fact that we’re imperfectly evolved primates who screw up!”

    Another howler. If logic has evolved to win arguments, why should we believe in *any* logical arguments whatsoever? After all, evolutions favors survival-beliefs not logical-beliefs. In particular, why should we believe that “logic has evolved to win arguments”? Presuming of course, that the arguments given for “logic has evolved to win arguments” are logical. But if they are not, then we are not being rational in accepting them are we?

    “Your point about unicorns not having legions of avid subscribers is well-taken, but not so on Thor. Millions of people HAVE believed in Thor.”

    Come on, millions is something of an exaggeration… But I don’t even want to go there. The point that atheists systematically miss is that there *are indeed* good reasons to believe that Thor does *not* exist, simply because Thor is just another natural being like us, albeit a stronger one. The God of Christianity as construed by classical theism, is *NOT* just another natural being, a cause among natural causes, but rather the reason why something exists rather than nothing. It is as much outside the natural order, as Thor of Spaghetti belongs to it.

    It is not a very wild claim to say that the Kalam, the Contingency and the Moral arguments for God’s existence, to name just three arguments, are rational and reasonable. Assume that someone accepts them (I accept them, so take me as an example of such a person). It follows, like night from day, that Thor, Zeus, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, whatever being in the Hindu pantheon, etc, is *NOT* the true God. In fact, if I accept these three arguments, it follows, as night from day, that I can reject almost all religions that ever existed. The ones that survive can probably be counted by the fingers on your hand — basically, the usual monotheistic religions.

    One final note. The shifting of the burden of proof by atheists observed by J. W. Wartwick is sometimes deflected by stating that it is not possible to prove a negative. This is FALSE. Mathematicians do it all the time. No one doubts the truth of:

    – There are no married bachelors.

    There is plenty of empirical evidence to support the truth of:

    – there are no dinosaurs on the surface of the moon.

    The examples could be multiplied ad infinitum. IOW, if you claim that God does not exist, as opposed to the more modest claim that we do not know or cannot know whether He does, than you better come up with some argument for it. And if your philosophy is as bad and shoddy as scientism, then your evidence must be… empirical.

    Posted by G. Rodrigues | June 28, 2011, 10:45 AM
    • Thanks for the comment! I think you’ve got pretty much all of this correct.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | June 29, 2011, 10:50 PM
    • Rodrigues
      Good Post. My last post had lots of long winded and sloppy bits; you skewered it well – bravo. My responses:

      Rigorous Philosophy: You argued that I was attributing intuition and hunches to philosophers unjustly, because if the premises are true then the conclusions follow. My point was that A) the premises themselves are hunches and intuitions which encounter plenty of pushback (from people like me), and B) sometimes the conclusions seem to follow when in fact they don’t (this is probably rarer).

      Logical Positivism: First off, my understanding of logical positivism is that it endorses limited modes of inference and the like, and so the ‘where’s the observation that we need observation’ argument isn’t really applicable in the way it might be to a stricter breed of positivism. This is part of why I don’t shout out the names of my positions: everyone has a different idea of what it means and what its problems are.
      Second, if you unpack the claim being made, it is indeed empirical. The view is that claims located closer to verified observation and empiricism will be correct more often than claims for which observation is ancillary. This is testable in limited sorts of ways. Also, I don’t think any of what I said about needing observation intrinsically contradicts JW’s initial post – he said that believers were witness to the effects of God. My view is that these effects are not connectable to God in the way that I think is being suggested.

      Causality:
      Point 1: I would argue that empiricism is the basis of all science, not a particular notion of causality.
      Point 2: I have no problem with this probabilistic construal of causality, except that it elides the departure from classically deterministic causality (I tried to make this clear before, but I was sloppy). It is a similar obfuscation that is made when people say that the ‘cause’ of God is his own necessity. Necessity is not really a cause in the colloquial sense of a ‘cause.’ Necessity is not a thing which happens which leads to another thing happening. It’s mostly a restatement of existence in the absence of any plausible precursors. It’s fine to talk about necessity being a cause, but I think it’s important to be clear that this is an entirely different concept from a cloud causing rain or something. The colloquial sense of ‘cause’ is well attested and observed all the time. These other sorts of ‘causes’ (probabilistic and necessity-based) are far less familiar. Using such familiar language makes it easy to get the impression that you know what you’re talking about when you probably don’t. My point with this was merely that the discovery of quantum indeterminacy has ‘tweaked’ if not overthrown our original conception of the role causation plays in the universe. So our conception of causality is not a fixed thing, and is liable to be cracked even more when we talk about a-spatial, a-temporal, and a-material things. Having said all this, I find no hard intuitions of causality within myself indicating that God must have created the universe in order for anything to happen. So we’re pitting our causal hunches against each other, and so I ask for something empirical.

      Cosmological: You’re right that there’re no experimental predictions about the cause of the universe available from physics yet. I was only showing that it is conceivable that a universe could come into existence without any intelligent help. Being able to imagine this certainly doesn’t prove that it is so, but it does prove that cosmological first cause arguments don’t cut any more ice than any other idle speculation.
      With regard to n-dimensional space – I did a really really bad job of explaining myself here. I think the I probably caused more confusion than its worth, but if you’re interested I’ll start from scratch: even though nobody has experience examining a hyper-sphere or anything, it’s not gratuitous extrapolation. All that’s being postulated are other dimensions that work the same way the ones we’re already familiar with do. Nobody has to postulate different kinds of dimensions for it to work, or even believe that any of it is actually manifested in the universe (until something empirical comes along). With God, you are asking people to take on board concepts such as immaterial and irreducible minds comingled with a new concept of a-spatial and a-temporal causality. These are fairly controversial concepts (I would say radical) that have not been vetted by anything close to empiricism. You are then asking people to use these concepts to support the existence of an entity that also has no empirical evidence.

      I hope that was a little better than my last post – sorry if its not!

      Posted by JWW | June 30, 2011, 3:22 PM
      • @JWW (15:22:06): To keep the length of the post down, I have quoted only the beginning of some of the paragraphs to which I respond.

        “Rigorous Philosophy: You argued that I was attributing intuition and hunches to philosophers unjustly, because if the premises are true then the conclusions follow. My point was that A) the premises themselves are hunches and intuitions which encounter plenty of pushback (from people like me).”

        The premises of the arguments are open to debate, I agree with that; but they are not “hunches” or “intuitions” — I believe you are using the words equivocally. I never claimed, nor have seen any serious philosopher claim, that the arguments are incontrovertible proofs. Christian apologists will meet resistance; that is a normal state of affairs. Philosophy and theology are not mathematics.

        “This is part of why I don’t shout out the names of my positions: everyone has a different idea of what it means and what its problems are.”

        Then probably you should enlighten us on what sorts of evidence count for you. Does mathematics count as real knowledge? Does history count as real knowledge? The first is not an empirical science and the second fails the strict empirical standards. If we are rational in accepting some statements as true on evidence other than empirical, what is special about these statements that is denied to other statements? Good luck on untying this gordian knot.

        “Second, if you unpack the claim being made, it is indeed empirical. The view is that claims located closer to verified observation and empiricism will be correct more often than claims for which observation is ancillary. This is testable in limited sorts of ways.”

        Incorrect, mathematics being the prime counter example. And I cannot even begin to fathom how your claim is “testable in limited sorts of ways.” Unless of course, one assumes the desired conclusion.

        “Causality: Point 1: I would argue that empiricism is the basis of all science, not a particular notion of causality.”

        And you would be wrong. I repeat what I said earlier: the principle of sufficient reason, the fact that there is a reality external and independent of our minds, that this reality is rational, that is, it is understandable by our minds, at least to some extent; all these are basic metaphysical presuppositions for doing empirical science. Look, think for a moment: what sort of argument can establish that empiricism is the basis of all science? Certainly not an empirical argument for that would just be begging the question. So empiricism has a basis which itself is not empirical. Philosophy 101.

        “Point 2: I have no problem with this probabilistic construal of causality, except that it elides the departure from classically deterministic causality (I tried to make this clear before, but I was sloppy). It is a similar obfuscation that is made when people say that the ‘cause’ of God is his own necessity.”

        I do not have the time (and to speak quite honestly, I do not have the competence), but there is really no obfuscation involved in the contingency argument and related issues. And to repeat what I said earlier, that QM departs from the classical notion of causality does *not* mean that the notion of causality itself is threatened in any way. I do not want to go into details about QM but an analysis of all the examples (e.g. the emission / absortion of photons by an electron in an Hydrogen atom or, more dramatically, the creation of virtual pairs of particles leading to Hawking’s radiation) shows that the nexus of causality is there — otherwise, the phenomena itself could *not* be explained. Second, the departure you speak of depends on the *interpretation* of QM, and thus is itself open to *philosophical* debate. No amount of experiments can decide this issue.

        “Cosmological: You’re right that there’re no experimental predictions about the cause of the universe available from physics yet. I was only showing that it is conceivable that a universe could come into existence without any intelligent help. Being able to imagine this certainly doesn’t prove that it is so, but it does prove that cosmological first cause arguments don’t cut any more ice than any other idle speculation.”

        First, the arguments are not idle speculation. They are, even if open to debate, philosophically rigorous. Second, it is *you* who demand empirical evidence for nearly everything and at the same time have the chutzpah to conjure all sorts of wild scenarios to deflect *philosophical arguments*. Note the emphasis, *philosophical arguments*. Third, although this probably carries less weight for you, these scenarios have all sorts of *philosophical problems* themselves. And since there is not a single iota of experimental evidence for them — and in many cases, there are even very strong reasons to believe that we will *never* have experimental evidence for them — these arguments do carry some weight.

        “Even though nobody has experience examining a hyper-sphere or anything, it’s not gratuitous extrapolation. All that’s being postulated are other dimensions that work the same way the ones we’re already familiar with do. Nobody has to postulate different kinds of dimensions for it to work, or even believe that any of it is actually manifested in the universe (until something empirical comes along). With God, you are asking people to take on board concepts such as immaterial and irreducible minds comingled with a new concept of a-spatial and a-temporal causality. These are fairly controversial concepts (I would say radical) that have not been vetted by anything close to empiricism. You are then asking people to use these concepts to support the existence of an entity that also has no empirical evidence.”

        Either I am misunderstanding you, or you keep making the same mistakes over and over. To start from the end, the concepts you name are not used “to support the existence of an entity that also has no empirical evidence”, you got it backwards. If you go through the arguments for God’s existence, we *conclude* that God has these attributes from a conceptual analysis of the arguments. Second, concepts such as “immaterial”, “a-spatial” or “a-temporal” are not controversial, at least not in the sense you seem to imply. There are all sorts of things that have these attributes and no one has a problem about them — e.g. universals to name the most famous example, time and space itself, etc. The contention here would be if they have any positive ontological status, but there is nothing controversial in their immateriality, a-spatialness or a-temporalness. Without wanting to be condescending, “controversial” seems more an index to the paucity of your imagination than anything objective about the status of these concepts.

        And then your scientism creeps in again. You have no problems about postulating, taking an example from string theory, 26-dimensional spaces on which branes collide to give birth to universes on the dismally bad justifications that “All that’s being postulated are other dimensions that work the same way the ones we’re already familiar with do” (Q: they don’t, but anyway, why should they work the same?) and even worse “even believe that any of it is actually manifested in the universe” (Q: if they do not manifest in the universe, why postulate them in the first place?).

        Posted by G. Rodrigues | July 1, 2011, 9:14 AM
  15. @JW Wartick,

    No, I am not equivocating. I am assuming that there is evidence for the sake of argument in order to do a reductio ad absurdum.

    My argument has two prongs. The first prong says that if you provide evidence for the Christian god, the same type of evidence can be given for the unicorn. If it does not apply to the unicorn, it will apply to many other gods. So if the Christian is not skewered by one prong of the fork, he is skewered by the other. Note, the arguments you mentioned (cosmological, etc.) can be applied to many other gods and goddesses. Even WL Craig admits such arguments do not prove the Christian god, as they can be applied to many other gods.

    Furthermore, note that I said “same or similar” type of evidence. In this case, the type of evidence would be “manuscriptural.” I am not committed to any particular statement that it says, as the same then could be turned around and used against the Christian. In other words, I could pick any characteristic that a manuscript says about any god or goddess, or a unicorn that Yahweh and Jesus do not have, and then argue that that proves that that particular god, goddess or unicorn is true, and the Christian god is not.

    Your claim that the Christian manuscript says that Yahweh/Jesus is good seems to rest on the notion, the hidden premise, that if a manuscript says something, Y, about a god, X, then that god, X, must be Y! And if so, then that god must exist! Note, that this then could be applied to all of the religions that have manuscripts, and any manuscript that mentions unicorns.

    Worse yet, the particular claims that Christians make often times apply to other gods and goddesses and unicorns. Now, we have some manuscripts that say that god “X” is good. For example, the Bhagavad Gita says that Krishna is the “infallible one” (18:73) and is perfect. If Krishna is infallible, then he is perfect and all good, as he would be totally virtuous. Therefore, if we accepted this type of argument, that is, if a manuscript says it is so, then it is so–which we don’t–then we can say that there is as much evidence for Yahweh as there is for Krishna, based on the manuscript argument. Thus, the Christian would be skewed by the other prong of the fork, and my argument holds.

    Lastly, you have underestimated the power of the unicorn. “In China, the unicorn is believed to rule the heavens along with three other immortals: the dragon, the phoenix, and the turtle. Together, these creatures rule the heavens as well as parts of the earth. Unicorns rule the land animals. The Chinese unicorn, is gentle and kind and good, and refuses to use his horn as a weapon.”*

    An early written account of the Unicorn appeared about 5,000 years ago in Chinese manuscripts where the Unicorn can appear in many different physical forms but is most commonly described as having the body of a deer, the tail of an ox, the hooves of a horse and of course a single short horn growing out of the middle of its forehead. The emperor Fu Hsi became one of the most revered of all Chinese rulers, and there is a record in the Bamboo Books of the appearance of a unicorn at his palace in 2697 BC, shortly before his death. Therefore, according to the “manuscript argument” unicorns must be true!

    “Manuscriptural” evidence has to meet the conditions and criteria for good evidence. We have many manuscripts, and just because a particular manuscript states something, it does not necessarily make it so. Manuscripts must also meet the conditions of what counts as good evidence.

    *http://books.google.com/books?id=jm3winBGErQC&pg=PA6&dq=unicorns+are+good&hl=en&ei=kiMKTonOA_C10AH3xe2UAQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=2&ved=0CC0Q6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=unicorns%20are%20good&f=false

    Posted by Cathy Cooper | June 28, 2011, 2:51 PM
    • J. W. Wartick will surely respond to this post. Anyway, when you say:

      “My argument has two prongs. The first prong says that if you provide evidence for the Christian god, the same type of evidence can be given for the unicorn. If it does not apply to the unicorn, it will apply to many other gods.”

      You are mistaken. The arguments for God’s existence (Kalam, contingency, etc.) apply not to many gods as you say but to *very few ones*, and surely not to unicorns. Claiming otherwise, just betrays a gross misunderstanding of the arguments. In fact, I can only recall 3 to which all the arguments apply. Since two of them are the same God, you can drop the count to 2.

      Posted by G. Rodrigues | June 29, 2011, 6:04 PM
      • Again, I can’t really improve on this comment so I’ll let it speak for me.

        Posted by J.W. Wartick | June 29, 2011, 10:50 PM
      • According to Christians, there is only ONE god, and for a counter example to this, it would only take 2. As you said, you can think of at least 2!–thank you very much for proving my point.

        If we are to accept JW Wartick’s argument in favor of manuscripts, then he himself has proven the unicorn exists.

        Posted by Cathy Cooper | June 29, 2011, 11:32 PM
  16. Just for fun, let us see how many gods would be proven if we accept the cosmological, teleological, ontological, and moral arguments for god.

    The cosmological argument is basically the “first cause” argument, and would apply to the Greek god of creation, Zeus; the Indian Brahma, from a Trimurti of three gods also including Vishnu and Shiva, is described as performing the act of creation; an African god of creation named Amma, and to almost every supreme being conceived by various cultures around the world.

    As for the teleological argument, it goes without saying that the above gods would also have “designed” the universe as they created the universe.

    Again as for the ontological argument, the above gods were also conceived as the greatest possible being, so, according to the ontological argument, they must also exist.

    As far as the moral argument goes, we know that the aforementioned cultures and gods also had moral values, and ethical codes. So, the moral argument would apply to all those gods as well as most of the other cultures and gods.

    Therefore, in fact, the cosmological, teleological, ontological, and moral arguments would apply to the majority of supreme beings, if not all the supreme beings of all the various cultures.

    Posted by Cathy Cooper | June 30, 2011, 9:25 AM
    • Cathy, to go ahead and display some intellectual honesty, I’m going to go ahead and sort of disagree with you here. I don’t think the unicorn analogy is fatuous, but I think you’re being a little ridiculous when you say “If we are to accept JW Wartick’s argument in favor of manuscripts, then he himself has proven the unicorn exists.” Scripted sighting unicorns are explained by mistakes slightly more easily than sightings of resurrections are done so.

      The first cause argument would indeed apply to the basal primal god of any theology (in the Greek case wouldn’t it be something along the lines of not Zeus but Chronus, who, incidentally, also had three heads?) but it doesn’t apply to unicorns. Unicorns are not posited as explanations for anything. I’m not endorsing the god of the gaps argument, but at some point sherlock holmes does appear and when you’ve eliminated the plausible causes the remaining, no matter how implausible, seems to be the explanation. I do not think we’ve gotten anywhere near that close with God and the origin of the universe, but the principle seems mostly sensible. That goes against the strict positivist stance and I don’t totally buy it myself, but I’m trying to show some flexibility.

      Posted by jww | June 30, 2011, 8:38 PM
    • @Cathy Cooper (09:25:28 and 23:32:30) :

      Really, you are just showing your complete and utter ignorance of what the arguments purport to prove. So Zeus, Brahma, Trimurti, etc. are immaterial, timeless, omnipotent, self-existent, outside of the natural order, the origin and sustaining cause of all existing things, the objective grounding of our moral values, etc., etc., etc. Sure, right… Until you can show that you actually understand such arguments, as opposed to throwing around silly objections, I am done here.

      “According to Christians, there is only ONE god, and for a counter example to this, it would only take 2. As you said, you can think of at least 2!–thank you very much for proving my point.”

      The argument’s for God’s existence (there are well over 10, some stronger than others), if one accepts them, show that God exists and that He has certain attributes. Since the God of Christianity and Judaism is the same, only Allah is left. But even here, a very good case can be made that there are not two different Gods, but two different conceptions of the same God (hint: a passing acquaintance with Islamic history and theology is enough to understand what I am saying). And then of course, I have not mentioned the *specifically Christian* apologetics, so you have proved absolutely nothing.

      And even if a couple more gods could be found that have the attributes posited by all the arguments, just let me remind you of the original context of my reply: I was not defending *specifically* the God of Christianity but simply countering the claim that the God of Christianity is about as credible as Thor or Zeus or unicorns.

      “If we are to accept JW Wartick’s argument in favor of manuscripts, then he himself has proven the unicorn exists.”

      I do not know what is J. W. Wartick’s argument in favor of manuscripts, but do you know the vast scholarship around the new testament? That while scholars can squabble about many points, the vast majority agrees that there is a core of historical truth in them? Do you know all the evidence for their reliability? To summarize, while it is reasonable to entertain all sorts of doubts about the Gospels’ accuracy, only crank amateur historians put them on par with unicorn related documents.

      Posted by G. Rodrigues | July 1, 2011, 9:06 AM
  17. @ JWW

    First, let me restate my argument. My argument has two prongs. The first prong says that if you provide evidence for the Christian god, the same type of evidence can be given for the unicorn. The second prong states that IF IT DOES NOT APPLY TO THE UNICORN, IT WILL APPLY TO MANY OTHER GODS.

    Wartick asked for “manuscriptural evidence” in the following manner:

    “You went on to say, basically, that the evidence could be used for other gods. Show me manuscript evidence that says Zeus is a maximally great being–the “form” of the good. Show me manuscript evidence that states that Brahman transcends the world and is not the world itself, etc, etc. As usual with atheists when they talk about gods, you have made them all the same. Maybe that makes it easier to reject them, but it’s not based upon facts.”

    I for one, do not think that just because something is mentioned in a manuscript, that that necessarily counts as evidence. Just because a manuscript says “X” does not mean that “X” is true. That is why we need arguments and evidence to support such claims. JW Wartick wants to have it that that if the christian manuscript says “X”, then “X” must be true. This is why JW Wartick asked for manuscript evidence that makes reference to other gods. Well that’s easy, and so I provided examples where there are manuscripts that make reference to the unicorn being good, and Krishna being “maximally great” and good. Wartick asked for such “manuscriptural” evidence, so I provided it to him. The fact that a manuscript says it, and therefore it must be so, is the basis of Wartick’s argument–not mine. Futhermore, it can be said that the Christian manuscript citings are mistakes. For example, it cites that Jesus is god. That can be a mistake. The claim that Yahweh is the “form of the good” can be explained by mistake. The so-called miracles can be explained by mistake. By your response, JWW, you have again illustrated the power of the unicorn argument, as you say “Scripted sighting unicorns are explained by mistakes slightly more easily than sightings of resurrections are done so. ” That appears to be exactly NOT the case.

    The “manuscript argument” offered by JW Wartick, is trying to distinguish the Christian god as being true from all other gods by stating what the Christian manuscript says only can be applied to Yahweh. This is an erroneous move, as the same can be said for religious manuscripts that make specific references to characteristics of their gods. Then one could say that since the Christian god Yahweh, doesn’t match their characteristics, then Yahweh is not god, and does not exist. Why, we can even do this for the unicorn, as the manuscripts about the unicorn cites characteristics that Yahweh does not have!

    In the Greek case, Zeus created the universe. Then one might ask what caused Zeus? The answer would be Chronus. So Zeus created the universe, and Chronus created Zeus. Of course the failure of the first cause argument would be the infinite regress as we could ask, “What caused Chronus?” But we are not addressing whether the arguments mentioned failed or not. That has already been done before. I did not argue that all the arguments mentioned by JW Wartick apply to the unicorn. My argument has two prongs. The first prong says that if you provide evidence for the Christian god, the same type of evidence can be given for the unicorn. IF IT DOES NOT APPLY TO THE UNICORN, IT WILL APPLY TO MANY OTHER GODS.

    Posted by Cathy Cooper | July 1, 2011, 1:27 PM
  18. @ Rodrigues

    You are prejudiced against other gods and goddesses and unicorns, and like all discrimination, it overlooks or underestimates the similarities between the discriminator and those discriminated against.

    Let me illustrate how you discriminate against Brahman. According to the Upanishads, Brahman is the absolute ground of all being. “Brahman” is a Sanskrit word meaning “the eternal, imperishable, absolute.” This being is also unknowable and has no past, present, or future. Brahman is also impersonal, not completely unlike the god of the deists at the time of the European Enlightenment. In fact, “Brahman” also means “ever growing.”

    Again, you are showing your prejudice, by ignoring the fact that the aforementioned arguments do in fact apply or would apply to various other gods, as I showed in my previous post. In a previous post, I stated: “Just for fun, let us see how many gods would be proven if we accept the cosmological, teleological, ontological, and moral arguments for god.” Then I illustrated how the aforementioned argument would also prove, if they worked, numerous other gods. See the post.

    The historicity of the bible carries no more worth than the Upanishads, and the Vedic scriptures. In these scriptures you too will find people, cities, battles and other archeological matters of fact. As I mentioned above, the emperor Fu Hsi became one of the most revered of all Chinese rulers, and there is a record in the Bamboo Books of the appearance of a unicorn at his palace in 2697 BC, shortly before his death. So, I would strongly recommend not going the historical route!

    Again, let me restate my argument. My argument has two prongs. The first prong says that if you provide evidence for the Christian god, the same type of evidence can be given for the unicorn. The second prong states that IF IT DOES NOT APPLY TO THE UNICORN, IT WILL APPLY TO MANY OTHER GODS.–and so far, this has held up.

    Posted by Cathy Cooper | July 1, 2011, 6:09 PM
    • You wrote, “My argument has two prongs. The first prong says that if you provide evidence for the Christian god, the same type of evidence can be given for the unicorn. The second prong states that IF IT DOES NOT APPLY TO THE UNICORN, IT WILL APPLY TO MANY OTHER GODS.–and so far, this has held up.”

      Suppose for the moment, I grant your argument (I do think it’s terribly wrong, but I’ll grant it for the following). Why should this negatively affect the case for the existence of God in any way? I could equally provide parallel arguments for any belief by simply picking two things which would fit evidence on either side of an issue. For example, we could look at the various interpretations of quantum mechanics, the debate between the Minkowskian and Lorentzian interpretations of relativity theory, etc.

      The core assumption that you’ve left out of your argument is that somehow a diversity of opinions about a topic is supposed to undermine it’s truth. Why should it undermine belief in a specific God that someone can say the evidence for that God applies to other gods or a (arbitrarily chosen, because you could choose any number of other examples) unicorn any more than the idea that evidence for relativity theory can serve as evidence either for the Minkowskian or Lorentzian interpretation of relativity theory?

      The argument makes an assumption which is highly contentious, and you’ve successfully hidden it by dancing around the issue thus far. Again that assumption is that having more than one interpretation of evidence means the thing evidenced is undermined. Yet again, for almost any belief we have, we could illustrate a huge number of scenarios that could alternatively explain the situation.

      Perhaps it is supposed to be the mythic nature of the unicorn which leads us to be incredulous about belief in God.

      Very well, let’s consider my belief that my experience is real.

      Well the evidence that my belief is real can be evidence either for the supposition that my experiences are real or evidence that I am a brain in a vat. Yet surely I am justified in taking it as a given that what I experience is real. But look! There is something mythical (and silly!) to believe in that could equally match the evidence! According to the way you’ve utilized your argument, Cathy, we shouldn’t believe that our experience is real. (This may be a relief for some!)

      So I see no reason to be perturbed in the slightest by your argument.

      But then let’s look at another supposition which you have not argued to support whatsoever. Namely, that similarity in types of evidence means that the evidence is the same. Your argument about other Gods and arguments like the Kalam is that this “type” of evidence can support (certain) other gods. But here again we’ve seen a gross ignorance of an implicit premise in your arguments. You’ve been assuming that you can take individual arguments for the existence of a (theistic) God and by showing they can each match other gods, you have sufficiently rebutted them. I see no reason to see this to be the case (see above). Not only that, but you’ve assumed that types of evidence mean the evidence is equivalent. How much archaelogical/historical evidence do we have for the truth of the Upanishads verses the Bible? You’re making the claim they are highly similar. Back up that claim! Not only that, but do the Upanishads rely upon historical evidence or do they rely on their philosophical exposition of reality. I admit to being only vaguely familiar with these writings, but because of your willingness to act as though you know them front and back, I assume you know them very well. So tell me, does the philosophical nature of the Upanishads and Vedas (of which I’ve read only portions) parallel the historical nature of Judaism and Christianity? Note that the historical claim in the manuscripts about Jesus is the central core of Christianity. Does Hinduism rely upon a single historical truth claim in the Upanishads as deeply as the “people of the Book” do?

      I sincerely doubt it, but I leave it to you to do the work here, you’re making these impressive claims, after all.

      So we see there are some serious, gaping holes in your argument. I see no reason to accept it as anything but trivial.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | July 1, 2011, 7:36 PM
    • @Cathy Cooper (18:09:41):

      “You are prejudiced against other gods and goddesses and unicorns, and like all discrimination, it overlooks or underestimates the similarities between the discriminator and those discriminated against.”

      Oh, I am just prejudiced against one less god than you.

      More seriously though, you keep hammering the same point and you keep missing it (hint: read my post again, especially the first and the penultimate paragraphs). J. W. Wartick has already responded to many of your points and really, I have nothing else to add.

      Note: I will defer to your wikipedia-expertise on Brahman. I will just note that many aspects of Brahman, including his personhood and such aspects as knowing, loving, willing, etc. depend on the Hindu school. For example, in Advaita philosophy, Brahman is infinite, omnipotent, incorporeal, and transcendent, but it is also impersonal, without form, qualities, or attributes, omnipresent, etc. In other words, you will probably have to do a lot of shoehorning so as to identify Brahman with the God that the usual philosophical arguments purport to prove. Anyway, this is all irrelevant to my point, as my previous post should make it clear.

      Posted by G. Rodrigues | July 4, 2011, 3:38 PM
  19. @JW Wartick

    As I mentioned before, I am an Ignostic Atheist, and a Peircian pragmatist, but I am not a relativist. While there may be many hypotheses and interpretations, and while everything may be seen from different perspectives, and everything is theory laden, some hypotheses and interpretations are better than others.

    The fact that there are competing or contrary hypotheses and interpretations does not mean there is no objectivity. Let me illustrate how this works by explaining to you the Hypothetico-Deductive Method:

    The Best Explanation Move is a scientific move.  It is founded on having a hypothesis, which makes predictions, which are confirmed by observations. This is known as the scientific method or the “Hypothetico-Deductive” method. We pose a series of hypotheses and then see if the predicted consequences actually follow. If they do, we conclude that a hypothesis is confirmed. Two conditions must be met for the best explanation move: 1. The first condition to be met is that you must  have a hypothesis, which makes predictions, which are confirmed by observations, and 2. The second condition is that a hypothesis has to do a better job than any of its existing rivals.  I will use two examples to illustrate:

    For example, we now think that infectious diseases are the result of microorganisms.  In the past, people used to think that disease was the result of bad air, usually the night air–or the result of being inhabited by evil spirits.  A simplified discussion of this is revealed in the following argument, with:

    h = germ theory of disease
    O1 = when we examine the blood and lungs of those who have an infectious disease (such as tuberculosis) we find a microorganism ( in the case of tuberculosis, the mycobacterium tubuerculosis)
    O2 = the observation that when this microorganism is injected into animals who can contract the disease, and they do contract 
    O3= those who have never been exposed to the disease do not have the microorganism
    h’ = infectious disease is caused either by bad night air or by evil spirits. 
    P1.  If h, then O1, O2, O3
    P2. O1, O2, O3
    P3. h does a better job in explaining the disease phenomena than h’.
    P4. h fits in with other related h’s that are themselves confirmed.
    C. Therefore, h. 
     
    These premises are ones we have greater confidence in because the battle between the germ theory and its major rivals is one that is over.  Now, there may be some groups, for example, Christian Scientists, who still think that diseases are a result of not being in the proper relation to God, and there will always be disagreements among people.  Nevertheless, the fact of disagreement does not show that we are not justified in asserting with great confidence that we are correct.  However, we must be prepared to look at new evidence and admit, however unlikely we now think this is, that our theory was mistaken.

    The requirement of P3– that a hypothesis has to do a better job than its existing rivals–is the key to what makes an acceptable hypothesis.  The germ theory accounts for such phenomena as transmission of disease, and gives a theoretical foundation for vaccination.

    Let us look at another example; human reproduction.  One hypothesis is that sperm contains a complete human being–a homunculus–and that the egg contains the nutrients for the growth of this homunculus.  The hypothesis we think is correct is that half of a newborn’s genetic material is supplied by the sperm, and half by the egg, and there is no homonculus.  While both explain human reproduction, the contemporary genetic account is better, as it explains heredity as well as the fact of reproduction.  It fits with other biological findings, and allows us to develop crops and animals suitable for certain environments.  This is generally true of competing hypotheses: We choose the one that does a better job in explaining the phenomena, not the one that simply does a job in explaining the phenomena.

    With reference to whether a god exists, or what types of gods exist, or whether unicorns exist, we have competing hypotheses and interpretations. The Christian claim is that there is only one true god, and that god happens to be Yahweh. However, when Christians try to provide proof of this, they are better scientific explanations that can explain the phenomena rather than positing a supernatural entity, as the supernatural is always going to be the least likely explanation.

    Now, back to the power of the unicorn argument. In the case of Christians trying to prove Yahweh exists, they cannot do a better job than a unicornist trying to prove unicorns exist!

    So again, the strength of the unicorn correlation is to remind Christians that there is as much evidence for their god, as there is for unicorns, and that their lofty claims of “knowing” god exists, has no foundation or support. Likewise, the fact that there are competing gods and goddesses and hypotheses and interpretations, is again to illustrate to the Christians, that they can offer no more proof for Yahweh, than a unicornist can for unicorns, or the Greeks can for Zeus, or the Hindus can for Brahman, etc. This does not mean that no god exists, it just means that the Christians have not made their case that a god exists, and that god is their god, Yahweh.

    As an Ignostic Atheist and pragmatist, I will go with the best explanation, which just happens to be the scientific explanation, because they do a better job in explaining the phenomena.

    Posted by Cathy Cooper | July 2, 2011, 5:21 PM
    • I find it interesting you immediately dropped the argument about the Upanishads. Perhaps its another instance of sweeping assertions I’ve seen you make throughout your comments here (i.e. unable to back claims up, but perfectly willing to make them).

      Your rebuttal here utterly misses the point of my own argument. As I pointed out, your “dilemma” is spurious at best, even were it true. I could parallel anything in the world with a similar argument. Yet by your reasoning we should therefore distrust everything. Should we therefore trust the reasoning that lead us to this point?

      Finally, you keep saying that there is manuscript evidence for unicorns. Again, suppose I grant this rather silly claim (unicorns, after all, are a species of rhinoceros [check your dictionary/zoology]). Suppose I grant it in the case of the mythical creature.

      Well now we’ve exposed yet another serious implicit assumption you’ve made without argument or evidence! Namely, you’ve assumed without argument that the Christian manuscripts match reality no more than the unicorn manuscripts! But that’s exactly what’s at issue in arguments like these. Simply quote mining from google books, as appears to be your methodology, doesn’t help much when we’re talking about real historical events. Those events recorded in the Bible either are or not real historical events. Yet we have archaeological evidence for many of the places, people, and even events in the Bible. Please present your own archaeological, paleontological, etc. evidence for the unicorn.

      The bottom line is you’re making your argument with a bevvy of assumptions. This type of argumentation may work for internet atheists, but I intend to be more careful with my sources and argumentation. I already pointed out the fallacious nature of your dilemma in a previous comment. You’ve failed to even attempt to salvage it. I already pointed out an assumption you made regarding the Upanishads and Vedas, you failed to even mention that I’d dealt with it. I pointed out that your argument would undermine all experience. You simply ignored that.

      I see little reason to let you keep using this as a platform to promote dogmatic, anti-intellectual atheism.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | July 3, 2011, 11:55 AM
  20. One last note. Since you brought up the experience argument, we can use that in another example to illustrate what I just argued above. According to the experience argument, if I experience god, then god must exist. I experience god, therefore god exists. Now the Christian argues that they experience Yahweh and Jesus and therefore Yahweh and Jesus exists. But wait! The Hindus have experienced Brahman, and they claim via the experience argument, that Brahman is the supreme being–god. And so on…
    Likewise, some people like the Emperor Fu Hsi, have experience unicorns, so via the experience argument, they too must exist! Some people have experienced pink flying elephants, so via the experience argument, they too must exist! This is the weakness of the experience argument, for a person may or may not have had an experience. They may have certain sensations of a phenomenon, even if that phenomenon does not exist. The main problem with the experience argument for Christians, if it were accepted, is that it would prove too much! i.e. that Brahman exists, unicorns exist, pink elephants exist, etc.

    Posted by Cathy Cooper | July 2, 2011, 5:36 PM
  21. Rodrigues,
    I like your posts – relevant and unapologetic. I have issues with a lot of it of course, but you were really clear and I like that. I’ll give a reply sometime tomorrow, but just wanted to say hi tonight since it was really good. Worthy of an atheist, lol (ts worthy of christians too im just being funny).
    jason

    Posted by jww | July 2, 2011, 11:38 PM
  22. Your threat by stating that you have “little reason to let you (me) keep using this as a platform to promote dogmatic, anti-intellectual atheism.” is to be expected, since you cannot prove your case. It illustrates lack of honesty and how poor your scholarship really is. If you were a true scholar you would admit your mistake in regards to the unicorn argument. But your ego won’t let you.

    To say that the Christian version is better, means that you would have to show that it is the best, and not just parallel to them. The Upanishads, the Chinese manuscript stand up to the same type of scrutiny that the bible does–if not better.

    You said: “So tell me, does the philosophical nature of the Upanishads and Vedas (of which I’ve read only portions) parallel the historical nature of Judaism and Christianity? Note that the historical claim in the manuscripts about Jesus is the central core of Christianity. Does Hinduism rely upon a single historical truth claim in the Upanishads as deeply as the “people of the Book” do? ”

    I did not think this was even worth responding to. As I pointed out, your claims are biased and prejudicial against other religions, without offering any evidence or support. Look up the historicity of the Upanishads and Vedic scriptures for yourself–it’s easy to do. Or are you afraid? The people mentioned, the places, the battles that took place in the Vedic scriptures, have as much or more historicity than the Judeo-Christian claims. I make no distinction between philosophy and religion. As a matter of fact, a religion that is more philosophically based would have a tendency to be better at explaining phenomena than the ones that are less philosophically based. But it is all “philosophy.” To try to distinguish Christianity as somehow non-philosophical shows how stupid it is in that you need to make the distinction to try to make it sound better.

    Posted by Cathy Cooper | July 3, 2011, 3:02 PM
    • Cathy, I’ve already rebutted your claims. You’re making positive assertions like “all faiths have the same evidence.” Please provide evidence rather than saying “Go look it up! It’s there!” We both know that is not an argument, but an escape route.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | July 3, 2011, 11:32 PM
  23. Saying that you rebutted the argument is not the same a rebutting the argument. You rebutted nothing. You said the unicorn argument had no reason behind it. I provided you with the plausible reason behind the unicorn argument. I also went further when you tried to ignore the argument by citing the use of “manuscripts” and showed that the unicorn even answers to your manuscript contention. Next I further showed that you can provide no better argument for the Christian god that can be given in similar fashion for the unicorn, and if not for the unicorn, then for other religions–none of which you rebutted.

    If it were not for your bias and prejudice, you would not have listed the arguments for god’s existence as if they were for the Christian god exclusively, and I had to show you that they also apply to the gods of other religions. As a side note, the ontological argument even applies to the unicorn!

    So in fact, your argument against the unicorn argument was rebutted. I provided a plausible reason, and similarly showed that the unicorn argument is a good correlation to the argument for god’s existence.

    Posted by Cathy Cooper | July 4, 2011, 10:45 AM
    • Given that we’re just talking past each other at this point, I’ll let the reader decide for themselves which argument is better. We’ve seen that Cathy’s argument, as she says explicitly, is a dilemma which has two horns. To use her words: “The first prong says that if you provide evidence for the Christian god, the same type of evidence can be given for the unicorn. If it does not apply to the unicorn, it will apply to many other gods.”

      To support the first horn of the dilemma, she searched google books and pointed out an instance in which unicorns are said to be good. This, she asserted, was equivalent to saying that God is good in the Bible.

      To support the second horn, she argued that arguments for the existence of God can apply to many different gods.

      My response to the first horn was to ask her to support what she called “manuscript evidence” for unicorns with any kind of historical, archaeological, scientific, etc. data. She failed to do anything, and literally her source for her argument was a search in google books. Contrast this with what I pointed out about the Christian Bible: it’s statements are corroborated by evidence found in archaeological digs which support names, persons, events, etc. (I never argued this was comprehensive–no picture of history would be comprehensive). Yet Cathy continued to insist that her Google books searches provided evidence for her argument. I leave it to the reader to decide whether they side with random searches on the internet, or with archaeological research over the past several hundred years.

      In response to the second horn, I pointed out that most of the arguments for the existence of God could only support specific types of God. The cosmological argument (of the Leibnizian variety) could only support a necessarily existent deity. Anyone who does any kind of research about gods of the past would know many would not be ontologically necessary (they could be killed, for example). Other arguments could be brought forth to multiply problems with Cathy’s claims. Yet, in Cathy’s own words, her counter to my objection is, “If it were not for your bias and prejudice, you would not have listed the arguments for god’s existence as if they were for the Christian god exclusively, and I had to show you that they also apply to the gods of other religions.”

      Further, I pointed out that I could grant Cathy’s dilemma and it would not undermine belief in God. The reason I provided was because we could make exactly parallel arguments about anything in experience. Cathy’s rebuttal to my counter-argument was “You rebutted nothing” along with some random argument against religious experience–which I never brought up.

      So again I leave it to readers to decide. They can side with Cathy and simply use an ad hominem attack combined with a blatant misrepresentation of my view (I never argued that theistic arguments applied exclusively to other gods. I never denied that they could be used for other gods. I denied that this mattered whatsoever, given that I could parallel this type of argument with many others).

      Or they can side with the arguments I’ve presented and not undermine belief in anything.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | July 4, 2011, 8:53 PM
      • For a specific example of your argument against Cathy Cooper’s dilemma one can cite Quantum Mechanics: there are several interpretations of it (over ten, if I got my counting right). Some are fully deterministic, others posit parallel universes, etc.

        Posted by G. Rodrigues | July 5, 2011, 2:48 PM
      • First of all, I cited a legitimate manuscript that makes reference to historical and archeological “facts” Whether it is on “google” or not is neither here nor there. Even the bible is on google! I put the reference in the post, so that it readers could easily read a little background information themselves. The manuscript is an ancient Chinese text.

        The name of the manuscript is the “Bamboo Annals,” a manuscript found in a Chinese prince’s grave in A.D. 281, and the emperor Fu Hsi became one of the most revered of all Chinese rulers, and there is a record in the Bamboo Books of the appearance of a unicorn at his palace in 2697 BC, shortly before his death.

        Fu Hsi was the emperor that saw a Yellow dragon-horse, a kind of Qilin (unicorn) that emerged from the Luo He which is a tributary of the Huang He. This was around the year 2852 BCE. In that year, there was an eclipse of the sun which was also recorded, perhaps for the very first time, on April 23rd.

        On the animal’s coat, Fu Hsi saw markings which he perceived as symbols of a written language.Some say this was the origin of Chinese calligraphy. However, he is at least credited with the discovery of the trigrams and invention of knotted cord records which led to written script.

        The invention of the Qin (lyre) to Fu Hsi. who wished to harmonize mind-heart with the universe. By the late period iritual music. Its seven strings were tuned to the five pitches of the natural pentatonic scale.

        It’s statements are corroborated by evidence found in archaeological digs which support names, persons, events, etc., and astrology.

        Archaeologists have uncovered urban sites, bronze implements, and tombs that point to the possible existence of the Xia dynasty at locations cited in the Bamboo Annals, and other ancient Chinese texts. In 1959, a site located in the city of Yanshi was excavated containing large palaces which some archaeologists have identified as the capital of the Xia dynasty. Unlike the oracle bones of the Shang dynasty, there are no written records from the period to help confirm the Xia dynasty’s existence. Through the 1960s and 1970s, archaeologists have continued to uncovered urban sites, bronze implements, and tombs at locations linked to the Xia in ancient Chinese historical texts. At a minimum, the Xia dynasty seems to have marked an evolutionary stage between the late neolithic cultures and the later Chinese urban civilization of the Shang dynasty.

        I hope that the majority of readers on your site are familiar with the issues and problems related to the questionable historicity of the bible.–so let’s just forgo that. Such questions can be raised for both manuscripts.

        Religious prejudice is a terrible thing….and as Buddha would say, “The fool who thinks he is wise is just a fool. The fool who knows he is a fool is wise indeed.”

        Religious prejudice also makes one blind. Wartick, in his prejudicial religious zeal, has provided us with an ontological argument against the trinity, and Jesus being god. Wartick wrote:

        “In response to the second horn, I pointed out that most of the arguments for the existence of God could only support specific types of God. The cosmological argument (of the Leibnizian variety) could only support a necessarily existent deity. Anyone who does any kind of research about gods of the past would know many would not be ontologically necessary (they could be killed, for example). Other arguments could be brought forth to multiply problems with Cathy’s claims.”

        Wartick points out the cosmological argument (of the Leibnizian variety) could only support a necessarily existent deity, in which case, such a deity would be immortal, Which Wartick seems to think goes against non-Christian gods that could be killed. But note, according to Christianity, Jesus was “killed” on the cross! So let’s set out Wartick’s claim logically.

        Let us assume the cosmological argument from contingency (of the Leibnizian variety) is valid and sound and that Wartick is correct that it could only support a necessarily existent deity if and only if that deity is ontologically necessary (could not be killed).

        If Jesus was killed on the cross, then he would not be ontologically necessary.
        Jesus was killed on the cross.
        Therefore, Jesus is not ontologically necessary.

        If Jesus is not ontologically necessary (He was killed on the cross), then the cosmological argument of the Leibnizian variety proves that Jesus is not God.

        This is absurd for Wartick, since he claims that Jesus is God. The only move open for Wartick is to reply that Jesus was resurrected–but so was Dionysius, Quetzalcoatl, Krishna, and others.
        So if we accept the cosmological argument from contingency of the Leibnizian variety, then Jesus is not god. If we accept the resurrection move, then the cosmological argument would not only work for Jesus, it would work for Dionysius, Quetzalcoatl, Krishna, and others.

        So, Wartick’s attempt with the cosmological argument from contingency (of the Leibnizian variety) fails to show that most of the arguments for the existence of God could only support specific types of God, and we know he means the Abrahamic gods, because if he doesn’t, it would be a refutation of the claim that their god is the only god in the first place, which would be a moot point–Foiled again–you are welcome to try again though.

        Wartick went on to say:

        “Further, I pointed out that I could grant Cathy’s dilemma and it would not undermine belief in God. The reason I provided was because we could make exactly parallel arguments about anything in experience.”

        I already pointed out above that I made no such claim:

        “As I mentioned before, I am an Ignostic Atheist, and a Peircian pragmatist, but I am not a relativist. While there may be many hypotheses and interpretations, and while everything may be seen from different perspectives, and everything is theory laden, some hypotheses and interpretations are better than others.

        The fact that there are competing or contrary hypotheses and interpretations does not mean there is no objectivity.” –I have provided a better interpretation and explanation of the unicorn argument than you.

        You can not grant my dilemma , as to do so would mean that it does not undermine belief in the Christian God, or the Hindu God, or many other Gods and Goddesses, and/or the unicorn.–all of which would undermine the Christian claim that their God in the one and only God.

        Here is Wartick’s actual argument from experience, as stated from above:

        “Very well, let’s consider my belief that my experience is real.

        Well the evidence that my belief is real can be evidence either for the supposition that my experiences are real or evidence that I am a brain in a vat. Yet surely I am justified in taking it as a given that what I experience is real.”

        Likewise, Fu Hsi is surely justified in taking it as a given that what he experienced is real, i.e., his experience of the unicorn was real; the Hindu’s experiences of Krishna are real, the Greek experiences of Dionysus are real, etc.–foiled again. Your experience argument does no work.

        This post concerns whether or not the unicorn argument provides reasons, as opposed to just an emotional appeal. I have argued successfully and I provided a plausible reason, and similarly showed that the unicorn argument is a good correlation to the argument for god’s existence. The strength of the unicorn correlation is to remind Christians that there is as much evidence for their god, as there is for unicorns, and that their lofty claims of “knowing” god exists, has no foundation or support. Likewise, the fact that there are competing gods and goddesses and hypotheses and interpretations, is again to illustrate to the Christians, that they can offer no more proof for Yahweh, than a unicornist can for unicorns, or the Greeks can for Zeus, or the Hindus can for Brahman, etc. This does not mean that no god exists, it just means that the Christians have not made their case that a god exists, and that god is their god, Yahweh.

        Posted by Cathy Cooper | July 8, 2011, 4:18 PM
      • Cathy,

        I often have difficulty figuring out if you are intentionally misreading my arguments or just oblivious. For example, you wrote that I argued against Jesus because of my counter example of gods who could be killed. I hesitate to point out the obvious, but I feel your argument forces me to do so: these other gods literally stopped existing. Nowhere in Christian orthodoxy does anyone suggest Jesus’ death means his nonexistence. I summarily dismiss your wrongheaded argument.

        Again, a mispotrayal of my argument occurs in the argument from experience. I was not making an argument for theism based on that (though I do elsewhere). I was pointing out that your own arguments undermine experience. I therefore summarily dismiss that wrongheaded argument.

        I’m going to ignore your other arguments because they’re just repetitions of previous ones. I already made my conclusion above, in which I showed readers the logical errors in your argument, which you continue to make. Your dilemma proves too much. It can be used against everything. Therefore, I dismiss it.

        As far as unicorns go. I hope that my readers can mostly figure this out for themselves, but unicorn is literally a variety of rhinoceros. Look it up in your dictionary (rhinoceros unicornis).

        You utilize caps lock to make points, repeat points to absurdity, and then claim that you’ve defeated my arguments. I specifically showed the flaw in your dilemma (namely that it undermines all belief) and you’ve not even attempted to answer it. This demonstrates once more that there is an immunity to rational arguments built in to your style.

        Readers, look through the comments and note Cathy’s argument. I provided a lengthy response to it in which I broke the dilemma down. I granted her points, and then I showed that they lead to absurdity. Has she responded to this, at all? No. She’s merely repeated the arguments. This will be the end of her repetitions.

        Posted by J.W. Wartick | July 8, 2011, 11:19 PM
  24. @ G. Rodrigues

    Again, nothing that I argued implies relativism. Nowhere did I argue that incommensurability, or indeterminacy, or disagreement, or several interpretations leads to relativism. In fact, I argued against this view and set out my argument above. We have disagreements as to weather Gods or Goddesses exist, whether there are many Gods or just one, and so on. In such cases as this, as in science or any other area cases, we must examine arguments and the evidence and choose the best hypothesis, explanations, and interpretations of the phenomena in question–NO STRAW MAN ARGUMENTS ALLOWED!

    Posted by Cathy Cooper | July 8, 2011, 7:03 PM
  25. So why doesn’t a “lack” of belief in a Unicorn make people angry and whiny the same way a “lack” of belief in God does?

    This is obviously the worst argument I’ve ever heard from atheists, and I love when the “burnts” uuuuh I mean “brights” use this.

    Atheism once again shows it’s intellectual bankruptcy with a hopeless objection to theism.

    Unless, however they are stating a unicorn created the universe? If you put it that way then you are giving the unicorn the attributes God would have, and your basically calling the unicorn……God

    That’s your interpretation of….God

    Posted by A is for Abortion-Survivor | July 9, 2011, 12:42 AM
  26. Unfortunately Cathy’s continual insistence on repeating unsound arguments and making a straw man of my position has lead me to post a final critique of her position, and a temporary ban from comments, because, frankly, I don’t have time to deal with someone who thinks she’s shown the evidence for unicorns is equivalent to the evidence for the truth of the Bible by citing a Chinese book, among other fallacious arguments. My final critique here, for those interested: https://jwwartick.com/2011/07/11/atheist-unicorns-again/

    Posted by J.W. Wartick | July 11, 2011, 6:15 PM
  27. Well, I am an atheist and believe that it is extremely likely that unicorns really exist.
    Let me explain why.
    We have very strong grounds for believing in the existence of an infinite number of paralell universes.
    The probability that unicorns would appear either through evolution or through the chaotic motion of matter (as Boltmann’s brains) is incredibly low, but more than zero.
    But if there exist an infinite space of possibilities, the probability that unicorns exist is equal to 1, it is certain that there exist an infinite number of unicorns in the multiverse.

    There would even be an infinite number of flying stinking spaguetti Monsters and Dick Cheneys.

    As atheists, we are better off giving up such analogies and providing positive arguments for the inexistence of God.

    Posted by gruesome_hound | September 5, 2011, 9:09 AM
  28. Seems to what you fail to understand is that we are 7 billion people in the world or more, and all those people can sit all day long in the couch conceptualizing about the world and it came to be. If from those 7 billion people arise 7 billion different concepts or beliefs about different deities how do you come about what among those different beliefs which one is the correct one?
    Beliefs commonly generate behavior, and depending on the particular behavior, for instance hearing that God wants me to sacrifice my only son in obedience, how you gone ground your behavior without factual evidence? And even in this particular case, how do judge morally this kind of God?

    Posted by Jorge | November 29, 2016, 8:51 AM

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Pingback: Articles. « Loftier Musings - July 3, 2011

  2. Pingback: Fallacious Arguments, Proof of Unicorns, and Cathy Cooper, oh my! « J.W. Wartick -"Always Have a Reason" - July 11, 2011

  3. Pingback: The Role of “Choice” in Faith: Addressing Russell’s Teapot | Well Spent Journey - March 25, 2012

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