Evidence For Atheism

“…absence of expected evidence can indeed be evidence of absence, like the absence of any bat guano in your attic.”

Question, often asked of atheists by Shockofgod:
What is the proof or evidence that atheism is accurate and correct?

Answer:

Sometimes an apologist will hit upon a question which is not easily answered off the cuff and, by asking it repeatedly, give the impression that there is no good answer and the opposing position is unsupported. You can usually tell such a question by the fact that it’s asked with almost exactly the same wording every time. The above is Shockofgod’s personal weapon. Obviously, asking tough questions is a valid persuasive technique, but if they’re intended to be tough then one may need time to answer them the right way. A written response can be a great help, especially when you’ve read it before being asked the question verbally.

The question is hard to answer as is because atheism itself is the absence of a certain type of belief, not the presence of an equivalent belief. It feels wrong to advance the lack of a belief as correct, let alone proven.

What we need to sort out beforehand is the position of atheists (or at least the majority of them) on the existence of gods and the truth merit of religions. This can be defended, as “what atheists think”, far less awkwardly.

This attempt is probably not definitive, but here goes: the atheist position is that there is no available, substantive evidence for the existence of any god. Therefore it’s likely that there isn’t one.

Now that we have a defined position, what evidence or proof can we offer? It’s hard to support a negative like this, but “available substantive evidence” narrows the field a bit. It essentially means significant evidence which we’ve actually got. There might well be evidence which is not available, like God’s signature in three-inch letters on the surface of Ganymede. There’s plenty of “evidence” which is not substantive, like claims of personal experience and unverified miracle stories. Neither of these is a good reason to abandon atheism. Available substantive evidence for a god, on the other hand, would be good reason.

Therefore the evidence (proof is going too far) is the appearance that there is no such evidence for gods. If it did exist, and were substantive and available, it would be paraded around the world. Whichever god it supported would be vindicated. So it’s very unlikely that evidence is available and substantive and yet appears as though it’s not there.

Another possible piece of evidence for the likelihood of the absence of gods (remember, the position on gods is a statement of probability) is precedent. Unsubstantive “evidence” for gods often takes the form of supposedly impossible things, everything from the beginning of the universe to the diversity of life to Peter Popoff’s inexplicable knowledge of his audience members’ business. As Tim Minchin says in his brilliant beat poem Storm, every such mystery which has been solved has turned out to be “not magic”. Evolution explained the diversity of life brilliantly. Popoff’s earpiece, through which his wife fed him information, was revealed by James Randi. Such cases speak well for the chances that many remaining mysteries will soon be solved. Most importantly, gods seem less and less likely to be necessary in the areas where we have no good natural explanation yet.

Finally, we must address the possible impression of an overreach or a non-sequitur. Why does the absence of good evidence make it likely that there are no gods? Because gods as described by religions which have them (a) have visible, even obvious effects on the world and (b) want people to believe in them. (One or both is usually true even for deistic gods.) The lack of available substantive evidence suggests that either they aren’t both true, or there isn’t a god. Of course theology has reconciled this many times over, but not in ways with any evidential support behind them.

The evidence for atheism, in short, is the lack of available substantive evidence for gods when there probably should be a lot. On hearing that response, an apologist will probably retort in one of two ways:
1. Argue despite any clarification you make that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, in which case it’s helpful to remember that absence of expected evidence can indeed be evidence of absence, like the absence of any bat guano in your attic.
2. Actually present some supposed evidence for the existence of a god, in which case the discussion will then be about that.

In any case, the unanswerable question isn’t.

SmartLX

73 thoughts on “Evidence For Atheism”

  1. No need, here’s some information. Electrons within human control have been measured as travelling at up to 99.9999992% of the speed of light, which while not exactly c is easily fast enough to create relativistic effects.

    Regardless, the second paragraph in my last comment still stands.

  2. Again you have made a mistake. Space and time are not relative due to the fact that the speed of the light is 300,000 km/sec., but due to the constancy of that speed observed from any frame of reference, either moving or stationary. So the main criterion here is not the speed itself, but the constancy of that speed. Electron speed is not constant, because that can be increased.
    There is another website “Ask the physicist”. You can put your question there, and you will get the same reply as above.

  3. “… The evidence for atheism, in short, is the lack of available substantive evidence for gods when there probably should be a lot.”

    “Therefore the evidence… is the appearance that there is no such evidence for gods.”

    A drunk man looses his keys somewhere on the street, but looks for them only under the light of a lamp post because they’d be easier to find there, but don’t “appear” to be there.

    The hidden assumption behind your Atheism is it’s dependence on strong rationalism; the idea that there ought to be some sort of scientifically verifiable empirical evidence that should convince any healthy-minded, rational person. The trouble is, this is ultimately a faith position.

    Science may not be the answer to everything, and it stands to reason that a transcendent deity, is not bound by something it created. Such a being would register under the science of this universe no more empirically than J.K. Rowling would be revealed in the universe of Harry Potter… unless she chose to write herself into the story.

    Your expectation of substantive evidence is built on an faith assumption, and a large one at that.

    1. You may have missed the point, ejdiaz. The elements of the nature of a hypothetical god which are contradicted by the apparent absence of evidence are based on no assumptions or faith positions except those taken by religious adherents themselves.

      Romans 1:20 – “For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse.” God’s influence on the universe is supposed to be so obvious as to be undeniable. Perhaps the true god’s effects aren’t so plain, but if so then it’s not the same god or even the same kind of god. If the passage were true, there would be no atheists. Of course some evangelists make the claim that there really ARE no atheists and we’re all in denial, but I must refute that assertion.

      And then the other point: whether or not a god should be obvious, whatever god you believe in wants me to believe in it, right? Therefore we have this hypothetical omnipotent being who is nevertheless not getting what it wants.

      And of course, if there’s no evidence, why instead WOULD a rational person believe? What’s your play when you proselytise?

      1. “You may have missed the point”
        Perhaps. Yet the inevitable consequence remains: faith in science as the answer to all things. How can you empirically prove that one ought not believe in something without empirical proof?

        You. Can’t.

        At the end of the day, there remains a “lack of available substantive evidence for” your demand for observational data (i.e.”appearance”) upon which your Atheism rests. It’s the pot calling the kettle, black. Nietzsche was more honest and I think new atheists need to get back to that.

        “whatever god you believe in wants me to believe in it, right”
        I don’t know. What makes you assume so? Are you trying to define a god that’s easy to doubt the existence of?

        1. “faith in science as the answer to all things”

          This depends on how you define faith, of course, and theists are generally happy to shift the definition to suit the era or the purpose of the argument. But from the point of view of a scientist, we have no ‘faith’ in science. We have varying degrees of confidence in the data derived from using the scientific method (depending on the particular aspect and field of science under investigation) simply because the scientific method has demonstrated itself by far to be the best method we have in understanding how the universe functions. No other method comes even vaguely close. Surely everyone can accept that. So we will quite reasonably continue using that method until it shows itself to have insurmountable limitations AND a better method comes along. Any less would be a dereliction of our duty of care toward improving the welfare and lives of our own species and the other species with which we share the planet. Sure, empiricism has its faults, it’s a human-derived methodology, not an instruction book produced by the manufacturer. We’re improving it as we go along. But if you have a better methodology, by all means let’s use it – but you’re going to have to demonstrate efficacy first. We’re not going to take your word for it on faith. As it stands, I don’t want to fly in a plane designed and built employing anything other than the most rigorous scientific method.

          “How can you empirically prove that one ought not believe in something without empirical proof?”

          I’m not sure what you’re getting at here. But it sounds like you’re advocating strong epistemological relativism. Two scenarios: I go to the doctor suffering from, say, headaches and she performs an fMRI scan and identifies a tumour, based on a procedure successfully performed thousands of times before and then proceeds to treat me using a combination of treatments whose efficacy has been empirically verified. Or, I go to a doctor suffering from, say, headaches and tell her that I know (via revealed knowledge, visions, answers to prayers, whatever) the cause to be an invisible, ineffable demon who has infiltrated my neurons, planted the appearance of a tumour, and is maliciously going about hurting me because of something I did to upset the spirit world. Or it could be god or the intelligent designer punishing or testing me or experimenting on me…..

          Now, there is no way the doctor can provide empirical evidence that my diagnosis is false. Agreed. So, using your criteria for accepting knowledge claims “how can we empirically prove that one ought not believe in something without empirical proof?” suggests that both the doctor’s and my diagnosis should reasonably be considered equally valid. Until proven otherwise, i.e., possibly forever. And, according to your view, we should do the same for any supernatural claim – simply on the basis that we have no empirical evidence that the supernatural is not true.

          The problem for you is twofold. First, the diagnoses are demonstrably not equally valid in any realistic way. To even begin to consider them so we would have had to observe some phenomena in at least one area of scientific investigation which we cannot currently account for in physical terms AND be unable to generate conceivable hypotheses by which they could ever be accounted for in physical terms. Given the formidable track record of science and the absolutely abysmal record of theology in identifying causation – good luck with that one. Second, assuming that at least some aspects of supernaturalism are true, what non-empirical methodology would you suggest we use to determine exactly which claims of supernaturality are true and which are false? And what method would you use to test the efficacy of this methodology? Empiricism would theoretically work, but remember, by your own rules, you can’t use any empirical method…….

          I’m not saying what you’re suggesting isn’t possible but, given our current (and exponentially expanding) knowledge, it’s certainly not a straw I’m going to cling onto. You might consider my viewpoint to be scientism. But if the alternative is your strong epistemological relativism, fine, I accept the charge wholeheartedly. And so, I’m sure do you, subconsciously, every time you fly in a plane or a visit a doctor.

          1. I’m afraid you missed my point, Gary … by many, many, many words.

            First, I am a science guy, and by faith I mean faith based on reason (not blind faith). Second, yes the scientific method is “the best method we have in understanding how the universe functions” but that’s not what we’re talking about. Your secenarios are distracting and beside the point. They involve areas within the empirical realm so of course, they are quite well-suited to “rigorous scientific method”. I’m not denying that.

            That’s not the issue.

            The issue is the “Evidence for Atheism” which comes from addressing the possible existence of a SPIRITUAL being by means of EMPIRICAL investigation alone –because, by golly, it’s all we have. That kind of “faith in science”. Faith that science is the answer to all things, even those things that, by definition, are NOT restricted to the empirical scientific realm. (Furthermore, it’s not all we have. There are many disciplines that propose interesting arguments for the existence of superlative, transcendent, first-cause deity)

            No, I’m not advocating “strong epistemological relativism”, but simply exposing a faith-based, inordinate confidence in empirical methods alone, a sort of positivism or strong-rationalism, a faith that one particular discipline is the only way to “evidence”, and demanding an “evidence” so strong that no rational person (regardless of tradition) could deny it… when neither position has undeniable evidence to back itself up.

            All world views rely on some sort of unprovable assertion(s) at the get-go. But now, I’m only repeating my initial post.

            1. Ejdiaz,

              Because you used the term ’empirical proof’ (which doesn’t make sense) in your original post I assumed you were either unaware of scientific methodology or were deliberately having a cheap-shot, bashing science as being inferior in some way. That’s why I went off and defended science. I now know better.

              Anyway, as to your original post. The analogy of the drunk and the lamp post doesn’t work because the drunk has full knowledge that there exists a dark region outside of the light cast by the lamp. That’s why the drunk is silly. We, on the other hand, have no knowledge at all that such a region exists. The analogy only works on those who entertain a presupposition that the dark region exists. It doesn’t follow that empiricism is silly in this regard simply because it is restricted to the observable and measurable. Nor does it follow that atheists (at least the majority) are silly for holding no belief in the existence of the dark region or a first-cause deity; indeed most atheists are agnostic atheists – i.e., atheist because of lack of evidence not by presupposition.

              It’s not as if science hasn’t put any effort into directly testing claims that the supernatural reliably affects the physical world. In years gone by we did a hell of a lot of it (e.g., Susan Blackmore recently spent 25 years doing experiments with no joy). The notion of a supernatural has gone by the wayside because there was no evidence of it at all to be found in the material realm. This doesn’t completely discount the possibility that a supernatural realm exists, of course, but it stands to reason that if it has effect on physical world in some way (as is claimed by theism) then these effects should be detectable, if only subtly. If it isn’t detectable or it’s subtleness makes it ambiguous (as appears to be the case) then it is for all intents and purposes irrelevant to the day to day comings and goings in our universe. Which brings me to your claim that: “There are many disciplines that propose interesting arguments for the existence of superlative, transcendent, first-cause deity”. I note you use ‘arguments’ for a deity, and not ‘evidence’. The two are far from being the same. Well, perhaps you know more about this than I do, but I’m aware of only one discipline consistently employed to argue for a first-cause deity and that’s Aristotelian logic. If there are any others, I’d certainly like to hear about them (I do mean discipline, not simply theological just-so stories and mythology). And, of course, as I’m sure you know, you can prove just about anything you like using formal logic so long as your reader accepts certain presuppositions and relevant empirical evidence regarding the premises is ignored or cherry picked. You can’t, on the other hand, demonstrate just about anything you like with empirical methodology so long as certain presuppositions are accepted – eventually the data will sit up and bite you. It remains the case that all of the logical arguments for god remain susceptible to refutation simply by introducing relevant empirical evidence because they all, necessarily, must bring the physical universe into their argument at some point. Logic is probably a necessary, but is certainly not a sufficient aspect of discovering truth.

              It is also worth mentioning that the notion that there must be a first-cause deity is hardly obvious; the concept is traditionally alien to many human cultures including all of Chinese and Japanese culture and native Australian cultures. I’ve discussed this idea at length over the years with Buddhists from a number of cultures, particularly Tibetan and, philosophically smart as many are (and fully accepting of at least some aspects of the supernatural), many of them have real difficulty getting their heads around the idea. It’s incomprehensible to some of them why anyone with any brains would think such a thing.

              So basically we’re left with no more than arguments, postulations, hopes, myths, claims and presuppositions about the existence of the supernatural which we have been unable to substantiate in any shared, meaningful way. The only ‘evidence’ we have is wholly subjective (nothing wrong with this, but it’s not a particularly effective and convincing method of discovering truth is it?). This is certainly not the case with the equivalent knowledge we have of the physical realm and it’s purported link with a supernatural realm. So when you attempt to conflate ‘faith’ about empiricism with faith about claims regarding the supernatural and other worldviews you are in fact indulging in epistemological relativism because you’re discounting the role of evidence in each (note: not empirical evidence, but that as defined by any particular method of study) by not comparing the level of progress made in one quest for knowledge (empiricism) with the level of progress made in any other quest for knowledge (whatever that may be; you decide). Neither, as you claim, is the term ‘faith’ interchangeable between any of these paradigms. If we have ‘faith’ in empiricism it’s because we have confidence in the methodology to produce results. This is based on its track record. But that confidence varies according to the quality of the experimental design, equipment, environmental conditions, data collection procedure etc. If the science is poorly done, no-one has any ‘faith’ in it. Science evens quantizes ‘confidence’ to two decimal places. In contrast, theistic faith tends to be an all or nothing affair and even when based on sound philosophical principles, an undergraduate philosophy student can usually drive a coach and horses through the reasoning. At the very least, non-empirical faith obviously doesn’t lead to an increase in knowledge outside of it’s own belief system.

              1. You make some excellent points Gary, but I still think we’re talking past each other.

                “If we have ‘faith’ in empiricism it’s because we have confidence in the methodology to produce results.”

                Yes, but that’s not what I’m saying. What I am saying is that IF there is a superlative, transcendent god within a spiritual realm, by definition it need not be subject to empirical investigation regardless of the scientific method’s track record. It’s simply out of reach. No offense to science. We need not expect any interaction to be detected as some sort of paranormal activity.

                The blog states: “The evidence for atheism, in short, is the lack of available substantive evidence for gods when there probably should be a lot.”

                And I’m saying, “so what?” Even though you can consider everything else to be merely “arguments, postulations, hopes, myths, claims and presuppositions”, I still see one more close to home:

                When I say, “I should not believe in that which cannot be proven empirically”, that’s fine, but I need to realize I am accepting a self-refuting statement since it also cannot be proven empirically.

                Some people restrict themselves to empirical evidence, ironically without having empirical evidence as to why, and others more thoroughly and open-mindedly consider observational data along with arguments, postulations, hopes, myths, claims and presuppositions, and the like.

                1. No, Ejdiaz, we’re not talking past each other. I know exactly where you’re coming from. It’s not as if you’re saying anything novel or profound. You’re simply unable or unwilling to either modify or mount a credible defence for your presuppositions.The fact that you repeatedly link the terms ’empirical’ and ‘proof’ suggests to me, for example, that you don’t really understand the strengths and open-endedness of the scientific method. Let me expound:

                  “IF there is a superlative, transcendent god within a spiritual realm, by definition it need not be subject to empirical investigation”

                  Can you see what you’re doing here? You’re simply defining a-priori, by nothing more than your own philosophical fiat, something as not amenable to empirical investigation. Then you’re pointing out to us that empirical investigation is not the right tool for the job to investigate that which you’ve defined a-priori as not being amenable to empirical investigation! In other words, you’re attempting to circle the wagons around your first-cause deity so as to protect it from the most successful investigative tool known to humanity. Now, why would you want to do such a thing? If the evidence (any kind of evidence at all) for god’s existence is so robust and compelling, then it wouldn’t matter what empirical investigation concluded, would it? Once upon a time we thought that leprosy had a wholly supernatural cause – sin – that was Christianity’s official line – we now know that Christianity was wrong, its caused by a bacterium and a genetic susceptibility to that bacterium and has nothing whatsoever to do with a persons morality, either in the way its transmitted or its treatment outcome. But that doesn’t mean the fact of the existence of leprosy has changed one iota. Its still every bit as real to us as its always been. The Catholic church once actually claimed that because leprosy has a supernatural cause it wasn’t amenable to empirical investigation. Now change ‘leprosy’ for ‘god’. It’s exactly the same circling of the wagons. If this postulated first-cause deity is having, or has had, any effect whatsoever on the universe, then that effect is amenable to empirical investigation. Unless you’re claiming, by philosophical fiat also, that some physical processes are not amenable to empirical investigation. If there is no discernible effect, it is entirely reasonable to conclude from the empirical investigations that either that first-cause deity does not exist or else has no consequence for us. This doesn’t a-priori preclude, as you seem to suggest, that there aren’t other ways of knowing. The question is, how effective are these other ways of knowing?

                  “others more thoroughly and open-mindedly consider observational data along with arguments, postulations, hopes, myths, claims and presuppositions, and the like.”

                  Exactly. Epistemological relativism. But there’s worse. You haven’t even given us any examples of such “observational data” (is there any other kind?). Nor are you able to give us any details of the methodology we should use to discern which conclusions gained from this “observational data” (presuppositions, myths etc) are in fact true and which are false. You must yourself employ some method otherwise, logically, you must consider it all to be true (perhaps metaphorically), or it must all be false. The fact that you’ve listed a disparate bunch of people whose writings have taken your fancy suggests to me that this method is simply subjective – if their “observational data” accords with your “observational data” (presuppositions) then to you they have obvious epistemological merit. (it’s a bit like claiming that because we can all see a visual illusion (say a Necker cube) it must have some objective physical existence). And indeed, their ideas might well have merit – even though they’ve come via non-empirical means of investigation – I grant you that – but Ejdiaz, please take this notion seriously: how do you know whether what they are saying has any truth value or not? The brute fact is this: once you leave empiricism behind you are left with no method at all of independently assessing the truth value of claims. You’re left with subjectivity and word-play.

                  Here’s an example. You mentioned Alvin Plantinga. I’m familiar with his work. He is very unimpressive. His free will defence of theodicy, for example, is a perfect example of a theological idea that you can drive a coach and horses through by applying a modicum of analysis or even a little empirical evidence. He too attempts to circle the wagons by claiming that his ideas have merit because they exhibit a “a broadly logical possibility” (try and get away with that in a scientific paper – “it’s a broadly logical possibility that bacterium X is the cause of disease Y, so we recommend that our findings inform public health policy!). When confronted with empirical evidence from experimental psychology and neuroscience that appears to negate free will Plantinga doesn’t discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the science. No, he produces a gem of theological thought. He claims that because it will always remain “logically possible” that free will exists, his free will defence will always stand! This is the best evidence that Plantinga can muster? He’s making my point for me. This is what you consider “very substantial arguments”? You’ve got to be kidding me! Clearly, your idea of compelling evidence and my idea of evidence are substantially different and I have no hesitation in putting my ‘faith’ in one rather than the other.

                  Just because people are “super-smart” doesn’t preclude the possibility that they can hold onto unverifiable, illogical and even nonsensical ideas. There’s a whole raft of psychological research demonstrating ‘circling the wagons’ phenomena in humans such as compartmentalisation of knowledge and cognitive dissonance. That’s another strength of the scientific method – you don’t get a paper published that doesn’t include some discussion of the weaknesses in your own procedures or conclusions. The scientists you mentioned certainly do that in their scientific work, but they don’t do it in their non-scientific writing. If they did, they’d have to un-circle those wagons and let’s be honest, Frances Collins’ and Alister McGrath’s writings are heavily subjective. Two authors that aren’t mentioned in your list who do seem prepared to un-circle the wagons are the Australian astronomer Luke Barnes, who reviews some theistically inclined cosmological ideas favourably and fairly and the American Christian philosopher Wes Morriston, who is quite prepared to honestly discuss and expose the shallowness of theological and cosmological arguments for theism (like Plantinga’s).

                  1. Yes, Gary, we are talking past each other.

                    “Can you see what you’re doing here? You’re simply defining a-priori, by nothing more than your own philosophical fiat…”

                    I’m not bring up “IF there is a god” out of some Ludwig-Feuerbachean desire. I look at existence and I think, hmm, impersonal cause or personal cause? Since all possibilities are exhausted in this simple antonymic dichotomy, it’s A or B, one or the other. Now I look at premise A and consider all there is to be considered (empirical included, I’m never saying rule it out) and see if it adequately explains the cosmos: origins, fine-tuning, beauty, love, humanity’s inherent moral code, blah, blah, blah and blah. Do the same with premise B. Repeat. I find that neither can be ruled out definitively, and so here we are: “IF there is a god…”

                    There exists no water-tight argument that knocks the other out of the park, one can only lean on that which has more explanatory power.

                    Now, if you restrict your human faculties to the empirical, the physical, the five senses, and deal only with the superficial knowledge derived from such limitiations, all the while trivializing, marginalizing those who don’t, I can guess the premis you’ll favor. However, if you take a more broad-minded approach, including the above PLUS those faculties of the mind that move you into the non-physical: like deliberation, abstraction, insight, I won’t be able to guess the premis that rings a bell with you (and the arguments for existence won’t be so shallow). Atheists, of course, tend to be the former. They see, they stop. They lean on self-refuting statements as they limit themselves to the empirical and demand incontrovertible evidence from their opponents from within that arena.

                    “Now, why would you want to do such a thing?” 😉

                    “Alvin Plantinga. I’m familiar with his work. He is very unimpressive.” I see…

                    Well Gary, thanks for dropping the other names to me. I’ll definitely look into them. But if you could also point me to a few of your published works, I would really love to entertain them as well.

                    1. “they limit themselves to the empirical and demand incontrovertible evidence”

                      No, I don’t know where you get that idea. I stated that I have no problem at all with subjective knowledge and experience. I practice a Buddhist meditation technique and have done for nearly 30 years. I have undertaken Buddhist retreats in the past. I even spend a lot of time in old churches, one of my hobbies in photographing Christian icons. I listen to and attend requiem masses. I don’t for a minute doubt people have ‘spiritual’ experiences. I certainly have. But how do I communicate those to others in any meaningful way? How do I know they are authentic glimpses into the supernatural realm and not simply neuronal activity with a physical causation and nothing to do with the supernatural? I have no method by which to make those assessments and neither do you. This is the crux of the matter. Alvin Plantinga gets around this by telling us in a recent interview in the New York Times that he doesn’t need any evidence to support his “rational knowledge and belief in god” because god has revealed himself to him. And that’s it. That’s his ultimate message after a long career as a theologian. You might consider that to be on-par with the peer reviewed publication record of a hard-working scientist at the end of his career. You might consider it to be acceptable and that he is a man with “very substantial arguments”. OK, fine. But don’t you think you’re being just a little hypocritical when you say of atheists “That’s it. They stop”……….

                      Don’t you think it’s reasonable that I should expect something a little more than that after an academic career lasting 40+ years?

                      Tell me, what has your and Plantinga’s approach to these matters given us in the past 500 years regarding the supernatural that was not available beforehand? Where is the increase in knowledge regarding spiritual matters occasioned by the open-minded you espouse? You talk about atheists needing incontrovertible evidence. How about any evidence at all that is not simply what someone tells us they have experienced? In other words, what insights does Plantinga offer us that Thomas Acquinas hasn’t already, or Augustine didn’t before that? I mean actual insights into the supernatural – some increase in knowledge of any sort that we did not have before.

                      I’ve got no problem with the poetry and the mythology and the music and the iconography. In fact I love it and happily indulge in it. But until I get something more, anything, it doesn’t have to be even vaguely incontrovertible, I can’t see why I shouldn’t view the whole supernatural enterprise as no more than people making wholly subjective claims that they are unable to verify.

        2. It’s not a matter of proof, which is why I called this piece “Evidence for Atheism” instead of “Proof of Atheism”. I personally try to accept the existence only of things for which there is some available evidence, because if one believes something for any other reason I know of, there is no way to tell whether it’s actually true. For anyone who thinks the same, the lack of evidence for a god when there are multiple reasons for there to be ample evidence is reason enough to go beyond simply disbelieving in gods, and actually see some support for the positive claim that there are no gods of the sort the majority worships.

          If another way of knowing something were presented to me which did not require evidence, but nevertheless somehow provided assurance that the thing is true, I would reconsider some of the things I currently reject for lack of evidence. Without this alternative “way of knowing”, however, there is no good reason to accept a claim without evidence. You may not be so hot on material evidence, but there’s still got to be something in its place, or why even consider a given idea?

          I am not trying to define gods out of existence. I’m trying to address the concepts of a god which people actually believe in. (The harm of religion and the very reason for outspoken atheism springs from certain actions based on these beliefs.) If you think your god wants me to believe in it, either this idea or the idea that the god is all-powerful is contradicted by the fact that I don’t believe. If you DON’T think your god wants me to believe in it, go ahead and correct me, but you’re in the minority among theists.

          1. “I personally try to accept the existence only of things for which there is some available evidence,”… yes and by faith you restrict what you call “evidence”.

            “if one believes something for any other reason I know of, there is no way to tell whether it’s actually true”

            Now you’re getting into philosophy.

            Yet even if you, by faith, restrict yourself to empirical investigation, you still are left with varying degrees of uncertainty. Nothing certain. You see the dots, you connect them with various degrees of assumption and go with the theory that has the best explanatory power.

            However, with a being that is by definition, beyond the empirical realm, you have no viable reason to limit your reasoning to the empirical realm and ignoring the arguments of all other disciplines. Unless you have a conflict of interest.

            “It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! … I don’t want the universe to be like that…. I am curious whether there is anyone who is genuinely indifferent as to whether there is a God…” (Atheist Philosopher Thomas Nagel, “The Last Word”)

            1. I’ve become pretty indifferent to whether there is a god.
              Heaven … meh … hell … pish-posh … purgatory, hmmm …

              If a being beyond the empirical realm can make arbitrary things happen in the empirical realm to assert it’s will, then why oh why doesn’t lightning strike me when I “blaspheme” like this.

              Maybe its mutual indifference … the beyond empirical being and this particular empirical being just aren’t that into each other to care about each other’s curious ways. Good for all, I guess. Less time wasted in the empirical realm and less whatever it is that exists beyond time wasted in the beyond empirical.

            2. Enough of this. Name one argument from another “discipline” which actually gives a good reason to believe in the existence of a god, by actually making it more likely than the alternative. In other words, give a non-evidence-based reason to believe in a god which is anything more than an assertion, and does not have an inherent logical fallacy. If there isn’t one, there is no viable alternative to the demand for evidence, and however much you devalue that pursuit it remains uncontested.

              1. SmartLX, you just went down a few notches in my respect book. Is that really what it all comes down to for you? Assuming you’ve been so open-minded in your critical thinking and so intellectually honest in your pursuit for truth, that there just can’t be another likely alternative?

                Here’s Stephen J. Gould: “Either half my colleagues are enormously stupid, or else the science of Darwinism is fully compatible with conventional religious beliefs — and equally compatible with atheism…”

                There are people much smarter than us who have found compelling arguments in other “disciplines” to embrace the alternative:
                Francis Collins – head of the Human Genome Project.
                Eugene Genovese – Marxist Social Historian
                Anders Borg – economist and mastermind behind Sweden’s economic overhaul
                Ignace Lepp – writer, psychologist and psychiatrist
                Alister McGrath – Biochemist
                Nina Karin Monsen – Philosopher
                Allan Rex Sandage – Astronomer
                John Warwick Montgomery – has 11 earned degrees in multiple disciplines, specializing in law. Best known for insisting on legal standards of proof in debate on the Gospel.
                E. F. Schumacher – Rhodes scholar and economist who coined ‘small is beautiful’
                Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn – Russian dissident and writer
                etc.

                “Name one argument from another “discipline” which actually gives a good reason to believe in the existence of a god, by actually making it more likely than the alternative.”

                *sigh*

                Obviously there are many, but they just don’t appeal to you personally… or (MUCH more likely) you aren’t aware of them. Your research hasn’t gotten you there yet and, furthermore, you want others to do the foot work for you.

                So, I’ll just give you some names: Philosopher Alvin Plantinga. He has some very substantial arguments. Theoretical physicist-turned-Anglican priest, Dr. John Polkinghorne. Super-smart guy. Alister McGrath, Molecular biophysicist, intellectual historian, former-atheist. This should get you started … if you can get past the conflict of interest that philosopher Thomas Nagel puts much more honestly than most:
                “It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! … I don’t want the universe to be like that…. I am curious whether there is anyone who is genuinely indifferent as to whether there is a God…”

                1. We’re not discussing whether alternatives are impossible, or whether conventional religious beliefs are incompatible with Darwinism. Of course alternative explanations are possible (though not necessarily probable) and of course Darwinian evolution can be reconciled with religion at least to some extent, because the people you listed have done just that.

                  What we’re discussing is whether there’s a good reason to actually believe that the alternatives to atheism are true, not simply acknowledge that they might be. Only then would it be worth NOT being an atheist, because being something else requires some kind of positive belief in a god or godlike entity. You and I would acknowledge that it’s technically possible as far as we know that the Harry Potter books were in fact written by actor James Woods, but neither of us thinks that actually happened.

                  You’re the one trying to make ME do the footwork for YOU by looking up the arguments that have all these people convinced, but if you look around I actually have done a lot of it. My Great Big Arguments series covers most of the major arguments for gods, so I’ve addressed much of what they’ve said without responding specifically to them. There are others I have addressed specifically, for instance Alvin Plantinga’s Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism or EAAN.

                  If after a ten second text search of the site you think I’ve missed something major, let me know specifically what the argument is, not just who its proponents are, in order to avoid making a further argument from authority.

                  Finally, if you think there’s a god I take it you’re happy there’s a god. The vast majority of theists want to be right, not just because they love and worship their gods but because they psychologically depend on their gods in everyday life. This by itself is no reason to invalidate everything they say to convince others there’s a god, any more than the fact that Thomas Nagel DOESN’T want there to be a god is a reason to dismiss any argument he or anyone else makes against gods, that is not also an appeal to consequences.

                  1. Gould’s quote, and the point of my last post, was only to show there are people who aren’t “enormously stupid” and who have found viable reasons to have some sort of religious belief. Also, the list of names I dropped to you are, prominent intellectuals who recently left Atheism.

                    I was responding to your demand for “a non-evidence-based reason to believe in a god which is anything more than an assertion”, and yet… I just can’t get past that YOU hold to a “a non-evidence-based reason to” NOT believe in a god and it, too, is an “assertion” and a self-refuting one at that. (“positive belief”?)

                    “If after a ten second text search of the site you think I’ve missed something major, let me know specifically…”

                    I just eluded to it and stated it earlier in my initial posts as well.

                    This is major and it is what annoys skeptics about atheists (and many theists. Sorry, they’re in the same category here.) They both limit how they analyze the evidence to produce a desired outcome. Atheists, creationists… they’re doing the same thing. (See Atheist Philosopher Michael Ruse, “Why I Think the New Atheists are a Bloody Disaster”)

                    Yes, you are correct in saying that theists want to be right. They have a conflict of interest, but whether or not each one acted upon it is up for discussion. But by definition, Atheism DOES act upon its conflict of interest and that is NOT intellectually honest.

                    Let me spell it out.

                    Here’s what I told Gary: A thoughtful person looks at existence and thinks, hmm, impersonal cause or personal cause? Since all possibilities are exhausted in this simple antonymic dichotomy, it’s A or B, one or the other. He looks at premise A and considers all there is to be considered and sees if it adequately explains the cosmos: origins, fine-tuning, beauty, love, humanity’s inherent moral code, etc. He does the same with premise B. Repeat as necessary. If he’s using all of his human faculties without prejudice, there’s no telling where he’ll end up.

                    But what does it mean to use all my human faculties? Here is where the Atheist gets into trouble: If you restrict your human faculties to the empirical, the physical, the five senses, and deal only with the superficial knowledge derived from such limitations, all the while trivializing, marginalizing those who don’t, you are guaranteed arrival at “premise A” but you have not done so with intellectual honesty. Furthermore, you’ll demand everyone else submit evidence that fits within the unjustifiable limits you’ve imposed upon yourself.

                    However, if you take a more broad-minded approach, including the above PLUS those faculties of the mind that move you into the non-physical: like deliberation, abstraction, insight, I won’t be able to guess the premise that rings a bell with you (and the arguments for existence won’t be so shallow; the arguments for or against gods won’t be so predictable.)

                    So, SmartLX, I say atheists have a conflict of interest, you say the theists do to.

                    Fine. But by definition, the Atheist acts upon it quite obviously by limiting their faculties. The theist is up for grabs. It’s possible C.S. Lewis converted from Atheism to Theism, and eventually to Christianity because of some desire or need, but no one will deny his intellectual honesty coupled with the pounding possibility of “Premise B” that left him, in his own words, “the most reluctant convert in all of England”.

                    Let me put this another way: The Atheist is like an investigator trying to protect a criminal. He walks into a possible crime scene, observes a trashed room and says “I just see an overturned room. I refuse to believe a criminal has been here. No photos. No signatures on the wall. Where’s the evidence? Heck, where are the viable non-evidence-based reasons that aren’t more than assertions?” Your partner sighs as he alone, open to ALL possibilities, uses ALL his human faculties to puzzle out the meaning behind the disheveled room.

                    It’s convenient to limit your faculties to the physical 5 senses and deny the non-physical powers of insight, abstraction, etc, when you have a conflict of interest.

                    “What we’re discussing is whether there’s a good reason to actually believe that the alternatives to atheism are true…”

                    The atheist, by your definition, will find no “good reason” because of the box he chooses to live under.

                    SmartLX, thanks for your time. And thanks for the links to your “Great Big Arguments series” and your response to “Alvin Plantinga’s Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism or EAAN”. I promise to read them.

                    I’d encourage you to read Timothy Keller’s, “The Reason for God”. It’s quick. Layman. An easy read. But it’s probably one of the most respectably written books to atheists/skeptics I’ve ever read. Regardless of your position, it leaves you with greater humility in your own position, and greater respect for the opposing position. Something our marginalizing, disrespectful, “circle the wagons” world needs.

                    I need to move on here. I’m out of time, and discussions like this are better over a beer anyway. I wish you all the best. You get the last word.

                    1. So your non-evidence-based reason to believe in a god was an argument from authority? Oh well, you met half the criteria.

                      Deliberation, abstraction and insight are forms of thought, which are adequately performed by the physical brain and the electrical and chemical energy within. We can be confident of this because physical or chemical brain damage reliably impairs our ability to do these things. To imply that these things are not just unexplained but unfathomable in a natural context is galloping towards the classic, omnipresent argument from ignorance.

                      The investigator analogy is something of a straw man. The two officers are looking at the obvious products of human aggression, a room full of evidence for it, if they agree it’s been “overturned”. If you’re suggesting that atheists deny the evidence for God in front of their eyes, which wouldn’t surprise me, the “evidence” has got to be something more than things which are otherwise unexplained.

                      You’re dead right that these discussions are better over a beer, but to do properly they usually require more concentration than the beer allows. It’s why I prefer to discuss it in text.

  4. “No, I don’t know where you get that idea.”

    I get it from Atheists. Mainly “new atheists”. The strong rationalism. The positivism.

    “But until I get something more, anything, it doesn’t have to be even vaguely incontrovertible, I can’t see why I shouldn’t view the whole supernatural enterprise as no more than people making wholly subjective claims that they are unable to verify.”

    You know, you’re a lot like a bad investigator, or one trying to protect a criminal. You walk into a possible crime scene, observe a trashed room and say “I just see an overturned room. I refuse to believe a criminal has been here. No photos. No signatures on the wall. I mean, is it unreasonable to expect even some vague incontrovertible evidence … like his initials on the door knob?”

    Your partner sighs as he alone, open to ALL possibilities, uses ALL his human faculties to puzzle out the meaning behind the disheveled room.

    It’s convenient to limit your faculties to the physical 5 senses and deny the non-physical powers of insight, abstraction, etc, when you have a conflict of interest.

    And your talk of “spiritual experience” as something supernatural or touchy-feely, understandably subjective… I wasn’t even going there. Maybe I was unclear. I type fast. I’m simply saying, because I consider the possibility of “Premise B”, I’m considering spiritual (and empirical) explanation when observing the empirical and not limiting my human faculties to guarantee a desired outcome. Open-minded. Deliberation, abstraction, insight, etc. You’re talking about subjective spiritual euphoria, and I’m looking at viable explanations for, say, the universal moral compass in human beings beyond just the unconvincing natural explantions.

    We could be observing the same thing, but if you limit your human faculties to the physical, you will get a superficial knowledge. This pretty much guarantees you arrival at Premise A. (applause! well done!) “No criminal here!”

    C.S. Lewis didn’t convert from Atheism to Theism, and eventually to Christianity first because of some subjective suupernatural spiritual experience. It was his intellectual honesty and the possibility of “Premise B” and it left him, in his words, “the most reluctant convert in all of England”.

    “But don’t you think you’re being just a little hypocritical when you say of atheists ‘That’s it. They stop’”

    No. Of course not. Because Atheists are the ones who claim the non-faith road, yet they limit their methodology, “they stop” by leaning on self-refuting claims that require faith. Plantinga never makes this claim of non-faith. AND, interestingly enough, he still doesn’t “stop”. He constructs arguments anyway. You bring up Aquinas and Augustine; so doubtless you’ve heard of Plantinga’s resurection of Anselm’s Ontological argument and that it’s not something thinkers just dismiss. His “two dozen or so theistic arguments” keep blogs busy. And he’s not alone. (though you pick on him as if he bring him down tears down your opposition) You may define him by a snippet from an interview if you wish, but it seems a little disingenuous.

    Side note: Plantinga claims to be a born-again Christian which adds sense to the NYT snippet; that is, if you know anything about Christianity. You brought up Buddha. Compare him to Christ. Religion 101. Two of the most influential religious figures in history. Buddha essentially said “don’t worship me, follow this dogma I’ve discovered”. Christ essentially said, “worship me, I am The Dogma incarnate”. Buddha’s last words: “strive without ceasing”. Christ’s last words: “[Don’t strive. I strove.] It is finished”. Buddah promotes the typical, follow-these-discovered-unprovable-answers-to-the-big-questions-work-hard-to-earn-your-salvation religion; Christ turns it on its head and says “Don’t strive for salvation; God already did the work. Religion says find god/peace/karma/happiness/whatever, Christianity claims God found you. Christianity’s view is humbling, because God had to do the work you were hopless to do; it’s at the same time exalting because he was willing to do the work. This is Plantinga’s religion –or unreligion, if you will– so it makes sense to me that though he appears to relax in the knowledge that “it is finished”, the exaultation from such a divine action inspires him to strive to make a case for God anyway.

    I’m being very brief here, but I think it would do Atheists some good to better understand that which they critize. The one-religion-fits-all simplistic view they take is one of the biggest complaints of “new atheism” to be sure, coming even from Atheist philsophers (Michael Ruse as just one example).

    “Tell me, what has your and Plantinga’s approach to these matters given us in the past 500 years regarding the supernatural that was not available beforehand? Where is the increase in knowledge …”

    Listen to me clearly, Gary: I. DON’T. CARE.

    (did you get that?)

    I dont. I am interested in the truth.

    Save the emotional excuses/reactions for the self-proclaimed intellectual 20-somethings who flock to Atheism, NOT because if offers some existentially or intellectually satisfying argument, but mainly because it’s something other than fuddy-duddy religion. That’s why these new atheist personalities can write their books and make money with undergraduate philosophy, journalistic wit, and atheist-tantrums. Yet here you go, taking up a paragraph to show me that even those after 40 years in academia, one can still walk around with a chip on the proverbial shoulder. Conflict of interest.

    I feel for you, Gary. Forty years is a long time. Maybe you need to leave your surroundings, your collegues, leave the little wagon circle, and bang your head on a a tree somewhere to loosen things up. You seem a smart guy, certainly very trained, but you don’t seem to know yourself. And such intellectual dishonesty is going to waste the thinking time you have left.

    Here’s a book for you. Simple, layman, but maybe a tree to bang your head on: Timothy Keller, “The Reason for God”. It’s probably one of the most respectably written books to atheists/skeptics I’ve ever read. And it’s an easy read. Gives one food for thought, and certainly, regardless of your position, leaves you with greater humility in your own position, and greater respect for the opposing position. Something our marginalizing, disrespectful, “circle the wagons” world needs.

    Alas, I’m done here. All of this is taking more time than I have at the present. I thank you for your time, Gary, and for pointing me in the direction of some new authors to read up on.

    You get the last word.

    I wish you the best.

    1. Yes, we should leave it there. There’s enough material for people to make up there own minds re the evidence and quality and style of argumentation presented by both of us.

      Before signing off, however, I would like to correct one misunderstanding – caused entirely by my poorly expressing myself – when I referred to expecting more after an “an academic career lasting 40+ years” I was referring specifically to Plantinga’s academic career.

      I wish you well too.

Leave a Reply to Rohit Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *