Sunday, 15 July 2007

Atheism or Religion?

The claim that neither religion or atheism is right, is on its surface, a fair pronouncement, that somehow you can weigh one logically against the other and each is equally preferable. But when you dig a bit, you realize it is a hollow claim. It is a claim that presupposes an equal footing, between religion and atheism. Therefore, one cannot disprove the religious position and thus, one has to hold just as much faith that there is no God; as a theist holds that there is. Let us 'dig' in, to see why the claim is a poor one.

When an atheist says there is no God, it is based on probability and that probability is arrived at, based on the improbability of the claim. This simply means, it is improbable based on the simple fact, that there is no evidence to lead to probability. On the other hand, when a religious person says they believe in God, it is not a belief based on probability, rather, is is a belief built on faith and tradition.

Thus, we arrive at two different methods of knowledge. The religious position that holds the God concept as true, is a belief based purely on faith and tradition, whereas, the atheist position against the concept of God, is held as a belief grounded in improbability.

One can say as an atheist, there is no evidence to back up the religious proposition and therefore, there is no reason to hold it up as probable, until such evidence can be presented. A theist on the other hand, cannot say, 'there is no evidence against the possibility of God, therefore God is a probable concept'.

For a theist to say, there is no evidence against the concept of God, is really no different, than that of a mystic, who believes in the tooth fairy and saying: 'one has no evidence against the possibility of tooth fairies, therefore, they should be held in the realm of the probable'.

The very point is, that the concept of God lies within the same category as tooth fairies, hobgoblins, gremlins, ghosts, vampires - et al, none of these arbitrary mind-spun concepts can be disproved or indeed proved, that is because one cannot prove or disprove a negative. What one can do however, is offer a base of probability and simply say, unless you can present any evidence, then your claim is simply an arbitrary speculation and remains in the category of improbable.

Indeed, because the God concept lies in the same arbitrary conceptual category as tooth fairies, that is enough on its own, not only to dismiss it as improbable, but most likely impossible.

What makes the God concept an arbitrary concept, not to be taken seriously as a probable event, is the fact that it is a supernatural speculation. Supernatural means 'above nature'. This alone means it is unprovable by the laws of nature, because to prove it, one would have to do so, through some supernatural means. One would have to suspend all know laws of physics, to grasp 'a straw' that would bring the God concept into the realm of the probable. The fact that it's a supernatural speculation, is enough on its own to dismiss it as nonsense.

There is another point here too, and it is one that theists are liable to forget to mention. The burden of proof in any honest claim; or an attempt at a claim of probability, is that, the burden of proof is with the one making the claim. So, if someone makes a claim that God exists, then the burden of proof is their's. Unless such evidence can be presented, then an atheist has every right, to hold the God concept up, to be as likely as tooth fairies and hobgoblins.

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twylite said...

Nothing about atheism requires a rational and probabilistic decision to be atheist. Atheism is simply belief that there is no god. There is not proof that there is no god, and statistical probability is not proof.

Conversely one does not require tradition to be a religion adherent. Some people rationalize that the probability of the universe existing without a creator is low, and choose to follow a religion irrespective of their upbringing.

And all of this is premised on a certain understanding of god. If we are discussing a creator-god in the Christian sense then god exists outside the universe and is not subject to the laws of physics that he made.

If you assume that the concept of "god" is defined as a creator-deity that is all-powerful, then you must ask the question: can we know about god?

God would necessarily exist outside the universe, and is thus unobservable. Any intervention by god in the universe would either be occur within the laws of physics (because god chooses to do so), or would violate the laws of physics -- but we wouldn't know that, because we would witness something and assume it to be within the laws of physics, and adjust our understanding of the laws to accommodate the new event.

Arguments about the probability of god, or of the universe existing with or without god, are meaningless. We have a sample size of 1 for universes. That is too small to draw any statistically valid conclusions.

The question of knowledge about god is parts of the gnostic / agnostic stance. It looks like you need to read up on agnosticism.

Craig Secularman said...

In response to twylite: I based the ideas in the original post of this string, on the book written by the physicist Victor J. Stenger, 'God the Failed Hypothesis'. The book is subtitled 'How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist'.

Now, what you cannot do is prove 'God doesn't exist' as an axiomatic certainty. But what Stenger does and I believe he is the first scientist to do it, he comprehensively breaks down every theistic claim for God and shows why it is a failed hypothesis, using the scientific method, based on probability. So, even your claim that nothing about atheism, requires a rational and probabilistic decision is false... are you seriously suggesting, that someone who loses their religion, comes at that position without any rational decisions, it is simply done on a whim? Atheism is not simply a belief that there is not a God... That suggests that an atheist simply believes there is no God, end of argument and cannot put forth a rational argument to why they don't. If that were true, I could not take the Dawkins position (I think he originally borrowed this analogy from someone else), which I do and which is based on probability, that is: "I take the God concept, to be as likely as the tooth fairy" ...I have already said why I take this position, because God, like the Tooth Fairy, are both arbitrary speculations, even the false can be falsified through context, such as 2 + 2=5... This is exactly what one cannot do with an arbitrary speculation, because there is no context within reality, by which to falsify it, how could there be, it's a supernatural claim. So you have to fall back on probability.

And as for your statement that one does not need tradition or religion to believe in God, the point is that most people do. Those that simply believe in a God in the Spinozian sense (and I mean in the Spinozian sense, as it is often misunderstood by theists and not what Spinoza really meant, see the end note). Well, I have no qualms with that claim. Those are not the individuals, who tend to feel the need to bully others, through religious dogma. But even here there is sometimes a problem. Intelligent Design advocates will often use this argument to attempt to strengthen their position. This is exactly what Stephen Meyer of the Discovery Institute does.

Of course the argument for a Spinoza God, doesn't answer anything either. It is an anti-intellectual proposition, because you end up in an infinite regress, of who created the creator and so on. The best one can do, is say: 'I believe in Spinoza's God', end of conversation, what have you proved, nothing.

Of course your statement that statistical probability is not necessarily proof, well, you are absolutely right. But unlike the belief in God, my position is not dogmatic. If someone presented evidence for God, I would be open to it, how many theists on the other hand, would read Stenger's book with an open mind. Now what I said in the original post, I said: "because the God concept lies in the same arbitrary conceptual category as tooth fairies, that is enough on its own, not only to dismiss it as improbable, but most likely impossible." Note, I did not say false. I take the same position as Michael Shermer, I do not buy into the God concept, because evidence for God is so weak... Indeed, it is so weak that I go beyond agnostic to strong atheism. But being open minded to evidence, if a theist can present good evidence (none ever has), then I of course, would have to accept it.

Well, if you say I need to read up on the gnostic/agnostic stance, then I feel equally obliged to say you should read up on Stenger's stance. Though, even here, I'm not quite sure what you mean by the gnostic/agnostic stance? ...Can you seriously tell me that all gnostics/agnostics, think alike and have the same stance? ...Now, it may well be true that you can determine the philosophical position of an agnostic in literature, but try doing that with gnosticism; there are so many different and diverse beliefs within it, that this would be impossible, other than in a very general sense of saying they hold a supernatural belief. The fact that there are so many different gnostic stances in the World, is one of the reasons that religious conflict is possible... take anyone with a different truth and they are considered to be an inferior religious imposter, even an infidel who can be killed.

Note: I use the definition of Spinoza's God in this article, as it is often misrepresented by theists, as a force beyond nature, that is all encompassing... But in reality, Spinoza's God is nothing more than nature itself. Spinoza is often misrepresented as an agnostic because of this error, in fact with this correct definition of Spinoza, one could best call him an athesit and not an agnostic.