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Monday, April 2, 2012

In Response to Michael Antony's Where's The Evidence?


I am Eric, the philosophy major people in main chat might have told you about. I read the article and have an opinion. Before that opinion, there are two things to point out: 
1) "Michael Antony is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Haifa, Israel. He is writing a book on how to approach the question of whether there is a divine reality, and what it might be like." This tells us where he is coming from. 

2) The use of the term New Atheist to label this generation of atheism is pejorative and often used to say that we are less rational and sophisticated than some Old Atheism. 

Responding to his some of his arguments: 
1) He believes from the common understanding (our understanding excluded) that agnosticism and atheism are mutually exclusive. The general response you might get from the atheist community is: Agnosticism deals with knowledge, and Atheism with belief, so you can be an agnostic atheist or an agnostic theist. 

I for one am fine with the falliblist version of Gnostic Atheism. I could logically be wrong, but I am justified in thinking I am right, and I call this knowledge still. This is why I can say I know you exist, even though I might be a brain in a vat being fed a simulation. I just does not make sense to let these extreme cases infringe on the practical pursuit of knowledge. 

Dr. Antony is right about one thing, atheists do need a reason to say god does not exist if they are talking about a positive belief what kind of world they live in. This is the same for why we might believe that there is only natural phenomena. One reason to reject god is that what makes an extraordinary claim extraordinary is that it is probably not true (does not fit with what we know to occur), especially given the strength of naturalism. 

2. For some philosophers like Karl Popper, science was only proving negatives. You would construct a hypothesis, and you pragmatically believed it was true until it failed a prediction, and there you would refine your hypothesis. Most scientists and philosophers are realists unlike Popper about our theories, meaning they think they are true, or at least approximately true. 

[I am skipping to 5 for the sake of brevity and not repeating  myself.]

5. While normally Dr. Antony would be right that any claim about the world would require evidence, even one about the non-existence of something, the issue in regards to the atheism debate is very different. When you already have a lot of background theory (naturalism in particular), atheism fits with our best understanding of the world in science more than theism does. We can make lots of predictions about the universe by ignoring god in our theories. This is why the burden is on theists in this case. 

These are five arguments that clarify and reinforce my position against the existence of a god. One can use the Russell's Teapot to demonstrate the problem of absence of evidence. I do not know with certainty that there is not a teapot in Saturn's rings, but I am very much justified in thinking there's not one. Another disproof of god is to ask which god. Since there are infinite number of possible gods, there is a certain incredulity of someone who says atheism versus my conception of god. Thirdly, there is the greater strength that the more conservative position holds. One person says there is an intangible, invisible dragon in their garage. Without evidence, we have good reason to believe it is true, the chances of it being false are high. Finally, there is the issue of most believed gods are falsifiable. If you say something about the world in regards to your gods interaction with it, then there should be evidence for it. When there is absence of evidence when you expect evidence, you are justified in rejecting the belief.

2 comments:

  1. Eric wrote about "five arguments that clarify and reinforce [his] position against the existence of a god." A thoughtful post deserving response.

    "(1) One can use the Russell's Teapot to demonstrate the problem of absence of evidence. I do not know with certainty that there is not a teapot in Saturn's rings, but I am very much justified in thinking there's not one."

    Eric is correct. The reasoning (not provided but that's okay for the teapot example) is inductive, however, not deductive. His conclusion is a probability, not a mathematical or physical certainty. For the existence of a god, however, whose powers and nature are likely not neatly comprehensible and easily categorized, the teapot analogy is not enough.

    (2) "Another disproof of god is to ask which god. Since there are infinite number of possible gods, there is a certain incredulity of someone who says atheism versus my conception of god."

    Here Eric's argument is flawed. If I say there is a cat in my mom's house, he says, "no, there is no cat. After all, which cat? There could be an infinite number of cats." Eric impermissibly changes the question from that of existence to that of identifying one from many (an unproved assumption.

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  2. To continue with Eric's post.

    (3) "Thirdly, there is the greater strength that the more conservative position holds. One person says there is an intangible, invisible dragon in their garage. Without evidence, we have [no] good reason to believe it is true, the chances of it being false are high."

    Eric has not supplied any reason to disbelieve the invisible dragon claim. A person who claims there is an invisible dragon in the garage is making a statement of fact. It is fair to ask for objective evidence, for historical evidence, for something to corroborate his testimony. You can choose to disbelieve his personal testimony. But his claim is evidence to be considered. Tested, yes; rejected, perhaps. Using the "invisible dragon" example is a rhetorical distraction. He could have said "stink bug" and the same reasoning would apply—except that you have observed stink bugs yourself. Eric's argument example here falls for its incompleteness.

    (4)"Finally, … most believed gods are falsifiable. If you say something about the world in regards to your gods interaction with it, then there should be evidence for it. When there is absence of evidence when you expect evidence, you are justified in rejecting the belief."

    Eric's argument here almost works, but not quite. The "falsification" test is not the only test of facts. You cannot “falsify” most historical events and observations. Do you believe the book, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, states facts? Why -- after all you cannot falsify them. In the case of a supernatural god, there is no reason to expect you can "falsify" the god’s existence. If you want to say "I don't believe in things that aren't falsifiable," then that's fine. But nearly all events of history, and even Darwinian evolution, are all not falsifiable.

    Eric fairly states: the absence of evidence is evidence of absence. The absence of evidence, however, does not conclusively prove nonexistence. My mom's cat exists, but I have only my eyewitness testimony to offer. I can’t prove it conclusively. Your choice not to believe me does not conclusively (logically or factually) prove the cat doesn’t exist. You can say you don't have any reason to believe in the cat's existence - fair enough. That simply means you are not persuaded; that is different from actually proving nonexistence.

    And your disbelief of my uncontradicted eyewitness testimony is not evidence against my testimony. Disbelief is not itself evidence of the opposing position.

    There exists massive evidence of intelligent design of the Universe and of Life. Evidence of intelligent design is consistent with the existence of a god (creator) -- such evidence does not conclusively prove that existence. You don’t have to be a theist to still intellectually recognize the unmistakable evidence of design. An article at Salvo Magazine online, entitled Gandalf on Mars, supplies such evidence, for just one example. The new book, Evolution 2.0 by Perry Marshall, is chock full of more evidence.

    The evidence of design is evidence of a purposeful creator god. Enough to persuade you? Maybe not.

    Thank you for the opportunity to comment.

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