What (Some) Atheists Just Don’t Seem to Get


In all the commotion from the other day, while most of the comments simply proved my point that many of the new atheists are incapable or unwilling to behave in a civil manner, some of the comments did stick out. Aside from the theme of belittling me (and let’s be honest, even if I had multiple degrees from prestigious institutions, I would still be treated as a buffoon because many of the commenters are intellectual bigots who are unwilling to face those who happen to hold different beliefs), one common theme emerged; believing in God simply cannot be rational, ever, at all, unless evidence is produced for the existence of God. Next to this idea is that philosophy and science simply do not mix. Both of these ideas, however, are highly flawed.

What is meant by “evidence?” Certainly they have in mind something of the physical sort that we would use in scientific experiments. If this is what we mean by “evidence” and “proof” then let me say upfront that no, I cannot prove the existence of God. But before any atheists begin to celebrate and proclaim “Mission Accomplished™” we should first look to see if knowledge is dependent upon such stringent requirements.

The philosophy mentioned above is a type of epistemology that could be called scientism, or empiricism, or positivism, or something along those lines (I refuse to nail it down to one epistemic theory due to the variation of comments that were left). For some of these atheists, science serves as the only measure of knowledge (that which can be reproduced or investigated physically). For others, they hold onto a form of empiricism by stating that only what can be seen can be known. At the base of whatever epistemic systems these atheists follow is the idea that something must be physically proven to exist; but does such a system accurately reflect the real world?

For instance, can I – utilizing the methods of science or physical evidence – prove that I exist or that I am currently conscious (not dreaming)? I could point to the fact that I am currently aware of the fact that I’m conscious, but this would be a circular way of thinking. In fact, the philosopher Paul Boghossian wrote in his book The Fear of Knowledge,

“Not every belief needs to be supported by some independent item of information that would constitute evidence in its favor: some beliefs are intrinsically credible or self-evident…What non-circular evidence could one adduce, for example, for the belief that one is currently conscious?” (117)

I would tend to agree with Boghossian that some beliefs are simply known a priori or are self-evident. That I am awake is a self-evident belief that doesn’t need any evidence nor can it have any evidence. In other words, while evidence is required for some beliefs – such as beliefs learned via experience – evidence is not a necessary requirement for knowledge. Of course, if evidence isn’t necessary for all knowledge then could it be true that evidence isn’t needed in order to rationally believe in God?

Some might argue that belief in God isn’t self-evident or an a priori belief. After all, all cultures at all times simply accept that they are awake and do exist, but they may differ on what type of God exists, if there are multiple gods, or if there are any gods. From here they would argue that we must therefore supply evidence for the belief in God.

Even in this case, however, the argument doesn’t make much sense. For instance, math is an abstract that lacks physical evidence (that it can be physically demonstrated at is more basic levels is a far cry different from having a physical form that we can observe). Certain rules of logic are abstracted, yet we know them to be true (such as the law of non-contradiction). Even our ability to put two items together is an immaterial reality, but one that we rely upon (i.e. there is nothing intrinsic in the number 6 that causes us to understand that when added to 1 we will gain 7; the act of addition cannot be physically examined, but we know it is true nonetheless).

When it comes to the existence of God, then, the lack of evidence isn’t sufficient to say that such a belief is irrational. Rather, one would have to show how a belief in God is properly irrational or how one lacks substantial reasons for believing in God. Again, one couldn’t turn around and say, “Well there’s no evidence” as the presence of evidence has no bearing on whether or not something is rational. Furthermore, if one can demonstrate from current evidence that it’s possible for God to exist, or merely that naturalism cannot account for something within the physical universe (such as a finite beginning to energy and matter, the existence of consciousness, and so on) then by default theism would be true, or at the very least highly plausible (due to this being a disjunctive problem, if one possibility is known to be false then the other is necessarily true).

It is this problem of epistemology that most atheists, specifically scientists, just don’t seem to get. When confronted with it, the default answer is, “Well I’m a scientist so I deal with facts and physicality.” This may be true, but it’s a poor excuse. For instance, if a woman tells a mathematician, “I love you,” he doesn’t say, “Can you provide the mathematical formula for your love? After all, I’m a mathematician so I only deal with numbers and formulas.” Likewise, saying, “I’m a scientist” doesn’t excuse someone from a faulty epistemology; philosophy will always reign supreme over science because ideas guide how we gain evidence and how we interpret evidence. The only way philosophy can disappear is if people stop thinking or having ideas while acting; since the interpretation of evidence requires thinking people, philosophy will always reign supreme.

Since the above is true, this means that science can never be divorced from philosophy. Thus, while the scientific method is perfect when conducting scientific experiments, we must remember to leave it there and not apply it to the whole of life. Yes, science has brought us computers, but it doesn’t tell us how to use them. Or more appropriately, science has brought us modern medicine, but it doesn’t allow for any guidelines on how such knowledge is acquired. Nothing in science says, “Don’t use unwilling humans as test subjects.” Science is amoral on this point. Rather, it is philosophy and reason that put parameters around such actions. All of this should show that while science is absolutely necessary and a good thing, it is still a limited field and shouldn’t function as an entire epistemic system for how we look at the world.

In this entire post I have not offered an argument for the existence God because there is no need to. For one, this is a blog post and I highly doubt that a blog post would sufficiently cover the arguments for the existence of God. Secondly, and more importantly, until one can accept that the reasonability or plausibility of a thing is not contingent upon physical evidence then there can be no discussion about God (or about much of anything else for that matter, if we are consistent with such an arbitrary epistemology). Until one can get over one’s bias and accept that theism can be a rational belief even in the absence of evidence, then why attempt to argue for the existence of God? If one is holding onto a self-contradictory and impractical epistemology, then one is flawed from the get-go, so any further introduction of arguments would lose purpose. If one is unwilling to realize that science has a role, but isn’t a metanarrative for how we should view the world, then it is simply a waste of time to try to convince the person otherwise.

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63 thoughts on “What (Some) Atheists Just Don’t Seem to Get

  1. What you don’t seem to get:

    1. Civil manners? Really, this is the best you can do? Of the two, religion or atheism, which party is calling for the death of authors who “defame” their prophet? Which party is holding signs at funerals saying “God Hates Fags?” Which party is claiming that if you don’t believe, you’ll be eternally tortured? Which party is more likely to come to your home, drag you into the street and have a mob stone you to death? Definitely not the atheists. You can’t handle any sort of criticism, that’s obvious.

    1a. “Intellectual bigots” and adherence to respect for “multiple degrees” are both logical fallacies (ad hominem and appeal to authority, to be precise).

    2. Your support of “some beliefs are intrinsically credible or self-evident” can equally support the existance of $5 million in my bank account, the Loch Ness monster, that we’re all just the dream of a sleeping giant, that the universe was created yesterday (see Last Mondayism for a full account) whole and complete, and more claims – none of which require any sort of evidentiary support.

    2a. Oh, and yes, we can provide evidence that a person is awake and self-aware. Evidence (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Awake, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mirror_test)! And we can also provide evidence for love (*http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chemical_basis_for_love).

    3. Your argument that God exists a priori is equally lacking. Where is the self-evidence? Since the vast majority of the planet disagree (sometimes violently) on who/what god, gods, & etc. are, how can that be evidence? See point 2 above.

    4. Philosophy reigning supreme? Seriously? And “since the above is true” doesn’t even provide any evidence that philosopy is better than science, nor that it reigns supreme. Please provide some evidence, not merely blind assertions or else, by point 2 above, I can claim as self-evident that Tacos reign supreme over Philosophy because it’s TRUE!

    5. “In this entire post I have not offered an argument for the existance (of) God because there is no need to.” Therefore, I have no need to take you at all seriously or believe you. I have $5 million in my bank account. I can say that till the cows come home. But which business will accept my check for that money on blind faith alone? None. They want the cash (evidenced by me actually showing them the money). To mis-quote Jerry McGuire “Show me the money (god)!”

    1. This shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the word “some.” As I stated, some beliefs are intrinsically credible or self-evident, not all beliefs. Placing a quantifiable number on your bank account is something that is open to verification. The reason is your bank account is a human truth, it isn’t something that exists necessarily nor is it mind/culture independent.

      I would suggest that you expand your studies beyond Wikipedia (as what you present is laughable since it ignores the arguments I presented and what most epistemologist have recognized, which is why scientism has died).

      1. Nice dodge ignoring 1, 1a, 3, 4 and 5.

        As for 2. In no way did I state that all “beliefs are intrinsically credible or self-evident.” In fact, I stated some beliefs that could be, at the surface, deemed “intrinsically credible or self-evident.”

        Is the sleeping giant belief open to verification? Is it mind/culture independent?

        As for 2a. I presented evidence that awake, self-awareness and love have evidence to support their existance as more than blind assertion. You merely presented a blind assertion that we can’t know these things.

        Additionally, you present another blind assertion that “scientism has died.” Or is that equally a priori, in your view?

        As to using Wikipedia, sounds like you’re an intellectual bigot wrt Wikipedia.

      2. And as for “some” – you don’t provide any bit of info on HOW to determine which beliefs ARE “intrinsically credible or self-evident,” you merely state that some are and others are not. By what methodologies do you determine which “some” are a priori and which are not?

      3. I don’t need to supply the criteria. So long as I can show some beliefs cannot be verified, yet are both rational and true, then the positivism running rampant among atheists is defeated. That is the whole point of the post.

      4. Also, the belief that “some beliefs are intrinsically credible or self-evident” is, itself, a blind assertion, which, instead of providing a methodology to support, you take based only on an argument from authority (from philosopher Paul Boghossian).

        Why should that belief be supported?

      5. “I don’t need to supply the criteria. So long as I can show some beliefs cannot be verified, yet are both rational and true, then the positivism running rampant among atheists is defeated. That is the whole point of the post.”

        How can you then determine whether:

        1. it cannot be verified?
        2. it is rational?
        3. it is true?

        if you don’t supply even the criteria to do so?

        The $5 million dollars, sleeping giant, universe created yesterday, Loch Ness monster or any other belief (either “some” or “all” beliefs) cannot, then, be disputed.

        Nice circular argument.

      6. You’re ignoring the problem. It’s something that not a single atheist commenting on this site has dealt with:

        Without using circular logic, prove that you currently exist.

        The fact is, you can’t do it. Thus, scientism fails as an overall approach to epistemology.

      7. “You’re ignoring the problem.”

        Not in the least – you haven’t even presented a problem, only blind assertions. In fact, even the belief that “some beliefs are intrinsically credible or self-evident” isn’t self-evident.

        “It’s something that not a single atheist commenting on this site has dealt with:

        Without using circular logic, prove that you currently exist.”

        I don’t have to – I can merely take your blind assertion that “some beliefs are intrinsically credible or self-evident.” Using your own assertion, my existence as the Unicorn King of Los Angeles is self-evident.

        Without using circular logic, prove that I’m not.

        See how that works? If you can make blind assertions, so can I. It doesn’t make the $5 million, sleeping giant, Loch Ness monster or universe created yesterday any less possible/probable/intrinsically credible.

        “The fact is, you can’t do it. Thus, scientism fails as an overall approach to epistemology.”

        Your blind assertions are YOUR problem to justify – since you can’t do it, then the Taco is supreme to your philosophy and I’m the Unicorn King of Los Angeles.

        So, are you going to answer any of my previous points?

  2. Hi Joel,

    The arguments for god are the Cosmological, Teleological, Ontological and Moral Law arguments. Of them, the Cosmological is the most compelling however it has a few short comings which is rather sad considering the other arguments are easily refuted. Since you didn’t bother covering any of the arguments however, I won’t bother to type out their refutations.

    That being said, I would like to ask you what you would define as an irrational belief? More to the point, why is it an irrational belief?

    It doesn’t have to be anything too specific, something generic would could all follow along with easily. Say, the belief a child might have that there is a monster under their bed. Is that irrational? Why? Is it different than a belief or lack thereof, in the existence of God? Why?

    I really do hope you answer these questions. I have a few points I would like to raise about your post, but I would like to see how you answer these questions first.

    I would also like to know, if you don’t mind getting a bit personal, if you subscribe to post-modernism? The first half(really rough estimate) of your post seems to lead to the idea that knowledge is incomprehensible and makes me think post-modernism is your philosophy, well part of it any way.

    1. Erik,

      I would say that an irrational belief is a belief that (1) is internally inconsistent or inherently self-contradictory and (2) any belief that is necessarily reliant upon any material fallacy. This would define an irrational belief, though it doesn’t lend itself as a test to the truthfulness of a belief. The measure of truth would be far more complex.

      As for post-modernism, no, I do not embrace postmodernism. My critique of scientism does rely on some of the critiques offered by postmodernists (such as Lyotard), but ultimately comes from a position somewhere between Warranted True Beliefs and Critical Realism. So I do believe in objective truth, but what I deny is that science provides a way to know all truth. In other words, while science can aid us in some (or most) of our epistemological ventures, it is limited in explaining the entire scope of existence.

      1. Thanks for the quick response Joel.

        I would be interested to hear if you believe a child’s belief that there is a monster under their bed is irrational as well as whether or not this is different from belief, or lack of belief in, the existence of a god.

        I realized you eluded to a response to that particular point, but I would like if you would be kind enough to answer it specifically.

      2. The claim, “there is a monster under my bed” is a claim of physicality, so it would be completely different than the argument concerning God, who is immaterial. If I claimed, “There is an angel in my closet,” then I would open myself to verification. If I simply say, “Angels exist” then we must turn to the logic in such a statement. It would show us whether or not it’s probable that angels exist (or in the case of overall theism, God). Obviously we can never absolutely prove that God exists, but this goes for everything (including our own existence, as previously noted).

        What I would warn against is taking specific examples where verification is needed and applying that to the whole of epistemology. I’m not attacking the idea of needing verification, I’m simply attacking the idea that verification is needed in every instance of knowledge. Sometimes it is a necessity that we ask for proof. Other times it’s impossible to have proof.

      3. I would also add that it’s up to you to show how we can prove our existence or prove the existence of other minds in a non-circular way. That you can find instances where verification is needed is fine. But in claiming that verification is needed in every instance of knowledge it falls upon you to explain this in every instance, in particular when it comes to the existence of ourselves and of other minds.

      4. The claim, “there is a monster under my bed” is a claim of physicality, so it would be completely different than the argument concerning God, who is immaterial.

        If God is immaterial, then how did God cause matter to exist?

        What I see here is a common equivocation over the word “material” — there’s being immaterial in the sense of being abstract, a mere concept, and there’s immaterial in the sense of not being matter, but still being causal. Only the former sort of immaterialism has the required distinction from monsters under the bed; for God to have created the world or have any other relevance, it must have “physicality” — that is, it must be part of a causal web connected to us. Without that, you have the same interaction problem that crushed Descartes’ substance dualism (in rational, analytical, philosophy).

      5. This encourages me to write an actual post as a response because it’s a good objection. I’ll try to work on it over the weekend and I’ll post it on Monday (hopefully time will permit my intentions).

        It’s an old problem, but one that has been addressed. However, I think Robert Spitzer offers one of the better replies, so that’s where I’ll turn to in my reply.

      6. Joel-“The claim, “there is a monster under my bed” is a claim of physicality, so it would be completely different than the argument concerning God, who is immaterial.”

        Do you believe that there was a world wide flood?

        If so, then that belief would have physical evidence which would validate your belief.

        It would follow that if God has intervened in the natural world, there should be some way to prove it. Obviously this would only be true of a God that intervenes(basically anything other than a deist version God).

        So, having said that, in what way is it different for a child to believe there is a monster under their bed versus a person’s belief in a personal God?

        Joel-“If I claimed, “There is an angel in my closet,” then I would open myself to verification. If I simply say, “Angels exist” then we must turn to the logic in such a statement. It would show us whether or not it’s probable that angels exist (or in the case of overall theism, God). Obviously we can never absolutely prove that God exists, but this goes for everything (including our own existence, as previously noted).”

        This I’m willing to go right ahead and concede in this instance, the reason being that you must be able to verify quite a bit of Christian beliefs as there would be physical evidence of God’s intervention or admit to viewing the vast majority of the Bible as fictional tales concerning a particular belief system.

        Joel-“What I would warn against is taking specific examples where verification is needed and applying that to the whole of epistemology.”

        I know, I did this for a particular reason.

        Joel-“I’m not attacking the idea of needing verification, I’m simply attacking the idea that verification is needed in every instance of knowledge. Sometimes it is a necessity that we ask for proof. Other times it’s impossible to have proof.”

        This is where I will raise an issue with this line of thinking. Why is it unnecessary to ask for verification when it comes to God when God asks and has asked, supposedly, for genocides, sacrifices, transgressions against others, etc.?

        Unless your belief lies in a deist God, you can’t really get around this.

      7. I think you’re missing the point. Any epistemic system that requires physical evidence is inherently false. What I’m arguing is that it’s possible for belief in God to be rational in the absence of evidence if one can show certain things about theism to be correct. In other words, evidence is not needed for some beliefs to be rational; so long as the theist can demonstrate that theism doesn’t need evidence, then theism is rational. Now, you may contend that this ruins the idea of a Christian God, what it does prove is all the huffing and puffing by atheists that “belief in God is irrational!” is misguided and based on a false epistemic system. And that was the entire point of the post.

        As for everything else, I’m not chasing you down the rabbit hole. All I will say is that the belief of God’s involvement in nature doesn’t necessitate that we’ll have hard physical evidence of His involvement, merely that He would work as the best possible answer or the most probable answer in certain things (though not everything). In other words, it seems that you’re taking a strict fundamentalist approach of Christianity and assuming that no other approach is valid, which is blatantly false.

      8. Joel-“I would also add that it’s up to you to show how we can prove our existence or prove the existence of other minds in a non-circular way. That you can find instances where verification is needed is fine. But in claiming that verification is needed in every instance of knowledge it falls upon you to explain this in every instance, in particular when it comes to the existence of ourselves and of other minds.”

        How would you like to define exist? Being self-aware? Having a physical form(it is physical in that there are reactions to stimuli)?

        I would also like to know, say in the instance that this is all some form of dream, or some odd Matrix style network, do you realize there would have to be something giving information and something receiving it? There is no getting around that. The information(ourselves, the stimuli we receive, etc.) itself could be completely arbitrary, but there still has to be a minimum of two physical subjects which exist to create this dream.

      9. Ah, but you’re not using evidence to prove this. You’re using reasoning and abstract thinking. You’re proving my point.

        And even then many of the arguments you’re making are still circular because it presupposes certain conditions. The whole point is that the idea that I’m currently awake or that other minds exist are known a priori and rational beliefs even in the absence of evidence.

      10. Joel- “I think you’re missing the point. Any epistemic system that requires physical evidence is inherently false. What I’m arguing is that it’s possible for belief in God to be rational in the absence of evidence if one can show certain things about theism to be correct. In other words, evidence is not needed for some beliefs to be rational; so long as the theist can demonstrate that theism doesn’t need evidence, then theism is rational.”

        I can go along with that if we are discussing a Deist god.Of course that would lead into a discussion of whether or not to bother acknowledging the existence of that god.

        Joel- “Now, you may contend that this ruins the idea of a Christian God, what it does prove is all the huffing and puffing by atheists that “belief in God is irrational!” is misguided and based on a false epistemic system. And that was the entire point of the post.”

        Not until you can demonstrate that Theism doesn’t require evidence. Faith doesn’t require evidence, in fact, the lack of evidence is necessary for a person to have faith. The question I would ask is if you don’t reason to believe in something, why would you?

        Joel- “As for everything else, I’m not chasing you down the rabbit hole. All I will say is that the belief of God’s involvement in nature doesn’t necessitate that we’ll have hard physical evidence of His involvement, merely that He would work as the best possible answer or the most probable answer in certain things (though not everything). In other words, it seems that you’re taking a strict fundamentalist approach of Christianity and assuming that no other approach is valid, which is blatantly false.”

        So you don’t believe in a world wide flood? Well, by what you said, you can’t. I would assume you also don’t believe in the destruction of SandG since this would leave evidence just as the flood would. I’m not focusing on the Christian belief system just for the hell of it, this is a Christian site, you appear to believe in that particular god, so there are certain things you will have to concede.

      11. Erik, you’re putting the cart before the horse and it seems like you’re baiting me into a debate (I know you’re not trying to do that, but that’s how it comes across).

        The whole point of the article is that until atheists are willing to concede that belief in God can be rational even in the absence of evidence, there’s no point to discuss anything else. From there we can move forward. Where you want to have a discussion – on the evidence for Christianity – is much further down the road and completely irrelevant to this post. But stick around on the site, I’m sure I’ll bring up stuff that deals with it (plus, I enjoy civil and intellectual atheist making comments; it challenges me and I welcome that).

      12. Sorry for the poor quotations, for some reason I’m unable to respond to specific replies of yours within my original.

        Joel- “Ah, but you’re not using evidence to prove this. You’re using reasoning and abstract thinking. You’re proving my point.

        And even then many of the arguments you’re making are still circular because it presupposes certain conditions. The whole point is that the idea that I’m currently awake or that other minds exist are known a priori and rational beliefs even in the absence of evidence.”

        Technically, until we agree on a definition of what it means to exist, no adequate argument can be made.

  3. Bah I wish I could edit a post, but, while I must go out, I will be back to see your response. So please, humor me some more.

  4. It’s not just the lack of evidence that God exists. It’s also the fact that beliefs about God contradict available evidence. To believe in God, you have to believe things that are contradicted by a rational consideration of evidence — that is irrational.

  5. Joel, Have you ever read the book by Andy Thompson “Why we believe in Gods?”. He has a YouTube video out that I found very interesting. Let’s see if I can do a proper link this time:
    Why We Believe in Gods

  6. You argue that you don’t need evidence for some things to be true, like your own existence. However, from that you jump to the conclusion that it rational to believe in god. You fail to explain why it’s rational to believe in god without evidence.
    You did mention god was something immaterial and therefore unobservable. That’s an arbitrary interpretation of the word god. I can substitute that with anything else that’s unobservable, but subject to belief. Russel’s teapot comes to mind.

    1. Wrong. No where do I say, “You can’t prove your own existence via evidence, therefore it’s rational to believe in God.”

      Again, and this is a much repeated point, I’m attacking the common epistemology of atheism. You’re trying to attack a position that I didn’t state instead of defending your own epistemic system. Stop.

      What I said is that the lack of evidence doesn’t necessitate that belief in God is irrational. I never said belief in God is rational (though I obviously believe such a belief is rational, I never laid out my case for it). Instead, I was pointing out that until atheists realize their epistemic system is flawed there’s no point in even attempting to argue for the existence of God. Until they correct their flaw, everything theists say will be over the atheist’s head.

      1. Joel- “Wrong. No where do I say, “You can’t prove your own existence via evidence, therefore it’s rational to believe in God.”

        Again, and this is a much repeated point, I’m attacking the common epistemology of atheism. You’re trying to attack a position that I didn’t state instead of defending your own epistemic system. Stop.

        What I said is that the lack of evidence doesn’t necessitate that belief in God is irrational.”

        Following this logic, any claim of existence, no matter how ludicrous is technically rational. This is the point of Russel’s Tea Pot.

        Joel- “I never said belief in God is rational (though I obviously believe such a belief is rational, I never laid out my case for it). Instead, I was pointing out that until atheists realize their epistemic system is flawed there’s no point in even attempting to argue for the existence of God. Until they correct their flaw, everything theists say will be over the atheist’s head.”

        You haven’t really pointed out this flaw yet. You’ve eluded to it, yet, in doing so, you’ve kind of painted yourself into a corner where any claim must be viewed as rational assuming they’ve taken the step of alleviating the thing described as existing of a physical interaction that would imply evidence to prove its existence, something all personal Gods lack.

      2. If I understand you right, you are saying that because in some cases you pose you don’t need evidence to believe something exists, atheists can no longer use that argument with the question of god. What it comes down to then is whether evidence is necessary to believe in god. You would have to make a case for why it’s not. You haven’t done that.
        Just because, in your opinion, in some cases evidence is not needed to belief something doesn’t mean that in this particular matter it’s the same. You will have to present a rationale why that applies in the case of god.

      3. No. I’m saying that because evidence is needed for all beliefs to be rational that a belief in God can be rational even in the absence of evidence. The problem is too many atheists presuppose that a belief in God is inherently irrational. I’m showing that such a position is irrational itself.

  7. A critique of scientism gives atheists no further reason to cease having a lack of belief in God. That *some* atheists don’t get this or that has no bearing on atheism as a valid position. And it isn’t just some *atheists* who don’t get it.

    “merely that naturalism cannot account for something within the physical universe (such as a finite beginning to energy and matter, the existence of consciousness, and so on) then by default theism would be true, or at the very least highly plausible (due to this being a disjunctive problem, if one possibility is known to be false then the other is necessarily true).”

    This alone (but it’s not alone) establishes you as a dishonest apologist. The possibility of zombies and thus the failure of physicalism to account for consciousness is a respectable position in philosophy of mind, but in no way implies theism … that could come only from your dishonest circular substitution of “naturalism” for physicalism. As for “a finite beginning to energy and matter”, naturalism doesn’t necessitate it, therefore it cannot mean a failure of naturalism. Nor does naturalism necessitate that matter and energy cannot arise spontaneously, from potentials — naturalistic mathematical formulations support such possibilities, regardless of whether question-begging theistic philosophers can grasp that. So this too is circular — the only way you can get theism to be implied is to assume it in the first place — to assume that matter and energy were “created”, whatever that could mean (it’s a causal, thus naturalistic, concept) by an “entity” that is itself not made of matter or energy and for some ad hoc reason does not itself need to have had a finite beginning. Atheists have no reason to see this as anything but grossly dishonest special pleading. And even if they could be convinced that this is an honestly held, internally consistent, alternative view, they have no reason at all to subscribe to it — lack of belief in this twaddle is still valid.

    1. Quote the part where I supported theism or said, “And all of this necessitates a belief in theism.”

      It amazes me how many of the commenters here are just selective readers. No where did I try to nail down the epistemic system (as I was critiquing an idea that is as the core of multiple different systems), yet you act as though I was doing that.

      Thus far, no one has attempted to justify the epistemic system so prevalent in these new atheists, rather they’ve just repeated their bad arguments against theism.

      Overall it has been entertaining for me at least.

      1. A little side note: In your original piece you criticize atheists for making personal demeaning comments. You even generalize it to a point where all atheists are incapable of civil conversation. (The reverse is a common trope on atheist blogs) However you have made several condescending remarks to your commenter’s. I would urge you respectfully to stay civil. It would be a shame if the conversation regressed into mudslinging instead of an intellectual debate.

  8. ”No. I’m saying that because evidence is needed for all beliefs to be rational that a belief in God can be rational even in the absence of evidence. The problem is too many atheists presuppose that a belief in God is inherently irrational. I’m showing that such a position is irrational itself.”

    You still fail to specify why in the case of god it can be rational to believe without evidence. I’m not asking for proof of god, just the rationale of why in the case of god evidence is not necessary

    1. I never said it IS rational. I simply said that it’s possible for a belief in God to be rational even without evidence

        since not all rational beliefs require evidence in order to be rational.


      This was done to show that the immediate rejection of “God” as an irrational belief is, in fact, an irrational belief. That not all beliefs require evidence allows for the possibility that belief in God is rational. As an atheist you can either try to negate this or agree with it. Until an atheist admits that, “Yes, some beliefs can be rational without evidence,” there’s no point in even talking about how a belief in God could be reasonable.

      If you do accept that, then wonderful, but I’m not going to dedicate a blog comment to providing the reasoning behind a belief in God being rational. It would take a more complex post.

      1. I think I see what you mean. You are trying to establish a basic premise: It is possible for something to be rational without it requiring evidence. If you have established that you can talk about the rationality of god. I as a scientist promote science and REASON. They are not the same. Rationality falls under reason and is very useful in finding out how the world around me is. So I guess I agree with you that evidence is not the whole answer, you also need reason. Am I getting you point like this?

      2. Correct. Evidence doesn’t suffice as a requirement for the reasonability in every belief. Since this is the case, we now have groundwork to see whether or not belief in God is rational or irrational without having to point to evidence. Also, I would contend that even if belief in God is rational, it doesn’t necessitate that the belief is true (what is rational does not always have to be true).

  9. Joel- “Erik, you’re putting the cart before the horse and it seems like you’re baiting me into a debate (I know you’re not trying to do that, but that’s how it comes across).

    The whole point of the article is that until atheists are willing to concede that belief in God can be rational even in the absence of evidence…”

    The problem I see here is that you haven’t really demonstrated why a belief in a god is rational despite a lack of evidence. You’ve said that atheism must also be irrational if theism is irrational. I would argue that this only true in the case of gnostic claims, which would require evidence as it is a claim of knowledge and not simply belief or lack thereof.

    That being said, I don’t know many, theist or atheist, who would be willing to make a gnostic claim on God’s existence.

    I don’t think many theists realize that atheist only really have a huff when it comes to gnostic claims of God’s existence or things which presume knowledge of a particular god’s existence which translate into some effect on people’s lives(things like the Sharia Law for instance).

    1. I haven’t demonstrated that a belief in God is rational despite the evidence because that wasn’t my goal.

      1. Hi Joel,

        It would seem to me, while that wasn’t your goal, it is the premise which we have to agree to for your argument presented to true.

        Much of your argument revolves around knowledge and what it means to have knowledge of, knowledge that, knowledge how, and to an extent I’m willing to agree that it could be viewed as rational to believe in the existence of a Deist version of a god simply because there isn’t anything with which someone could point to as an absence of that existence.

        That is why I began to bring up personal gods, the Christian god in this case, because, to believe in that god, you have to believe certain events took place which would leave physical evidence if they occurred.

        That is what I’m trying to get across to you. I’m not really saying you’re wrong, I’m saying there is a particular version of god that this line of thought could be argued for, but it doesn’t seem a personal god is that version.

  10. Sorry Joel, but your post is full of equivocations.

    1. merely talking to me assumes that you have a mind, and that there are minds besides yours. Thus, questioning that would be nonsensical.

    2. Addition has physical verification 100% (if not how can computers add?)

    3. “Abstract” means “represented somehow else.” I know some dictionaries put the word “immaterial” there, but you have to actually think about it. There is nothing immaterial about thoughts and ideas. They are manifestations of very physical things. Yet, I double dare you to do any abstraction without using any energy and matter. After you comply, you will have successfully showed me that there is something “immaterial” that you can properly point to. (Note that computers work with abstractions as well, and there is nothing immaterial on how they solve problems.)

    4. The law of non-contradiction is but an extension of identity: things are what they are (thus not what they are not). Those “abstractions” you can’t help but using them. Gods are far from being this self-evident.

    5. Why do you talk about “God”? How can you claim that a belief in “God” can be rational as if we knew which of many gods you might be talking about? If you are talking about some particular “God,” then you might have some irrational belief right there. care to describe this “God” and how it is defined? That way we could judge less in abstraction about whether it is a rational belief or not (most sophistries don’t define this “God” to avoid the real issues and to keep the door open for claiming “rationality” in the belief.)

    6. I hope by now you are grasping the mistakes you are making. One more, what’s with that cheap fallacy of the false dichotomy? Is it either we know all the answers via “naturalism” of theism wins? really? (Consciousness can be perfectly explained naturally by the way.) My bet is that if something is beyond science, or beyond naturalism, then it is beyond science and/or “naturalism.” That’s it. Nothing else.

    7. If you want to do this philosophical contortions to defend your belief in some god(s), you need to do that rationally rather than just study how to rephrase somebody else’s contortions. Try and find their faults before presenting them. I am pretty sure you can find them. For instance, why do you buy so easily into that ignorant idea that consciousness cannot be explained by science? Do you really think that your biased biblical ideologues know what they are talking about when it comes to science and its limits? I agree with you on one thing: science might not be able to explain everything, and philosophy is still very necessary. However, cheap pseudo-philosophical blabber is nothing but rhetorical contortions invented by religious intellectualloids to give their delusions a sense of scholarship. I just ask you to think properly. It is not really that atheists think that science explains everything. It is more that many have heard the most sophisticated theological contortions, and found their faults. Perhaps we noticed so easily because we don’t need to believe them. The question is: can you take a look at them and note their faults as well? Look especially for equivocations. You got there one too many.

    8. What’s with degrees Joel? Do you really think degrees make people any less stupid? I don’t. I got my degree because the system requires it. But enough is enough. At some point you have to apply yourself to solving some problems. If you think multiple degrees mean something you are going the wrong way. Stop right there, learn to think properly.

    Sorry to assault you this way. But man, you bought some crap and seem so willing to buy some more. Stop and think Joel. I am not asking you to stop believing in your “God.” No. Not at all. I am asking you to learn to see the crap you are buying for what it is before your mind is no longer yours.

    1. Your first point assumes that I’m actually talking to “you.” There’s no way to know that “you” actually exist. You could be a computer program, a figment of my imagination, an alternative personality for me, part of a greater consciousness, a Cartesian demon who has captured my mind and is fooling me into thinking I exist, and so on. Evidence cannot disprove or prove any of these theories; rather I simply take it a priori that you exist.

      Again, the type of epistemic system that many of these atheist use was discredited long ago.

  11. ”Correct. Evidence doesn’t suffice as a requirement for the reasonability in every belief. Since this is the case, we now have groundwork to see whether or not belief in God is rational or irrational without having to point to evidence. Also, I would contend that even if belief in God is rational, it doesn’t necessitate that the belief is true (what is rational does not always have to be true).”

    Joel, I think we have come to agree with each-other believe it or not. However, I do think your article is overly complicated to get this particular point across. The confusion in the comments is testament to that. I think if you would have added the sentence I have quoted above to your article there would be no confusion or even a discussion. I also think this point is a basic principle of scientific thinking, so there really is no debate over this. The interesting debate is whether it’s rational to believe in God. Another article maybe?

    1. You’d be surprised at how many people would still take issue with what you quoted. There’s still a large contingency of atheists who say that evidence can’t be produced for something then a belief isn’t rational (they equivocate science and reason).

      I agree that the interesting debate is over whether or not a belief in God is rational. Sadly, such a post would be extremely complicated and take some time to write. Not saying I won’t write one (I hope to sometime this year), but I already have two other series I’m working on that are consuming my time and research.

      If you’re interested, you could check out God and Other Minds by Alvin Plantinga. It has flaws in there, but the overall concept is solid (in my opinion).

  12. “Not every belief needs to be supported by some independent item of information that would constitute evidence in its favor: some beliefs are intrinsically credible or self-evident…What non-circular evidence could one adduce, for example, for the belief that one is currently conscious?” (117) (please forgive me as I no doubt butcher some html.

    This is a great quote. However, there is one flaw.

    What makes Your particular belief more correct, accurate and useful than any other and why do you think others should act upon it or allow it to be used as an excuse to be acted upon.

    I think you’ll find that most athiests have no problem with your belief in god. What they have a problem with is the fact that you feel you are justified in acting upon it.

    I’m sure god is sitting somewhere and asking himself many questions.
    Why did let your child die?
    Why did you give that person all your money?
    Why did you kill that man?
    Why did not listen to honest knowledgeable people who wish to help you?
    Why did you assume you knew more than that person?
    Why did you call an honest person a liar?(not you but others)

    To all of them people have answered because we believed in you (god).

    I imagine him saying backThank you, but can’t you use common sense too?

    Don’t get me wrong I understand belief. However, it’s when you try to factually Justify, act upon, or suggest others act upon that belief. That is when philosophy hits the rocks.

    It is all well and good to think and talk about philosophy. However, in reality everyone has there own philosophy and belief and the only common ground we have is the reality that surrounds.

    While you and I may believe in god the reality is that our peers judge by our actions and not our beliefs even if they intertwine.

  13. “When it comes to the existence of God, then, the lack of evidence isn’t sufficient to say that such a belief is irrational. Rather, one would have to show how a belief in God is properly irrational or how one lacks substantial reasons for believing in God… In this entire post I have not offered an argument for the existence God because there is no need to. For one, this is a blog post and I highly doubt that a blog post would sufficiently cover the arguments for the existence of God.”

    Let’s tweak that just a little:

    “When it comes to the existence of Leprechauns, then, the lack of evidence isn’t sufficient to say that such a belief is irrational. Rather, one would have to show how a belief in Leprechauns is properly irrational or how one lacks substantial reasons for believing in Leprechauns… In this entire post I have not offered an argument for the existence of Leprechauns because there is no need to. For one, this is a blog post and I highly doubt that a blog post would sufficiently cover the arguments for the existence of Leprechauns.”

    Hey, the two arguments are exactly the same! Awesome! I can haz redemption from sin and me pot o’ gold!

  14. Joel,

    no one has attempted to justify the epistemic system so prevalent in these new atheists

    What epistemic system is that exactly? Why would I or anybody want to defend some epistemic system unless we think the system is correctly described and/or that it applies to us or that we somehow buy into it?

    Of course most atheists will tell you what’s wrong with your discourse. You have not even established that it is rational to believe without evidence. I am open to it, but you did not establish it. After all, there is a lot I accept because I don’t have the time to verify it. The rationality of such “beliefs” comes from both lack of necessity to verify, and/or for the most practical reasons. Yet, I doubt believing in some god(s) qualifies as acceptable out of practical reasons. After all, they seem nonsensical. Thus, what epistemology would you be expecting me to defend Joel?

    As for new atheists. I don’t now. I tend to be quite openly insulting to most “apologists.” But they have carefully earned it. I start decently, but I will always call a spade a spade. But show me dishonesty and you will be insulted. No way around. I have no problem calling imbeciles imbeciles, and hypocrites hypocrites.

  15. Your first point assumes that I’m actually talking to “you.” There’s no way to know that “you” actually exist. You could be a computer program, a figment of my imagination, an alternative personality for me, part of a greater consciousness, a Cartesian demon who has captured my mind and is fooling me into thinking I exist, and so on. Evidence cannot disprove or prove any of these theories; rather I simply take it a priori that you exist.

    But a computer program you be a “me,” a figment of your imagination would still constitute a “me,” an alternative personality would also constitute a “me,” all other than “you you.” In other words, no matter how much you try to establish the lack of evidence for “others,” your mind is self-evident, and the word “evident” well, means “evidence!” As for the existence of other minds, whether you can establish or not where these minds are, inside your own, in a computer, whatever, still gets to be self-evident, thus “evidence” based.

    No way around. These things prove by retortion. I don’t think these “epistemologies” are so “discredited” as you think they are.

    1. It wouldn’t be “you.” If you were part of my imagination then it would be “me.” This is basic metaphysics.

      Also, “evident” means obvious, not “evidence.”

  16. It wouldn’t be “you.” If you were part of my imagination then it would be “me.” This is basic metaphysics.

    Nope, because if you can’t control what I say, then “me” even if in your imagination, would still be “me.” This is basic metaphysics.

    Nice, you already pick and chose which ones to answer. What about the cartesian daemon that captures your mind and convinces you that you exist despite you don’t? How then could the daemon “capture your mind” without that mind existing in the first place? In other words, you might be just a mind, or you might be what you are besides your mind. But if all there is is your mind, that still does not mean you don’t exist. That means you are not what you think you are.

    Seems like you are mistaking the existence of a mind with the possibility for establishing where or what that mind is. Two different things. That is also basic metaphysics.

    1. Perhaps I am controlling what you’re saying, but it’s just a different part of my conscious that is doing it, a part I’m not aware of.

      Even now, the arguments you’re using aren’t evidence, but reasoning, so you’re violating your own criteria.

      And of course I’m not responding to everything. I don’t have the time for it, nor do I have the desire (because most of your points are just bad points that completely miss what I was saying).

  17. Yup, I could not word that part about evidence and evident properly. Still, something is called self-evident because it is evidence in and of itself. Yes, it gets to be a synonym for “obvious” for obvious reasons.

    🙂

  18. Perhaps I am controlling what you’re saying, but it’s just a different part of my conscious that is doing it, a part I’m not aware of.

    If you are not aware of it, then “you” are not controlling anything, but that “other” part is.

    Even now, the arguments you’re using aren’t evidence, but reasoning, so you’re violating your own criteria.

    What criteria? I never said anything about my criteria. I said you did not establish that some things were reasonable to believe without evidence. The reasoning is done on top of evidence. For instance, if you pointed to my badly formulation of the “evidence” and “evident” relationship, that would be reasoning on the evidence of my bad wording right there. Right?

    And of course I’m not responding to everything. I don’t have the time for it, nor do I have the desire (because most of your points are just bad points that completely miss what I was saying).

    Nice. How about you left it at “no time, no desire, perhaps peripheral to my point” before you generalize them as “bad points”. You are clearly confused about a couple of things, make some very basic mistakes, and then generalize? I would be a bit more humble. As I said. I am open to the idea that some things might be believed without evidence and still be rational. I just don’t see it established in your discourse. What about you extended the same courtesy, not to me, but to yourself. You might be as wrong about how bad my “points” were as you were at using that daemon example. I suspected I might not have been completely on your point, but your point was not well established, and the reasons why your point is not established is what my “bad” points explain, whether they miss your main point or not. That besides being mostly an invitation not to rely on pre-defined sophistry to make your case without first examining it carefully.

    Anyway, I have to go. Might visit much later, but no promises.

    Best and thanks for the exchange. Sorry if I got on your nerves. (Hopefully not.)

    1. You didn’t get on my nerves at all. My responses have been purposefully short with people because I really don’t have the time to respond (at least the time that I want). For instance, I really want to go through and show you where you’re missing a lot of the points, providing citations, links to articles, and so on. But I just don’t have time, and it’s pretty condescending to say, “Oh go read this article” or “go read this book.” So I’m left making half-assed arguments and trying to summarize my point when it needs a more nuanced effort.

  19. What is meant by “evidence?” Certainly they have in mind something of the physical sort that we would use in scientific experiments.

    Really? I don’t know your history, but in mine, many (most?) atheists seem to count as evidence anything that can be offered to show something to be true or false. A sound argument, for example, counts as evidence.

    I wonder if there are any polls on the issue…

  20. “In this entire post I have not offered an argument for the existence God because there is no need to.”

    Then I hope you will pardon the rest of us for not being convinced. It is nice, at least, that you are being consistent; self-evident knowledge is simply that which does not require evidence in its favor. So, if God’s existence were indeed self-evident, evidence would have no bearing on the point, as you suggest.

    However, that evidence is not required is not an aspect of self-evident knowledge, but of our attitude towards it. That we believe something without evidence says nothing about its truth or rationality; it says only that we do not doubt it. When that belief is in question, it cannot be taken as self-evident. This is simply begging the question.

    If readers who disagree with you are to be moved to your position, or even to entertain it as a rational belief, the fact that you have no doubt is irrelevant.

  21. The most amusing thing I find about this entire thing is this:

    A great deal of time and energy is spent show how god cannot bedefined, how he is beyond knowing……

    than Some strong minded christian decides that he needs evidence and gets annoyed when it’s pointed out his evidence is not evidence of anything or is evidence of everything but.

    Had they just left it as the unknown question that they propose it is than they woudln’t continue to run into the logical flaws.

    these people are mocked not because of there arguments. But because they have made the argument a thousand times and somehow expected a different result each time.

  22. Whoa there, Joel,

    Transferring over from your Monday thread as requested.

    Getting a bit off the rails aren’t you?

    Scientism is a pejorative term. It implies the same arrogant certitude of the superiority of natural science that Christianity presents for itself. Any self-respecting scientist certainly doesn’t accept it. There is no certainty of any kind, just the likely explanation backed by weight of evidence … or lack of it. You betray yourself by trying to insert the word “prove” into the discussion. There is no “prove” in science as opposed to scientism. There is just conjecture that is then tested. You have conjectures that you call Christianity. Now it’s time for you to show evidence. And don’t get into that vortex of “Some things can be known without needing verification or having verification.” There is nothing like that. Those are just mental calisthenics to help you keep your balance on that pinhead that you have defined for yourself. Give me a reason (evidence, or at least a sound argument as Amos says above) to accept your view and I promise you I will consider it, as will any other scientist. But would you consider that the atheist view has a chance of being right?

    It’s time for me to move on. No trolls here. I just came over with the others from PZ Myer’s blog to take a look around, thinking I might find something new.

    Jonathan

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