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Positivism?

 
CorB
 
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CorB
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21 August 2011 20:20
 

Hello, I’ve just joined this forum because I need some help with a discussion/debate I’m having with a theist on another forum. I’ve been debating the existence of god and religion for probably 6 years now and this is the first time in a long time where I’ve come across a theist who has presented an argument that I don’t know how to immediately counter. He’s making a philosophical argument when I know next to nothing about philosophy. So I’m hoping you guys can help me out.

Here’s some quotes from him:

The primary issue is that atheists are all raving positivists, most of them probalistic positivists at that. They accept basic premises that we reject. We accept basic premises that they reject. There is no evidence to be had in that argument, only opinion, and thus there is no real conclusion to the debate. The only thing they’ve got going for them is that they currently hold claims to the logical paradigm of the Western world and thus anyone who doesn’t agree with their philosophy is branded illogical. Nonsense.

Here’s where probalism kicks in and many people claim that between probalism and positivism lies the comfortable certainty of the nonexistence of a deity. It’s heuristics, ultimately, and heuristics aren’t at all the key to truth. Thus the only completely logical position (according to positivism itself, anyways) is that of the agnostic.

Well Pascal’s wager, after you factor in the whole of the matter anyways, is equally forgiving and spurning to all religious beliefs or lack thereof. We can’t divine certainty on the matter, something positivists fail to recognize even when their own logical framework indicates it; we have to rely on faith (the lot of us).

Well there are a plethora of basic premises that positivists accept which most other philosophies deny. The biggest ones are probably related to the divination of truth. Positivism holds that all knowledge is knowable and that anything that isn’t knowable simply isn’t.

Positivism claims that everything that is is knowable, and anything beyond that is unknowable and simply isn’t. Things that cannot be falsified are considered to not exist, something derived from the central tenet of positivism. Positivism can’t deal in certainties in its natural state because science can’t claim any overarching truths about the nature of reality, but there are many heuristics that deliver certainties for posivitists who are impatient or self-righteous (read anti-theists and atheists). Probalism and Occam’s Razor are the two biggest ones encountered in the religious debate.

When I stated that my position (agnostic atheism) is the default position he responded with:

The default position is ignorance of the issue, and thus agnosticism. Positivism isn’t anyone’s default position because you need to understand what science is in order to actually value its claims, and you’d have to understand what philosophy is to understand how those claims affect the nature of reality.

When I asked him what his issue with positivism is:

It claims to be completely rational. It claims intellectual superiority over all other philosophies. It claims to be the sole provider of objective truth. And yet under the thin veneer of its logical paradigm it’s just as fragmented and baseless as every other philosophy. Positivism is the most arrogant of philosophies, and when it comes down to it, can’t deny that it relies on faith, the blind acceptance of unprovable premises, just as much as everyone else.

So how do I respond to this?

[ Edited: 21 August 2011 20:22 by CorB]
 
EN
 
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EN
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21 August 2011 21:42
 

Interesting topic.  I’m a Christian who has decided not to post here unless I have something to contribute that I think is helpful.  After four years on this forum, most of what I was posting was a re-run or re-re-run of something I had said before.  But your thread inspired me to respond.

I think that the argument about philosophy and positivism is largely irrelevant. Regardless of what philosophy an atheist has, what an atheist is simply saying is “I have not been shown a good reason to believe.”  Whatever philosophy or world view the person you are debating holds, surely he will agree that someone needs to have a good reason to believe something. Perhaps he has a good reason to believe for himself (perhaps based on personal experience), but that doesn’t translate to being a good reason for anyone else to believe.  I think he is essentially correct in arguing that positivism is making an epistemological assumption, as it cannot prove, even under it’s own system, that it provides the only or best way to know something. However, the atheist is under no burden to prove that God does not exist. (I assume that you have not undertaken this impossible burden in your debate with him).  If the atheist is not given a good reason to believe in God (in any of God’s possible forms), then there is simply no reason for him to believe or accept anyone else’s belief as legitimate, regardless of his philosophical world view and regardless of whether he adheres to positivism.

If you, like some atheists here, have taken the position that it is possible to know that God does not exist, then you have assumed as impossible a burden as theists who argue that it is possible to know that God does exist.  But if you have taken the more reasonable position that you have been given no good reason to believe, and therefore do not believe, then you put the ball back in the theist’s court to give you a good reason.  If he takes the position that he has a good reason to believe personally (based on whatever philosophical approach he adopts), but acknowledges that he cannot give you one, then you end up in a stalemate, which is where all these arguments end up anyway.

[ Edited: 21 August 2011 21:44 by EN]
 
GAD
 
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21 August 2011 21:59
 
CorB - 21 August 2011 06:20 PM

When I asked him what his issue with positivism is:

It claims to be completely rational. It claims intellectual superiority over all other philosophies. It claims to be the sole provider of objective truth. And yet under the thin veneer of its logical paradigm it’s just as fragmented and baseless as every other philosophy. Positivism is the most arrogant of philosophies, and when it comes down to it, can’t deny that it relies on faith, the blind acceptance of unprovable premises, just as much as everyone else.

So how do I respond to this?

Well your first problem is “agnostic atheism” which is pretty much crap.

As for Positivism it seems he is claiming that it fails because a) it discounts that which we can not know or have evidence for, and b) relies on faith and blind acceptance of unprovable premises. The former is completely absurd, otherwise the Invisible Pink Unicorn standing behind me, the Flying Spaghetti Monster telling me secrets in my dreams and the Dragon In My Garage have to be taken as real as would 1000’s of mythical gods and claims have to be. For the latter, what premises etc, the origin of something Vs nothing, the universe, life? There is no faith or blind acceptance of unprovable premises here, there is something, there is a universe, there is life, that is empirical fact, what’s unknowable is how it began and all by itself is far more rational then any god.

[ Edited: 21 August 2011 22:06 by GAD]
 
 
CorB
 
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21 August 2011 22:11
 

Thanks for your responses guys.

But GAD, what’s wrong with agnostic atheism?

 
GAD
 
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21 August 2011 22:20
 
Ecurb Noselrub - 21 August 2011 07:42 PM

If you, like some atheists here, have taken the position that it is possible to know that God does not exist, then you have assumed as impossible a burden as theists who argue that it is possible to know that God does exist.

No, Bruce, that argument relies on gods in general being unprovable/unknowable and that is not what we are talking about here, we are talking about human invented gods not the concept/ideal of gods. Your error is conflation. The gods of every myth and holy book that has ever existed are human inventions and there is endless evidence to support that.  And to claim that any god or holy book is the right one simply invalidate the whole argument.

 
 
EN
 
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21 August 2011 22:26
 
GAD - 21 August 2011 08:20 PM
Ecurb Noselrub - 21 August 2011 07:42 PM

If you, like some atheists here, have taken the position that it is possible to know that God does not exist, then you have assumed as impossible a burden as theists who argue that it is possible to know that God does exist.

No, Bruce, that argument relies on gods in general being unprovable/unknowable and that is not what we are talking about here, we are talking about human invented gods not the concept/ideal of gods. Your error is conflation. The gods of every myth and holy book that has ever existed are human inventions and there is endless evidence to support that.  And to claim that any god or holy book is the right one simply invalidate the whole argument.

Well, thanks for clarifying that. But if the concept of gods in general is unprovable/unknowable, then the possibility that one of the gods revealed in human writings is real. While no holy book can rationally lay claim to proving that it’s presentation of God is absolutely correct, individuals who experience what they interpret as encounters with that God can claim to have a reason to believe. Your error is conflating what is written in a holy book with what an individual believer may experience.

 
GAD
 
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21 August 2011 22:33
 
Ecurb Noselrub - 21 August 2011 08:26 PM
GAD - 21 August 2011 08:20 PM
Ecurb Noselrub - 21 August 2011 07:42 PM

If you, like some atheists here, have taken the position that it is possible to know that God does not exist, then you have assumed as impossible a burden as theists who argue that it is possible to know that God does exist.

No, Bruce, that argument relies on gods in general being unprovable/unknowable and that is not what we are talking about here, we are talking about human invented gods not the concept/ideal of gods. Your error is conflation. The gods of every myth and holy book that has ever existed are human inventions and there is endless evidence to support that.  And to claim that any god or holy book is the right one simply invalidate the whole argument.

Well, thanks for clarifying that. But if the concept of gods in general is unprovable/unknowable, then the possibility that one of the gods revealed in human writings is real. While no holy book can rationally lay claim to proving that it’s presentation of God is absolutely correct, individuals who experience what they interpret as encounters with that God can claim to have a reason to believe. Your error is conflating what is written in a holy book with what an individual believer may experience.

That’s a contradiction squared. If they are unprovable/unknowable then they can not be reveled and if they have been revealed then they are not unprovable/unknowable.

BTW Glad your still posting!

 
 
saralynn
 
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21 August 2011 23:31
 

CorB: But GAD, what’s wrong with agnostic atheism?

I don’t know.  I’m an agnostic theist.

 
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22 August 2011 03:16
 
CorB - 21 August 2011 08:11 PM

Thanks for your responses guys.

But GAD, what’s wrong with agnostic atheism?

It’s a pointless incoherent cop out. The whole “I don’t know you don’t know”, “I lack belief” is popular but amounts to nothing more then trying to deflect theists charges of faith and science as religion or worse trying to use science to prove science is false.

 
 
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22 August 2011 03:23
 
saralynn - 21 August 2011 09:31 PM

CorB: But GAD, what’s wrong with agnostic atheism?

I don’t know.  I’m an agnostic theist.

Which does what for you? Lets you dream that some fairytales can come true.

 
 
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22 August 2011 11:56
 

GAD: Which does what for you? Lets you dream that some fairytales can come true.

Replace the word “dream” with the word “hope”. 

Incidentally, I don’t hope other people’s fairytales to come true…..just my own, which is still a little vague, but it has a happy ending, even though I don’t know what it is.

 
can zen
 
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22 August 2011 16:18
 

The theist who is trying to make a case against Positivism should read up on the trends in philosophy over the last 50 years.  Positivism was all the rage in the 1940s and 50s, but since about 1970 I don’t think anyone subscribes to the idea that “science will save the world” and that Truth (with a capital ‘T’) is revealed through science.  Just as a last note, even though science at least as closely as possible does reveal the facts about reality, the notion that a christian god exists reveals nothing about the nature of truth and in fact is purely a delusional fantasy.

 
 
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22 August 2011 16:52
 
can zen - 22 August 2011 02:18 PM

The theist who is trying to make a case against Positivism should read up on the trends in philosophy over the last 50 years.  Positivism was all the rage in the 1940s and 50s, but since about 1970 I don’t think anyone subscribes to the idea that “science will save the world” and that Truth (with a capital ‘T’) is revealed through science.  Just as a last note, even though science at least as closely as possible does reveal the facts about reality, the notion that a christian god exists reveals nothing about the nature of truth and in fact is purely a delusional fantasy.

Hell I’m a hard atheist and I don’t give a crap about Positivism.  But even if you want to throw it in what really is the claim being made against it? I mean if there are a million things in the universe and 999,997 follow a set of laws is it “blind faith” to reason that the other 3 probably do as well. If I say I know the sun will raise tomorrow is that blind faith or reason, science and statistics. If we can’t say we know the sun will raise tomorrow then we can’t know anything and any claim including gods are irrelevant and wasted breath.

You know theists are on the ropes when they get to this point, this is their version of MAD, if they can’t make a claim about their gods then no one can any claims about anything.

 
 
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23 August 2011 19:54
 

A common quote you’ll here is that “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” In-deed, GAD refers to such things as the Invisible Pink Unicorn, Russell’s Teapot, and Sagan’s Dragon in My Garage. However, Victor Strenger reminds us that “Absence of evidence is evidence of absence when evidence should exist, but does not.

At risk of committing a false dichotomy, I think there are really 2 types of gods that a person could believe in regardless of of particulars.

The first is what I call the Deist god. The Deist god is essentially a grand mover. He’s the one that created everything, kick-started evolution, then sat back and watched his creation work. This god do not interfere with the daily on-goings of his creation. This is the Invisible Pink Unicorn god. It’s impossible to prove his existence one way or the other. The important this about this god, however, is that he doesn’t require worship, he doesn’t get you that job you wanted and he didn’t cure your sister from cancer. Whether this god exists or not, is of no importance to the daily life of anyone. Therefore we could pretty much ignore him.

The other God is the God of just about every major religion. He can impact daily events in peoples lives. He demands worship or will do bad things to you. He tells you what to do, and if you don’t do it, he’ll fuck you up royally. This god can be prayed to and sacrificed to in order to change his mind. This god interacts with the physical world. This god is subject to Strenger’s corollary above. If this god interacts with the physical world, there should be physical evidence of him. If there was a worldwide flood, we should be able to find the evidence left behind. And that’s the catch, we can’t. There isn’t any evidence of a supernatural entity that interferes with this world. Check out the efficacy of prayer. You’ll find it lacking.

God A is irrelevant and god B doesn’t exist.

For a much more amusing take on the same argument, read PZ Myers’ post on Pharyngula.

 
 
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23 August 2011 21:03
 
GAD - 21 August 2011 08:33 PM

That’s a contradiction squared. If they are unprovable/unknowable then they can not be reveled and if they have been revealed then they are not unprovable/unknowable.

I’m only posting occasionally to avoid the “shit-throwing monkey” syndrome that is so common around here. You are wrong. “Unprovable” and “unknowable” relate to the sphere of empiricism. It is impossible to prove God exists or to know he exists. Revelation relates to personal, subjective insight (not proof) that leads to faith (not knowledge). It is possible to experience God and to sense his existence. But that is an entirely different epistemological category, one which science generally rejects.

 
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23 August 2011 22:37
 
Ecurb Noselrub - 23 August 2011 07:03 PM
GAD - 21 August 2011 08:33 PM

That’s a contradiction squared. If they are unprovable/unknowable then they can not be reveled and if they have been revealed then they are not unprovable/unknowable.

I’m only posting occasionally to avoid the “shit-throwing monkey” syndrome that is so common around here. You are wrong. “Unprovable” and “unknowable” relate to the sphere of empiricism. It is impossible to prove God exists or to know he exists. Revelation relates to personal, subjective insight (not proof) that leads to faith (not knowledge). It is possible to experience God and to sense his existence. But that is an entirely different epistemological category, one which science generally rejects.

That doesn’t square with your version of Jesus or Jesus as god or Jesus as miracle worker or Jesus resurrected. Unless you are saying Jesus was just an ordinary man without knowledge or power who had a subjective feeling and called it god. I’ll accept your argument if that’s the Jesus you are claiming but be warned I will hold you to it on every post till the end of time wink  If not then your argument fails.

 
 
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