1 2 3 >  Last ›
 
   
 

Epistemology of Atheism

 
Traces Elk
 
Avatar
 
 
Traces Elk
Total Posts:  5591
Joined  27-09-2006
 
 
 
23 September 2007 09:37
 

From a thread over at richarddawkins.net

Let us consider four epistemological variants of atheism as described here at Philosopher’s Playground. I shall quote directly from the aforementioned source, with a little editing for highlighting purposes:

[1] : Negative inductive atheism, we can call the first stance, is exactly the sort of inference you describe here. Are the respondents on this blog aliens from another planet? There is no evidence in favor of this hypothesis (well, little evidence) and since there is no good reason to believe it, I don’t. In the same way, one could argue as you do that there is someone making a claim of the existence of a being and therefore assumes the burden of proof for it and if they have not met that burden then rationally, one ought not believe in the existence claim.

[2] : Positive inductive atheism would be what we could term the position in which one argues that there is evidence to believe in the falsity of the magical, invisible man in the sky hypothesis. Folks with this view often point to the incredible successes of purely naturalistic explanations for phenomena that were thought at earlier times to be entirely unassailable by scientific methods. With all the things that had been thought to be the result of magic, spirits or supernatural causes that we now understand and can control by the use of science, there seems to be reason to be suspicious of claims that any part of the universe is beyond scientific understanding. This is an inductive argument based on the historical relation between science and religion, and judging that the successes that science has had in the past in realms like astronomy, biology, geology, and psychology will thus probably go all the way down to eliminating non-naturalistic elements in all our beliefs.

[3] : Deductive atheism would then be the name for those who claim to be able to show that the notion of an all-being is self-contradictory, that the Judeo-Christian God or any supernatural being could not exist. Those who champion arguments like the problem of evil are taking this line. A world which contains terrible suffering by innocent children, the argument goes, could not have been created by a being who is all-knowing, all-loving and all-powerful because if He knew about it and could stop it, but didn’t, then he would not be all-loving. This is a deductive argument to show that it is impossible for a particular type of god hypothesis to be true.

[4] : Linguistic atheism would be a name we could apply to those folks like the Logical Positivists of the first half of the 20th century who were atheists, not because of deductive arguments or the lack of evidence, but because, they contended, God talk—indeed metaphysical talk of any sort—was simply meaningless. It isn’t, as Saint Anselm argued, that the atheist and the theist both agree on what is meant by God, they just disagree on whether one exists. According to Carnap and company, the whole question is really a pseudo-question. It looks like a question, it sounds like a question, but it really isn’t. A question is a request for information, if there is no such information to be had, then the string of words is not a real question even if it is grammatically proper. If you and a friend were to get into a huge screaming battle over what color my sister’s car is, you would be debating forever, not because it is a deep mystery of the cosmos, but because I don’t have a sister. In the same way, the Logical Positivists argued that questions like the existence or non-existence of god were simply meaningless squabble, linguistic muddles that were the result of taking anything that looks like a question seriously.

Your pseduocode does not properly match any of the epistemological variants stated above. It comes fairly close to being a representation of sorts of negative inductive atheism (the variety which would probably be the one subscribed to by many here) but it fails because it is applying a different conditional test. The conditonal test that is actually applied is:

IF ((evidence_for_god) == 0)

THEN

belief_in_god=FALSE;

In the case of [2], namely positive inductive atheism, the reasoning would be akin to a mathematical limiting process, of the following kind:

Lemma: If phenomenon(n) is explainable entirely in terms of naturalistic processes, then phenomenon(n+1) is also explainable entirely in terms of naturalistic processes.

Since we have a starting phenomenon in the list, phenomenon(1), which is explainable entirely in terms of naturalistic processes, and thus far, the lemma has held true for all values of n thus far investigated, we postulate the following hypothesis:

The lemma will remain true as n tends to infinity.

Truth of this hypothesis therefore equates to falsity of the existence of god.

In the case of [3], the process is effectively a reductio ad absurdum on the properties attributed to a god - namely, that if a postulated god possesses the following properties, then there exists a deduction (presented) that those properties lead to a logical inconsistency, and therefore no entity possessing these particular properties can exist.

[4] is something of an outlier, in that it contends that any metaphysical question is de facto absurd. Since it is not a variant I have studied in sufficient detail to critique it (despite having been hot-housed with Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus in my teenage years by an eccentric Latin teacher) I shall leave it to others to address the merits and demerits of this variant elsewhere.

[ Edited: 23 September 2007 09:42 by Traces Elk]
 
 
Traces Elk
 
Avatar
 
 
Traces Elk
Total Posts:  5591
Joined  27-09-2006
 
 
 
23 September 2007 09:45
 

I wanted to post more from this same thread here, but the link is available above. It’s a splendid argument against a dim philosophical rube who attempts to make a semantic quibble into a philosophical argument. Some good logic an an introduction to quantificational calculus appears later in the thread.

Here is some of the rube-ishness recapitulated:

I have deduced if one is ignorant (i.e., without knowledge) of a given deity, then they will be incapable of forming a belief for the existence or nonexistence of said deity.

Again, wrong. Once upon a time, humans were ignorant of the existence of electrons. However, our combined intellectual endeavours brought us to the point where we postulated their existence, assigned physical properties to them, and then sought to verify that existence and those physical properties via experimental test. Which we were able to do. Ignorance now is no guarantee of ignorance in the future.

And since they are without a belief for the existence or nonexistence, they can be appropriately be declared as being in a state of lacking belief.

Again, I would contend that this is an oversimplification, one made worse by being based upon initially incorrect premises to begin with.

Where I struggle with this is when we remove ignorance from the equation.

In which case, you would rightly be asked to demonstrate aan analytically robust means of demonstrating the existence or otherwise of a god. For without such, you cannot remove ignorance from the equation.

This means the individual would have knowledge about a given deity

Once again, this presumes the existence of a robust procedure for determining that knowledge. In order to proceed along this line, you need to demonstrate the existence of said procedure, preferably by presenting it in detail.

or at the least a knowledge about the concept of the deity.

Logical fallacy. One can know of a concept without knowing of the validity of that concept. The two are independent pieces of knowledge. See Willard Van Ormand Quine, Methods Of Logic, for an exposition of this.

It is hear that it would seem an individual would intuitively lean towards the existence or nonexistence position.

Why ‘intuitively’? You seem to have omitted here the possibility of rational deduction and empirical investigation.

In other words, they would be inclined towards one position or the other.

Not necessarily. An individual may conclude that there is insufficient information to assign a definite truth value to the proposition. Which is usually a sign that the proposition itself needs to be modified in order to be more amenable to analysis.

Such a notion seems consistent with human nature, as I have observed it.

The numerous erroneous premises you have presented above do not elicit confidence in your status as a reliable observer.

Yet, many atheists today insist they are without a belief in a deity.

This they do. They usually present various reasons for this in addition. Which have a habit of being ignored in certain quarters. But that is a separate issue.

[ Edited: 23 September 2007 10:00 by Traces Elk]
 
 
EN
 
Avatar
 
 
EN
Total Posts:  21394
Joined  11-03-2007
 
 
 
23 September 2007 15:34
 

Interesting posts.  As I am sure that you realize, none of the four epistemological varients of atheism are capable of disproving the existence of a deity.  Negative inductive atheism simply demonstrates that the prosecutor has failed to prove his case – it does not prove that OJ was innocent.  Positive inductive atheism always leaves open the possibility that some non-naturalistic explanation for some event will prove to be the best one, and that there will be no valid naturalistic explanation for such event. Deductive atheism suffers from the weakness that it attempts to speculate and assume how an omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient deity would act – we may simply lack the information necessary to make such speculations and assumptions because we do not know the purposes of the deity. Finally, linguistic atheism, which appears to be the weakest of the four, appears to be based completely upon assumptions made about the very matter at issue – whether or not there is a God.  It really doesn’t help us in resolving that issue. 

Nevertheless, this post does show that atheism is mounting a very serious attack on all fronts. Ultimately, if theism is not actually grounded in objective truth, it will crumble in the face of these attacks, unless humans are so genetically predisposed to faith that they will simply manufacture gods to believe in, regardless of the facts, or unless Islam takes over and forces everyone to convert. The next few decades should be very interesting.  Thanks for provoking thought.

By the way, is that your cat? Cute little thing. The idea that you may have a soft and cuddly side is quite disconcerting.

[ Edited: 23 September 2007 15:36 by EN]
 
Mia
 
Avatar
 
 
Mia
Total Posts:  2186
Joined  15-11-2005
 
 
 
23 September 2007 16:52
 
Bruce Burleson - 23 September 2007 07:34 PM

Ultimately, if theism is not actually grounded in objective truth, it will crumble in the face of these attacks, unless humans are so genetically predisposed to faith that they will simply manufacture gods to believe in, regardless of the facts. . .

But theism is not grounded in objective truth, and all religions have manufactured their respective gods.

 
 
Carstonio
 
Avatar
 
 
Carstonio
Total Posts:  3135
Joined  26-04-2007
 
 
 
23 September 2007 17:54
 
Bruce Burleson - 23 September 2007 07:34 PM

Negative inductive atheism simply demonstrates that the prosecutor has failed to prove his case – it does not prove that OJ was innocent.

Your OJ analogy doesn’t hold true. Hypothetically, a video camera’s record of the night in question would have been conclusive evidence of his guilt or innocence. With claims for the existence of deity, there is not only no evidence but also no possibility of evidence.

Bruce Burleson - 23 September 2007 07:34 PM

Positive inductive atheism always leaves open the possibility that some non-naturalistic explanation for some event will prove to be the best one, and that there will be no valid naturalistic explanation for such event.

If we currently don’t have a valid naturalistic explanation, it’s reasonable to expect to find one as we learn more about the universe. There is no reason to consider any non-naturalistic explanation without evidence for such explanations. Such an explanation is like getting Indiana Jones out of a tight situation by giving him a magic wand that turns Nazis into geese.

Bruce Burleson - 23 September 2007 07:34 PM

Deductive atheism suffers from the weakness that it attempts to speculate and assume how an omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient deity would act – we may simply lack the information necessary to make such speculations and assumptions because we do not know the purposes of the deity.

That lack of information cuts the other way - it means that there is no reason to accept any claims for the existence of deity. The speculations and assumptions you mentioned are valid because they attempt to resolve the logical problems of theistic doctrines on the doctrines’ own merits. A secular example would be Larry Niven’s essay “Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex,” which is a funny exercise in resolving the sexual aspects of Superman’s powers.

 
SkepticX
 
Avatar
 
 
SkepticX
Total Posts:  14817
Joined  24-12-2004
 
 
 
23 September 2007 19:37
 

The problem here is that theism doesn’t warrant the level of respect it gets by default due to socialization (and possibly neurobiology). Theism is usually based upon an incoherent definition of God, or a definition that’s really just using the term “god” in place of an existing one, like “nature” or “cosmos” (and generally a far better one, without the obfuscatory and obscuring baggage). But in any case to present “Does God exist?” as if it’s a monolithic question and the terms give us a distinct idea to work with is about like presuming everyone is working with the same idea when we use the terms “soul” or “spirituality.” “God” almost always gets a free pass on that stage, so whatever “god” anyone asking or considering the question is thinking of is presumed to count as if it’s all one and the same thing. Clearly it’s not.

Theism is like a race horse that has no legs. It’s simply not qualified to race. Because it’s not qualified and doesn’t get to run, though, doesn’t mean we don’t know how well it would do if we were to drag it out onto the track for a race.

Byron

 
 
Traces Elk
 
Avatar
 
 
Traces Elk
Total Posts:  5591
Joined  27-09-2006
 
 
 
23 September 2007 21:56
 

Once you grant that a belief in god is not a necessary property of a human being, theism is indeed a racehorse with no legs. Make only that concession, when teaching a child its bible lessons, and the theist’s case is lost. Hoping for the possibility of a miracle that science cannot explain is not putting the theist’s best foot forward. Someone is going to have to name this gambit:

I vote for “The argument from statistical mechanics”.

An omni-all deity is (almost by definition) going to have to be omni-simplex. That is, it is going to have to answer to Ockham’s Razor, if not to our own contributor who goes by that name. One good way to satisfy that property is to be omni-non-existent.

[ Edited: 23 September 2007 22:04 by Traces Elk]
 
 
EN
 
Avatar
 
 
EN
Total Posts:  21394
Joined  11-03-2007
 
 
 
24 September 2007 03:49
 

Theism does not need legs to win the race. It is above it all, and circles the track without ever touching the ground. Such is the nature of spirit. See you in the winner’s circle.

 
SkepticX
 
Avatar
 
 
SkepticX
Total Posts:  14817
Joined  24-12-2004
 
 
 
24 September 2007 06:41
 
Salt Creek - 24 September 2007 01:56 AM

Hoping for the possibility of a miracle that science cannot explain is not putting the theist’s best foot forward. Someone is going to have to name this gambit ...


It’s just argument from ignorance, actually, and it is the best that theist apologists have to offer. They’ve just gotten very good at dressing it up all fancy and intricate and such. It all amounts to a tap dancer trying to keep up with a competent pianist—simple physics makes it so 2.5 - 3 foot legs just won’t ever be able to move as fast as 2 - inch fingers ... but they flail about wildly out of control and call it tap-dancing and of course completely fail to keep up, yet most people buy it.

Byron

 
 
SkepticX
 
Avatar
 
 
SkepticX
Total Posts:  14817
Joined  24-12-2004
 
 
 
24 September 2007 06:43
 
Bruce Burleson - 24 September 2007 07:49 AM

Theism does not need legs to win the race. It is above it all, and circles the track without ever touching the ground.


And everyone knows flying monkeys aren’t far behind flying horses (flying, legless horses, no less).

Byron

 
 
Carstonio
 
Avatar
 
 
Carstonio
Total Posts:  3135
Joined  26-04-2007
 
 
 
24 September 2007 08:54
 
SkepticX - 23 September 2007 11:37 PM

Theism is like a race horse that has no legs. It’s simply not qualified to race. Because it’s not qualified and doesn’t get to run, though, doesn’t mean we don’t know how well it would do if we were to drag it out onto the track for a race.

Great analogy. To take it to its logical conclusion, after the race was over the legless horse of theism would still be sitting there at the gate. The horse’s trainer would be insisting that the animal had won easily. He would be urging the officials to disbelieve the evidence of their own eyes.

 
frankr
 
Avatar
 
 
frankr
Total Posts:  2323
Joined  19-02-2006
 
 
 
24 September 2007 10:38
 
Salt Creek - 24 September 2007 01:56 AM

Once you grant that a belief in god is not a necessary property of a human being, theism is indeed a racehorse with no legs. Make only that concession, when teaching a child its bible lessons, and the theist’s case is lost. Hoping for the possibility of a miracle that science cannot explain is not putting the theist’s best foot forward. Someone is going to have to name this gambit:

I vote for “The argument from statistical mechanics”.

An omni-all deity is (almost by definition) going to have to be omni-simplex. That is, it is going to have to answer to Ockham’s Razor, if not to our own contributor who goes by that name. One good way to satisfy that property is to be omni-non-existent.

In my thestic density, I am missing the middle premise to this argument? Why? Belief is not necessary or the atheist could not exist. Are you saying the exitence of atheists is proof of no God? It seems a bit of a stretch. I think the fallacy is known as jumping to conclusions. The Christian does not say that God explains the gaps in science. (when the Christian does say this then there is usually trouble) The Christian says that theology answers questions that science cannot. The logical positivists saw this and concluded that metaphysical and theological questions were nonsensical. They did not say they were not questions or even more absurdly that science will answer them. There are questions that science cannot answer. The ignorance of science in this field has nothing to do with the amount of data, but with the unscientific nature of the question. ‘Why something?” is a question that science cannot answer even if it had complete scientific knowledge of the universe. There are questions simply outside the scope of science. One can deny the meaningfulness of the questions ala the positivists, but one is going to have a difficult time demonstrating that the questions do not exist or matter.

 
mcalpine
 
Avatar
 
 
mcalpine
Total Posts:  791
Joined  28-08-2007
 
 
 
24 September 2007 10:49
 

“Once you grant that a belief in god is not a necessary property of a human being…”

You could say that (is not a necessary property of a human being) about almost anything—intelligence, civilization, science, philosophy, art, literature, music, the wheel, the appendix, body hair….

....or you could decide which of the above others should find a way to do without.

We have physical evidence of burial going back a hundred millennia or more, cave painting forty millennia, musical instruments a dozen or so millennia.

Human intelligence may go back a thousand millennia.

The wheel is maybe five millenia.

The fact is, we have no idea how mankind may have developed without a sense of The Divine.

 
Carstonio
 
Avatar
 
 
Carstonio
Total Posts:  3135
Joined  26-04-2007
 
 
 
24 September 2007 11:39
 
frankr - 24 September 2007 02:38 PM

‘Why something?” is a question that science cannot answer even if it had complete scientific knowledge of the universe. There are questions simply outside the scope of science. One can deny the meaningfulness of the questions ala the positivists, but one is going to have a difficult time demonstrating that the questions do not exist or matter.

The question of “why” can be easily dismissed - it makes the baseless assumption that some agency has consciously created purposes for all things. There is no evidence for either the agency or for the purposes. Claims about either are definitely in the scope of science. What lies outside science are the individual subjective meanings that humans create for all things.

 
mcalpine
 
Avatar
 
 
mcalpine
Total Posts:  791
Joined  28-08-2007
 
 
 
24 September 2007 11:55
 

“What lies outside science are the individual subjective meanings that humans create for all things.”

Is any study of the individual subjective meanings that humans create for all things therefor outside of science?

 
Carstonio
 
Avatar
 
 
Carstonio
Total Posts:  3135
Joined  26-04-2007
 
 
 
24 September 2007 13:07
 
mcalpine - 24 September 2007 03:55 PM

Is any study of the individual subjective meanings that humans create for all things therefor outside of science?

I suppose it would if the study was of the nature of the individual meanings. Science might be involved if the study was of the prevalence of certain meanings.

 
 1 2 3 >  Last ›