Tag Archives: Atheism

El Pecado Mayor

If theories are salient in trying to capture our intuitions about how things are, then we should expect that what folks find compelling about sound arguments about the truth of the existence of deity is entirely intuition since by definition, neither the sound arguments for or against, in themselves, differ in arriving at their necessary conclusions; otherwise, a deadlock. An atheist is not a theist until his impressions change. A theist is not an atheist until his change also. Argumentation in “The Great Debate” plays an odd role then, which usually only turns out to mirror moral justification instead of epistemological justification. That is, the ability to condemn others for being wrong while feeling alright about doing so. It’s the liberty to cast the first stone.

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Ultimately, I want to suggest that one conclusion ought to be fairly certain, and that isn’t whether or not there is a God. I have to start by repeating myself however. This will outline a challenge that has to be answered, else the conclusion that there is or isn’t a God is irrelevant.

There are two identical universes that differ only in that one has a God and the other doesn’t. One may say that no universe can exist without a God, so, this hypothetical isn’t valid. One may say no Gods are required for any universe, so again, this hypothetical isn’t valid. But both can be dismissed as empty criticisms; both are bald and would appeal to facts of the matter that can’t settle who would be right; this is the crux of the problem itself in the hypothetical. The challenge of this scenario is to imagine that you’ve been placed in one of these universes and you are asked to say which. Given that the universes are otherwise identical — each has logic, morality, order, math, god-talk, numinous experience, miracles, meaning, and so on — to what would one appeal to tell?

Thus far, folks thought it important to try and meet “The Great Debate” in a straightforward fashion by exactly attempting to make distinctions. This has been a failure on both sides of the argument. More importantly, one should realize the not-so-straightforward problem. One can have religions experiences without there being a God, one can have meaningful things to say about God even though there may not be a God at all. Worse, because this implies religious experiences and religious ideas aren’t contingent to the existence of God, what import can they have if a person is wanting to know or experience the divine? If our knowledge or experience of God is dubious in this way, God’s existence not logically necessary for us to claim such knowledge or experience, what does either matter?

These are the problems a modern thinker should be tackling because if God, however defined, transcends practical human meaning and experience, the existence of God is irrelevant. As such, the existence of God is an empty proposition atheism and theism are clamouring on about, misguided and mistaken. The conversation can only be about whether there’s any benefit in having certain experiences or in thinking one way or other; irrespective of suggesting said experiences or ideas are at all related to the existence or non existence of deity.

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Atheism Justified

Global atheism — that is, the belief that no gods exist — is no more problematic to justify than local atheism, which is merely the denial of a particular conception of God. Any failures in justifying global atheism are likely due to a person’s lack of understanding the difference between the two. It’s not that one or the other is justifiable more readily. There are several very good, simple, understandable ways to do it and I’ll maybe do two here.

First is a type of A.J. Ayer practicalism found in Language, Truth, And Logic, in that if God is said to exist yet only manifests in reality identically as any other phenomenon in reality, then no separate conception of God exists and so God (as people using the term unfailingly mean “other than nature” in some respect) doesn’t exist; nature does and God is simply another word for nature. If one takes the metaphysical challenge of God and “supernature”, then we follow George Smith’s epistemic problem onboard as articulated in Atheism: The Case Against God. That is, we have no possible conception of deity, any deity that is “beyond”. So then dialectically, if one supposes a supernatural God exists and if the reasons suggesting its existence are again natural, then God can only be an ill-conceived idea; we can’t know what the idea of God actually is except for “nature” or in other words, “reality” and in that case, there’s no telling about any God and every God can be rejected. The rejection is either justified via clear equivocation or because “God” and “No God” entail phenomenally to the very same natural world one only supposes would be different based on the existence of this ill-conceived synonym.

Second is far too simple. Functionally, there are only conceptions of deity and there can be no evidence for deity. Given that God manifests in reality indistinguishably from “nothing” if imminent, and given that only logical descriptions define what the nature of diety are, and given that logic doesn’t entail truth or tell us about anything at all, the statement that “Gods do not exist” is justified because of deflation. That is, any possible conception of God entails to a claim of ambiguity (ie. “otherness” which is incomprehensible) and equivocality (“sameness”, yet only through synonymnity or pure reasoning rather than observation). So, “Gods do not exist” arises from paying attention to the history of god-concepts and the justified expectation that there are no other possible ways to assert God. In other words, the success of global atheism entails the clear justification of local atheism, and even better, in an historical rather than merely immediate sense of god-talk. Even more simply put, the atheist who believes there are no Gods simply has the belief that no god-concept is novel or could be and history bears this out. This sort of atheist isn’t required to have his own concept of God to deny. In essence, there is genuinely only local atheism.

For those interested in my references but not so much as to want to look them up:

For if the existence of such a god were probable, then the proposition that he existed would be an empirical hypothesis. And in that case it would be possible to deduce from it, and other empirical hypotheses, certain experiential propositions which were not deducible from those other hypotheses alone. But in fact this is not possible. It is sometimes claimed, indeed, that the existence of a certain sort of regularity in nature constitutes sufficient evidence for the existence of a god. But if the sentence “God exists” entails to more than that certain types of phenomena occur in certain sequences, then to assert the existence of a god will be simply equivalent to asserting that there is the requisite regularity in nature; and no religious man would admit that this was all he intended to assert in asserting the existence of a god. He would say that in talking about God, he was talking about a transcendent being who might be known through certain empirical manifestations, but certainly could not be defined in terms of those manifestations. But in that case the term “god” is a metaphysical term. And if “god” is a metaphysical term, then it cannot be even probable that a god exists. For to say that “God exists” is to make a metaphysical utterance which cannot be either true or false. And by the same criterion, no sentence which purports to describe the nature of a transcendent god can possess any literal significance.

(A. J. Ayer, ‘Language, Truth, And Logic’, Dover, Second Edition, 1952, pg. 117)

To exist beyond the sphere of natural law means to exist beyond the scope of human knowledge; epistemological transcendence is a corollary of ‘supernaturalness’. If a god is a natural being, if his actions can be explained in terms of normal causal relationships, then he is a knowable creature. Conversely, if god can be known, he cannot be supernatural. Without mystery, without some element of the incomprehensible, a being cannot be supernatural – and to designate a being as supernatural is to imply that this being transcends human knowledge. Epistemological transcendence is perhaps the only common denominator among all usages of the term “god,” including those of Tillich, Robinson and other modern theologians. While some “theists” reject the notion of a supernatural being in a metaphysical sense, it seems that every self-proclaimed theist – regardless of his particular use of the term “god” – agrees that a god is mysterious, unfathomable or in someway beyond man’s comprehension. The idea of the “unknowable” is the universal element linking together the various concepts of god, which suggests that this is the most critical aspect of theistic belief. The belief in an unknowable being is the central tenet of theism, and it constitutes the major point of controversy between theism and critical atheism.

(George Smith, ‘Atheism: The Case Against God’, 1973)

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On “Anti-Yahwehism”, Sometimes Passed Off As Atheism …

I think it’s mistaken to say that one’s atheism is grounded, or justified, based on any particular conception or tradition or mythology about deity. On the one hand, there’s the question of whether there are deity and what we mean by the term. On the other is a swath, a rather large one, of what folks say about it and how they talk about it. Clearly if Yahweh is asserted, one could admit that there are good reasons to think that deity isn’t real or doesn’t exist, but this could simply imply one is a theologian rather than an atheist. Consider the aphorism that “everyone is an atheist to at least one god”. It’s a poor trope. One rejects a conception of deity and can do so without being atheistic. If not a theologian, then perhaps a cultural critic or historian or any number of other things which also don’t entail to atheism. Consider the entire Hebrew tradition of saying what God is while rejecting that what they just said God is is what God is. Certainly the historicity of the fact seen in the Talmud exemplifies the point. Too, as another example, this is a hallmark of god-talk with respect to Brahman. It is in rejecting all conceptions that one is an atheist. Chiefly, it’s rejecting the existence of any inarticulable, organizing principle (which doesn’t necessarily need to be thought of as a personality or even some object which exists as what we mean when we say “this object exists … here it is”).

It is true, generally speaking, that everyone rejects the existence of at least one god but not true that an atheist accepts at least one.

When one sets about rejecting all conceptions of the divine, one has entered into metaphysics because one is no longer connecting atheism with god-talk, but rightly, with the idea of deity itself … in which case, only logic, sans any empirical means of vindication, stands as possible justification. In that case, since logically sound arguments for and against the existence of deity are completely easy to proffer, and since these will contradict each other in most cases given the binary nature of the proposition (foregoing the fact that logic tells us nothing about reality), justifying atheism or theism isn’t genuinely important to the question itself, “Do gods exist?” but instead to all other motives one may have for asserting it.

There is the question, “Do deity exist?” The motive to answer the question must be honest and the answer can only be that “It seems to me, deity [do/don’t] exist”, if one is an atheist or a theist. The motive to say Yahweh et. al. doesn’t exist is completely irrelevant to that question but to the question of whether or not someone has offered a reasonable description of what such “deity” may be like if they do exist.

Just a thought.

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On Correspondence …

If anyone asks “What is truth?” and the answer is “That which corresponds to reality”, “truth” and “that which” aren’t and can’t be reality itself. It’s then only at best “ideas about” or “sentences about” reality. Of course this entails truth as mind-dependent rather than strictly “out there” as some property of reality. This naturally exposes that ideas and sentences about reality are subjective because we’re producing them, and, that these ideas and sentences are still objective, given they must relate to reality somehow. So, this brings us to “correspondence” and the idea that “corresponds” can only mean “descriptive of”. In that case, A or B (two different descriptions of reality) may or may not “correspond to reality”. The questions are then which best describes and which is more justified to take on.

Since the epistemological task is to say whether, or how A or B is assertable, justification is synonymous with truth, not correspondence.

That is to say, there is no property of A or B that we rely on to suggest correspondence. So at least in our asserting either using those two terms (truth, correspondence), the truth and correspondence of A or B only obtain via justification. Both A and B may seek to describe reality, however, only one may end up being a better description, or the best description. Saying then that A corresponds, or that B corresponds, is to say nothing about correspondence. It’s that A is better at being descriptive than B; or vice versa. Whether warrant for A or B is “one seems to do a better job than the other” or whether A or B is a rational conclusion, or whether A or B is concluded from some reliable methodology or is evidential, these are all about which has warrant, justification.

The only imaginable response to “That which corresponds to reality”, it at least seems to me, is the dialectic translation: “A descriptive idea about reality that warrants assertability”.

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On Street Epistemology …

There’s a difference between the Socratic method — as described as continually questioning a person’s reason for belief in some proposition, P — and participatory pedagogy. The former is patronizing and disingenuous as it has an interlocutor who won’t be up-front with why they are asking the questions to begin with. It’s not because of any genuine interest in an answer or an openness to having those answers change minds. The later is invested in teacher and student, as both hope that in having the goal of learning, both may have something to gain from each other.

Street Epistemology, or SE as folks generally shorten it to, takes on the feel of a child continually asking “why”. Eventually, everyone will hit a wall in offering up explanations. For the most part, I think the honest move is to take “epistemology” out of any description of what is going on at all.

If one cared for Epistemology, one would likely eventually note that truth is not objective in the sense that “it” is mind-independent, but that when we use the word “true” what we mean is “there are good reasons any reasonable person would agree with this claim”. In fact, Street “Epistemology” is exactly getting at “good reasons” rather than “just reasons” and it doesn’t at all rely on any idea of warrant from a mind-independent “truth”. Truth is both “objective” and “relative” instead. It is relative to reasons, to circumstance and conditions, to “place”, humanity and history. That any “perfectly rational person” (an actual standard in Epistemology proper) would agree to some P given reasons R demonstrates the polysemy of “objective”; hence truth is relative and objective.

The important part is this — if the goal of SE is Boghossian — there can be no evidence for the supernatural by definition, therefore no disposition about the existence of deity is evidence-based. Moreover, logic doesn’t entail truth and is simply a formal description of how folks think; so, good reasoning about the question of the existence of God doesn’t warrant thinking there are or are not gods. The Engelian notion that Philosophy embraces (that all ideas are rooted in reality), that of “place”, entails that inferences about the existence of deity are actually “entitlements” and not artificial; dispositions that only have impressions from experience leading to the various inferences one could form about the question.

That’s not to say that cases for and against the existence of deity cannot be made or that good reasoning about one’s disposition shouldn’t be had. It is to say that lacking articulable reasons for one’s belief isn’t a mark against that belief being warranted. Simply, it’s just that reason alone, and that there can be no evidence, leaves these two features of justification outside of relevance as to why a disposition exists and the role experience plays in its warrant; Boghossian fails here. SE is asking for justification without realizing that warrant is what matters and not all warrant is through justification (i.e. reasoning about evidences).

Warrant for theism and atheism doesn’t obtain through evidence. Either are much more about practicalities. This is why i see SE as a failed enterprise, if Epistemology is the chief concern … ultimately, the theist and atheist are left with only reasons that make sense to themselves, but make sense because of, and only because of, personal experience and impression; not because one has run across a set of questions that left uncertainty in their wake.

Whittling a person down to having no articulable reasons for a belief, or even to conflicting reasons and in some cases, even incoherence only demonstrates that Foundationalism lacks warrant, which seems the predicate epistemology of most Street Epistemologists.

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Doubtless, Faithless

When you express doubt to some believers, they respond by saying you just have to have faith.

Some believers are certain of their faith; not that they are faithful with a particular set of rituals, but that “Jesus, not Janus” is the case.

Often, it’s the very same believer expressing both ideas.

When doubt exists, certainty cannot; that’s axiomatic.

This is when we have to realize that every question before us is one where we can have countless attitudes about. This sort of person isn’t being incoherent. They simply have fine distinctions that are hard maybe for even themselves to see. For this believer, his witness to doubters will be far more honest in seeing that faith in this context isn’t about having justified beliefs. Faith here is a choice against justified doubt. That’s also axiomatic.

A doubtful believer certain that his faith is warranted is one who should admit doubters have every reason to doubt, but that the reason faith is warranted is because risking into the unknown can be validated, can be vindicated here and now; faith is vulnerability to being wrong for all the best reasons.

Instead, the often dishonest reaction to doubt isn’t this sort of faith. It’s claiming to know what others are simply too blind to see. It is supressing one’s own genuine doubt for a refusal to being vulnerable to being anything less than perfectly right in every questionable matter that this faith could apply to.

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The Leap Of Knowledge

Gina stood remembering the first time she had made the jump. She had no idea what would happen. Could she do it? Just as then, she had confidence she could. The distance seemed reasonable, she was strong, she knew she could hold on to the bar on the other side if she could just reach it. But, the fall wouldn’t be so easy if she couldn’t.

She remembered everything about that day as a little girl on the playground and that jungle gym. She remembered making it. She remembered too that after that first jump, she never worried again; she jumped from one side and back all day because she knew she could do it, she had done it before.

Gina isn’t eight anymore, she’s twenty eight and a P. E. teacher at that same school. Could she do it? She used to know. She doesn’t know anymore. Everyone had gone home for the day, so she climbed up, smiled, then lept.

What is knowledge? Is it simply “confidence from good reasons”? What is faith? Is it simply “confidence for good reasons”?

If “acting with confidence” describes both knowledge and faith, then the only difference is motivation; “because of good reasons” and “for good reasons” respectively.

“I know that P because of good reasons.”

“I have faith that P for good reasons.”

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Shit Apologetics

Since the Enlightenment at least, faith has come to be associated with epistemological belief.

Since epistemological belief is about warrant, and since many explain “you just have to have faith”, one admits that faith isn’t about belief if belief is indeed about warrant.

Since the apologist apeals to faith as a reason to say some proposition is true, said apologist openly admits to his naysayers accusing him of not having evidence and good reason to think so, that in fact, they’re right!

Faith is the appeal in every single instance where evidence and reason are lacking.

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Start With “Uncle!”

Christian apologetics can’t get it right if it begins with presuppositions or faith. In claiming that we must presuppose God, the apologist admits there’s no real reason to believe; we must simply suppose it is true. When the apologist says one must have faith, he likewise admits there’s no reason to believe and instead is suggesting merely that one ought to hope something is true. As it concerns propositions and truth-telling, there are ethical duties and obligations that come with. Justification is the primary obligation. There’s no justification in assumption or in hoping something is true because neither indicate whether something is true. So if this is part of Christian apologetics, it admits up front that there’s no reason to believe, and follows that by divorcing itself from the ethics of truth-telling from there. In a propositional sense and in the moral sense, it just can’t get it right.

Just a thought.

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