Friday, February 15, 2013

Adventures at CARM - Must I assume atheism to be true in order to refute it?

I've been digging through for curiosity's sake. So far, these are the episodes of my adventures:

Today I'm addressing a peculiar topic that the site received as an email: "Must I assume atheism to be true in order to refute it?"

The question itself is a bit bizarre, so it piqued my interest. Does the writer mean when one sets up a "for the sake of argument, let assume that ...." scenario? I don't think one necesarily needs to do that on any case.

The email/response starts like this:

Email:  Hope you can help me with a problem I'm having:   In any argument, do you assume that what your opponent is saying is pretty much true in order to refute it? For instance, if I'm arguing against atheism, must I assume atheism in order to refute it? Just for argument's sake of course to see if it's wrong.
Response:  Whenever I discuss atheism with an atheist, I try and put the emphasis on the atheist and his position. I do not assume that atheism is true as an argument.  Instead, try to get the atheist to prove his position.  

Reading the email, I'm still not getting it. Atheism cannot be proved right or wrong. "I don't believe" you isn't a truth position, unless we're talking about whether I'm lying about believing you or not. It's basically the position that the theists have yet to meet their burden of proof. We don't believe you because you haven't made your case. You may be able to demonstrate that you have made your case, and we'd be wrong about that.

The beginning of the response seems to following under the same misunderstanding of atheism. It's no wonder why these people have such a hard time communicating with us.

Immediately, Slick is pulling a blatant shifting of the burden of proof. We're atheists because you haven't met your burden of proof. Why is this hard to understand?

I have various arguments that I use to establish God's existence and whether or not the atheists except them, does not invalidate those arguments.
Of course our not agreeing with them doesn't invalidate them. It's typically the rebuttals we give while disagreeing that pulverize your arguments.

 But again, I often will ask the atheists to give me rational arguments for why atheism is true.
The question is gibberish (and shifting the burden of proof).

Note, though, that atheism is basically a negative position and that I am not asking the atheist to prove that God does not exist.  That is far too difficult a proposition to impose upon anyone.
Uh okay, thanks. Then your above question is even more gibberish. That's the only way it made sense to me, was that you'd be operating under a misconception that atheism is a positive belief that no gods exist.

Instead, I ask the atheist to give me support for his open denial of God, or lack of belief in God, or whatever it is that he defines his atheism as.
I love that loaded language - "denial". I'm not in "denial" of God anymore than you're in "denial" about your capacity to sprout wings and fly away. There has to be something there to deny in the first place, so we're already begging the question.

Also, supporting my position would be kind of hard too - to list all the times that theists didn't provide me with actual scientific evidence that meets the standards of evidence, and doesn't employ logical fallacies? ... a very long list.

Usually at this point I discover several problems in atheist argumentation. For example, an atheist might say that you cannot prove that God exists. Of course, this is not a logical statements since the atheist does not know all possible proofs. 
We (atheists) actually argue with each other incessantly about what it'd take to "prove" a god, since it is such an outlandish claim. I'm willing to think that Slick merely misunderstands what the atheist said, as the proper response would have been along the lines of "you haven't proved God yet."

Further, the concept of "proofs" does not apply outside of math. I've addressed the idea of "proof by logic", where the apologists purports to merely wave some logic around and have definitively "proved" a god exists without a single shred of confirming empirical evidence.

In reality (literally), we use logic as an investigative guide, and we then confirm our "logical conclusions" against empirical evidence. Science does this iteratively, through many rounds of observation-logic-validation.

For the very same reason why one could not accurately say that there absolutely are no ways to prove a god doesn't exist, one cannot merely conjure a logical "proof" that demonstrates a god exists.. because the premises are always tentative on our understanding of the universe (or metaverse)... and the "logical proof" is therefore an "educated guess" only - a single step in the epistemological process.

One typically sees this double standard with apologists. On one hand, they insist that God is beyond our logic and understanding, and can override the laws of nature/logic. They'll repeatedly point out that human knowledge and understanding is flawed and incredibly limited.

Then, all of a sudden, on the other hand, they use that same human knowledge/understanding to try to generate absolute proofs of God... and they don't seem to understand the contradiction.

The best method of understanding reality humans have ever conceived is science, which relies heavily on empirical evidence to justify or falsify the "logical" conclusions we think we came up with. That's how it makes progress. The idea of "proofs" doesn't use this cyclic engine that validates against reality.

It merely blithely blurts out an argument and assumes all the premises are absolutely true, therefore the conclusion is necessarily true. Then, the apologists go home after another supposed successful day of proving God.

Heck, another apologist was arguing that C-14 dating erroneously depends on the "assumption" that radioactive decay constants have been consistent over time. And yet, this apologist wants us to assume that physical laws and logical absolutes are consistent everywhere, especially outside the scope of the reality they were originally derived, so he can make his "proofs". These apologists need to start talking to each other more.

The fact that Slick believes that "proofs" are a valid approach to demonstrating that a god exists is a testament as to his utter epistemological incompetence.

Or, an atheist might say that there is no evidence that God exists. The problem with this argument is that he does not know all possible evidence and can therefore not authoritatively claim that there is no evidence for God's existence.
This is probably another point where he's misunderstanding the atheist position, probably this time due to common lingual shortcuts. The idea is that there's no evidence that we've discovered yet. I find it hard to believe that an atheist would honestly be making the claim that no evidence exists anywhere, for the reasons Slick gives.

The time to accept a claim as true is when it's sufficiently justified by evidence. If there is not yet enough evidence to believe in a god, of course we're going to be atheists. That'd be the rational position.

I listen to what the atheist says and then I try to find any logical fallacies or invalid assumptions on his part. 
Please, enlighten me. Please tell me what logical fallacy is embedded in "You haven't provided sufficient evidence for your claim, so I don't believe you."

I also sometimes ask the atheist what would constitute sufficient proof for God's existence and then try and discuss with the atheist whether or not his criteria is sufficient.
Boy, do we argue with each other about this. It depends on the god definition. Some specific definitions probably aren't provable for some simple math/logic reasons.

I may be willing to accept that someone knows Calculus if he/she can demonstrate 10% of the knowledge. Let's say that I'm generous, and I'll accept 0.00000000000000000000000000000001% as demonstration.

How do you demonstrate omnipotence? How do you demonstrate 0.00000000000000000000000000000001% of infinite power? Wouldn't that also be infinite?

It is possible for a particular god definition to be constructed in such a way that it's not demonstrable. We have a category for those claims - untestable and unfalsifiable.

If you want to know what the criteria would be, using science would be a good start. "Logical proofs" are crap.

If the atheist says that he does not know what would constitute sufficient proof, but I respond that he is not thought through the issue sufficiently.
Or maybe you haven't thought through the issue sufficiently. Maybe we don't know because we've thought about it more deeply to realize that the question has been constructed to be unfalsifiable and untestable.

Hell, half the time Christians are specifically telling us that God can't be tested. We can go through a dragon-in-the-garage series of tests/experiments to test their claims, and they end up moving the goalposts over and over.

So basically you respond by being an arrogant condescending prick, who hasn't thought through the reason, why the atheist might not know, sufficiently.

Usually, the conversation will go well. However, I must admit that many times the atheist becomes more argumentative and less logical.
We're human. Humans become frustrated. I myself can get frustrated when arguing with an incoherent epistemologically inept brick wall.

That's not a ground-breaking realization.

I once had a back-and-forth with an apologist who kept trying to shift the burden of proof - a logical fallacy. I pointed it out each time, to the point I started counting. Finally, after many many rounds of this, he asked me essentially "who cares about shifting the burden of proof?"

That was frustrating. At that point, I was done with the person. Why bother talking to someone who has thrown logic out the window?

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