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Discussion following a post by Eric MacDonald (3 June 2013)

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Discussion following a post by Eric MacDonald (3 June 2013)
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Dragan GlasContributorUser avatarPosts: 3209Joined: Mon Dec 14, 2009 1:55 amLocation: Ireland Gender: Male

Post Discussion following a post by Eric MacDonald (3 June 2013)

Greetings,

This is a thread for Persto, myself and others to continue a discussion prompted by Eric MacDonald's article "How Several Misunderstandings Led Megan Hodder To Faith":
(http://choiceindying.com/2013/06/03/how ... ment-27582)

I've taken the liberty of copying all the comments for the thread to ensure that anyone reading it will see from where the discussion began.

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gbjames
3 June 2013 at 12:34

IMO it is a mistake to put too much importance on the comments of this particular young woman. There are bound to be such folk if only due to statistical variation. That she wants the certainty and false comfort of religion is not particularly due to a failure of Gnu Atheism.

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Eric MacDonald
3 June 2013 at 14:26

GBJames, I do, of course, not want to attribute too much importance to the comments of this young woman, but it nevertheless seems to me that they do serve to illustrate the shortcomings of at least some aspects of the new atheism, shortcomings which, I believe, AC Grayling’s new book, The God Argument, goes some way towards overcoming. I think, despite what has been said in response to people like Philip Kitcher and Susan Haack — and scientists of religion like Scott Atran — that their criticism of the new scientism is not only justified, but an important corrective to an overweening presumption on the part of some scientists. Given their position they should not count themselves able to say the things that they say. I wrote my MA thesis on an aspect of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus, and I recall his remarks about the totality of what can be said, namely, the propositions of science, and how he lapsed into philosophical silence for several years, and then came to recognise how much more there is to be said, and how we can indeed be said to have knowledge which is outside the realm of science. It seems to me that, while the contribution of sciences to the new atheism is important, Hitchens’ non-scientific contribution is also important, and offers a corrective to the over-emphasis on scientific ways of knowing, which leaves many important things unsaid. It is a theme which, as you know, I pick up repeatedly, and I do so precisely because it can so easily lead to the kind of flight to religion that Ms. Hodder’s conversion to Catholicism (of all things!) highlights. We can, I think, do better than this. Were I left with only a scientistic atheism, I think I would find nonbelief a poor substitute, indeed, an inhuman substitute, for religion. Possibly this is why Ayaan Hirsi Ali thinks the solution to Islam is a determined effort to convert Muslims to Christianity. I think we need to defeat religion. I have no doubt that that is the correct course to take, but what is left when religion is gone has to be humanly attractive. Scientism does not provide this.
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Kevin Alexander
3 June 2013 at 14:30

Go over to Butterflies and Wheels. The commenters there have done some digging and found Megan is a fake.
I guess that there are so few atheist to christian conversions that she thought her story would have more power if she pretended to have once been an atheist.
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gbjames
3 June 2013 at 14:43

I do wish you would leave off of the “scientism” stuff, Eric. It is a false charge, IMO. Not that I want to re-litigate the matter in this thread.

In any case, I think Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s “solution” is nothing more than the recognition that some religions are more toxic than others and that a shift from more to less toxic would be a form of improvement.

I was going to suggest that your example “failed atheist”, Megan, would likely have converted even having read the next A.C. Grayling book since she seems to have some motive to be a Catholic. But I see from Kevin, below, that it looks like she’s just another believer lying for Jesus.
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Persto
3 June 2013 at 15:11

Eric,

Atheism has epistemological problems writ large, but, in truth, that is the case for every metaphysical system. The problem is most New Atheists don’t even know they have metaphysical system of beliefs–the denial of God’s existence is a metaphysical belief. Nevertheless, their common objection to metaphysical claims is always some version of Clifford’s declaration that: “it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.”

Firstly, this is a category error in most instances, especially in most New Atheist cases because they are almost invariably speaking about scientific evidence. It needs to said very loudly that science neither affirms nor denies God’s existence; it cannot even comment on it directly. Of course, some people think the natural sciences create a positive environment for faith, and others think that the natural sciences have negative implications for faith. But science does not prove anything, either way on this issue. Science tells us that the Earth has an elliptical orbit and that one gram of hydrogen contains 303 x 10^21 molecules and that arsenic is poisonous, but it doesn’t tell us anything about God’s existence or non-existence. Science offers a description of reality, but it doesn’t offer an explanation. The question about God cannot be settled, solely, on scientific grounds. To have a conversation about God you have to be doing metaphysics.

Secondly, while I sympathize with this view, I don’t think it is a very strong philosophical position because it has become increasingly clear that many of the fundamental beliefs of western culture lie beyond proof of this sort. Perhaps, even some of these unprovable beliefs are a working force within science itself. For instance, in everyday life, when the evidence for important propositions is often unclear, we must live by faith or cease to act at all. Although, we cannot make leaps of faith just anywhere, sometimes practical considerations force us to make a decision regarding propositions that do not have their truth value written on their faces. And so our ordinary moment-to-moment perceptual beliefs contradict the principle that all rational believing must be based upon adequate evidence. It is not that they are based upon inadequate evidence, but rather that the model of evidence to inference to belief does not apply here. Ordinary perceptual beliefs arise directly out of our experience, and it is entirely appropriate, proper, rational to form these beliefs in this way.

In my mind, perceptual beliefs(I see my hand in front of my face), self-evident propositions(there is a world), analytic truths(2+2=4), uncontroversial reports of your own memory( I had breakfast this morning.), and also the holding of incorrigible beliefs(I am now conscious or I feel pain in my leg.) These beliefs arise in us directly and not as a result of inference and are often described as basic or foundational. They are beliefs that are rational to hold in appropriate circumstances and they are grounded in and justified by those circumstances. This is foundationalism, an intellectual tradition of which I am a member. The idea being that ‘good reasons’ will ultimately have to appeal to premises that are basic in the sense that they are not derived from further premises. For self-evident or analytic propositions believing them follows from understanding them; they can be basic for anyone. However, with perceptual and incorrigible beliefs, and those based on memory, the individual’s and the community’s–in the case of religious belief—experience is all-important. These beliefs reflect experience, and such experience is ultimately unique to each individual. And so for such a belief to be basic is for it to be basic for someone. For the basicality of these beliefs is relative to the believer’s range of experience or information. Of course, our own experiences often overlap: We all see a stump and we all believe we see a stump on the basis of our experience. But it is still true, that what counts as basic for me depends upon the content of my experience. At some point we have to accept that I just have the experience that I have, and that it is rational, appropriate, and justifiable to be in a belief-state reflecting that experience. (A good reading of James would help the New Atheists here.) Besides, as Tennyson observed, “For nothing worthy proving can be proven, Nor yet disproven: wherefore thou be wise, Cleave ever to the sunnier side of doubt.”

This is the problem for pure empiricism: Pure empiricism, evaluated by the same standard as the New Atheists examine God, does not possess any reason to warrant assent to it and cannot serve itself as the reason for belief. If I concede to a New Atheist that things appear to that person in a certain way, what reason will one adduce for going beyond that to an assent ( that is, to a belief) that they are that way? Any reason that that person cares to bring forward is inevitably going to rest upon some large claims about the world, claims that are surely not more, but rather less compelling than the experiences that led that individual to say that things appear to her thus and so.

If one accepts Hume’s skepticism, which is the metaphysical approach of the New atheists, then most metaphysical doctrines cannot be defended by pure empiricism or pure reason. They are, by their nature, beyond the everyday experience, so they are not based on impression nor are they based a relation of ideas that can be demonstrated by a simple logical or mathematical proof. Therefore, they cannot be justified. The problem for the New Atheists is that this approach extends way beyond debatable metaphysical claims and even undermines a large part of the beliefs that are most essential to humanity’s everyday experience as well.

The New Atheists by utilizing Hume’s standard in refuting metaphysical claims undermine their own empiric world. The naturalistic philosophy, which is the philosophy of every event has its cause(s), (As an aside, I would like to see a new atheist defend this approach. Someone, please, reject the process whereby certain types of events are always followed by a definite kind of other event? For example, I want someone to reject that the law of gravitation entails that, within Earth’s gravitational zone, objects will fall downward toward Earth at an acceleration of 32.17 ft/sec/sec or ft/sec^2?) is compromised by this method of destroying metaphysical claims. Causation is the central tenet of all reasoning, that is, it attempts to connect all separate ideas in a single belief. But Hume comes down on this like a ton of bricks. He refutes both the principle of universal causation and the principle of induction by showing that neither can be defended either as a ‘relation of ideas’ or as a ‘matter of fact.’ Hume said, just like all of the new atheist ilk say, who are apparently, oblivious to Hume’s work, that all human knowledge must be one or the other, but after it was all said and done, cause and effect reasoning and the principle of induction, the very backbone of the scientific process, I might add, could not be a relation of ideas nor a simple matter of fact. Hume, of course, goes into more detail, but, in the end, ascertains that there is no ‘solution to the skeptical doubts.’ Hume’s philosophy, if it is to be employed, means an end not only to philosophy, but to all rational inquiry and all claims that we can know anything–even that the sun will rise tomorrow.

Of course, on all of these counts and more New Atheism fails and, in its failing, continues to claim that it has succeeded–that not only is there not a problem but there has never been a problem, which affirms E.A. Burtt’s fear that a philosophy that is held unconsciously is often held uncritically.

I am convinced a good reading of Hume and Sextus would right this ship, but who knows.

In my opinion, not only is new atheism the least commonsensical belief system–the naturalistic ethic is part of this as well–ever devised, but it strikes me as extraordinarily inconsistent that one could go from a very skeptical viewpoint, a suspension of judgement, in the words of Sextus, to the definite–and therefore from the skeptical perspective, dogmatic–view that God does not exist, which finds a permanent home in the New Atheist claim that the TheistGod does not exist. Well, that very well could be true and, perhaps, it is more probable than the TheistGod’s existence, but that is a specific claim about the world and, as such, carries a burden of proof. Something, apparently, the new atheists have no concept of–defending their metaphysical claims. I mean, why should they? It’s all gibberish, right?

I for one will be delighted when new or, even worse, gnu atheism has gone the way of the milkman and the travel agent. Give me humanism; give me Wycliffe, Biddle, Miguel Servetus, and Erasmus; give me Paine and Jefferson; give me Augustine, Origen, and Averroes; give me the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, Pico, and Bacon; give me Feuerbach, Tillich, and Niebuhr. Don’t give me Dawkins or Harris or Coyne or Myers. All of them, to a man, want to utilize Darwin’s theory of evolution, as developed in the light of Mendelian genetics and our understanding of the place of DNA in the transmission of inherited information, to dogmatize on matters of religion, but, apparently, they don’t know that they have strayed far beyond the straight and narrow way of the scientific method, and are in the philosophical badlands, so to speak.

Regards

Kevin,

Read the article again. She wasn’t a new atheist last Easter. She began questioning her atheism much earlier than that, so I am not at all surprised she didn’t have typical new atheist beliefs last Easter. In any case, to call her a liar, though she may be, is a bit premature.
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John K.
3 June 2013 at 15:16

It would seem to me that anytime we can put empirical verification behind a theory or idea, that theory or idea gains a greater claim to the label of truth. In this way I cannot help but think that philosophy and its ilk must be “subordinate to science” in some measure or another. I do not consider philosophy as pointless hand waving, only limited in its scope in a way the complete scientific endeavor is not. In fact, philosophy is an important part of science, even if it is limited to the conceptual hypothesis portion. Complete science forms a greater whole that philosophy on its own cannot match.

I still wonder how one makes the leap to knowledge at the level of scientific inquiry without empirical verification. I will not disallow the label of knowledge completely from all things that are not empirically verifiable, but if they are not going to be subordinate to science they should at least be shown to be equal. To use the example:

Mozart was a greater composer than Hummel, even though some of Hummel’s compositions are quite charming. We cannot demonstrate this scientifically, but we can know it with a fair degree of assurance.

Where does any assurance come from in a statement like this? How does it elevate itself above the level of mere opinion and become actual knowledge? How can we answer the counter position that no classical music was any good by modern standards? This is the measure by which I reject revelation or a sensus divinitatis. Without empiricism, I see no way to separate wild fantasy from reality at all. That which can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.

I would also quickly add that just because religion offered an answer for something that its rejection does not, it is not a failing of the position of rejection. A bad answer is not better than no answer at all, and in fact it is often worse than no answer. Every “answer” religion gives us is baseless. That its poor answers went far and wide is not a point of virtue. I can think of no valuable cultural value that requires a belief in the supernatural, and I do not think people will be forced to discard anything valuable that religion once provided. We need only excise the magical thinking.

Finally, if one was only on board with atheism because it was popular and not because of an understanding of the criticisms it does not surprise me that that position might be tenuous. If Megan Hodder understood and had a good answer to the burden of proof or the problem of evil, I would be very surprised. Just the account of Regensburg’s address alone displays no understanding of the omnipotent/omniscient/benevolent paradox at all.
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Michael Fugate
3 June 2013 at 15:36

Persto,
Nice rant. Too bad you refute your own argument at the start by making an absolute claim that science cannot comment on gods. On what basis can you make this claim? On what basis can you know anything about things called gods? You simply cannot define the supernatural as something that cannot be studied by science and then claim science cannot study the supernatural.
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pinkagendist
3 June 2013 at 16:06

I’m with Mr. Fugate. Rarely have I seen someone take so many twists and turns to end up saying so little. Well, William Lane Craig plays the same annoying game.
In any event, science can say much of the claims made by a number of religions. Certainly of the big three. Evidence clearly suggests their claims are false whether they be claims of ‘revelations’, ‘miracles’, or ‘truth’.
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makagutu
3 June 2013 at 16:08

Eric, I think the criticism of New Atheists that they lack depth is ill founded. The one question that is asked oft times are the claims made by religions true. You and me agree that religious apologists haven’t answered this question to the affirmative.

On the arguments for or against the existence of gods, here too we must agree that the soundness of an argument for the existence of god doesn’t bring the said god to existence, rather, I think, it only goes to show that the argument is sound both in its premises and conclusions. Further, on the question of the existence of god, I quote Jean Meslier, who writing in the early 18th Century wrote,

If God is an infinite being, there can be neither in the actual world or in another any proportion between man and his God; thus the idea of God will never enter the human mind. In the supposition of a life where men will be more enlightened than in this one, the infinity of God will always place such a distance between his idea and the limited mind of man, that he will not be able to conceive of God any more in a future life than in the present. Hence, it evidently follows that the idea of God will not be better suited to man in the other life than in the present. God is not made for man; it follows also that intelligences superior to man–such as angels, archangels, seraphims, and saints–can have no more complete notions of God than has man, who does not understand anything about Him here below.

and he continues to say of god

In order to persuade me that a being exists, or can exist, he must begin by telling me what this being is; in order to make me believe the existence or the possibility of such a being, he must tell me things about him which are not contradictory, and which do not destroy one another; finally, in order to convince me fully of the existence of this being, he must tell me things about him which I can comprehend, and prove to me that it is impossible that the being to whom he attributes these qualities does not exist

a feat you and me agree no theologian or apologist has been able to surmount.

I think for someone to claim they don’t find new atheism deep is enough is not our failure but that of the said individual. There are several books on atheism written by philosophers who may not be on the limelight but offer a serious critique of faith and belief that one need only to look.

On the charge that some atheists do not fully grasp what happens when god is dead could have some merit. To say atheism is mainly negative is to ignore it’s life affirming view that we have to do the best here, that we can’t help the gods but can help each other, that we must do all in our power to make the life of all bearable in the short duration we are here. On the contrary, religions which you seem to praise, especially the Abrahamic religions, are life denying, they tell you life is a rehearsal for a future life and there is a celestial overlord who wants you to worship him to secure a place in his stead or face damnation.

When I was a believer, I saw church mainly as a social place and if this is the type of community you refer to, I would agree with you but I think atheists are forming small communities, where they interact with each other, an interaction which we are not bequeathed by religion by that each of us desire as political and social animals.
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Jon
3 June 2013 at 18:23

The ‘rules’ of empirical science are simple: if you make a claim that I disagree with, I can ask you to prove it using an established and agreed-upon method. If you can’t, you lose. Any non-empirical claim to knowledge or understanding, on the other hand ultimately boils down to “Because I say so”.

Hitchens summed it up perfectly: “That which can be asserted without evidence, can be rejected without evidence”.

And I think, Eric, you are simply dismissing areas as ‘unempirical’ when they are simply uninvestigated. If there is a reason why Mozart is a more popular composer than Hummel, other than just historical accidents, it will presumably be to do with the structure of their respective works and the structure and activity of human brains — both perfectly valid and respectable areas for empirical investigation.
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Jon
3 June 2013 at 18:28

New Atheists only ‘lack depth’ in the way that a-Bigfoot-ists ‘lack depth’; that is, we’re generally not interested in poring over every batch of blurry photos, looking at sloppy plaster casts of alleged footprints, reading rambling and illiterate eyewitness accounts of nothing in particular, and reassuring each other that we are not wasting our time and money on a pointless futile exercise. If it’s ‘lacking depth’ to dismiss a meaningless activity and get on with your life, then the ‘deepest’ people on the planet are those with an obsessive-compulsive disorder. Why, then, are most of them desperate for a cure?
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steve oberski
3 June 2013 at 19:57

the denial of God’s existence is a metaphysical belief

It may very well be, but what you describe is not atheism.

it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence

Another strawman, the position of atheism is that your truth claims are accepted to the extent that evidence is presented to back them up.

The question about God cannot be settled, solely, on scientific grounds. To have a conversation about God you have to be doing metaphysics.

First of all you have to define god, this has never been done in a way that all faithheads can agree on.

All real conversations about god have to do with how this being impinges on observable reality, any other attempt at dialogue is just a subjective monologue describing the internal state of the proponent.

Any religious claims that intersect with reality, e.g. christ was born of a virgin, came back to life, mohammed flew to Jerusalem on a winged horse, homosexuals are disordered, the rights of a fetus trump those of the mother, are all within the purview of science and can be summarily rejected.
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Persto
4 June 2013 at 00:15

Michael,

Huh? Is your objection that science can study the supernatural world? If so, how exactly does that work? Btw, you didn’t address any of the primary points I raised. Let me guess: you don’t have to?

“On what basis can you make this claim?”

Supernatural means beyond scientific understanding and the laws of nature. If you have some other definition of supernatural I would be glad to hear it. Not to mention empirical science, as Jon reminds us all the time, is based on, concerned with, or verifiable by experience or observation rather than theory or pure logic. Science studies the natural world not the supernatural world. That is the basis for my claim.

“On what basis can you know anything about things called gods?”

The general outline of Aquinas’ First Cause argument is as follows:
1) There exist things that are caused.
2) Nothing can be the cause of itself. (causa sui)
3) There cannot be an infinite regress of causes.
4) There exists an uncaused first cause.
5) The word God means uncaused first cause.
6) Therefore, God exists.

What can we say of this argument? Certainly, premise 1 is true. Science proclaims that the laws of physics are sufficient to explain all events in the universe. We generally believe that every event has a cause that explains why the event happened. Premise 2 seems correct. Nothing can cause itself to come into existence, for it would have had to exist before it caused anything at all. To cause something implies causal power and nonexistent things have no power at all. Premises 2 and 4 do not contradict each other. There is nothing incoherent about the idea that something existed from eternity and so is uncaused, whereas there is definitely something incoherent about the idea that something nonexistent caused itself to come into being.

The problem, as Hume and Aquinas himself would point out, is with premise 3. Some might say there can be an infinite regress of numbers, why not causes? Well, I would mention that numbers are abstract, eternal entities. In other words, they exist in all logically possible worlds. However, events and persons are concrete, temporal beings, the sorts of things that have to *brought* into existence.

Also, as Craig observed, the key is distinguishing between a potential infinite and an actual infinite. Common objections like, people can’t count to infinity and that there are an infinite number of prime numbers and one shouldn’t apply infinity to real world things, would be valid if one was talking about a potential infinite. No one is. We are talking about an actual infinite number, which would have to be coherent when applied to real world material. A potential infinite is better called an indefinite number of things rather than an infinite. It’s duty is too increase towards infinity as a limit but never get there. An actual infinite must get there and Hilbert’s Hotel illustrates, as Craig showed( For example, imagine a hotel with a finite number of rooms. Suppose, furthermore, that all the rooms are occupied. Let us say a guest arrives, asking for a new room, the manager responds, “Sorry, we are full; no vacancies.” Makes sense. Now, imagine that the hotel has an infinite number of rooms and that they are full. The guest asks for a room and the manager signs him in a room. Now, even though the guest was signed in, no more people are at the hotel after the guest arrived than before the guest arrived. That seems absurd. Now, suppose an infinite number of guests apply for rooms at the hotel with an infinite number of rooms that are full. The infinite number of guests are signed in. How? Just move every former occupant to a room twice their previous room number. Because any natural number multiplied by two is always an even number, all the present guests are able to move into rooms with even numbers, leaving an infinite number of odd-numbered rooms for the infinite number of new guests. Yet, there are just as many guests as there were before the new guests arrived. Absurd, no doubt. I mean, the hotel is full, but has an infinite number of vacancies. Seems quite absurd.) the absurdities of an actual infinite series of events, including an infinite regress of events or causes.

The contingency argument proceeds as follows:

1) Every being that exists is either contingent or necessary.
2) Not every being can be contingent.
3) Therefore, there exists a necessary being on which the contingent beings depend.
4) A necessary being on which all contingent beings exist is what we mean by ‘God.’
5) Therefore, God exists.

A necessary being is a self-existing and independent being that has its explanation in itself, whereas contingent beings do not, but rather depend on other beings. One prominent advantage of the contingency argument is that the First Cause cannot cease to exist because the world depends upon its existence. It is really like a set of chains that are supported in midair. You can count the links backward, but at some point one must reach a being sufficient to maintain the whole chain of dependent beings. So, only something outside the contingent reality, a self-existing reality, can constitute the ultimate ground of existence for anything else. God becomes the logical connection between the contingent world and the noncontingent world.

Of course, the argument has a problem with premises 2 and 3. Just because not every being is contingent it doesn’t seem to follow that there must be an independent existing being. It seems fallacious. Suppose:
1) Every human being has a father.
2) Therefore, every human being has the same father.

This seems absurd to infer one father from all the children ever born. So, it still remains unanswered why there couldn’t be more than one necessary being? If I am not mistaken Aristotle allowed for multiple prime movers.

However, one may rightfully wonder how there could be multiple necessary beings if being a necessary being constitutes being a maximally great being, which for a being to be necessary is for the idea of it to involve its existence. So, a necessary being must be a maximally great being (if you disagree, then maybe you can answer this question: what being’s essence involves its existence without that being being the being that theists refer to as God?) and if a maximally great being exists, then God exists. If God, as we understand her exists, then only one maximally great being can exist because it seems superfluous to suppose more than one all-powerful being. Also, Leibniz would argue that if two beings bear all the same predicates, then there are two identical beings, which means, in other words, that there is only one being. Of course, one might also argue that if there are two gods, then both cannot be omnipotent because, by one god being omnipotent, the other could not be omnipotent. Therefore, if there are two gods, then none are God, which is illogical. And several other contradictions could be provided that frustrate the notion of multiple maximally great beings.

Also, I should mention that in the case of the argument of contingency a beginning point is irrelevant. As Copleston said, “An infinite series of contingent beings will be, to my way of thinking, as unable to cause itself as one contingent being.”

Furthermore, one can combine Plantinga’s modal ontological argument with the cosmological argument to get a fairly persuasive argument for the existence of a maximally great being. Plantinga’s argument just shows that if God exists, she is perfect, but it does not prove God exists, particularly since possible worlds don’t exist. However, if one can prove God exists, then Plantinga’s argument can, though controversial, get one to the maximally great properties of the God of theism, which is why the combination of the cosmological argument and Plantinga’s modal ontological argument is so convincing for many. However, Plantinga’s argument fails to establish the existence of God; only his perfection, if she does exist. This is why most atheist philosophers, even Russell, I believe, refused to allow the existence of a necessary being.

Regards
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Persto
4 June 2013 at 00:33

Pinkagendist,

I’ll try crayon next time.

“Evidence clearly suggests their claims are false whether they be claims of ‘revelations’, ‘miracles’, or ‘truth’.”

You do realize everyone is not a fundamentalist, right? And what does this have to do with God?

Science cannot comment on God, but it can certainly comment on religion. Why do you think religious ideas have evolved over the centuries? Science, philosophy, history, textual criticism, liberal theology, and so on have enlightened our species. So, of course, science can make a claim on religion. However, science does not make a claim on God. Do you understand the distinction?

Btw, just like Mr. Fugate, you didn’t address my main points, but periphery ones.

Regards
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Michael Fugate
4 June 2013 at 00:40

Why are gods supernatural? Is it by definition or do you know something about them? If so how do you know it? If gods never act on or within the universe thenwho cares if they exist and if they do, then science can study them.
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Persto
4 June 2013 at 00:55

Steve,

“It may very well be, but what you describe is not atheism.”

So, atheism is not a denial of the existence of God? One more time, atheism does not deny that God exists?

“Another strawman”

Hahahaha! Really, dude, I almost lost it when I read this. You do realize that you just said that it is wrong, always, to believe things on insufficient evidence, right?

“First of all you have to define god”

Maximally great being. If you disagree, try to think of some thing which exists in all logically possible worlds (i.e., is a necessary being), and which isn’t identical to what the Theist refers to as ‘God’. To say it another way, what being’s essence involves existence without that being’s being the being that theists refer to as ‘God?’

“All real conversations about god have to do with how this being impinges on observable reality…Any religious claims that intersect with reality”

No interaction is required. She suspends the natural mechanisms that bring about events somehow. We can have an in-depth discussion about this if you wish though.

Regards
====================
Persto
4 June 2013 at 01:00

Michael,

God, in order to be a necessary being, must be a metaphysical entity. She cannot be part of the natural order of things because to be so is to be not God. I just laid out a couple of arguments that require that God be a metaphysical entity. If you disagree with me, then tell me how something is a necessary being, but not a supernatural being?

Regards
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Jon
4 June 2013 at 02:07

Persto, If God is not ‘part of the natural order of things’ then she can have no observable impact on anything whatsoever and hence requires no consideration for even a fraction of a second by anyone. Not being ‘part of the natural order of things’ is what defines fictional characters and other non-existents.

If on the other hand you want to assert that belief in God is somehow meaningful and important, then you need to provide some empirical evidence that that’s the case. All that you and Aquinas have proved so far — if you’ve proved anything — is that there may be an indescribable Something which is entirely irrelevant to the lives of anyone here on Earth.
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Persto
4 June 2013 at 02:29

Jon,

I recommend you read my first comment. Your argument against God undermines your entire worldview. Also, I provided an argument and a reasoning process for how one could get from a necessary being to a maximally great being.

“Not being ‘part of the natural order of things’ is what defines fictional characters and other non-existents.”

Jon, this is not a legitimate objection. Is God a necessary being or not? If so, then she is beyond nature. If not, then she is probably a fictional character. However, pointing out that a question needs to be answered does not constitute an objection, right? And, just so you know, if you say God is not a necessary being, then you must point to a flaw in the argument and provide a coherent objection to a premise or premises that makes your argument more plausibly true than the one I provided.

Regards
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pinkagendist
4 June 2013 at 06:15

Persto,
1. I didn’t address your central claim because it has no merit. Your argument is akin to playing with semantics. Every religion that has proposed a god thus far has failed miserably in proving the alleged divinity of their alleged god. Unless you intend to propose a god yourself and justify its existence you are attempting an exercise in futility. An “if, then maybe, then perhaps, we’ll never know; Hence these ‘observations’ are a waste of time.”
2. Science can make claims on the proposition of specific gods. The Christian god is a farce, and the same is true of Allah, or the Jewish god, or Mithra etc. etc.
3. Religion hasn’t evolved throughout the ages. People distancing themselves from religious dogma is what has propelled social progress. In fact, whenever the religious have had an opportunity to influence policy they have done so- opposing logic, opposing science and to the detriment of the inhabitants of this planet.
4. My atheism isn’t conceptual it’s simply the recognition that no valid or remotely reasonable evidence has been presented to support the belief in any of the gods proposed by religions or individuals in all of human history. If you have evidence that disproves that, then do put it up for scrutiny. Otherwise your argumentation is nothing but petitio principii.
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phil
4 June 2013 at 07:53

Cheeses! Jerry isn’t going to like this. Repent ye sinner, and turn ye to the Way of the Cat! ;-)

“Perhaps the new atheists, in their drive to defeat the powers of religion, made it seem that religion can be demolished with a few cursory arguments…”

I think that on an intellectual level it can be (and for me at least has been). I seem to recall a statement to the effect (excuse me if I have it wrong) that theology is an empty discipline, and you seem to be arguing here that a major failing of new atheism to date is that it hasn’t addressed the cultural dimensions of religion (and you are not arguing that they have much intellectual merit).

“Religions are not only intellectual systems of truths about the reality of the natural world, its origin and nature, function and purpose…”

I can accept that as true only in the sense that they are intellectual in purpose, but they are actually faux intellectual systems, especially “of truths about the reality of the natural world, its origin and nature, function and purpose”. They aspire to be “intellectual systems…” but they fail. I think the nature of your post suggests this too.

“And when science pretends that it subsumes everything within itself…”

Some proponents of science might, but I don’t believe science does. I thought science was mostly just a process to discover the nature of the universe, but it is largely silent on the issue of the existence of god (for example), positing simply “there is no evidence for that.” Similarly science (I think) has little to say on topics like love, beauty, etc, etc that religious people seem to believe is the domain of religion (or at least evidence of god).

“… it impoverishes a growing cultural poverty, and dismisses with a callous disregard of consequences the cultural riches of whole civilisations, and it misunderstands, I believe, the role that religion has played within them, and still, to a very large extent, still plays.”

I’d broadly agree, if science were guilty of that.

“If this is true, then all the arguments and knowledge claims included within the body of, say, Catholic theology, cannot constitute knowledge.”

What about scientific truths that Catholics are supposed to hold as true (e.g. evolution)? (Doesn’t it count for the purposes of this argument?) Couldn’t it be an amalgum of hand waving, woo, empty verbiage, plus a few scientific facts (for example)? I don’t see how that necessarily dismisses the claims that science is the only way of knowing, etc, etc. I’m not supporting the idea that science is all that, merely that I don’t think you’ve demolished the argument, unless I’m slow, and yes I am slow.

“Places that were officially, if not actually, atheist, did not simply abandon the kinds of cultural observance which in North America or Europe are often provided by the religions. They created rituals and celebrations of their own which provided a kind of cultural cement giving individual lives context and meaning.”

Hmm, sounds much like the way religions co-opt existing rituals and celebrations for themselves (and then they pretend it’s original!).

“(and Megan Hodder should have dug deeper into the literature of philosophical atheism for the sophisticated versions of arguments presented for a popular audience by Dawkins et co)”

And there is the nub of the problem. Yes, we probably all should pay more attention to our beliefs, examine whether they are true, why we hold them, and whether they may be dangerous or deleterious to society. But life is short and frequently busy, and few of us have had the “luxury” of your education and experience. That’s why we read what you write Eric, and it’s the same reason you get your car serviced by a mechanic. Before anyone suggests that religion is more dangerous or more important in the world than getting your car serviced, you (we) have a serious and proper responsibility to ensure our cars are roadworthy (and that our children are housed, fed and educated, etc, etc). The trouble is we usually have to find a quick(ish), reasonably cheap, and easy solution to all manner of problems that confront us.

If RD had written a comprehensive volume instead it would have been unlikely to have achieved the iconic (iconoclastic?) status that The God Delusion has, and people like Megan (and me) would never have read it. You talk about “brain hurting accounts of philosophical theology”, maybe that’s where the fault lies, although I don’t think theology is the only guilty party in that regard.
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DiscoveredJoys
4 June 2013 at 08:50

Thumbs up for what Phil commented.

Eric, bless him, seems to feel that his internal beliefs are as sound as external facts. I think everybody does this to some extent and they often fudge the epistemological gap by calling both opinion and fact ‘knowledge’.

I’ve been reading about E Prime (see Wikipedia) recently and it seems quite clear to me that the various forms of the verb ‘to be’ are also used to fudge the gap between an observation and an ‘essence’ or opinion. Very much Aristotle’s idea of ‘essences’, but one which lends itself to the formation of opinions – from ‘that man was violent on one occasion’ to ‘all men are violent’. Similarly slogans like ‘God is love’ become incoherent when you try to use E Prime to reword the phrase.

And as for science proving or disproving a gods existence – no I don’t think it can. But it can show that religious texts contain errors, and it can show that certain attributes of gods are non-factual.
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"The Word of God is the Creation we behold and it is in this Word, which no human invention can counterfeit or alter, that God speaketh universally to man."
The Age Of Reason
Sat Jun 08, 2013 1:06 am
Dragan GlasContributorUser avatarPosts: 3209Joined: Mon Dec 14, 2009 1:55 amLocation: Ireland Gender: Male

Post Re: Discussion following a post by Eric MacDonald (3 June 20

John K.
4 June 2013 at 09:35

The general outline of Aquinas’ First Cause argument is as follows:

1) There exist things that are caused.
2) Nothing can be the cause of itself. (causa sui)
3) There cannot be an infinite regress of causes.
4) There exists an uncaused first cause.
5) The word God means uncaused first cause.
6) Therefore, God exists.

The big leap in this proof is in premise 5. Why call the first cause god? Which god? A god that will punish? A god that demands worship? A god that intervenes in the physical world? A god that has intelligence? At best this proof only posits a pantheistic “god”, which would be futile, or even impossible, to interact with in any meaningful way.

The contingency argument proceeds as follows:

1) Every being that exists is either contingent or necessary.
2) Not every being can be contingent.
3) Therefore, there exists a necessary being on which the contingent beings depend.
4) A necessary being on which all contingent beings exist is what we mean by ‘God.’
5) Therefore, God exists.

A necessary being was defined as “a self-existing and independent being that has its explanation in itself”. The conclusion (god’s existence) is presumed by the definition, so this is nothing more than begging the question when god is defined as a necessary being. Simply defining god into existence will not suffice.
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Michael Fugate
4 June 2013 at 13:02

One concise source on Aquinas’ “Ways” is Peter Angeles’ “A Problem of God: A Short Introduction.” In his section on “God as a Necessary Being” he discusses the problems of infinite time and contingency. He says,

There is nothing in the Universe that necessitates things to happen the way they do. It is possible that another particular Universe could have happened, but this possibility at any given moment is relative to the Universe as it was. Given a particular Universe with things having happened as they did we can then in general understand why only some possibilities will become realities in the next stage relative to the realities and possibilities that have occurred. If there is any necessity in the Universe it is not a Being that necessitates things to happen, but the necessity of there being possibilities relating in an interconnected framework where not anything can happen at any time in any way.

I think this applies nicely to our notions of free will also.
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Persto
4 June 2013 at 14:45

Pinkagendist,

1) You are confused, my friend. I am talking about God, in any form, even PhilosopherGod. For instance, in Christianity belief in God and belief in Jesus may be the same sort of belief because of the inclinations of Christian theology, but the beliefs are, in truth, different. It is only through a category-error that they can be brought into alignment. Belief in God can be argued philosophically and theologically. If theologically the arguments are similar to Anselm’s or Aquinas, but the existence of God is not a question for history, though certain ways of thinking about him are of historical importance. Belief in Jesus on the other hand can be argued historically or theologically–though it is a different sort of theology, but not philosophically.

I do not think that believing in Jesus necessarily means believing in God. In fact, the only commonality between Jesus and God is that they are both discussed in the bible. Jesus just much later. Of course, certain modes of theology claim Jesus was a god or the son of God, but most NT scholars think that is not what the NT really says or meant to say. My meandering point is that saying god does not exist; is not the same as saying Jesus did not exist or vice versa.

2) This requires evidence.

3) That’s just not historically accurate. The questioning of biblical authority started way back with St. Augustine–remember that guy?–and the early fathers and the questioning only got louder over the centuries. Wycliffe and Valla? More and Erasmus? The Reformation? Biddle and Servetus? The Peace of God movement? The Imitation of Christ? Humanism? 500 years of historical scholarship? Two hundred years of textual scholarship? These people were religious.

4) Very odd remark from a person who refuses to comment on the evidence that has been provided. If you don’t agree with the conclusion, then point to a flaw in the premises. Otherwise you are doing nothing but ignoratio elenchi.

Regards
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Persto
4 June 2013 at 15:15

John K,

“At best this proof only posits a pantheistic “god”, which would be futile, or even impossible, to interact with in any meaningful way.”

Of course, but, that is all it is designed to do. The ontological argument establishes the God of theism.

“Why call the first cause god?”

Try to think of some thing which exists in all logically possible worlds (i.e., is a necessary being), and which isn’t identical to what the Theist refers to as ‘God’. To say it another way, what being’s essence involves existence without that being’s being the being that theists refer to as ‘God?’

“Which god?”

Good question.

“A god that will punish? A god that demands worship? A god that intervenes in the physical world? A god that has intelligence?”

Hello, theology. A maximally great being. A being for which nothing greater can be conceived. A God that has properties with intrinsic maximums.

“Simply defining god into existence will not suffice.”

Trying to employ Kant I see, but it doesn’t work–wrong argument. A necessary being would have to be a self-existing and independent being that has its explanation in itself. If it isn’t a self-existing and independent being that has its explanation in itself, then it wouldn’t be a necessary being. It would be a contingent being. God is not defined as the necessary being. The necessary being is something that exists in all logically possible worlds and, as such, is commonly understood as God because it is logically confusing to think of something that is a necessary being, but is not God.

I’m not defining anything into existence. Can a contingent being cause itself to come into existence? If not, then you need a necessary being.

Regards
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Persto
4 June 2013 at 15:24

Michael,

As Copleston said, “An infinite series of contingent beings will be, to my way of thinking, as unable to cause itself as one contingent being.”

So, Dr. Angeles is saying a necessary being exists, but it is not God? It is other Universes? Does he provide a skeleton argument for this?

Regards
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phil
4 June 2013 at 15:52

Thanks DJ. I’m not prepared to say what Eric feels, but you are right that everybody does it. On occasion when I did something based on a false premise my Mum would get cross and ask “Why didn’t you check?!” Well, because I already “knew” the “truth”, and “knew” it was “true” (although afterwards it plainly wasn’t).

I like to hear/read what Eric thinks anyway (and so does JAC I’m sure). It helps us think of things we might not consider otherwise, and his perspective is both uncommon and worthwhile in the atheist “movement” IMO. In fact I believe he has a strong point, that the atheist “movement” should at least consider the results of removing religion. By analogy, a few decades ago in Oz the institutionalisation of people deemed mentally ill was considered bad, so the institutions were closed and the patients moved into the community. The trouble was, that wasn’t accompanied by replacement support systems in the community and many patients were worse off. Maybe that was a bad analogy, I am not equating religious belief with mental illness. (That’s off topic.)

However, there will be casualties whatever happens, and “I can’t keep track of each fallen robin.”

And Eric, you are right about Hummel. I read he idolised Beethoven, was a pall bearer at his funeral, but was almost suicidal because he felt he would never be as good. He was good enough that he wasn’t forgotten though, and his music is still enjoyed long after his death. I think sometimes we should be satisfied with just “good”.
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Michael Fugate
4 June 2013 at 19:52

Persto, no, he is saying no necessary being need exist. Only if you are mired in ancient metaphysics do you need a first cause and a necessary being. Trying to determine single causes is so old school – nothing can have just one cause because things are imbedded in networks of interacting elements. It is much like Aquinas trying to conclude a single purpose for sex in procreation. Frankly, I am not sure why you are so enamored with Aquinas, his arguments are solely meant to shore up beliefs against doubt. He is an apologist through and through and one has to believe in a god before his arguments even start to make sense. They are designed to keep you believing in the face of contrary evidence. Are you convinced god is basic?

I am just a little curious what you actually think this god does other than just exist – is it a creator?, a sustainer? The only options that seem to make sense are everything or nothing – otherwise its actions would be detectable against background. Honestly, one doesn’t need to be a fundamentalist to believe a god acts in the world in a detectable manner. Every mass, the RCC claims that magic words said over ordinary bread and wine transubstantiate these into Jesus’ flesh and blood. Don’t you think Aquinas believed this? Not to mention all who believe prayers are heard and answered. If you claim that this god does everything, then science becomes a joke; you have a being for which anything and everything is possible controlling everything down to what each subatomic particle is doing. Why should we bother to make predictions or offer explanations when they could be different the next time around. Why would a being like this need do anything predictable?

I am also a little curious that philosophers who are aligned with new atheism would not have read and understood Hume as you claim – really people like Daniel Dennett, AC Grayling, jennifer Hecht, Stephen Law, Russell Blackford, Michael Martin haven’t? The idea that atheists are not skeptical about god is unfounded – when one’s looks at the universe, there doesn’t seem to be a compelling reason to see underlying intelligence. If a god exists and it wants to make its presence known by stopping by to say hello, I am not going to shut the door in its cosmic face – or is god someone you couldn’t have a beer with?
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Persto
4 June 2013 at 21:30

Michael,

Firstly, I am not enamored with Aquinas, although I find his first cause argument very compelling. Nevertheless, the way this works is, if the premises are true, then the conclusion follows logically and necessarily–the conclusion is logically unavoidable. If the premises are more plausibly true than not, then the conclusion follows necessarily. It doesn’t matter whether you like the conclusion or not; whether you dislike Aquinas or not; or whether you dislike apologetics or not. What matters is: are the premises more plausibly true than not?

Secondly, I am not saying everything has a single cause. I am saying everything must have, at the very least, one cause. Do you believe contingent things can cause themselves? Or something can come from nothing, meaning not anything? How is this anything other than a faith-based belief? Show me an argument, or any evidence, that can support those assertions. Again, read Copleston over carefully about an infinite number of contingent things. So long as there is one contingent being there must be, at least, one necessary being.

“Are you convinced god is basic?”

Belief in God is basic, for some people. I explain this more fully in my first comment.

“is it a creator?, a sustainer”

With the first cause argument God is a creator. With the contingency argument God is a sustainer.

“otherwise its actions would be detectable against background.”

Could you elaborate on this point?

“Why should we bother to make predictions or offer explanations when they could be different the next time around. Why would a being like this need do anything predictable?”

Science is already tentative. So, I am confused as to why you think this is a legitimate objection? Also, paradoxes abound at the quantum level. So, we really do have a difficult task in predicting what will happen the next time around. The persistent difficulty in understanding quantum mechanics has been understanding what it means for the world to have the structure that the mathematics seems to attribute to it.

“really people like Daniel Dennett, AC Grayling, jennifer Hecht, Stephen Law, Russell Blackford, Michael Martin haven’t?”

Some very astute individuals, that’s for sure. I am almost certain that they understand the absurdity of Hume’s skepticism and, if they embrace it, they do so uncheerfully, much like Russell. However, if a person attacks the metaphysical concept of God using Hume’s reasoning–outlined above–then they have undermined their own worldview, whatever it is, because they can’t justify, in that manner, a number of their most basic beliefs (e.g., that the sun will rise tomorrow) or the scientific method.

“The idea that atheists are not skeptical about god is unfounded”

Skepticism, rightly defined, is a suspension of judgement. Skeptics can’t make the *claim* God does not exist without being entirely inconsistent. Are you making a claim about God’s existence?

“If a god exists and it wants to make its presence known by stopping by to say hello, I am not going to shut the door in its cosmic face – or is god someone you couldn’t have a beer with?”

Do you want to have a discussion about the character of God? Can we ever imagine God wanting to do this?

Regards
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Michael Fugate
5 June 2013 at 13:49

How exactly is the Bible full of empirical evidence for a specific god not an indication that this god is subject to scientific investigation? None of the magic and miracles recorded are true? Is it really all a pack of lies? Were they dealing with a different god than you are? Is the “mainstream” RCC lying when it claims that it exorcises demons, that praying to saints heals? Are you claiming their god is not magically intervening in the world and that they have no evidence to back that up? One of big things during the enlightenment was swearing that one believed in a providential god to avoid charges of deism or “gasp” atheism. Because magical thinking was the rule. Is your god providential? Is it predictable?

Sure science is skepitcal and tentative, yet it still makes predictions that can be tested against the universe. It works pretty well, but it is not perfect. Is it wrong to say, based on all of the evidence I have a this time, that x is true or false? Even if I know that with more evidence or different sorts of evidence this could change true to false and false to true? Isn’t this implied when one does science. If based on my understanding of all of the evidence, I say god doesn’t exist. Does this make me automatically unskeptical? What if the evidence or my understanding of it changes and I change my mind? Does this still make me unskeptical – just in the other direction? As long as I justify my claims, I am not being unskeptical. Please try not to confuse faith with science.
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Dragan Glas
5 June 2013 at 13:49

Greetings,

A very interesting post, Eric.

For myself, my issue with the New Atheism/ists is that it only tells you what they’re *not*, not what they *are*.

To use a football analogy – “soccer”, for those across the pond – there are those who cheer for their own team and there are those who boo the opposition.

Atheists tend to do the latter, almost exclusively and, in doing so, don’t win any friends and/or supporters.

Worse, you’ve no idea of which “team” they support.

Instead, they should be cheering on their own “team” – humanism or Tom Clarke’s Naturalism (“more than humanism”) or whatever – but that would mean that they’d no longer be claiming to be “atheists”.

Persto,

The problem with both Aquinas’ First Cause and the Contingency arguments is that they’re not – despite their intent – arguments for a *supernatural* entity.

As you rightly note, the problem with the third premise in the first argument is moot because the premise comprises a given – there is a difference between its application to abstract, as against, actual entities, whether physical or not.

Perhaps, to get round Hume’s and others’ objections, the third premise should read:

3) In the case of actual entities, there cannot be an infinite regress of causes.

The real problem is in the fifth – and its associated sixth – premise:

5) The word God means uncaused first cause.
6) Therefore, God exists.

“God”, basically, is a label and can be substituted by any other such.

To take a leaf from Krauss’ book, we could use “Nothing” in its stead:

5) The word Nothing means uncaused first cause.
6) Therefore, Nothing exists.

…Or “the Planck State”…

5) The words the Plank State means uncaused first cause.
6) Therefore, the Planck State exists.

Similarly with the Contingency argument:

4) A necessary being on which all contingent beings exist is what we mean by ‘God.’
5) Therefore, God exists.

Replace “God” with either “Nothing” or “the Planck State” and you have the same result.

The fact is both argue only for a *necessary* First Cause (“FC”) – whether this is supernatural (“SFC”) or natural (“NFC”) is the bone of contention.

Regardless, science has the problem that it can neither prove nor disprove the nature of the FC.

Michael Fugate,

Are you actually arguing that there isn’t a FC with regard to the cosmos? I would think such a position would be untenable.

Kindest regards,

James
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Persto
5 June 2013 at 14:05

Michael, I am not talking about the Christian God per se. Anyway, as I keep telling people, the Bible was written by people not God.

Regards
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Persto
5 June 2013 at 14:19

James,

3) Yes, I would agree with that.

““God”, basically, is a label and can be substituted by any other such.”

Yes, you can insert any name you want–turtles, unicorns, Nothing, carnies, and so on. God can be any name you want. It is just universally understood that a being with the attributes of a necessary being (i.e., exists in all logically possible worlds) is what people refer to as God. In that sense, whatever the name, one would still be referring to God, as such. If you disagree, then try to think of some thing which exists in all logically possible worlds (i.e., is a necessary being), and which isn’t identical to what the Theist refers to as ‘God’. To say it another way, what being’s essence involves existence without that being’s being the being that theists refer to as ‘God?’

Regards
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Persto
5 June 2013 at 14:36

Michael,

Quickly, a skeptic must view the evidence as, strictly non-epistemic. So, of course, viewed in this way, the practical preference for one way of looking at things over the other is not a recognition that one is more likely than the other to be a criterion of the truth. In my estimation, if a skeptic cannot tell the difference between an epistemic and a non-epistemic piece of evidence, and a skeptic can’t, then the evidence is non-epistemic. The skeptic never has beliefs, about anything, not even skepticism because to do so is to be dogmatic. If one has beliefs, according to the skeptic, then that person is dogmatic. No matter how well-justified. I am dogmatic, for instance, according to skepticism, because I have beliefs.

My point is that an atheist cannot say, “I am a skeptic about God.” and not be entirely inconsistent.

Regards
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DutchA
5 June 2013 at 14:47

A theological discussion is like untying a Gordian knot while the opponents are tying it up again. So the brutal approach is sometimes best.

Who cares for metaphysics if the actions of the religious are there for all to see, and abhor?
What’s the relevancy of Mohamed flying on a winged horse to heaven when we witness bombings and manslaughter in the streets in the name of religion?

Show, don’t tell.
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gbjames
5 June 2013 at 14:54

Wait, Persto.

‘My point is that an atheist cannot say, “I am a skeptic about God.” and not be entirely inconsistent.’

I’m lost in the negations. A skeptic can say “I am skeptical about God.” and be consistent (with himself? or?). Is that what you are saying?
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Persto
5 June 2013 at 15:00

GB,
Of course, she can. She isn’t making a claim about God either way. To be an atheist one has to have made a claim about God’s existence. To be a theist one has to have made a claim about God’s existence. To be a skeptic one has made no claim about God’s existence.

Regards
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gbjames
5 June 2013 at 15:14

Well, no. To be an atheist one has to make a statement about one’s belief in deities (“I don’t believe in them”). One can be simultaneously an atheist (non belief in gods) and an agnostic (nonexistence of spirits being difficult to exhaustively prove… Russell’s teapot). And a skeptic, for that matter.

But mostly I was just trying to untangle the internal logic of a sentence with too many negations to be clearly understood.
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Dragan Glas
5 June 2013 at 23:04

Greetings,

Persto, my only “disagreement” with your definition is that, for theists, “God” (as an SFC) implies a conscious entity – for non-theists, they’d think of the FC (as a NFC) as not a conscious entity.

I’m also interested in your reference here and in a earlier post to Skeptics and beliefs. I wonder if you’ve come across Harald Thorsrud’s “Ancient Skepticism” (ISBN: 1844651312) – if not, you may find it of interest.

Beliefs, whether true or false, cast shadows: the stronger the belief, the darker the shadow. Rather than try to be without belief (or (ἐποχή, epokhē “suspension”, as the Skeptics attempted to attain), it seems to me that a more realistic goal would be to ensure that one’s existing beliefs don’t prevent one from seeing other, new truths.

Kindest regards,

James
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Persto
6 June 2013 at 00:10

James,

“or non-theists, they’d think of the FC (as a NFC) as not a conscious entity.”

Could you elaborate on this?

No, James, I have never read Thorsrud, but I will definitely look into it. Thanks for the recommendation!

I agree with the last bit.

Regards
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Persto
6 June 2013 at 00:21

GB,

“Well, no. To be an atheist one has to make a statement about one’s belief in deities (“I don’t believe in them”). One can be simultaneously an atheist (non belief in gods) and an agnostic (nonexistence of spirits being difficult to exhaustively prove… Russell’s teapot).”

Firstly, I am anti-teapots. Just kidding.

On a serious note, atheism is a claim about the world. It claims God or gods don’t exist. Fine, but if that is one’s stance, then that person cannot turn around and say “I am skeptical about God or gods.” That is just contradictory. That person has already made it clear that they don’t believe in God or gods–they cannot be both, at the same time in the same respect, skeptical of God or gods and disbelieve in God or gods. However, one can be an atheist and, at the same time, be skeptical about ghosts or Santa Claus, if they are not a-ghosts or a-Santa Clausists, because that person has not made a claim about those things.

Just to reiterate, skepticism is suspension of judgement.

Regards
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Dragan Glas
6 June 2013 at 06:40

Greetings,

Persto, non-theists think in terms of a FC, rather than “God”, because to them, the FC is naturalistic (NFC) and therefore not conscious, not supernaturalistic (SFC) since that would mean a conscious entity – hence my earlier reference to Krauss’ “Nothing”.

The actual translation of this argument runs:

“In the world that we sense, we find that efficient causes come in series. We do not, and cannot, find that something is its own efficient cause — for, if something were its own efficient cause, it would be prior to itself, which is impossible. But the series of efficient causes cannot possibly go back to infinity. In all such series of causes, a first thing causes one or more intermediaries, and the intermediaries cause the last thing; when a cause is taken out of this series, so is its effect. Therefore, if there were no first efficient cause, there would be no last or intermediary efficient causes. If the series of efficient causes went back to infinity, however, there would be no first efficient cause and, hence, no last or intermediary causes. But there obviously are such causes. We must therefore posit a first efficient cause, which everyone understands to be God.”

Kiekeben (http://www.kiekeben.com/firstcause.html) makes some interesting comments about the failure of Aquinas’ Argument from Efficient Cause.

Also, I agree with your note to gbjames on the contradiction between being both atheist and skeptic. I’m an Agnostic myself, having been brought up Roman Catholic (in Ireland).

Thank you for the “follow”, by the way – and back at you! ;)

You may be interested in The League of Reason (http://www.theleagueofreason.co.uk/) if you’d like to discuss philosophy, logic, etc.

Kindest regards,

James
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gbjames
6 June 2013 at 07:15

Persto: Do we really need to descend into the abyss of definitional dispute over the word “atheist”?

Yes. It is a statement about the universe. The statement is “I don’t believe that such things exist in the universe.” There are countless demonstrations of this principle. Richard Dawkins, for example, (harsh/shrill as some pretend he is) puts himself at 6.5 on a 7 point scale of conviction on the question. (A far lower number than I’d put myself at and I’m not the most cited scientist alive.) That’s the whole point of Russell’s teapot.
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Persto
6 June 2013 at 09:04

GB,

“Do we really need to descend into the abyss of definitional dispute over the word “atheist”?”

Yes, we are trying to make clear what kind of statements an individual can and cannot make as an atheist.

As for Russell’s teapot, it really is just a simple argument designed to illustrate that because we can’t disprove something is a very silly reason to believe that it is true. The problem for Russell’s argument, however, is that it applies to only a minuscule portion of religious belief: fundamentalism. For many religious people, belief in God is based on evidence and argument; not blind faith and inerrant sacred truth. And well-reasoned faith is not defended by saying “You can’t disprove it.” for that would be a very silly reason to believe it indeed, as Russell made obvious.

There are good, rational arguments for God’s existence, but there are none, as far as I am aware, for a teapot orbiting between Earth and Mars. Belief in God can be defended, in a number of ways, by rational argument, but all Russell’s teapot can do is argue from ignorance. This is the point: equating Russell’s teapot with the nature of all religious belief is just a misrepresentation of your opponent’s position.

Regards
====================
gbjames
6 June 2013 at 09:40

I’m sorry, Persto, but saying Russell’s teapot only applies to fundamentalism is absurd. And I simply think you are wrong to say there are “good, rational arguments for God’s existence”. There aren’t. Faith is central to all religions as much as it is for believers in the teapot.
======================
Persto
6 June 2013 at 09:49

GB,

I have provided several rational arguments on this thread alone. And no one has provided a coherent objection to any of the premises in those arguments.

I also, in my first comment, explained how all people live by faith in one way or another. Which has also went unobjected too.

My main problem, however, is that people think these things can be absolutely decided on comment threads. The fact that this can be said “And I simply think you are wrong to say there are “good, rational arguments for God’s existence”. There aren’t.” without any evidence to support that claim, and with a large quantity of evidence to the contrary directly above it, is beyond me.

Regards
====================
Dragan Glas
6 June 2013 at 10:27

Greetings,

Persto, I’d have to disagree with you on your implication that a FC necessitates a supernatural one.

As the last line of the translation of Aquinas’ argument shows, he makes an unwarranted extrapolation.

Also, I agree with gbjames regarding the applicability of Russell’s teapot argument.

Kindest regards,

James
=====================
Dragan Glas
6 June 2013 at 10:29

Greetings,

I see the post before my last one is still awaiting approval due to it including a couple of weblinks.

Kindest regards,

James
====================
gbjames
6 June 2013 at 10:48

Persto: Again, we have a dispute over definitions. You say “I have provided several rational arguments on this thread alone”. Perhaps this is a failure on my part. I’m including the notion of “convincing” in the notion of “rational”.
=====================
Michael Fugate
6 June 2013 at 10:56

Persto, honestly you have never read any of the philosophers who have cast doubt on Aquinas’ proofs. Ever read Stephen Law’s commentaries on god as omni-malevolent? As I said before, the proofs make sense only because you believe in god from the start – you have no way of looking at this from a skeptical or even atheist perspective (which it appears that you understand almost as well as what empirical means). Imagining a perfect being that is omni this and that is impossible – this is why gods, when described, appear as super-humans (they are in our image, we aren’t in theirs); this is the best we can create in our minds. And really all modern theology has done is shift “god” from reality to pure imagination. Your god has nothing it can do because it is outside the universe and can’t act on it any more. It is so far removed from reality that it ceases to be relevant. There is no more magic in your god; by making it all powerful, you have rendered it powerless.
====================
Dragan Glas
6 June 2013 at 12:05

Greetings,

Ah, I see it’s appeared above gbjames earlier reply.

Kindest regards.

James
====================
Persto
6 June 2013 at 14:44

Last comment for me on this thread. I can’t keep jumping back and forth from math to this discussion, I’m sorry.

I see no one referenced the much stronger contingency argument. Odd, I must say.

James,

Thanks for the weblink. Kiekeben makes some interesting points. However, I should have mentioned this early on, but, in truth, I didn’t think anyone would be clever enough to force me to bring it forward. The contemporary Thomist reformulation of the argument to avoid as impossible an endless regress of events–Craig’s Hilbert’s Hotel example illustrates the absurdity of an actual infinite regress–requiring no first state is to interpret the endless series that it excludes, not as a regress of events back in time, but as an endless and therefore eternally inconclusive regress of explanations. In this way, if fact A is made intelligible by its relation to facts B, C, and D (which may be antecedent to or contemporary with A), and if each of these is in turn rendered intelligible by other facts, at the back of the complex there must be a reality which is self-explanatory, whose existence constitutes the ultimate explanation of the whole. If no such reality exists, then the universe is a mere unintelligible brute fact.

The only objection, in my mind, that is more than trivial and very difficult to explain is that the FC argument still depends upon a view of causality that can be, and has been, questioned. Of course, the Aquinian assumption is true on the basis of some theories of the nature of causality, but it is not true on the basis of others. For example, if causal laws state statistical probabilities, or if, as Hume argued, causal connections represent mere observed sequences, or are, as Kant argued, projections of the structure of the human mind, the FC argument does fail, in my opinion.

“non-theists think in terms of a FC, rather than “God”,”

The only thing, the idea of which involves existence(necessary), is a maximally great being (I would challenge you to think of any alternative without contradiction). The natural explanation fails on these grounds. No area of the natural world is a metaphysically necessary being, which explains why the rest of the universe exists. No composite material object in the universe can be metaphysically necessary on any scientifically accurate account of the universe. Just to clarify, are you talking about matter/energy, inflation, or what natural thing, for lack of a better word, is a metaphysically necessary being?

“I agree with gbjames regarding the applicability of Russell’s teapot argument.”

Russell’s words: “But if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is an intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense. If, however, the existence of such a teapot were affirmed in ancient books, taught as the sacred truth every Sunday, and instilled into the minds of children at school, hesitation to believe in its existence would become a mark of eccentricity and entitle the doubter to the attentions of the psychiatrist in an enlightened age or of the Inquisitor in an earlier time.”

This does not apply to the manner in which non-fundamentalists believe in God. Non-fundamentalists believe in God not because she cannot be disproved or because the Bible says so. On the contrary, they believe for rational and intellectual reasons. Russell’s argument does not apply to non-fundamentalists, unless of course one wants to turn Russell’s argument around and suggest that, since an assertion cannot be proved or disproved, it is an intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to believe it.

Regards

GB,

I think we may just have to agree to disagree. I find belief in God to be entirely rational. And I have attempted to demonstrate, rationally, why I believe that to be the case. Also, I find the cumulative case for God’s existence to be quite convincing.

Michael,

People have been casting doubt on Aquinas’ FC argument for 600 years. It may not even be a valid argument, but, please, don’t tell me the discussion is over. It is not settled, not yet, at least.

“As I said before, the proofs make sense only because you believe in god from the start – you have no way of looking at this from a skeptical or even atheist perspective (which it appears that you understand almost as well as what empirical means).”

Yes, I know you have said that and I think it is nonsense because I didn’t believe in God from the start. I was an atheist, five years or so, I think. Just recently turned to deism.

Empirical–based on, concerned with, verifiable by observation or experience rather than theory or pure logic.

‘And really all modern theology has done is shift “god” from reality to pure imagination. Your god has nothing it can do because it is outside the universe and can’t act on it any more. It is so far removed from reality that it ceases to be relevant. There is no more magic in your god; by making it all powerful, you have rendered it powerless.”

Firstly, relevance?
Secondly, why are you telling me to read pertinent objections when you clearly haven’t?
Lastly, bad theology.

Regards
====================
gbjames
6 June 2013 at 14:50

Persto says “This does not apply to the manner in which non-fundamentalists believe in God.”

Which makes me do something I would prefer not to do. I am compelled to quote a president I would rather forget. “There you go again.”
====================
Michael Fugate
6 June 2013 at 16:10

Persto, so fundamentalists are irrational and anti-intellectual, wow them’s fighting words, as they say. What are the fundamentals: Bible inspired and inerrant, Jesus’ virgin birth, atonement through his crucifixion, his resurrection, and his miracles. Your buddy WLC believes all this – yet you use the arguments of an irrational anti-intellectual? I would guess that Aquinas believed that as well, as did most pre-enlightenment European intellectuals. I would think Plantinga might also – given that he can’t come to grips with biological evolution.

Pretty odd on your part, that you think you are the only rational person in this conversation all the while misunderstanding basic things like the meaning of empirical – even after pasting in the definition. That’s rich. Not to mention skeptical. And because Aquinas convinced you, then it is all so bloody obvious and everyone else including all the philosophers who disagree are idiots. At least I am in good company.

Really, you never believed in god? – weren’t raised in any religion at all? Never went to Sunday School? That’s interesting. What is your favorite theological source? Your go to in understanding the subject? And how can I tell good theology from bad?

Just as an aside, what do you think your god is doing as we speak? Rolling dice to decide where to send the next F5 tornado? Or did it plan that at the time it created the universe? Or is it nothing, at all?
===================
Dragan Glas
6 June 2013 at 18:07

Greetings,

“I see no one referenced the much stronger contingency argument. Odd, I must say.”

Persto, I’d already addressed the Contingency Argument in addressing the First Cause Argument. :?

“The only thing, the idea of which involves existence(necessary), is a maximally great being (I would challenge you to think of any alternative without contradiction). The natural explanation fails on these grounds. No area of the natural world is a metaphysically necessary being, which explains why the rest of the universe exists. No composite material object in the universe can be metaphysically necessary on any scientifically accurate account of the universe. Just to clarify, are you talking about matter/energy, inflation, or what natural thing, for lack of a better word, is a metaphysically necessary being?”

Persto, you appear stuck on the idea that a FC requires consciousness through being metaphysical (supernatural) – it does not.

The Big Bang was only the start of our bubble-universe – not everything natural.

Energy existed before the Big Bang in some form or other in accordance with the laws of thermodynamics. If you’re into mathematics, you could read Rees’ “Before the Beginning: Our Universe and Others” (0738200336) or Stenger’s “Timeless Reality: Symmetry, Simplicity and Multiple Universes” (1573928593) – and, of course, there’s Krauss’ more recent, “A Universe From Nothing” (1471112683). For our own bubble-universe, see Rees’ “Just Six Numbers: The Deep Forces That Shape The Universe” (0753810220) and, most recent of all, Stenger’s “God And The Atom” (1616147539).

I’d suggest you watch Sean Carroll’s (the astrophysicist) recent lecture on the Higgs boson:

Higgs Boson and the Fundamental Nature of Reality – Sean Carroll – Skepticon 5
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vrs-Azp0i3k

“This does not apply to the manner in which non-fundamentalists believe in God. Non-fundamentalists believe in God not because she cannot be disproved or because the Bible says so. On the contrary, they believe for rational and intellectual reasons. Russell’s argument does not apply to non-fundamentalists, unless of course one wants to turn Russell’s argument around and suggest that, since an assertion cannot be proved or disproved, it is an intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to believe it.”

Science cannot disprove the existence of an SFC, philosophy can – because the arguments for an SFC are philosophical, not scientific.

The reasons for believing are the same for disbelieving – philosophical and, therefore, are not concrete enough to choose belief over non-belief in the absence of empiric evidence.

Does an SFC need to pass all arguments for it to be believed – or just any one argument?

You mentioned you’re a Deist – you do realise that this fails the Ontological Argument?

If a Deist SFC needs to be a “maximally great being” – “perfect” for want of a better word – then it fails the OA because where the universe is, the Deist God is not.

In other words, you have “God” and “Not God”.

Ergo, Deist SFC fails the OA.

Kindest regards,

James
===================
Persto
6 June 2013 at 19:07

Michael,

I know I said I wasn’t going to comment again, but I feel you have so utterly misrepresented my position that I need to address a few of your assertions.

For starters, I have to admit you are not a very nice person. I don’t know why you feel it necessary to insult with me with every comment you make. I understand the motivation to score a rhetorical point, here and there, but an entire comment devoted to scoring rhetorical points….well…. that’s something, I guess.

“Your buddy WLC believes all this – yet you use the arguments of an irrational anti-intellectual? I would guess that Aquinas believed that as well, as did most pre-enlightenment European intellectuals. I would think Plantinga might also – given that he can’t come to grips with biological evolution.”

I try to use good arguments and they have some. Of course, I don’t agree with Craig or Aquinas or Plantinga on a number of things, but I fail to see how that is pertinent to the points being made. I also don’t agree with Schopenhauer on women, but I do realize that Shcopenhauer’s views on gender dissimilarities and the application of those views to a larger metaphysical system were visionary for his time. Also, making human sexuality a cornerstone of his philosophy was incredibly pioneering and forward thinking. We have to be willing to evaluate an argument based on its merit; not the flaws of the arguer. Did you agree with Hitchens on Iraq? If not, then I guess you can’t quote him or use his atheistic arguments, right? Look, everyone has their flaws but personal resentment of those flaws cannot be allowed to cloud one’s judgment on an issue that is not related or relevant to those flaws. Btw, the only time I employed Craig was in order to illustrate the absurdity of an actual infinite regress of events because, on this, he constructs a very good point. I could careless if he is an inerrantist or whatever.

“Pretty odd on your part, that you think you are the only rational person in this conversation”

Never said that. The only thing I have said is that, in my opinion, my beliefs are rationally held. However, that does not mean that if a person disagrees with me they are irrational. In my estimation, believing in God is rational and not believing in God is rational. They are both rational beliefs to hold, in my mind.

“all the while misunderstanding basic things like the meaning of empirical – even after pasting in the definition. That’s rich.”

How have I misunderstood the meaning of empirical? Or skeptical? I believe the points I made were in align with the meaning of these terms. Perhaps, I am wrong, I have been before.

“And because Aquinas convinced you, then it is all so bloody obvious and everyone else including all the philosophers who disagree are idiots. At least I am in good company.”

Aquinas didn’t really convince me. It was more the cumulative case for God’s existence, along the lines of Swinburne’s argument.

I never said anyone was an idiot. In fact, I think the philosophers who disagree with me on this are very intelligent men: Kant, Hume, Russell, Mackie etc. These men are my intellectual superiors, without question. I just find the argument more compelling than they do.

“Really, you never believed in god? – weren’t raised in any religion at all? Never went to Sunday School? That’s interesting.”

I never said I didn’t. I was raised a Christian. I quit belief in God at 20 and came back to it, fairly recently, at almost 25.

“What is your favorite theological source?”

Tillich.

“Just as an aside, what do you think your god is doing as we speak?”

I don’t think God acts whimsically or arbitrarily, but, if I am honest, I have no idea what she’s doing. I am not God.

In all of that you still didn’t address the argument.

Regards
===================
Persto
6 June 2013 at 19:17

James,

I am a deist with theistic tendencies. Probably closer to a non-traditional theist.

I would like to respond to your comment, but I am done commenting on this thread. If you want to continue the conversation, then just pop over to my blog.

Thanks
==================
Michael Fugate
6 June 2013 at 20:05

Me insult you? – come on, you can’t see your self-importance and condescension oozing out of your every comment? Don’t take yourself so seriously and don’t make so many sweeping generalizations. Your earnestness is cute – but you just get a little carried away.
====================
Dave Ricks
6 June 2013 at 21:39

For DiscoveredJoys, my introduction to E-prime was hearing David Bourland explain it on public radio. He spoke the whole interview in E-prime, except to say conjugations of the verb “to be” as examples.

He didn’t just walk the walk, he talked the talk.
======================
Dragan Glas
7 June 2013 at 07:25

Greetings,

Persto, I’d be delighted to do so though I’m not sure where on your blog we could do so.

Would you consider doing so on a forum? Such as The League of Reason (http://www.theleagueofreason.co.uk/), as I suggested earlier?

Kindest regards,

James
=================
Michael Fugate
7 June 2013 at 14:24

Persto, perhaps you really are gone.
You said fundamentalists are irrational and anti-intellectual.
I pointed out that based on what fundamentalists believe Craig, Aquinas and Plantinga are fundamentalists.
The conclusion if both of these are true is that Craig, Aquinas and Plantinga are irrational and anti-intellectual.
Do you see why your premise isn’t true? These men are not irrational and anti-intellectual. In fact, given what fundamentalists believe to be basic – a literal belief in the Bible – what follows from them is rational and intellectual. The problem you have with them is that their basic beliefs are different than yours.
Your other generalizations are equally sloppy.
======================
makagutu
7 June 2013 at 15:20

The only thing, the idea of which involves existence(necessary), is a maximally great being (I would challenge you to think of any alternative without contradiction). The natural explanation fails on these grounds. No area of the natural world is a metaphysically necessary being, which explains why the rest of the universe exists. No composite material object in the universe can be metaphysically necessary on any scientifically accurate account of the universe. Just to clarify, are you talking about matter/energy, inflation, or what natural thing, for lack of a better word, is a metaphysically necessary being?

Persto, you mention Kant among the philosophers you have read. In his Critique of Pure Reason, he offers a critique of the idea of necessary beings and metaphysics, especially as to the question of the existence of god. What do you think of his argument that in the statement god exists, there is nothing we learn about the essence of god and that such a statement is of pure thought and not given to us by experience?

And don’t you also think you find the OA and FC arguments compelling because you already accept the notion of some god?
=======================

Let the chat begin - or rather - continue!

Kindest regards,

James
Image
"The Word of God is the Creation we behold and it is in this Word, which no human invention can counterfeit or alter, that God speaketh universally to man."
The Age Of Reason
Last edited by Dragan Glas on Sat Jun 08, 2013 10:17 am, edited 1 time in total.
Sat Jun 08, 2013 2:04 am
PerstoPosts: 4Joined: Sat Jun 08, 2013 5:27 am Gender: Male

Post Re: Discussion following a post by Eric MacDonald (3 June 20

Hi Makagutu,

If I am thinking of the right passage, Kant is referring to the OA, and Descartes' version specifically. Is that the relevant passage?

I will assume so. Kant accused the proponent of the OA of defining God into existence. In Kant's mind, 'being' is not a real predicate like 'blonde' or 'smart' or 'hairy.' Kant's objection is that being or existence is not a first-order predicate, Russell would agree. For instance, when I say my house is brown, I am adding a property--brownness--to the idea of the house; but when I say that my house exists, I am not adding anything to the concept of my house, i am only saying the concept is instantiated. So, we could say that real predicates are first-order properties, but the concept of existence is a second-order property, which says something about the status of potential properties. For Kant, Anselm and Descartes treat existence as a first-order property that adds something to the concept of God, which makes her greater. In Kant's opinion and most people's, this is the fatal flaw of the OA--Hume had already arrived at this point in a different context, I might add. While I agree with Kant here, I think if one, as Hartshorne did and I think Kant himself may have as well, utilizes necessary existence in the OA, then, although existence itself may not be a property or a perfection necessary existence is, one can construct a valid and seemingly sound argument. It goes as follows:

1) It is possible that God exists.
2) God must be conceived as being the greatest possible being.
3) The greatest possible being must be a necessary being.
4) The existence of a necessary being must be either (h) impossible, (i) merely possible(contingent), or (j) necessary.
5) We can exclude (t), for it cannot be impossible for a necessary being to exist. There is no contradiction in the concept of a necessary being.
6) Nor can it be (i), that it is a mere possibility that God exists, for such existence would be (p) dependent and (pp) happenstance, and such a being could not be God.
7) Therefore, A necessary being necessarily exists. That is, God exists.

There are at least two objections that I can think of, but I'll let you arrive at your own objections.

Additionally, I don't know if Kant would put it quite as you did. I think he would agree with Descartes that the idea of existence belongs analytically to the concept of God, as the idea of having three angles belongs analytically to that of a three-sided plane figure. The predicate is linked, necessarily, to the subject. I think Kant would object, as I state above, that it does not follow that God actually exists. So, I think Kant would say, "If there is a God, it must be maximally great, and if there is a maximally great being, that being must have existence. However, it does not follow from this that God, with all of her attributes, actually exists."

Strangely enough, I think Karl Barth would agree with your last sentence that the OA and FC are not designed to convert or convince the atheist or non-believer, but rather lead an intellectually positioned Christian into a deeper understanding of God. I agree with Barth, to an extent, although I am, at best, a non-traditional theist, but before critically evaluating the philosophical arguments for and against God's existence I was as resolute an atheist as one could be. I wasn't seeking God, in fact, I was attempting to strengthen my atheism through philosophical investigation. However, the more I studied the arguments, the arguments for God became more compelling and the objections and arguments against God became less compelling.

"pure thought and not given to us by experience?"

I am quite certain that Kant said in his Only Possible Ground that common sense supports the idea that God exists. Of course, later Kant, while I am certain he still thought common sense supported the idea of God, would argue that proofs for God's existence are, ultimately, insufficient.

Regards
Sat Jun 08, 2013 7:01 am
makagutuNew MemberPosts: 1Joined: Sat Jun 08, 2013 1:34 pm Gender: Male

Post Re: Discussion following a post by Eric MacDonald (3 June 20

Hello Persto, thanks for your response.

I think I must have failed to frame my question appropriately. In one of your responses, you had talked of a contingent being and it is this that I had in mind with reference to Kant. He writes
“Everything that is contingent has a cause,” comes with a gravity and self-assumed authority that seems to require no support from without. But, I ask, what is meant by contingent? The answer is that the non-existence of which is possible. But I should like very well to know by what means this possibility of non-existence is to be cognized, if we do not represent to ourselves a succession in the series of phenomena, and in this succession an existence which follows a non-existence, or conversely, consequently, change. For to say, that the non-existence of a thing is not self-contradictory is a lame appeal to a logical condition, which is no doubt a necessary condition of the existence of the conception, but is far from being sufficient for the real objective possibility of non-existence. I can annihilate in thought every existing substance without self-contradiction, but I cannot infer from this their objective contingency in existence, that is to say, the possibility of their non-existence in itself.


So that when you argue that the universe is contingent, what proof do you have of this other than an appeal to logic.

On Kant's critique of the OA. I do tend to agree with him that the proponents of this argument are trying to define god into existence. Let us take for instance Aquinas' five ways found in the ST. His was meant for students of theology in senior years. So here is a case of a believer trying to reinforce the beliefs of other believers. One needs to first believe in god to even come up with the first premise. The second critique that Kant offers is that a maximally perfect being does not exist except as an idea. It is same as Plato's ideal republic. It exists only as an idea but not as a thing of possible experience.

If you agree with me that a maximally perfect being doesn't exists except as an idea, then the conclusion is 7 must be rewritten to read
7) Therefore, A necessary being necessarily exists. That is, God exists as an idea.
There is no contradiction in the idea of the existence of a necessary being as an idea, but to say it exists in reality can't be proven either way unless we define such a god into existence.

In the critique, he talks of the I think and I exist to refer to two different things. One the I think only means am conscious while I exist doesn't add any value to the 'I'. We can't know anything about the 'I' by adding the predicate existence. I can only know the existence of other conscious beings through experience

I don't think Kant would agree with the statement
"If there is a God, it must be maximally great, and if there is a maximally great being, that being must have existence. However, it does not follow from this that God, with all of her attributes, actually exists."

unless if it is meant as an idea. I think you agree with me that the idea of god is not given us by experience by pure reason. In fact, the questions of metaphysics are all given us by pure reason and not experience.

I am not questioning whether you were a true atheist or not but I think it is possible that you wanted so much to believe in a god without realizing it that at the end you found the arguments for god persuasive.

I don't think Kant says common sense supports the idea of god's existence is given by pure reason. Common sense would mean our sensory organs which I am sure you and me agree have not been able to sense god. On a different note, I think you'd agree with d'Holdbach when he writes that when we use common sense it becomes rather obvious that the idea of god is absurd.
Sat Jun 08, 2013 2:27 pm
PerstoPosts: 4Joined: Sat Jun 08, 2013 5:27 am Gender: Male

Post Re: Discussion following a post by Eric MacDonald (3 June 20

Hi Makagutu,

"So that when you argue that the universe is contingent, what proof do you have of this other than an appeal to logic."

Firstly, causation and induction are logical principles that are the backbone of the scientific method. The idea that natural objects do not have a cause(s) seems scientifically untenable to me and flies in the face of Big Bang cosmology. However, strangely, challenging the idea of causation, while scientifically untenable, is perhaps logically justifiable, as Hume's skepticism shows. Look, all of the empirical evidence available to us seems to support the principle of causation, but causality is a logical construct that is perhaps, as Hume indicated, unjustifiable.

Secondly, I think Kant is quite clear that a synthesis of cause and effect cannot be empirically expressed. Causality, in Kant's mind, is universal in that one sort of event causes another which cannot apply to mere empirical generalizations. Kant contends that causal connections involve a form of nonlogical, nonempirical necessity and that this necessity is a prerational pattern imposed by the mind. We must not forget that Kant is referring to Hume's skepticism regarding inductive conclusions drawn by human reason. Hume thought there was no conclusive justification for inferences drawn from statements of the form:
1)A examined Y's are followed by Z's
2) All Y's are followed by Z's.

Hume is challenging the idea of causation here and Kant, in his own way, is criticizing Hume's argument. Kant does so, as the statement above points out, by positing that the condition under which one event B cannot occur before another C is that B is the cause of C. B must uniformly occur before C as its conditioning event because the order of events is fixed.

"One needs to first believe in god to even come up with the first premise."

The OA is an argument for theists, of course. It is designed to show that a necessary being is a maximally great being. That is its function, in my mind.

"It exists only as an idea but not as a thing of possible experience."

I think Kant would probably agree that the ideas of pure reason are forms, which prove themselves to be objective only to the extent that empirical material comes to fill them. I don't, however.

"There is no contradiction in the idea of the existence of a necessary being as an idea, but to say it exists in reality can't be proven either way unless we define such a god into existence."

You've lost me here. If the argument is valid and sound, then God exists, as God, right? Are objecting to the first premise or no premise or what? Kant's point is that one can never prove God exists with the OA and I agree with him, but that, in my opinion, is not its function. It gets one from the necessary being to the maximally great being. I think Kant would agree that if God exists, then she is God, as theists understand her. We must not forget that Kant gave us The Critique of Practical Reason. (And this applies to your next point as well, although I am not going to repeat it for sake of time.)

"I am not questioning whether you were a true atheist or not but I think it is possible that you wanted so much to believe in a god without realizing it that at the end you found the arguments for god persuasive."

Perhaps, you are right, but, the fact remains, I find the arguments, in toto, persuasive for rational reasons. Of course, I could end up changing my mind about all of this, who knows.

"I don't think Kant says common sense supports the idea of god's existence is given by pure reason."

I found the passage I was thinking of in the SEP. It follows:

"The preface of the Only Possible Ground reveals his inner torment. Providence, he writes there, already imparted to common sense the notion that God exists, hence the project of a demonstration is redundant (2:65). The insight that God exists does not need “the sophistry of subtle inferences” (ibid.)."

Regards
Sun Jun 09, 2013 4:23 am
PerstoPosts: 4Joined: Sat Jun 08, 2013 5:27 am Gender: Male

Post Re: Discussion following a post by Eric MacDonald (3 June 20

Hi James,

"The Big Bang was only the start of our bubble-universe – not everything natural."

This notion seems to be, at best, nothing more than a theoretical possibility, with no data or information from the observable Universe to support it. From my understanding, the two things that are indicative of a something preceding the Big Bang is that the Universe is spatially flat and it has the same temperature properties in all directions. However, matter and radiation in the Universe must have had a singularity moment, this seems certain, but the postulated something or inflation seems to not have had a 'Big Bang moment." But we don't know if inflation is eternal or whether there was an pre-Big Bang inflation singularity or even how long the inflation lasted, to put it crudely. Additionally, in the case of the contingency argument, although we are discussing the FC at the moment, a beginning point or singularity is irrelevant.

"The reasons for believing are the same for disbelieving – philosophical and, therefore, are not concrete enough to choose belief over non-belief in the absence of empiric evidence. Does an SFC need to pass all arguments for it to be believed – or just any one argument?"

I think we are close to agreement on this point. This is my position: that it is possible to think and to experience the universe, and ourselves as a part of it, in both religious and naturalistic ways. For those who sometimes experience life religiously, it can be entirely rational to form beliefs reflecting that mode of experience. At the same time it is equally rational for those who do not participate in the field of religious experience not to hold such beliefs, and to assume that these experiences are simply projections of our human desires and ideals. In other words, we are facing an issue of fact which is at present veiled in ambiguity, so that both belief and disbelief at present carry with them the risk of profound error. The believer risks the possibility of being self-deceived and the non-believer risks shutting out the most valuable of all realities. Given this choice, William James would urge, and surely with reason and evidence, that we have the right to choose for ourselves. People are therefore justified in holding beliefs that are the result of sincere philosophical investigation; or are grounded either wholly in their own religious experience or in the experience of the historical tradition to which they belong, this being in turn confirmed by their own much slighter range and intensity of religious experience. It seems that we stand, as finite and ignorant beings, in a universe that both invites religious belief and yet holds over us the possibility that this invitation may be a deception.

Regards
Sun Jun 09, 2013 5:25 am
ThePinkAgendistPosts: 1Joined: Sun Jun 09, 2013 10:41 pm Gender: Male

Post Re: Discussion following a post by Eric MacDonald (3 June 20

For the league of reason, it seems unreasonable to indulge in a silly semantic discussion. Persto, like many philosophy students before him, wants to operate by turning the tables on onus probandi. He seems to think we must prove negatives- rather than it being the other way around. By indulging such a basic error, we give it credibility. A bit like inviting a Catholic Peadophile priest to teach us about morality.
This acquiescence is what allowed Christianity to take over a Europe that had already developed logic and the Antikythera Mechanism.
Sun Jun 09, 2013 10:55 pm
Dragan GlasContributorUser avatarPosts: 3209Joined: Mon Dec 14, 2009 1:55 amLocation: Ireland Gender: Male

Post Re: Discussion following a post by Eric MacDonald (3 June 20

Greetings,

Persto wrote:Hi James,

"The Big Bang was only the start of our bubble-universe – not everything natural."

This notion seems to be, at best, nothing more than a theoretical possibility, with no data or information from the observable Universe to support it. From my understanding, the two things that are indicative of a something preceding the Big Bang is that the Universe is spatially flat and it has the same temperature properties in all directions. However, matter and radiation in the Universe must have had a singularity moment, this seems certain, but the postulated something or inflation seems to not have had a 'Big Bang moment." But we don't know if inflation is eternal or whether there was an pre-Big Bang inflation singularity or even how long the inflation lasted, to put it crudely.

Persto, I'm not at all certain what you're saying here - a "singularity moment" without a "Big Bang moment"?

Could you explain further?

Additionally, in the case of the contingency argument, although we are discussing the FC at the moment, a beginning point or singularity is irrelevant.

Depends on the nature of the FC. Aquinas used the CA to promote a SFC.

"The reasons for believing are the same for disbelieving – philosophical and, therefore, are not concrete enough to choose belief over non-belief in the absence of empiric evidence. Does an SFC need to pass all arguments for it to be believed – or just any one argument?"

I think we are close to agreement on this point. This is my position: that it is possible to think and to experience the universe, and ourselves as a part of it, in both religious and naturalistic ways. For those who sometimes experience life religiously, it can be entirely rational to form beliefs reflecting that mode of experience. At the same time it is equally rational for those who do not participate in the field of religious experience not to hold such beliefs, and to assume that these experiences are simply projections of our human desires and ideals. In other words, we are facing an issue of fact which is at present veiled in ambiguity, so that both belief and disbelief at present carry with them the risk of profound error. The believer risks the possibility of being self-deceived and the non-believer risks shutting out the most valuable of all realities. Given this choice, William James would urge, and surely with reason and evidence, that we have the right to choose for ourselves. People are therefore justified in holding beliefs that are the result of sincere philosophical investigation; or are grounded either wholly in their own religious experience or in the experience of the historical tradition to which they belong, this being in turn confirmed by their own much slighter range and intensity of religious experience. It seems that we stand, as finite and ignorant beings, in a universe that both invites religious belief and yet holds over us the possibility that this invitation may be a deception.

Regards

My statement implied that belief was less defensible than non-belief.

Think of it in terms of life on Earth - how did it begin? Abiogenesis or a "Intelligent Designer" (Extra-Terrestrial, for example)?

If one favours ET, then that begs the question as to how ET arose on its planet? If one continues back through time to the earliest possible star system where ET could occur, one is left with the fact that life could not have been started by another ET as there was no existing ET anywhere else. The only explanation then is that life on that planet started through abiogenesis.

But if that's the case, why couldn't that be the explanation for life on Earth?

In other words, abiogenesis is the simpler explanation than the added order of complexity of it being due to ET.

This is essentially the same argument which Carl Sagan uses at the start of this clip regarding the FC:



Belief (Theism/Deism) is the least justifiable - lack of belief (Atheism) is somewhat more justifiable, since both are belief-based positions.

The most justifiable and, therefore, the most intellectually honest position is that of Agnosticism, the truth-based position.

Also, my earlier question remains unanswered.

Does God stand or fall on just a single argument in its favour or must all arguments for God be met for God to be accepted?

Kindest regards,

James
Image
"The Word of God is the Creation we behold and it is in this Word, which no human invention can counterfeit or alter, that God speaketh universally to man."
The Age Of Reason
Mon Jun 10, 2013 2:58 am
InfernoContributorUser avatarPosts: 2298Joined: Thu Apr 30, 2009 7:36 pmLocation: Vienna, Austria Gender: Cake

Post Re: Discussion following a post by Eric MacDonald (3 June 20

Dragan Glas wrote:Belief (Theism/Deism) is the least justifiable - lack of belief (Atheism) is somewhat more justifiable, since both are belief-based positions.


I didn't read any of the thread, it's just TL;DR. But somehow, this sprung out at me.

How exactly is Theism justifiable? I absolutely don't see it. Not only is there no evidence, all the available evidence points to the contrary.

How exactly is Deism justifiable? I don't really see it. It's not as improbable as Theism is, but it's right up there.

How is Atheism (or atheism, if you wish) a belief-based position? I know this is an old hat, but is not believing in Santa (the Easter bunny, etc.) a belief-based position? No, it's the absence of a belief.

Dragan Glas wrote:The most justifiable and, therefore, the most intellectually honest position is that of Agnosticism, the truth-based position.


I'd somewhat agree with you, but there are two things nagging at me:
1) How is Agnosticism a "truth-based position"? I'd call it an honest position, but since it states that it can't ever know, I don't see how you could call it a "truth-based" anything.

2) Agnosticism is not a position, it's a qualifier of a position. You can be an agnostic atheist (i.e. Gods don't feature among the things you believe in, but you don't think anyone can know for certain, aka. weak atheism) or you can be a gnostic atheist (i.e. Gods don't feature among the things you believe in and you are certain of that, aka. strong atheism). But you can also be a gnostic Theist (self-explanatory, now that I've explained the difference above), a gnostic Deist, but also the much less common agnostic Deist and agnostic Theist.

2) But assuming you're actually talking about the position that nothing is knowable: Agnosticism is, while probably the most honest position, in my opinion just as intellectually bankrupt as Deism/Theism is. If you don't have evidence to believe in X, you're usually an A-X-ist. The A-easterbunnyist springs to mind. People don't believe in Wizards/Dragons/giant marshmellow-ninjas from space/Unicorns because there is no evidence to believe in such things. They do NOT say: Oh well, I can't know so I won't have an opinion on the subject.
That would be silly. The only correct position to hold in that regard is one of agnostic a-X-ism. Agnosticism as a qualifier is both honest and intellectually smart. Agnosticism as a position is just plain weird.
"Sometimes people don't want to hear the truth because they don't want their illusions destroyed." ― Friedrich Nietzsche

"I shall achieve my objectives through the power... of Science!" --LessWrong
Mon Jun 10, 2013 8:28 am
australopithecusLime TordUser avatarPosts: 4347Joined: Sun Feb 22, 2009 9:27 pmLocation: Kernow Gender: Time Lord

Post Re: Discussion following a post by Eric MacDonald (3 June 20

Inferno wrote:Agnosticism is not a position, it's a qualifier of a position. You can be an agnostic atheist (i.e. Gods don't feature among the things you believe in, but you don't think anyone can know for certain, aka. weak atheism) or you can be a gnostic atheist (i.e. Gods don't feature among the things you believe in and you are certain of that, aka. strong atheism). But you can also be a gnostic Theist (self-explanatory, now that I've explained the difference above), a gnostic Deist, but also the much less common agnostic Deist and agnostic Theist.


This.

To say "I am agnostic." is the same as saying "I am a blue.". A blue what? An agnostic what?
Image
Mon Jun 10, 2013 9:10 am
Dragan GlasContributorUser avatarPosts: 3209Joined: Mon Dec 14, 2009 1:55 amLocation: Ireland Gender: Male

Post Re: Discussion following a post by Eric MacDonald (3 June 20

Greetings,

Inferno wrote:
Dragan Glas wrote:Belief (Theism/Deism) is the least justifiable - lack of belief (Atheism) is somewhat more justifiable, since both are belief-based positions.


I didn't read any of the thread, it's just TL;DR. But somehow, this sprung out at me.

How exactly is Theism justifiable? I absolutely don't see it. Not only is there no evidence, all the available evidence points to the contrary.

Inferno, it's justifiable to an extent based on religious grounds, though - as I indicated - of the three, it's the least justifiable.

Inferno wrote:How exactly is Deism justifiable? I don't really see it. It's not as improbable as Theism is, but it's right up there.

As it's of a similar nature to Theism, it's as justifiable as a FC for the cosmos.

Inferno wrote:How is Atheism (or atheism, if you wish) a belief-based position? I know this is an old hat, but is not believing in Santa (the Easter bunny, etc.) a belief-based position? No, it's the absence of a belief.

Based on Dawkins' (Belief) Scale, where Theism (1) is at one end and Atheism (7) at the other: that makes it a belief-based position.

Inferno wrote:
Dragan Glas wrote:The most justifiable and, therefore, the most intellectually honest position is that of Agnosticism, the truth-based position.

I'd somewhat agree with you, but there are two things nagging at me:
1) How is Agnosticism a "truth-based position"? I'd call it an honest position, but since it states that it can't ever know, I don't see how you could call it a "truth-based" anything.

Perhaps I should have explained that it's about whether one can know the truth about something or not.

In simplest terms, Agnosticism is an approach to knowledge as a starting point: "without knowing".

As Dawkins points out, there are two types - "temporary" (TAP) based on things we don't know the answer to but can find out - and "permanent" (PAP) based on things to which we can never know the answer.

Needless to say he indicates that nothing falls into the latter category.

I disagree with him on this point.

As I pointed out elsewhere:

Actually, there's a misunderstanding regarding whether God is "knowable" or not - apart from whether one can "know" if a God exists or not.

In terms of the "know-ability" of God, it depends on whether there's life-after-death or not.

There are four possible combinations of God's existence and life-after-death.

Let's call them "EOG" (existence of God or not), and "LAD" (life-after-death or not).

LAD - EOG
Yes - Yes - Theism

This is the classic theist position: obviously, if God exists, there's life-after-death, and - therefore, we can "know" God.

LAD - EOG
Yes - No - Theravada (atheistic) Buddhism [There may be other similar religions.]

Here, although there's life-after-death, there's no God - we find out that there's no God and we can't "know" God, because there isn't one.

LAD - EOG
No -Yes - Deism

The classic deist position: even though God exists, since there's no life-after-death, we don't find that out nor can we ever "know" God - God is "unknowable". We don't even get a moment of "Oh, there's no God,..." before dying, because nothing survives death to allow us to find out.

LAD - EOG
No -No - Naturalism/Materialism

Here, clearly, there's neither life-after-death nor a God - this is the naturalistic position.

In only two of the above - Theism and Theravada Buddhism - will we *know* whether there's a God or not. In only one case - Theism - is God "knowable"; for the other three, God is "unknowable".

unkerpaulie said:
"I agree with you that anything to do with theism and the spirit realm is based on belief, and the only position of knowledge one can have pertaining to God is the lack of knowledge. Even if you can assert you know, you are merely asserting that you believe strongly. And really its no different from anything else you claim to know. This is why I said, the distinction between knowledge and belief really doesn't exist, because if you say you know something, you are really saying you strongly believe that thing, and the degree of your conviction is not absolute, just higher than something you consider as just a belief. In other words, belief and knowledge are just 2 points on a conviction scale, so to speak. If we describe (a)gnostic in terms of knowledge and (a)theism in terms of belief, then putting "gnostic" in front of atheist or theist makes no sense, because you cannot have knowledge about a belief, only varying levels of conviction."

Although I understand what you're saying and how you view these, as you can see from my above explanation, I distinguish between "knowing" and "believing".

Which is why I call myself Agnostic and will be at least until I die.

Does the above extract make my position clearer regarding God and life-after-death?

These are not the only things for which it's not possible to know the answer. There are scientific questions, such as what existed before the Big Bang, which are unknowable, despite any theories cosmologists might have.

We are unable to distinguish between a Naturalistic cosmology and a Deistic one.

Inferno wrote:2) Agnosticism is not a position, it's a qualifier of a position. You can be an agnostic atheist (i.e. Gods don't feature among the things you believe in, but you don't think anyone can know for certain, aka. weak atheism) or you can be a gnostic atheist (i.e. Gods don't feature among the things you believe in and you are certain of that, aka. strong atheism). But you can also be a gnostic Theist (self-explanatory, now that I've explained the difference above), a gnostic Deist, but also the much less common agnostic Deist and agnostic Theist.

3) But assuming you're actually talking about the position that nothing is knowable: Agnosticism is, while probably the most honest position, in my opinion just as intellectually bankrupt as Deism/Theism is. If you don't have evidence to believe in X, you're usually an A-X-ist. The A-easterbunnyist springs to mind. People don't believe in Wizards/Dragons/giant marshmellow-ninjas from space/Unicorns because there is no evidence to believe in such things. They do NOT say: Oh well, I can't know so I won't have an opinion on the subject.

That would be silly. The only correct position to hold in that regard is one of agnostic a-X-ism. Agnosticism as a qualifier is both honest and intellectually smart. Agnosticism as a position is just plain weird.

As I said at the start, we're born without knowing - our lives are spent finding out answers to various questions. It is thus an approach to life based on that process. One might argue that that's "Scepticism" as "inquiry" - but that doesn't indicate that there are things about which we can't know the answer, ie, the nature of knowledge and its limits. Also, as I pointed out earlier in the discussion, the ancient Sceptics sought to be without belief ("suspension of judgement"), which is not really applicable to most people's lives.

I see little point in declaring - much less clinging to - a belief in something which is unknowable. I'm talking here about being adamant that one's opinion/belief is "the truth": I've come to the conclusion that that's intellectually bankrupt.

God, life-after-death, what state existed before the Big Bang, etc., are all unknowable - although one may distinguish between the philosophical and scientific, they are all equally untestable.

As AronRa said regarding (lack of) belief in God(s) - I believe it was at the 2011 World Atheist Convention in Dublin;

I don't know - and you don't know either!

[It is on a clip somewhere but I can't locate the relevant one at present.]

EDIT: Thanks to Vivre, I can now include the clip:

Communicating Atheism Part 6

Kindest regards,

James
Image
"The Word of God is the Creation we behold and it is in this Word, which no human invention can counterfeit or alter, that God speaketh universally to man."
The Age Of Reason
Last edited by Dragan Glas on Tue Jun 11, 2013 12:39 am, edited 1 time in total.
Mon Jun 10, 2013 12:41 pm
australopithecusLime TordUser avatarPosts: 4347Joined: Sun Feb 22, 2009 9:27 pmLocation: Kernow Gender: Time Lord

Post Re: Discussion following a post by Eric MacDonald (3 June 20

Dragan Glas wrote:Based on Dawkins' (Belief) Scale, where Theism (1) is at one end and Atheism (7) at the other: that makes it a belief-based position.


The problem with taking anything Dawkins says (outside of biology) seriously. Though I'm pretty certain said scale qualifies the 7 position, not as atheism, but as gnostic atheism (or strong atheism).
Image
Mon Jun 10, 2013 1:19 pm
PerstoPosts: 4Joined: Sat Jun 08, 2013 5:27 am Gender: Male

Post Re: Discussion following a post by Eric MacDonald (3 June 20

Pinkagendist,

I am a double major--math and philosophy. Just thought we should get that right.

If you are making a claim about the world, then you have a burden of proof.

We all have our "absolute presuppositions" or "root metaphors, " if you will. Accept it.

I am not trying to convince you that God exists; I am attempting to convince you that my belief that God exists is rationally held.

If all you want to do is score rhetorical points, then know I will not be replying to further comments. That is the reason I moved the discussion from Eric's blog.

Regards
Mon Jun 10, 2013 11:01 pm
Dragan GlasContributorUser avatarPosts: 3209Joined: Mon Dec 14, 2009 1:55 amLocation: Ireland Gender: Male

Post Re: Discussion following a post by Eric MacDonald (3 June 20

Greetings,

Pardon my manners... :oops:

Welcome Persto, makagutu and ThePinkAgendist to LoR! :D

Kindest regards,

James
Image
"The Word of God is the Creation we behold and it is in this Word, which no human invention can counterfeit or alter, that God speaketh universally to man."
The Age Of Reason
Last edited by Dragan Glas on Sat Jun 15, 2013 3:27 am, edited 1 time in total.
Tue Jun 11, 2013 9:11 pm
InfernoContributorUser avatarPosts: 2298Joined: Thu Apr 30, 2009 7:36 pmLocation: Vienna, Austria Gender: Cake

Post Re: Discussion following a post by Eric MacDonald (3 June 20

DraganGlas wrote:Inferno, it's justifiable to an extent based on religious grounds, though - as I indicated - of the three, it's the least justifiable.


"Based on religious grounds"... so, not at all?
I really think that there is absolutely no justification for Theism and there's just a bit more nothing for Deism.

DraganGlas wrote:As it's of a similar nature to Theism, it's as justifiable as a FC for the cosmos.


I don't agree. Deism goes a small step further, postulating an unprovable entity. That makes it heaps less likely.

DraganGlas wrote:Based on Dawkins' (Belief) Scale, where Theism (1) is at one end and Atheism (7) at the other: that makes it a belief-based position.


I have never seen you intentionally distort something to fit your argument, so let me take a moment to hang my head in disappointment.
Not once does he refer to it as a "belief" scale, instead he calls it a "spectrum of religious probability".
You also seem to have missed out the part where he calls a 7 a "strong atheist", in the very same way I defined it:
"gnostic atheist (i.e. Gods don't feature among the things you believe in and you are certain of that, aka. strong atheism)"

Based on Dawkins' probability scale, where Theism (1) is at the 100% end of the spectrum and strong Atheism (7) is at the 0% end, this is actually further proof of what I'm saying: Atheism is 0% belief, Theism is 100%. OK OK, so I'm being slightly facetious with that last bit. Still, there's no validity to your assertion whatsoever.

I would also disagree with Dawkins' scale, in that it is one-dimensional, while it needs to be one-dimensional. But that's a different argument altogether.

DraganGlas wrote:Does the above extract make my position clearer regarding God and life-after-death?

These are not the only things for which it's not possible to know the answer. There are scientific questions, such as what existed before the Big Bang, which are unknowable, despite any theories cosmologists might have.

We are unable to distinguish between a Naturalistic cosmology and a Deistic one.


This certainly makes your position clearer, but not any better.

I disagree that "what existed before the Big Bang" is unknowable. It is currently unknown, yes, but it is unknowable whether it will ever be known or not. It is, at the very least, possible.
The existence of a Deistic God, as you rightly point out, is entirely unknowable.

None of this distracts from my criticism: How does that make Agnosticism a truth-based position?

DraganGlas wrote:As I said at the start, we're born without knowing - our lives are spent finding out answers to various questions. It is thus an approach to life based on that process. One might argue that that's "Scepticism" as "inquiry" - but that doesn't indicate that there are things about which we can't know the answer, ie, the nature of knowledge and its limits. Also, as I pointed out earlier in the discussion, the ancient Sceptics sought to be without belief ("suspension of judgement"), which is not really applicable to most people's lives.


Again, huge disagreement here.
The starting position to anything is "it does not exist" or "it does not work", aka. the null hypothesis. We start out saying "there are no unicorns", we then read fairy tales and say "there must be unicorns", at which point we learn biology and say "there are probably no unicorns". We transition from A-unicornist to Unicornist to Agnosti-unicornist/de-facto A-unicornist.

QualiaSoup: "It can be useful to remember that none of us start life with a belief in any gods. A lack of belief in gods is the default position. That's not to say that the default position is always preferable. After all the default position is a complete lack of coherent understanding of our universe. But it is a reminder that in the market place of ideas, if you want to move people away from the default lack of belief towards your belief, it's you, not they, who has to provide justification."

He also explains, in that very same video, that atheism at its most basic is a "lack of belief in gods", not a belief that no gods exist. That, as I have already pointed out, is strong or gnostic atheism. Be very aware of that distinction, because it's what your argument is incorrectly based on.
You claim that it's a belief in the non-existence, so you focus solely on gnostic/strong atheism (7). But as Dawkins correctly points out: "I'd be surprised to see many people in category 7, but I include it for symmetry with category 1, ... Atheists do not have faith... ...Hence category 7 is in practice emptier than its opposite number, category 1, which has many devoted inhabitants. I count myself in category 6, but leaning towards 7 - I am agnostic only to the extent that I am agnostic about fairies at the bottom of the garden."

Note: I once again disagree with Dawkins' definition of Agnosticism. His is one-dimensional while it should not be.
There are three pictures to show exactly what I mean, though all make the slight mistake of claiming that agnosticism is a position.



DraganGlas wrote:I see little point in declaring - much less clinging to - a belief in something which is unknowable. I'm talking here about being adamant that one's opinion/belief is "the truth": I've come to the conclusion that that's intellectually bankrupt.


Agreed. That's why I'm so curious as to why you're talking about the virtually non-existing position of gnostic atheism while the discussion should be about weak/agnostic atheism.
I'll (once-again?) point out that the most truth-based and intellectually honest position with regards to fairies is one of agnostic a-fairyism: I'm fairly sure that there are none, but I'm open to new evidence and I admit that I can never know for certain. However, I live my life as if there were no fairies.

Why does the same position not apply to a god or gods?

DraganGlas wrote:God, life-after-death, what state existed before the Big Bang, etc., are all unknowable - although one may distinguish between the philosophical and scientific, they are all equally untestable.


As stated: Disagreement, but not significant enough to warrant discussion.

DraganGlas wrote:As AronRa said regarding (lack of) belief in God(s) - I believe it was at the 2011 World Atheist Convention in Dublin;

I don't know - and you don't know either!


[It is on a clip somewhere but I can't locate the relevant one at present.]


Agreed, that's indeed what he said or could have said. That's also why Aron would, I presume, apply the qualifier of "agnostic" to his atheism (or anti-theism, as I've recently heard?), instead of a gnostic one. It's the same position I would take.
"Sometimes people don't want to hear the truth because they don't want their illusions destroyed." ― Friedrich Nietzsche

"I shall achieve my objectives through the power... of Science!" --LessWrong
Tue Jun 11, 2013 10:03 pm
VivreUser avatarPosts: 351Joined: Thu Apr 04, 2013 5:05 pmLocation: dungeon of despair Gender: Female

Post Re: Discussion following a post by Eric MacDonald (3 June 20

Hello, this thread is a challenge to me ~ thx :)
I'm trying to catch up :mrgreen:


Here's a longer piece where AronRa talks about the 'stigma' in the expression of 'atheism' and later states this position:

"I prefer to not to say that I know what I don't know." [ at 7:21]

The whole sequenz is here at 6:03 - 8:14 - Communicating Atheism (pt 5) Q & A
Tue Jun 11, 2013 11:03 pm
WWW
InfernoContributorUser avatarPosts: 2298Joined: Thu Apr 30, 2009 7:36 pmLocation: Vienna, Austria Gender: Cake

Post Re: Discussion following a post by Eric MacDonald (3 June 20

Vivre wrote:Hello, this thread is a challenge to me ~ thx :)
I'm trying to catch up :mrgreen:


Here's a longer piece where AronRa talks about the 'stigma' in the expression of 'atheism' and later states this position:

"I prefer to not to say that I know what I don't know." [ at 7:21]

The whole sequenz is here at 6:03 - 8:14 - Communicating Atheism (pt 5) Q & A


Thank you Vivre.
I thought I had remembered something like that from Aron, but wasn't quite sure where he said it. He makes my point perfectly.
Thanks for finding that.
"Sometimes people don't want to hear the truth because they don't want their illusions destroyed." ― Friedrich Nietzsche

"I shall achieve my objectives through the power... of Science!" --LessWrong
Tue Jun 11, 2013 11:58 pm
Dragan GlasContributorUser avatarPosts: 3209Joined: Mon Dec 14, 2009 1:55 amLocation: Ireland Gender: Male

Post Re: Discussion following a post by Eric MacDonald (3 June 20

Greetings,

Inferno wrote:
DraganGlas wrote:Inferno, it's justifiable to an extent based on religious grounds, though - as I indicated - of the three, it's the least justifiable.

"Based on religious grounds"... so, not at all?
I really think that there is absolutely no justification for Theism and there's just a bit more nothing for Deism.

DraganGlas wrote:As it's of a similar nature to Theism, it's as justifiable as a FC for the cosmos.

I don't agree. Deism goes a small step further, postulating an unprovable entity. That makes it heaps less likely.

Religious teachings are evidence for theism and deism - they don't have to prove these to be considered as evidence.

This touches on what Engelbert's central point was in the topic he started and for which he was - in my view - unfairly criticised.

Inferno wrote:
DraganGlas wrote:Based on Dawkins' (Belief) Scale, where Theism (1) is at one end and Atheism (7) at the other: that makes it a belief-based position.

I have never seen you intentionally distort something to fit your argument, so let me take a moment to hang my head in disappointment.

Not once does he refer to it as a "belief" scale, instead he calls it a "spectrum of religious probability".
You also seem to have missed out the part where he calls a 7 a "strong atheist", in the very same way I defined it:
"gnostic atheist (i.e. Gods don't feature among the things you believe in and you are certain of that, aka. strong atheism)"

Based on Dawkins' probability scale, where Theism (1) is at the 100% end of the spectrum and strong Atheism (7) is at the 0% end, this is actually further proof of what I'm saying: Atheism is 0% belief, Theism is 100%. OK OK, so I'm being slightly facetious with that last bit. Still, there's no validity to your assertion whatsoever.

I would also disagree with Dawkins' scale, in that it is one-dimensional, while it needs to be one-dimensional. But that's a different argument altogether.

When I first read this, the other night, I was taken aback, somewhat confused and not a little irritated.

My first thought was, if, as you say, you "have never seen [me] intentionally distort something to fit [my] argument", why would you believe I did so now?

My second thought was as to why you thought I believed that atheism meant anything other than "a lack of belief in god(s)"?

I also wondered if I'd misremembered my reading of Dawkins' book, particularly chapter 2, where he addresses - and dismisses - "the poverty of agnosticism".

As it's been several years since I read it, I thought I'd best re-read that chapter before replying.

Having done so, I am certain that my reading of it was correct and, with all due respect, that it is you who's missed what Dawkins was saying - quite possibly due to something being "lost in translation", assuming you read it in Austrian rather than English. I can also see where your misunderstanding of my definition about atheism arises.

Firstly, as a atheist and as one who supports a naturalistic explanation of the cosmos, Dawkins views the question of a SFC's existence a scientific one - a point he emphasises in addressing Gould's NOMA (pages 77-85).

Secondly, the existence of a SFC is a zero-sum game: either it exists or it does not - there are no other options.

:!: P=1 or P=0 :!:


Having noted (on page 72) Huxley's explanation of agnosticism - which is another bone of contention in this thread and which I'll address later - and his point about the impossibility of proving said existence or not, Dawkins then raises the idea of "shading of probability":

But Huxley, in his concentration upon the absolute impossibility of proving or disproving God, seems to have been ignoring the shading of probability.

Yet, if a SFC's existence is a zero-sum game, how can there be such a thing as "shading" of probability?

On page 73, he makes the following statement:

Let us, then, take the spectrum of probabilities seriously, and place human judgements about the existence of God along it, between two extremes of absolute certainty

In the second post in the thread, where I copied/pasted from the original discussion on Eric's site, I mentioned that the ancient Sceptics sought to attain (ἐποχή, epokhē “suspension” (of judgement) or to be without belief ([Thorsrud [2008, 2-7]).

What Dawkins is talking about in referring to "human judgement" is belief: every single position on his scale is a belief-based position.

The two extremes of "absolute certainty" - where the individual "knows" God exists or doesn't - are not based on absolute knowledge (truth/fact) but relative knowledge (faith/belief/opinion). Nobody "knows" that God does or does not exist - they just have a extremely strong belief.

In your above response you appear to attempt to claim that having "0% belief" somehow means that this isn't a belief-based position.

On any scale, zero is a position on the scale and, thus, is a scale-based position.

Sociopaths lack compassion for others - on a compassion scale this would be represented as one end of the scale: zero.

To claim that this is not a "compassion-based" position is indefensible.

Inferno wrote:
DraganGlas wrote:Does the above extract make my position clearer regarding God and life-after-death?

These are not the only things for which it's not possible to know the answer. There are scientific questions, such as what existed before the Big Bang, which are unknowable, despite any theories cosmologists might have.

We are unable to distinguish between a Naturalistic cosmology and a Deistic one.

This certainly makes your position clearer, but not any better.

I disagree that "what existed before the Big Bang" is unknowable. It is currently unknown, yes, but it is unknowable whether it will ever be known or not. It is, at the very least, possible.

There are essentially two sets of cosmological theories - those that involve independent universes (the multiverse, etc) and those that involve inter-related universes (Steinhardt's and Turok's "cyclic" universe).

The former, by definition, make it impossible to test - not to mention the fact that if the state in which the Big Bang occurred itself had a Big Bang moment, this would render our identifying a FC impossible.

The cyclic universe hypothesis holds that our universe is gravitationally-linked to another universe through "branes" - there are those who claim that anomalies in the CMBR is evidence of this other universe.

However, this theory is not currently considered likely, which means that the likeliest ones do not allow us to "see" before the Big Bang nor outside our expanding universe.

As such, the likelihood of our ever knowing the truth is infinitesimal and therefore, for all practical purposes, impossible - though, as an Agnostic, I'll keep the door ever-so-slightly ajar to the possibility.

Inferno wrote:The existence of a Deistic God, as you rightly point out, is entirely unknowable.

None of this distracts from my criticism: How does that make Agnosticism a truth-based position?

Fortunately for those who don't have Huxley's works or books which feature it - as I do (Pyle [1997], which was recommended to me by "Sphex") - Dawkins provides the link to the complete text of Huxley's article and, although he quotes the pertinent parts of the paragraph (page 72), I'll reproduce it in its entirety:

It appears that Mr. Gladstone, some time ago, asked Mr. Laing if he could draw up a short summary of the negative creed; a body of negative propositions, which have so far been adopted on the negative side as to be what the Apostles' and other accepted creeds are on the positive; and Mr. Laing at once kindly obliged Mr. Gladstone with the desired articles - eight of them.

If any one had preferred this request to me, I should have replied that, if he referred to agnostics, they have no creed; and, by the nature of the case, can not have any. Agnosticism, in fact, is not a creed, but a method, the essence of which lies in the rigorous application of a single principle. That principle is of great antiquity; it is as old as Socrates; as old as the writer who said, "Try all things, hold fast by that which is good"; it is the foundation of the Reformation, which simply illustrated the axiom that every man should be able to give a reason for the faith that is in him, it is the great principle of Descartes; it is the fundamental axiom of modern science. Positively the principle may be expressed: In matters of the intellect, follow your reason as far as it will take you, without regard to any other consideration. And negatively: In matters of the intellect, do not pretend that conclusions are certain which are not demonstrated or demonstrable. That I take to be the agnostic faith, which if a man keep whole and undefiled, he shall not be ashamed to look the universe in the face, whatever the future may have in store for him.

This is a fairly simple formulation to understand, yet all too often Agnosticism is reduced from a "verb" (methodology) to an "adjective" (qualifier) - "agnostic X", where X is a "noun" (a position, such as theism) or "I'm agnostic about X": to what Le Poidevin [2010, 13] refers to as "local agnosticism".

Agnosticism, as a methodology, addresses knowledge, the nature of knowledge and what we ultimately can and can't know.

It goes to the very heart of the matter: the "brain in the vat" problem.

Inferno wrote:
DraganGlas wrote:As I said at the start, we're born without knowing - our lives are spent finding out answers to various questions. It is thus an approach to life based on that process. One might argue that that's "Scepticism" as "inquiry" - but that doesn't indicate that there are things about which we can't know the answer, ie, the nature of knowledge and its limits. Also, as I pointed out earlier in the discussion, the ancient Sceptics sought to be without belief ("suspension of judgement"), which is not really applicable to most people's lives.


Again, huge disagreement here.
The starting position to anything is "it does not exist" or "it does not work", aka. the null hypothesis. We start out saying "there are no unicorns", we then read fairy tales and say "there must be unicorns", at which point we learn biology and say "there are probably no unicorns". We transition from A-unicornist to Unicornist to Agnosti-unicornist/de-facto A-unicornist.

QualiaSoup: "It can be useful to remember that none of us start life with a belief in any gods. A lack of belief in gods is the default position. That's not to say that the default position is always preferable. After all the default position is a complete lack of coherent understanding of our universe. But it is a reminder that in the market place of ideas, if you want to move people away from the default lack of belief towards your belief, it's you, not they, who has to provide justification."

He also explains, in that very same video, that atheism at its most basic is a "lack of belief in gods", not a belief that no gods exist. That, as I have already pointed out, is strong or gnostic atheism. Be very aware of that distinction, because it's what your argument is incorrectly based on.
You claim that it's a belief in the non-existence, so you focus solely on gnostic/strong atheism (7). But as Dawkins correctly points out: "I'd be surprised to see many people in category 7, but I include it for symmetry with category 1, ... Atheists do not have faith... ...Hence category 7 is in practice emptier than its opposite number, category 1, which has many devoted inhabitants. I count myself in category 6, but leaning towards 7 - I am agnostic only to the extent that I am agnostic about fairies at the bottom of the garden."

Note: I once again disagree with Dawkins' definition of Agnosticism. His is one-dimensional while it should not be.
There are three pictures to show exactly what I mean, though all make the slight mistake of claiming that agnosticism is a position.


All of the above is predicated on Agnosticism being a "adjective" (locally applied to a specific position or claim) rather than a "verb" (a methodology).

This is what seems to have been lost somewhere along the way since Huxley first defined it.

It's also why many - such as Australopithecus - seem confused by my identifying myself as "an Agnostic" rather than "agnostic X":

"australopithecus wrote:To say "I am agnostic." is the same as saying "I am a blue.". A blue what? An agnostic what?


You say we're born without belief in gods - as Eller [2004] contends - yet miss the fact that:

1) We're born without beliefs (except for the most rudimentary ones a baby might have based on "appearances" from its senses);
2) We're born truly knowing nothing (except for the most rudimentary "knowledge" about our baby's sense impressions).

The most basic state is without knowing.

Also, your (and Australopithecus') misunderstanding that I was referring to "strong" atheism misses the fact that it's still "lack of belief in god(s)". Dawkins' use of the term "gnostic" is not correct - properly, it means that "it is ultimately knowable": that is only likely in the event of there being life-after-death, which appears unlikely. And I've already explained that his usage in position 7 refers to a strongly held belief, not actually knowing.

Inferno wrote:
DraganGlas wrote:I see little point in declaring - much less clinging to - a belief in something which is unknowable. I'm talking here about being adamant that one's opinion/belief is "the truth": I've come to the conclusion that that's intellectually bankrupt.

Agreed. That's why I'm so curious as to why you're talking about the virtually non-existing position of gnostic atheism while the discussion should be about weak/agnostic atheism.

See my point above about this misunderstanding.

Inferno wrote:I'll (once-again?) point out that the most truth-based and intellectually honest position with regards to fairies is one of agnostic a-fairyism: I'm fairly sure that there are none, but I'm open to new evidence and I admit that I can never know for certain. However, I live my life as if there were no fairies.

Why does the same position not apply to a god or gods?

This misunderstanding arises from the tendency of atheists to lump all supernatural phenomena into the same category: "woo".

There is, however, a clear distinction between supernatural phenomena which are dependent on natural phenomena and those that are not.

Fairies, being animistic, are of the former category - a SFC is of the latter.

Inferno wrote:
DraganGlas wrote:God, life-after-death, what state existed before the Big Bang, etc., are all unknowable - although one may distinguish between the philosophical and scientific, they are all equally untestable.

As stated: Disagreement, but not significant enough to warrant discussion.

DraganGlas wrote:As AronRa said regarding (lack of) belief in God(s) - I believe it was at the 2011 World Atheist Convention in Dublin;

"I don't know - and you don't know either!"

[It is on a clip somewhere but I can't locate the relevant one at present.]

Agreed, that's indeed what he said or could have said. That's also why Aron would, I presume, apply the qualifier of "agnostic" to his atheism (or anti-theism, as I've recently heard?), instead of a gnostic one. It's the same position I would take.

I see Vivre - again! - has helped clarify the issue. 8-)

Kindest regards,

James
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"The Word of God is the Creation we behold and it is in this Word, which no human invention can counterfeit or alter, that God speaketh universally to man."
The Age Of Reason
Thu Jun 13, 2013 3:17 pm
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