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New Dawkins book: "The God Delusion"

#35: Jan. - Mar. 2007 (Non-Fiction)
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Frank 013
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Re: Okay...

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Quote:Ergo, if you want to demonstrate that atheism (or even agnosticism) is more reasonable than theism, you must either find a way to expand the category of evidence so as to make it possible that any evidence could be relevant to questions of the supernatural, or you have to provide some criteria for reasonableness other than evidential support. If you can do neither of those, then we can only reasonably conclude that the existence of relevant evidence is 50/50, and that the possibility of the supernatural, which such evidence would either support or not support, is also 50/50.I do not have to provide criteria for anything; that is up to the believers to do that; and since even they can't why should I bother? At any rate using the evidence at hand (which includes much of what used to be considered supernatural) atheism (non belief due to lack of answers/evidence) is more logical.Quote:it looks as though I also draw a distinction that you guys do not: that between agnosticism and atheism. Agnostics are technically atheists if they withhold belief in gods. The use of the terminology is very clouded, atheist and agnostic are often considered overlapping terms. Quote:I'm not so sure that humans make their beliefs entirely based on what they observe. How, then, do you explain our belief in justice, or love, or reason? Have you never observed these things, or were you born with these concepts inherently.Quote:Think of this rather crude scenario. You stand on a suspension wire. You know that there is a safety net below, and you've been warned that the placement of the safety net was erroneous. The safety net is lost in the shadows, and you have no way of discerning which side it's on. You've lost your balance, and cannot regain it, but if you act quickly enough, you can at least direct your fall to the left or to the rightBecause you have no way of knowing which side the net is on, your decision as to which way to fall is ultimately arbitrary. But it's hardly meaningless. No decision is arbitrary when your life is on the line; so this example is not suitable. There is no evidence at all, no type rope, no net, nothing is apparently on the line. (Pun intended)In this case it is more like someone out of the blue asking left or right, but the answer 6 would be just as legitimate. The god question is more fitting to this scenario.As far as alternative evidence goes... if believers find some logical confirmable evidence from any source I will look at it; because I do leave open the possibility of something outside the range of common human experience. But until I see this evidence and can confirm that it is not my own mind playing tricks on me, I will place supernatural entities alongside the Venusian unicorn and dancing plutonian hippos. Later Edited by: Frank 013 at: 12/15/06 9:31 pm
FiskeMiles

Re: Blessing the Pudding

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Oh, one more point. It might be better to describe world views that assert no position on the supernatural as agnostic. Frankly, I think it is reasonable to describe a world view that makes no assertion regarding the supernatural as atheistic (without belief in theism), but the word is frequently taken to mean an active denial of God (and the supernatural), rather than simply lacking a position on the supernatural.Fiske
Federika22

The book

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I recently bought my father a copy of The God Delusion for X-mas, and yesterday he emailed me out of the blue to let me know that he bought me a copy of the book for x-mas ( & he is reading it right now before he gives it to me). SO... I have an extra copy, and I don't have anybody else on my list who would want to read it. Is there anybody who needs a copy (and lives in the U.S.)?
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Re: Blessing the Pudding

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FiskeI almost completely agree with your chain of logic, but I have a problem with the following statement. Quote:If Mad Architect states that he believes in God, I can state that I do not believe in God, but neither of us have made a rational claim and we have no logical way to proceed with a debate on the subject.It is still more logical to conclude no belief than to conclude belief in the light of no confirmable evidence. For all we know there is no supernatural, the supernatural has not been confirmed, let alone a supernatural entity. I personally leave the possibility of a supernatural open because few absolutes have been shown true in our world. But accepting a possibility is not belief.As far as the term atheist goes... just because it is often misinterpreted by ignorant people, (in my opinion) is no reason to stop using the term. Atheist means lack of belief in gods, that's all. If you want to know about any positive beliefs a certain atheist might have you will have to consult that atheist on the matter. If you start using the term naturalist you will than have to start explaining that term to the ignorant.Atheist is a narrow term only referring to a person's lack of belief in gods. But some atheists believe in ghosts, and others do not believe in anything supernatural. Atheists are too independent and to dissimilar in their backgrounds to hold as many common positive beliefs as say, Christians. Their only common ground in many cases is the fact that they lack believe in gods, but this in no way amounts to any kind of positive belief. Later Edited by: Frank 013 at: 12/17/06 9:25 pm
FiskeMiles

Re: Blessing the Pudding

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Frank:First let me congratulate you on the proof of the pudding follow-up. Classic! Quote:It is still more logical to conclude no belief than to conclude belief in the light of no confirmable evidence. For all we know there is no supernatural, the supernatural has not been confirmed, let alone a supernatural entity.For evidence to bear on an assertion regarding the supernatural, you must demonstrate that the assertion is somehow synthetic -- that is, testable by experience. The point Mad argues, I think correctly, is that verifiable or empirical evidence cannot be applied to anything that is not part of the natural world because verifiable evidence must be tied to our sense perceptions in an objective way. If you can demonstrate how a claim regarding the supernatural is synthetic, it would invalidate my third premise, and possibly assure you immortality in the philosophical world (figuratively speaking).Look at it this way, asserting the non-existence of the supernatural world is making a positive assertion. It is asserting a belief about the supernatural.The only logical position is to make no assertion regarding the supernatural. This concedes nothing to theists. After all, any assertions they make concerning the supernatural are automatically illogical. Therefore, any actions or decisions they base on theistic assertions are automatically illogical as well. Think about it for a minute.Here is another interesting point.The following statement about the supernatural is demonstrably true (because it is analytic):The supernatural world either exists or it does not exist. If Mad asserts that the supernatural world exists, and I assert that it does not one of us is correct. BUT, the existence or non-existence of the supernatural cannot make the corresponding assertion rational (even though it is correct). It's amusing, really. And, more to the point, demonstrates that the existence or non-existence of the supernatural world is rationally irrelevant.Arguing the non-existence of the supernatural is going after the wrong point. It would be more logical to argue that theists have no rational foundation for their decisions -- at least, decisions that are premised on beliefs about the supernatural. (Not that this would convince a committed theist of anything.)Fiske Edited by: FiskeMiles at: 12/18/06 8:13 am
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Frank 013: I do not have to provide criteria for anything; that is up to the believers to do that; and since even they can't why should I bother?That's a stock response whenever an atheist is confronted by a theist who tries, in the course of "witnessing", to confound the atheist by making him explain how x is possible without a God. But it isn't really applicable here. We're talking about a claim made by Fiske and supported by you. Your positive claim (that atheism is more reasonable), therefore the burden falls on you.And honestly, I'm not sure who made up these rules for "burden of proof". They make sense in a courtroom environment, where due process depends upon an explicit set of obligation, but they aren't, so far as I know, intrinsically valid in all contexts.me: I'm not so sure that humans make their beliefs entirely based on what they observe. How, then, do you explain our belief in justice, or love, or reason?Frank: Have you never observed these things, or were you born with these concepts inherently.I'd say neither. Just taking justice as one example, it isn't a physical object, so I can't say that I've ever observed it. Nor is it 100% consistent as a kind of behavior -- on the one hand, because behavior which is just in one instance may not be just in another, with no clear way of determining what causes the change, and on the other, because what we mean by justice seems subject to personal interpretation. It seems to me that our knowledge of justice is socially ingrained, and that we believe in it with neither evidence nor criticism; and further, than, in just that sense, it's the sort of thing that would come under fire in a place like BookTalk if it were explicitly tied to religion. Which brings me back to a different form of the original question: do we abandon notions like justice, or do we modify our assumptions about the relationship between observation and belief?No decision is arbitrary when your life is on the line; so this example is not suitable.Are situations that threaten the decision-maker's mortality the only exception to the rule? And how do we determine what the exceptions are?FiskeMiles: First, I want to apologize for impugning your motives with regard to denying my original assertion that atheism is the only logical position.No prob. Sometimes we slip up. I do it, too.This obviously excludes you from the atheist camp, and since you have also made several assertions critical of agnostic positions, that leaves one available option.You could have just asked. Yeah, I'm a theist. But that in itself ought to imply very little to you.For example, I located a copy of Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions at a local Half Price store and have added it to my growing philosophy library.Let me know what you think. In fact, if you want to start a thread in the "additional non-fiction" forum (whatever it's called now), I'd love to discuss the book.I would not categorize as an atheist someone who thinks God (or the supernatural) exists but isn't certain. I would say instead that he or she is a weak or agnostic theist.Well, just from the viewpoint of a theist who takes inquiry very seriously -- and who, if he were an atheist, would eschew the weak/strong dichotomy -- I'd prefer to avoid applying the same dichotomy to theism. What I'd say in the case of a person who affirms the existence of a God or gods, but isn't certain, is that they're an epistemicly modest theist. Which is a pretty fair description of yours truly.I find it antagonistic and unfortunate, though it pales when compared with Christian fundamentalist rhetoric.Very true. It's hard to beat "you're going to suffer for eternity" for antagonistic value. What concerns me isn't so much Dawkins language itself, as the part it appears to be playing in a trend. I think we're going to be seeing more and more overt anti-theistic hostility in the near future. It doesn't seem at all implausible to me that it could even take a turn towards the sort of implicitly (or even explicitly) violent rhetoric that you see in more radical, chauvinist groups. That's no criticism of atheism as a rational position, but if you look at radicalism in other groups, it's clear that the radical element often finds a way of taking precedent over the rational position. It wouldn't surprise me if, to their own horror, authors like Dawkins, Harris and Dennett were to one day find themselves playing a role akin to that of Nietzsche -- the well-intentioned radical whose fearless writings were all too conformable to the agendas of fanatics.I think we might start by agreeing on what constitutes a reasonable world view.Maybe, but I think a very large part of our disagreement starts with problems inherent in the term "reasonable."The first thing I would suggest, I suppose this would constitute a premise (no training in formal logic, I'm afraid), is that any reasonable world view must be consistent with the available, verifiable evidence.I'm afraid that puts us back into a position where it's necessary to examine what we mean by evidence. If there were evidence of the supernatural, would we expect it to be available or verifiable, particularly given that all our means for verifying evidence are naturalistic?I don't think this rules out the possibility of a reasonable theistic world view, but it obviously casts certain theistic positions (Young Earth Creationists, for example) into the unreasonable category.I'd say so. The YECs could throw out some complications, I'm sure, but at least in as much as we take "reasonable" to mean "what most people would likely conclude if they considered all of the available arguments", then yeah, we'd probably be safe in calling the YEC position unreasonable.The catch, from my point of view, is how do we categorize the YEC position. Because: it does not seem to have any direct, necessary connection to the religious beliefs of those who profess it. Eugenie Scott, in the chat last week, said she thinks that Biblical literalists maintain Creationist points of view in part because they see it as necessary to their faith to maintain the absolute infallibility of the text. But the YEC position is Biblical only by inference -- even from a literalist point of view, it isn't necessary to settle on the Young Earth position. It looks to me as though the YECs aren't defending Christian literalism by their insistence on the youth of the earth, but rather something else. Even if you talked them out of the position that the earth is less than 10,000 years old, they'd have no particular reason to abandon theism.None of which I say to defend theism from guilt by association. Religious belief obviously plays a part in YEC, but I think the relationship between a person's religious beliefs, their political and social convictions, and their involvement with something like YEC is far more complicated than most people assume. P3: A reasonable world view must not require actions in response to or decisions based on truth claims that cannot be objectively verified.I think this one is problematic not only for theism, but for any world view. If we stick to this premise, no world view can be considered reasonable. The reason is, I suspect that there is no way to objectively verify the truth of any given claim -- the best we can manage is consensus, but even that is simply the aggregate of subjective affirmation, neither objective nor, in the strict sense, verification.Considering that I am a part of the natural world, my interaction with it can be accurately and objectively described and examined in countless ways.That's doubtful. Though I disagree with them in the main, I tend to agree with the pragmatists that one's relationship to the natural world is always the result of a subjective description, and that subjective descriptions can be equally accurate (which is to say, that accuracy is only a matter of comparison between presented descriptions) while simultaneously contradicting one another. Follow that line back far enough, and you might strike upon the ambiguity at the heart of a notion like "the natural world".What I should have said is that no theistic world view can be rational.Tack on the modifier "completely" before the word "rational", and I find no explicit fault in that statement. I'd also hasten to add that the same goes for all world views -- theistic, atheistic, and otherwise.P1: A rational assertion must be demonstrably true.I'm afraid you're going to have to start here, by breaking this statement down into its own argument. I don't see any reason why a rational assertion should have to be demonstrably true. In fact, I'd say that, if we held to this premise, it would preclude almost all assertions. But the logical conclusion is beside the point; it's the premise that's in question here.Philosophically speaking, a rational claim must only be demonstrably logical -- that is, consistent according to the grammar laid out by the discipline of logic. Thus, it's rational to say, if A then B; A; therefore B. The rationality of such a statement is in no way damaged if it turns out that ~A. So your P1 requires either some substantiation (ie. a retrograde argument explaining why we should take P1 as given), some clarification (if I've misunderstood what you meant), or some modification (eg. "must be demonstrably true" in order for what? Not in order for it to be rational, so presumably for some other reason.)If it turns out that P1, because that's simply how it is -- in other words, P1, because P1, then it looks as though your criteria for rationality is, itself, a-rational. Which would seem to be a tremendous step backwards.A more accurate definition of naturalism, or, if you like, a rational definition of naturalism, is founded on the idea that the natural world is a closed system -- nothing external to it interacts with it.Well, I didn't bring up the argument that naturalism is, itself, not rational, but I will point out that the "closed system" definition of naturalism doesn't protect it from that charge. You still haven't offered a rational argument for why the natural world should be regarded as a closed system, nor that it is actually thus, so there's no particular reason to suppose that definition is grounded in reason. Rather, the way you've presented it is axiomatic -- that is, a-rational.Frank 013: It is still more logical to conclude no belief than to conclude belief in the light of no confirmable evidence.Not if nothing could conceivable serve as evidence; in that case, neither belief would be more reasonable, because no rational argument could arrive at one conclusion or the other. But then, maybe you'll be more open to Fiske's confirmation on that point.FiskeMiles: The point Mad argues, I think correctly, is that verifiable or empirical evidence cannot be applied to anything that is not part of the natural world because verifiable evidence must be tied to our sense perceptions in an objective way.According to the standards of methodological naturalism: yes. I'm glad we see eye to eye on that point, at least.After all, any assertions they make concerning the supernatural are automatically illogical. Therefore, any actions or decisions they base on theistic assertions are automatically illogical as well.Both of those points stand if, and only if, you can demonstrate that theistic belief is illogical. But that hinges on your first premise, which is, as I've pointed out, unsupported and potentially fallacious.And, more to the point, demonstrates that the existence or non-existence of the supernatural world is rationally irrelevant.How exactly does it do that?
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Re: Blessing the Pudding

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FiskeQuote:The only logical position is to make no assertion regarding the supernatural.That is pretty much what atheism is. MadQuote:We're talking about a claim made by Fiske and supported by you. Your positive claim (that atheism is more reasonable), therefore the burden falls on you.Atheism is non belief in gods there is no positive claim here whatsoever, it is simply the dismissal of someone else's claim.Later
FiskeMiles

Re: Blessing the Pudding

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Frank:Quote:Atheism is non belief in gods there is no positive claim here whatsoever, it is simply the dismissal of someone else's claim.But when you say "dismissal" are you saying that the theist's assertion of the existence of a supernatural world is incorrect (ie. that the supernatural world does not exist) or are you saying that you assert no position with regard to the existence or non-existence of the supernatural world?Fiske
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Fiske: The only logical position is to make no assertion regarding the supernatural.Frank: That is pretty much what atheism is.I don't see it as the sort of thing that you can definitively parse down that much. When some people call themselves atheists, they mean that they believe there is no god or gods. Some people use the same term (often in reference to a person who hasn't self-applied it) to mean lack of belief one way or the other.And ultimately, I think the distinction is being invoked here mostly as a rhetorical dodge. Fiske may have completely suspended judgment as to whether or not there is a deity, but if so, he's just about the only person posting to BookTalk who has. I've seen quite a few regulars around here declare pure and simple, "There is no god," and for them, that's where the conversation ends. You yourself have said that it's more rational to assume, given the lack of evidence, that there is no God. So your defense of "suspended belief" atheism may be noble, but it isn't broadly applicable around BookTalk.Atheism is non belief in gods there is no positive claim here whatsoever, it is simply the dismissal of someone else's claim.I'm not talking about atheism. I've made it very explicit that I'm talking about the specific claim that atheism is more rational than any other world view. Which is a positive claim. To insist otherwise is to stretch the meaning of the term beyond any use.Dismissing theism out of hand is a right I'd never begrudge you. No line of argument is implied there, and your reasons, such as they are, are your business until you feel compelled to say otherwise. But when you dismiss theism because it's "less rational" than atheism, you imply in that assertion a logical argument. We could sum it up this way:P1: People should take only the most rational position;P2: Atheism is more rational than theism;C: Ergo, people should take the atheist position.All I've asked all along is that you defend P2. And I wouldn't have involved you at all had you not leapt to its defense. You've asserted it and reasserted it at least a half dozen times now, so to turn around and say that you're making no positive claim is a dodge, pure and simple.
FiskeMiles

Re: Blessing the Pudding

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Dear Mad:I can't do justice to your reply in the time I currently have available, but here are a few things.First, I think we agree on far more than we disagree on as a result of sharing what I would say is an agnostic attitude about the supernatural -- I think your term is epistemically modest. Here is an interesting resource on agnosticism that provides a lot of solid information and food for thought:atheism.about.com/od/abou...ticism.htmI've also been reading articles on the naturalism.org website, which I think is an outstanding resource. Here is a link to an article titled "Relativism and the Limits of Rationality" which bears directly on what we have been discussing. Tom Clark, the author, discusses what he describes as "pre-rational" assumptions that underlie any world view and cannot be rationally justified. I think this is very close to what you mean by a-rational assumptions.www.naturalism.org/relativi.htmOne of Clark's conclusions is that relativism is an unavoidable consequence of naturalism. He suggests that arguments concerning the "rationality" of other world views derive from a desire for absolute truths and are based on an unreasonable assertion of the superiority of one's own pre-rational assumptions.Clark closes by arguing for tolerance, observing that when faced with fundamentalist extremism, moderates (no matter what their world view) must recognize each other as allies. He also points out the fundamental insecurity that tolerance entails.Interesting stuff.Fiske
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