Two common atheist fallacies

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Two common atheist fallacies

Postby stenlis » Thu Dec 04, 2008 6:38 pm

I'd like to discuss two fallacies that I often see atheists using in their discussions. The reason why I'm not posting this in the 'Believer's Backlash' is because I'm not a believer myself and I haven't seen any believer pointing these out (though one day they might). They don't attempt to 'debunk' atheism - it's more of a philosophical point I want to make.

EDIT: Now I found out there is a 'New Arguments' forum - should have posted this there but don't know how to reparent it

The fallacies I want to discuss are 'Improper use of Occam's Razor' and 'Creator's creator non sequitur'.

Let's start with the latter one:

The Creator's creator

It's one of the most common exchanges between an atheist and a theist - the theist claiming that the universe has a creator and the atheist replying something in the sense 'but that doesn't explain anything because then you would have to explain who created the creator'. I think this reasoning is flawed - I can illustrate it by the following thought experiment:

Imagine that I am a creator (not THE creator). In a theoretical supercomputer I could construct a supersimulation of a virtual universe. Much simpler then our universe, of course, but still complex enough to make evolution of virtual life possible. This is nothing new - now days simulations are used to research the possibilities of different roles the entities of early life might have taken. But let's say that my simulation would be of much grander scale and would eventually support the development of intelligent sentient (albeit virtual) beings.

Now imagine that one day a virtual entity, let's name it Hubert, would speak to his friend, a virtual entity named Ron.

Hubert: Hey, Ron, I've heard this idea about the origins of our world - what if it was created by a sentient being?
Ron: That's just bogus - how would you explain who created the creator then? You would have to have a creator's creator and creator's creator's creator and so on in a never ending nothing-explaining loop.

From my point of view you should be able to see the fallacy:

1, Just because you cannot explain the origins of the creator doesn't mean that there isn't one.

2, If Ron and Hubert could in fact figure out that they were created by me, then even if that would not have explained everything (i.e. my origin) they would still have had a better understanding of the/their universe than when they knew nothing about me.

This brings me to my second point.

The Occam's Razor Fallacy
People often say - well, you have two philosophical theories - in one the matter/energy is eternal, in the other the matter/energy was created by some creator and *he* is eternal. Clearly the second theory is more complicated and therefore should be discarded because of the Occam's Razor.

This is just wrong. Occam's Razor should never be used on untestable conflicting claims. It should clearly be used on agreeing claims. If I formed a complex theory of gravity that would give exactly the same results as Newtons laws on motion then there's no reason to use it over the simpler Newtonian theory. Even if the two theories are not testable, if they agree with each other there is no use for the more complex one.

When, however, the theories are disagreeing then you should not simply discard the complex one - you should test the theories with experiments (observations) to see which one is true. If the theories are not testable, then you have no way of knowing which one is true - it might just be the complex one. Remember Ron and Hubert - had they discarded the creationist theory because of Occam's Razor, they would have falsely dismissed the claim that was true.
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Re: Two common atheist fallacies

Postby Sans_Deity » Thu Dec 04, 2008 7:16 pm

stenlis wrote:From my point of view you should be able to see the fallacy:

1, Just because you cannot explain the origins of the creator doesn't mean that there isn't one.


True, but no one's making that claim. You've completely fallen into the trap of forgetting the point of the discussion.

What is happening is that theists are making a claim: The universe must have a creator because it couldn't have always existed or 'created' itself. The response is intended to point out the fallacy in their argument via reducto ad absurdum (essentially, they're positing a mystery to answer a mystery). To then point out the fallacy in the response is to entirely miss the point that the respons is intended to demonstrate the fallacy in their claim.

stenlis wrote:People often say - well, you have two philosophical theories - in one the matter/energy is eternal, in the other the matter/energy was created by some creator and *he* is eternal. Clearly the second theory is more complicated and therefore should be discarded because of the Occam's Razor.

This is just wrong.


The only thing wrong is that you're misrepresenting Occam's razor as if it says the least complicated answer is most likely correct. That isn't what Occam's razor says...but the real meaning of Occam's razor DOES apply to this argument.

Occam's razor addresses unfounded assumptions, not complexity. In the philosophical dilemma you list, positing an eternal creator is an unnecessary and unjustified assumption and, therefore a violation of parsimony.

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Postby stenlis » Thu Dec 04, 2008 7:39 pm

To then point out the fallacy in the response is to entirely miss the point that the respons is intended to demonstrate the fallacy in their claim.


No matter how I look at it it still looks to me like you are debunking a fallacy with a fallacy. Someone clever enough might launch a counter-attack on you because of that.

Occam's razor addresses unfounded assumptions, not complexity. In the philosophical dilemma you list, positing an eternal creator is an unnecessary and unjustified assumption and, therefore a violation of parsimony.


True enough, however, the claim that universe *doesn't* have a creator is just as unfounded as the creationist one. We cannot know what happened in the first Planck time interval of the Big Bang or what was 'before' that. Both claims are untestable and therefore, in a way, meaningless. At least until you can formulate a testable versions of them.
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Postby donnyton » Thu Dec 04, 2008 9:58 pm

1. No, you've fallen into a TRUE fallacy of burden of proof.

"Well you can prove God doesn't exist so it's possible that he does!"

Sure! It's POSSIBLE! We're not talking about whether creators exist or not, we're talking about whether a creator is a plausible explanation for the universe.

Consider the homoculus fallacy--How do our eyes see?

We might say that a leprechaun inside our head receives images from our eyes and "sees" them and interprets them.

NOTE: We are not yet at a fallacy. It is fine to hypothesize that something in our head is doing this. The explanation begs the question "Well then, how does the leprechaun see?"

HERE is where the fallacy is: either one must acknowledge "Well, the leprechaun must have some mechanism by which his eyes work as well." OR one can fallaciously claim that: "Well the leprechaun's eyes just work." THAT is the crux of the fallacy.

If somebody wants to claim God created us, fine, (ignoring the fact that there's no evidence) it's not a fallacy yet. The fallacy comes when the theist tries to SOLVE the infinite regress by saying "well God is eternal". If they acknowledged "Well God probably has some other creator that we don't know anything about yet" then I wouldn't have as much problem with the argument (again, aside from the fact that there's no evidence).
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Postby stenlis » Thu Dec 04, 2008 11:36 pm

Sure! It's POSSIBLE! We're not talking about whether creators exist or not, we're talking about whether a creator is a plausible explanation for the universe.


The 'plausibility' is a problem here. Sure, when someone is talking about a god that interacted with people and affected the Earth heavily throughout the human history, there are ways to assess the plausibility of the claims. But when considering just some kind of abstract deistic creator that didn't affect the universe once it was created, you have no points of reference to determine 'plausibility'. You didn't study dozens of universes to know what happens at their beginnings. In here all claims, creationist or not, about the origins of the Big Bang are equally useless unless they provide a way to test them.

We might say that a leprechaun inside our head receives images from our eyes and "sees" them and interprets them.

NOTE: We are not yet at a fallacy. It is fine to hypothesize that something in our head is doing this. The explanation begs the question "Well then, how does the leprechaun see?"

HERE is where the fallacy is: either one must acknowledge "Well, the leprechaun must have some mechanism by which his eyes work as well." OR one can fallaciously claim that: "Well the leprechaun's eyes just work." THAT is the crux of the fallacy.


Nice and silly, but it is not a good approximation of the point I'm making. It's more like one person claiming that vision is caused by invisible rays of force streaming out of the human eye that 'touch' the objects and another person claiming that there is a twist to it and that there is a leprechaum in human head that is responsible for those mysterious rays. Suppose the people making those claims live in 5th century Ireland, have no way of testing their claims and no hope of finding the true answer to the vision question that we know now, then their claims are again both equally useless.
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Postby Sans_Deity » Fri Dec 05, 2008 3:22 pm

stenlis wrote:... however, the claim that universe *doesn't* have a creator is just as unfounded as the creationist one


I already addressed one version of this...

Sans_Deity wrote:
stenlis wrote:"1, Just because you cannot explain the origins of the creator doesn't mean that there isn't one."


True, but no one's making that claim. You've completely fallen into the trap of forgetting the point of the discussion.


And now you've come up with another version...that's actually wrong.

The inability to demonstrate either possibility does not mean that the two possibilities are "just as unfounded". The truth doesn't necessary lie in the middle - neither does the default position, nor the 'current state based on evidence'.

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Postby stenlis » Fri Dec 05, 2008 4:05 pm

The truth doesn't necessary lie in the middle - neither does the default position, nor the 'current state based on evidence'.


I would elaborate on that. The truth doesn't necessarily lie in one explanation or the other or in the middle (whatever that might be) and the default position should be 'undefined'

The inability to demonstrate either possibility does not mean that the two possibilities are "just as unfounded".


Not the inability to demonstrate but the inability to formulate the hypothesis in a way that provides some kind of testability or at least to formulate it as a deduction of observed facts. You, me, the deists, the christians, the cosmologists - none of us can provide such a hypothesis. If you think you can, please do. The particle physicists might have actually gotten close to that but even that is a kind of a stretch and on top of it nothing seems to apply to the Planck's era.
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Postby donnyton » Fri Dec 05, 2008 10:09 pm

Let's make this simple.

Does the tooth fairy exist?
Do leprechauns exist?
Does Zeus exist?
Does God exist?

You seem to misunderstand burden of proof. Nobody is arguing that the concept of a creator is ridiculous--it's a rejection of claims.

The applied homoculus fallacy really only arose because of creationist claims. It's not like somebody sat down and said "Hey look! There's an infinite regress therefore God doesn't exist!" It only came about as a RESPONSE to claims that a creator MUST be Yahweh or Zeus or Allah, etc.

I would elaborate on that. The truth doesn't necessarily lie in one explanation or the other or in the middle (whatever that might be) and the default position should be 'undefined'


Correct, and most atheists would agree with you. The default position is unknown. However, you've created a straw man. Just because atheists point out that a transcendent creator leads to an infinite regress doesn't mean we know 100% that no creator exists. It just means that until the status becomes "known" that we do not accept the explanation.


2. You're partly right about Occam's Razor, but once again you've created a straw man. Nobody is saying "God is complex therefore it's a bad explanation". After all, evolution and quantum physics are complex too.

Occam's Razor really means that if you have a given number of explanations, all things being equal, you should avoid unnecessary entities.

For example, if I were to say that microwaves work by burning a flame, the explanation may be SIMPLER than saying that it sends microwaves through the food, yet my explanation would be wrong. Why? Because the phrase "all things being equal" demands that all other parts of the argument have the same outcome, and a microwave that uses a flame behaves differently than a microwave that sends invisible rays out.

The problem with a God creator isn't just that it posits a God, it's more so that the God is said to be necessarily transcendent.

A) Suppose we explain the universe by saying that a supernatural transcendent God created it.

B) Then we explain the God by saying that an even more powerful transcendent God2 created him, and then we continue, and by God100 we say, "God100 is the most powerful and nothing transcends him and thus he is the ultimate creator."

Both parts A and B are "unfounded" but you're presenting a false dichotomy because you think that anything that's unfounded must be discarded. In fact, we can use Occam's Razor to say that argument A is more plausible, and that is because all other things being equal we should avoid making up extra Gods just to explain our first God.

In your example, you say that it is wrong to use Occam's razor to determine testable claims. However, what if God was a prankster who went out of his way to make our tests look the same as they would be if he didn't exist? What if he doesn't want to be found? If God is eternal and created matter and energy, the universe may very well be the same as if he didn't exist, bringing us to a situation where all other things are being equal.
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Postby Thomas » Sat Dec 06, 2008 12:06 am

@stenlis

The questions you are asking are really old and very philosophical.

How do we know that an a-priori concept like the law of noncontradition, or the law of identity are true? Well unless a person has a type of awareness that i do not have, we are usually stuck with those grand metaphysical constructs like the concepts of mind, matter and will.

God is really a valid metaphysical construct because ideas that are so common, and fit in the groundwork of so many theological traditions are very natural to our consciousness, in the sense that we might all posses the concept of a (non)monistic divinity.

The idea of God does not have to be explained by starting with God but ending up with God a-posteriori. Thus people seek to explain infinity, order, strange experiences with there consciousness or faith or purpose. Perhaps first as another model of there consciousness (they fall into it when they need to), but later when the model becomes stronger because it is not just theoretical or social but also pneumatic and trancendal you are at the basis of our religious attitude that most of these soulless atheists are not aware off.

You posted to possibility. What if a supercomputer created use. Well;

That supercomputer would not really be a supercomputer, but only in the sense that a giant plateau is the table of the sky, fireant have a totalitarian goverment, the galaxy is a giant wheel and the sun is manly and forcefull. You see, you are already thinking as a religious person. Making analog comparisons between human and natural things. If you (a smart person) fall into this kind of behaviour then so can Christians see love in Christ and law in the Father. Religion then becomes much more then a science or morality, it becomes a code of consciousness. It becomes through analogy true and real.

Other good questions would be: does the beginning of the universe come from ordered non-time, does consciousness exist outside of time and is this universe really material and not like berkeley believed immaterial.
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Postby Sans_Deity » Sat Dec 06, 2008 1:43 am

stenlis wrote:Not the inability to demonstrate but the inability to formulate the hypothesis in a way that provides some kind of testability or at least to formulate it as a deduction of observed facts. You, me, the deists, the christians, the cosmologists - none of us can provide such a hypothesis. If you think you can, please do.


Utter nonsense. We don't have to come up with a hypothesis, we only have to realize that any hypothesis to address the issue necessarily makes an appeal to the supernatural. When we contrast this with the natural, it wins by default.

That which is rooted in what is known is more plausible than that which is rooted in the unknown or undefinable - because the undefinable is equivalent to nothing, and something is more plausible than nothing.

It's the reason why methodological naturalism is the default for science.

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Postby Thomas » Sat Dec 06, 2008 1:55 am

Sans_Deity wrote:
stenlis wrote:Not the inability to demonstrate but the inability to formulate the hypothesis in a way that provides some kind of testability or at least to formulate it as a deduction of observed facts. You, me, the deists, the christians, the cosmologists - none of us can provide such a hypothesis. If you think you can, please do.


Utter nonsense. We don't have to come up with a hypothesis, we only have to realize that any hypothesis to address the issue necessarily makes an appeal to the supernatural. When we contrast this with the natural, it wins by default.

That which is rooted in what is known is more plausible than that which is rooted in the unknown or undefinable - because the undefinable is equivalent to nothing, and something is more plausible than nothing.

It's the reason why methodological naturalism is the default for science.

-Matt


Dear Matt,

How can real speach be utter nonsense? You said it yourself that real things are more important then unknown things? Well stenlis is more real then you, so does that make his argument more real? No, because we use an unreal, infinite and abstract conception called logic or dialectics and this logic can not be emptied of filled of created or undone, but only applied.
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Postby Thomas » Sat Dec 06, 2008 1:58 am

God is more real then science or logic because when you stop using science and logic you don't change, or stop being yourself, but when people lose faith in God they become depressed or confused and thus God is more concrete then logic and science.
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Postby Marathon » Sat Dec 06, 2008 5:22 am

Thomas wrote:God is more real then science or logic because when you stop using science and logic you don't change, or stop being yourself, but when people lose faith in God they become depressed or confused and thus God is more concrete then logic and science.


Completely unfounded claims that are nothing more than your opinion.

Your entire line of reasoning here is baseless and absurd.
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Postby Thomas » Sat Dec 06, 2008 5:37 am

Why? Can someone lose faith in science and abandon it? No, one can lose friends, houses, time but not science. Science is not nostalgic.
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Postby Marathon » Sat Dec 06, 2008 1:49 pm

Thomas wrote:Why? Can someone lose faith in science and abandon it? No, one can lose friends, houses, time but not science. Science is not nostalgic.


The first mistake you make is that you think that people have faith in science in much the same way that people have faith in religion. This is not the case I'm afraid. If that is indeed what you meant, you need to realize the two different ways "faith" is used when talking about science and religion. People have "faith" in science if you are referring to the way it has been shown to be reliable in the past and so a person is justified in believing that it will continue to be reasonable. Faith in God(s) is not the same, that sort of "faith" is belief without evidence. They are not the same.

Secondly, you asserted that people become depressed when they stop believing in God. This is where my comment about that being nothing but your opinion came from. I have seen nothing at all that supports that statement. In fact, it's probably more common for the opposite to be true.

Also, how can you go and say that God is more concrete than science in your previous post and then in this one go on to say that people couldn't lose faith in science etc. Those two statements seem to contradict each other.
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