Response to reponse to Theist’s Guide to Converting Atheists

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Response to reponse to Theist’s Guide to Converting Atheists

Postby EnlightenmentLiberal » Thu May 16, 2013 8:23 pm

I feel really stupid, because I was just linked to this, and I don't remember from where. It was interesting. It was an atheist listing out things that would change his mind, or at least be a good start to demonstrating the existence of gods and such. ... -atheists/

What I found particularly interesting was "the first" theist's reply, found here: ... 9C90299768

It has so many flaws. At it's heart, it's a lack of understanding of the burden of proof combined with the usual misunderstanding that atheism is a factual assertion, whereas atheism is merely the lack of god assertions. Possibly the result of being comfortable saying "I don't know".

Because it's fun, time for a line by line takedown of at least the interesting bits.
[Things that would convince me atheism is true:] 1. Proof that the universe is eternal and/or caused itself.

Now, compare and contrast this with the atheist's examples of what would convince him: Impressive verifiable predictions of the future, impressive verifiable (scientific) knowledge unknowable to the mere human writers, impressive verifiable miracles including even statistically significant effects of prayer.

The theist example of "show that time(space) has no boundary in the past" - I don't think that many atheists really claim this. I at least am entirely ignorant and agnostic on the issue. It doesn't affect me much either way. This is unlike the atheist's examples, which are quite commonly claimed by theists as being true. This is an important difference. The atheist is using examples that are the stated predictions of theists, but the theist isn't even using something that atheists say is true. Maybe there's a first time. Maybe there's not.

Next, look at the atheist's examples. Each and every one is (potentially) easily verifiable under the methods of science. The theist's example isn't. In fact, I would go so far as to say that I think it's borderline impossible to demonstrate that there was a first time, and it's borderline impossible to demonstrate that time(space) is unbounded in the past. How could you possibly demonstrate such a thing? The best you could do is something like big bang theory, where we know that some initial conditions were true which can not be extrapolated back further under the currently known laws of physics, but maybe different physics was operating. Who knows? Before the local big bang, cosmologists are hypothesizing about cosmic foam or inflationary models or whatever. Then people come along like Vilenkin and the other authors of the BGV paper who try and show that the model of inflation also has initial conditions, where either it was the first time, or as they explicitly state perhaps other physics was operating.

Finally, the biggest problem is the theist is not thinking like a Bayesian. The atheist's examples, while not necessarily requiring a god, are at least wholly incompatible with a materialistic, physics-reductionistic view of the world. Thus, if the examples were verified, this is really good evidence against the reductionistic model. However, the theist's example about first time is required by his model, but it's also entirely consistent with the reductionist model, and that's why it's not good evidence if you're thinking like a Bayesian. You need evidence that's not consistent with both models for the evidence to be useful.

2. Proof that all miricle claims are false.

And he does mean all.
But even if most were proven false, it would be foolish to reject ALL such claims.

Slightly out of order, he says this:
Basicly every time I've asked an athiest why he doesnt believe in miricles, the answer always comes to some variation of "I've never seen one."(although the wording is often more eloquent this remains the essence of the response).

But that's exactly the best reason and the only possible reason to think they don't exist! There are no faeries at the bottom of my garden. There are no dragons in my garage. I know this because every time I've ever looked, I've never seen one, and the same is true for a vast majority of other people. The known evidence, when thinking like a Bayesian, is entirely compatible with the "no dragon" hypothesis, and entirely incompatible with the hypothesis that there's actually faeries or dragons which do anything at all. For the exact same reasons - exactly the same reasons - there are no miracles. I've never seen one. My friends have never seen one.

He continues:
First it fails to deal with the literally thousands of people(both ancient and modern) who claim to have seen miricles. Granted some have been proven mistaken or fradulatent or otherwise false.

The people who have seen faeries, dragons, and miracles are best explained in terms of lying, mistakes, hallucinations, and so on, exactly how alien abductees are best explained in the same terms.

But back to what he said earlier:
But even if most were proven false, it would be foolish to reject ALL such claims.

This is just a gross misunderstanding of everything. If you have a boatload of evidence that a vast comprehensive subset of claims of a certain type are fiction, and pretty much zero evidence that example whatsoever from the set is non-fiction, then the inescapable conclusion is that everything in the set is fiction. This is inductive reasoning 101. This is the basic scientific method. If you can't do this, then you cannot do science at all.

Then he does an interesting dodge:
Secondly, a miricle is by definition a rare event, if something is commonplace it is not a miricle. Therefore its a big headed for any indvidual person to expect to see one within his lifetime(for the record I havent seen any miricles, but that doesnt damage my faith any). In fact, Biblically speaking, miricles only occur for particular people who God has called, and usually they are either small scale, or not blatently miriculous, Ie its the timing or the way circumstances worked that made it a miricle. Truely big, obvious miricles(the stopping of the sun by Joshusha ect) are very rare indeed.

The only possible way to demonstrate something is the scientific method, aka inductive reasoning. Here, the theist gives a cooke-cutter excuse as to why inductive reasoning can't work. So, in one breath, he gives "proof miracles don't happen", and immediately follows it up with "but I won't accept proof".

3. Proof that every religion is false.
A tall order to be sure. But if it could be proven that every religion is false, then I would be an athiest.

"Proof that every religion is false" is I bet equivalent in the theist's mind to "proof that every model of gods is false". This is in response to the question "what would it take to convince you that you're wrong?". His answer "proof that I'm wrong". It's tautological. The entire purpose of the exercise is to describe in detail specific examples of what constitutes sufficiently compelling proof, and thus this answer misses the entire point of the exercise because of its vacuous nature.

Of course, it's again an unjust shifting of the burden of proof, and possibly confusing atheism as the factual assertion that there are no gods. Even if I can't justify the factual assertion that there are no gods, that doesn't give you excuse to assert that there is a god.

4. Aliens that admit to making up religion.

This is the theist's best one yet. The idea of meeting for example the goa'uld is quite consistent with a reductionist approach to reality. It's straightforwardly verifiable by the usual methods of science.

It's still quite bad though. The most plausible explanations for the existence of religion is not aliens did it. It's a combination of allegorical stories being misinterpreted with truth, hallucinations, exaggerations catching on as truth, out and out lying, political gains, and so on. There are many known processes in human sociology that can explain such things. In short, if you ask theists how do they think some other religion came about, be it buddhism, shinto, or so on, and the answers they give are generally quite applicable to the speaker's religion too.

It's a bad example because this isn't what the atheists are predicting. It's some obscure scenario that no one is seriously positing. Now, if it were verified, it would be great evidence against lots of different religions. But if the god Thor (not the SG-1 Asgard) came down and told the christian that actually he faked being Jesus for a while as a in-joke in Valhalla, this is pretty good evidence against christianity, though it's also great evidence for theism.

This comes down to my most-hated strawman - nebulous deist gods. The theist here is invoking that by conflating christianity and religion and theism. (The theist also did so above.) Instead of defending christianity, they defend a mostly unrelated proposition of some god - somewhere. The theist isn't defending their own beliefs. It's telling that the theist's list doesn't include my specific example of some other god coming down and telling them that they're wrong and instead the theist used aliens as an example.

5. Proof that Jesus didnt rise from the dead.
See response to #1. Mostly the same reply.

it could be pointed out that athiests have, by far the worst record of human rights violations in history. Do I even need to say the names Stalin and Mao?

I at least have to give him props for not including Hitler, for not being flagrantly wrong. Stalin and Mao were at least nominally non-religious or anti-established-religions.
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Re: Response to reponse to Theist’s Guide to Converting Athe

Postby sepia » Fri May 17, 2013 10:29 am

People don't necessarily know which evidence they would find convincing enough. I personally don't know what would convince me from theism.

However I'm not surprised that some theists have strange ideas of what would convince themselves that atheism is correct. They often attack strawmen and eighter believe them or do as if they believe them. So they will do it in this case as well.
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