The End of Christianity? A Skeptical Review (Part 1)

Posted on 08/07/11 122 Comments

John Loftus, ed. The End of Christianity. Prometheus, 2011. ISBN: 978-1-61614-413-5.

The End of Christianity is the final installment in an atheistic triumvirate designed to decimate Christiainty. (Previous entries include Loftus, Why I Became an Atheist and Loftus, ed. The Christian Delusion.) This review is going to be long and messy. As preparation I suggest you read my review of the second book in this series, The Christian Delusion. Luke Muehlhauser over at “Common Sense Atheism” gathered together my various posts on the book as well as Loftus’s responses. You can read them here.

In this first installment of this review of The End of Christianity we will take a look at Loftus’s introduction. I will structure the review around three problems.

Problem 1: Boxer-level rhetoric

The first problem is that Loftus cannot keep himself from bloated self-congratulatory rhetoric:

“I honestly think that with this book (and certainly the series) Christianity has been debunked. The jury has returned its verdict. The gavel has come down. The case is now closed.” (9)

Yeaaahhh. Okay buddy. You tell yourself that.

Here there lies a striking irony for while Loftus has a serious case of science envy, he shows little interest in emulating the cool, careful and qualified way that good scientists describe their contributions to the commonweal. Instead Loftus frequently indulges in this kind of inflated rhetoric. Frankly as I read these passages I thought of a boxer telling the press how he will “destroy” his opponent at an upcoming bout in Vegas. That’s what we expect from a boxer, but coming at the front of a work that purports to be a serious contribution to scholarship it is, to say the least, disappointing.

(Such inflated rhetoric often functions as the equivalent of a person raising the volume and speaking more quickly in verbal debate. In other words, it is a sign of insecurity. Perhaps Loftus still feels a deeply-seated insecurity about his worldview commitments and this is one way of shoring up his own beliefs. Who knows?)

Problem 2: An “introduction” that has no introduction

This is what Loftus says on the first page of his “Introduction”:

“I think the chapters in this anthology speak for themselves, so I’ll not introduce them except to say I’m very pleased and honored to be a part of this work, which includes several leading atheists, agnostics, and religious critics of our day.” (9)

At that point Loftus begins talking about his signature contribution to theism, the so-called Outsider Test for Faith. More on that in a moment. But for now let me note that this is an unfortunate shirking of the responsibility of providing a genuine introduction to the work. It is like a presenter at the Academy Awards who decides to talk about his own film rather than introduce the nominees for Best Picture. A proper introduction to a collection of essays by different authors should briefly summarize the contributions of the essays while providing an architectonic, thematic structure to the work. Loftus opts to do neither, instead focusing only on his own favorite argument.

Problem 3: The  Outsider Test for Faith

So what is the Outsider Test for Faith exactly? I offer the following summary of John’s argument:

(1) If you are the adherent to a religion you should subject your basic metaphysical commitments to skeptical “outsider” analysis.

(2) If you do (1) you will become an atheist.

(3) Thus the person who does (1) and remains committed to their religion did not really do (1).

(4) Atheists don’t have to subject their metaphysical commitments to skeptical analysis because they already did so and that’s why they’re atheists.

Listening to John Loftus talk about his “outsider test of faith” reminds me of that guy down the block who invested heavily in Amway. Having made that initial investment, now he tries to peddle his product every chance he gets, even though every one of his Amway products has a cheaper and superior substitute available at the local Walmart. That’s the way it is with poor John’s “OTF”. There are much better and cheaper products available elsewhere. But since he’s got big $ invested, he won’t stop pushing it.

I won’t rehash my objections to this OTF. You can read them in the link above and (in more polished form) in my forthcoming book The Swedish Atheist, the Scuba Diver and other Apologetics Rabbit Trails. But here is the cheaper and better substitute for the OTF which is available at the local Walmart:

Everyone should critically introspect their basic worldview commitments with objectivity and care.

If everyone does this then any OTF is rendered otiose.

By the way, underlying the OTF is the “Agree with Loftus” principle which I summarize as follows:

If you think hard enough about religion you will come to hold Loftus’s views. Thus to the extent where you fail to hold Loftus’s views to that degree you have failed to think hard enough about your religion.

In terms of argument, this is on the same level as Lucy’s Five Good Reasons for why Linus should memorize his lines. Again, disappointing.

Loftus’s defense of his OTF is a storehouse of outdated and indefensible claims. In closing I’ll note two here. Here’s the first:

“Skepticism is an adult attitude for arriving at the truth.” (13)

Epistemologically speaking, this is a dimestore comment, the kind that you expect to hear from undergraduates who are taking their first Intro to Philosophy course and have become enamored with Descartes’ “Meditations”. But try that statement out in a graduate seminar in epistemology. To equate the pursuit of truth with skepticism alone is like rowing on only one side of the boat. A grown up approach to the pursuit of truth involves a richly nuanced balancing act between skepticism and belief, doubt and commitment.

My second and final example comes at the end of the chapter where John writes the following:

“I agree with the Protestant criticisms of the Catholics as well as the Catholic criticisms of the Protestants. I agree with the fundamentalist criticisms of the liberals as well as the liberal criticisms of the fundamentalists. In addition, I agree with the Hindu, Muslim, and Jewish criticisms of Christianity, as well as the Christian criticisms of their religions. When they criticize each other, I think they’re all right.” (19)

So John’s maxim is “When religions critique one another they’re all right.”

Let’s think about this for a moment. Christians criticize Muslims for denying the historical crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. According to John, since this is a criticism of Islam he agrees with it. In other words, he agrees that Jesus was crucified and rose again! But before you get too excited note that Muslims criticize Christianity for calling Jesus God since there is no God but Allah. Since this is a criticism of Christianity John agrees with it and thus believes there is no God but Allah. And Hindus critique Christianity and Islam for rejecting the doctrine of reincarnation so John must agree with that as well. But of course Christians and Muslims critique Hinduism for accepting the doctrine of reincarnation so John must accept that as well.

What could lead John Loftus to make such a baldly incoherent, reckless, and indefensible claim? Doesn’t he see how this undermines his credibility? Ironically, on the very next page John critiques “liberal” Christians: “all they do is pick and choose what parts of the Bible to believe….” (20) Talk about the pot calling the kettle black! John critiques liberals for picking and choosing how to read the Bible when he will “pick and choose” any argument to critique any religion.

And John has the gall to challenge others to introspect their beliefs? Physician, heal thyself!

 

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  • http://blogforthelordjesuscurrentevents.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

    It is hard to take John seriously.

    Do you still collaborate with him?

    • randal

      We’re still working on a debate book in which I aim to show his beliefs false and unjustified, if that’s what you’re referring to. But within this context the term “collaborate” sounds rather misleading.

      • http://blogforthelordjesuscurrentevents.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

        I didn’t mean “collaborate” in any sense other than the one you mentioned.

        I can appreciate why you would want to collaborate with an atheist on such a project and, notwithstanding my disdain for John’s style, I wish you all the best.

        • randal

          Of course when we’re talking about a debate book the extent to which my interlocutor invokes disdain in my reader works to my advantage :).

          • http://blogforthelordjesuscurrentevents.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

            I don’t think you caught that my disdain is for John’s style (as opposed to his atheism). Thus it actually works against you with your readers that John likes to play in the mud. Your purposes for Christ would be better served by having someone to debate who is a more worthy proponent of atheism.

            I love Christ and thus I believe atheism is way off the mark. Therefore, I believe your ministry for Christ would be far more effective debating someone like, say, Luke Muehlhauser than John Loftus.

            In any case, very best wishes in the cause of Christ.

            • randal

              We have written six of our debate chapters thus far and I think John does a very good job for his side (in the same way that the opening act does a good job before U2 hits the main stage and blows everybody away!).

      • Grady

        Randall, “collaborate” is exactly the word.

        Neville Chamberlain Christians will learn who they are dealing with soon enough.

        But your review is very interesting.

        You have made John VERY ANGRY. He was taking time off but posted yesterday a rant against your review and is calling you Bat Shit Blind.

        The WRATH OF LOFTUS is an amusing thing.

        It has cheered me up considerably.

      • Ed Babinski

        Hi Randal,

        Loftus wrote: “When religions disagree with one another I think they’re all right.”

        But since you knew John was speaking rhetorically elsewhere why didn’t you read that line also as being sarcastic rhetoric? It’s similar in my opinion to the line atheists use, “Christians and atheists both disbelieve in a zillion rival gods, but the atheist disbelieves in one more god than the Christian does.”

        Granted, Loftus could have put things less rhetorically by saying “they’re all wrong,” instead of “they’re all right,” but he was trying to make the rhetorical point that they are right to be criticizing one another on points none of them can prove to the other.

        I was also reading your other review posts and defenses of the Bible and Christianity, and noted that they consist of discussing “theories” that might explain the Bible better, or might explain a theological opinion or belief better. But what about those for whom your theories lack the power to convince let alone convert?

        I admit you find your theories satisfying emotionally and intellectually. But by admitting they are theories don’t you take the questions back to the beginning, begging for faith? (You might also want to start replacing your use of the word “theory” throughout your review with “hypothesis,” since theories are well established like the theory of gravity in comparison to which your theological interpretations seem less well established, more like hypotheses.)

    • txfreethinker

      Let’s see….Randal criticized John’s style, the introduction and made some silly remarks about the Outsider Test of Faith. And then ignored the rest of John’s book. Yeah, Randal really refuted him!!!

      • randal

        txfreethinker,

        Sorry, you seem to be confused. You’re acting as if this is “Debunking Christianity”. No, here we actually ask people to back up their bald assertions with reasoned argument.

      • Brad Haggard

        txfreethinker,

        Did you see the (part 1) at the end of the title of this post?

        I do have to give it to Loftus, though, he cultivated and nurtures a sizable blog militia.

  • Robert

    Good review Randal.

  • Walter

    When they criticize each other, I think they’re all right.” (19)

    I take this to mean when one religious group debunks the claims of another, John agrees with them. Some examples being when Jews or Muslims attack the historical evidence for the resurrection, or when Catholics point out the problems associated with the Protestant belief in sola scriptura, etc.

    • randal

      “I take this to mean when one religious group debunks the claims of another, John agrees with them.”
      This simply restates the problem. Am I to believe that when Christians criticize Muslim claims that Jesus wasn’t crucified or resurrected that John agrees with the Christian since they are criticizing a Muslim doctrine?

      • Walter

        Am I to believe that when Christians criticize Muslim claims that Jesus wasn’t crucified or resurrected that John agrees with the Christian since they are criticizing a Muslim doctrine?

        Obviously not. John would side with Christians when they debunk the notion that the Quran is divinely inspired. He would side with the Muslim when the Muslim attacks the evidence for the resurrection. John would side with the liberal Christians when they attack the dogmas of biblical inerrancy, young earth creationism, or hyper-literal fundamentalist reading of “scripture.” Perhaps John could have worded it a little better, but I had no problem understanding what he meant to say.

        BTW, I agree with your critique of the OTF.

        • randal

          Then John shouldn’t have written:

          “When they criticize each other, I think they’re all right.”

          Instead he should have written:

          “When adherents to different religions develop arguments against other religions I agree with those arguments to the extent that they are consistent with my own presuppositions.”

          Unfortunately John sacrifices clarity for rhetorical swagger.

          But even this revised principle is problematic. After all, surely agreement with John’s presuppositions is not a sufficient reason for him to endorse an argument. He should also assess the evidence for the premises in the argument and whether the conclusion follows from the premises. The fact that he shows no interest in such assessment and instead simply rubber stamps whatever agrees with his presuppositions is quite damning.

          • Walter

            Unfortunately John sacrifices clarity for rhetorical swagger.

            Fair enough. I see the target audience for these books to be new apostates-in-training who are reading at a popular level, but I see what you are saying.

          • Nohm

            He should also assess the evidence for the premises in the argument and whether the conclusion follows from the premises. The fact that he shows no interest in such assessment and instead simply rubber stamps whatever agrees with his presuppositions is quite damning.

            That’s not how I see his explanation, but fair enough; we have different interpretations of John’s statement.

            I definitely have an interest in assessing whether the conclusion of an argument follows from its premises, regardless of what the argument is for, and whether or not I agree with the conclusion; I do not support arguments against theism where the conclusion does not follow from its premises.

            Having said that, like John I agree with many arguments made by Muslims against Christians, and I agree with many arguments made by Christians against Muslims, when the conclusions follow from the premises.

            To me, it’s more stating an observation than trying to make a point. My observation is that, often enough, a Muslim can level a critical eye at the claims of Christianity, but doesn’t seem to level that same critical eye at their own beliefs, and the same goes for many Christians.

            I attempt to level a critical eye at both groups and, especially, my own beliefs.

            • randal

              “I attempt to level a critical eye at both groups and, especially, my own beliefs.”

              As should we all.

        • http://twitter.com/davidstarlingm davidstarlingm

          What he’s really saying is,

          “I agree with religious criticisms of other religions that are based on the same presuppositions that I already hold” (criticizing the evidence for the resurrection, criticizing sola scriptura, criticizing Quranic inspiration, etc).

          Which is basically,

          “I agree with views that I agree with.”

          Rephrasing tautologies as profoundly generous philosophical positions is usually an effective rhetorical move.

          • Nohm

            I don’t like speaking for others, but I honestly don’t think that’s what he means.

            • http://twitter.com/davidstarlingm davidstarlingm

              I suppose that it’s possible that he means:

              “Like Muslims, I can be critical of Christianity because I am outside of it; like Christians, I can be critical of Islam because I am outside of it.”

              However, he’d have to show that an outsider is less tainted by being outside than an insider is tainted by being inside. In other words, this argument falls into the same camp as the Christians who say, “You don’t believe because you don’t have faith” or “The devil has blinded you to the truth.” Whether any of these claims are true or false is irrelevant; they assume what they are trying to prove.

              I would rather have an objective standard whereby to test any affirmative position regardless of one’s proximity to it. Tactics that depend on casting one’s opponents as somehow blinded to truth are, frankly, dishonest (even though they are rarely meant that way).

              And they simply don’t work. I applied the OTF to my faith and it passed. Loftus applied the OTF to my faith and it failed. Just another reason why the OTF is flawed.

              • http://contrarariant.tumblr.com contrararian

                My goodness you don’t half write absolute nonsense.

                • http://twitter.com/davidstarlingm davidstarlingm

                  Speaking of absolute nonsense….what did that sentence mean?

                  • randal

                    Is there some kinda self-referential irony thing goin’ on here that I’m missin’?

                  • http://twitter.com/davidstarlingm davidstarlingm

                    If you’re missing it, I’m afraid I am too. Here, I’ll try.

                    “You don’t without that words haven’t are.”

              • Nohm

                davidstarlingm wrote:

                However, he’d have to show that an outsider is less tainted by being outside than an insider is tainted by being inside.

                I, personally, think that this is easily supported by the existence of confirmation bias.

                Due to the existence of confirmation bias, I would agree with him that, usually, an outsider is less tainted by being outside. I’d also throw in that an outsider is less tainted because, usually, they don’t have an emotional attachment to the point of view.

                In other words, this argument falls into the same camp as the Christians who say, “You don’t believe because you don’t have faith” or “The devil has blinded you to the truth.”

                I disagree. I would say that those arguments are in the exact opposite camp, which would claim that an insider is less tainted and an outsider is more tainted.

                Whether any of these claims are true or false is irrelevant; they assume what they are trying to prove.

                I agree for the “insider is less tainted” arguments. I disagree for the “outsider is less tainted” arguments. Again, due to the existence of confirmation bias.

                For the record, I believe that I’m just as susceptible to confirmation bias as anyone else; what I have going for me is that I’m well-aware of this and, therefore, constantly on guard against it.

                I would rather have an objective standard whereby to test any affirmative position regardless of one’s proximity to it.

                Oh man, you and me both. If you know of any, I’m listening.

                EDIT: Actually, I think that the scientific method is the closest that we have to “an objective standard”. The only “objective standard” I know of is objective reality.

                Tactics that depend on casting one’s opponents as somehow blinded to truth are, frankly, dishonest (even though they are rarely meant that way).

                You and I are in complete agreement here, although maybe for different reasons. My problem with such arguments is that they are telling someone else what that someone else supposedly thinks. Unless the arguer has mind-reading powers, there’s a problem there.

                And they simply don’t work. I applied the OTF to my faith and it passed.

                Fair enough. That just means you didn’t pray think hard enough. ;-)

                I kid.

                • http://twitter.com/davidstarlingm davidstarlingm

                  “Due to the existence of confirmation bias, I would agree with him that, usually, an outsider is less tainted by being outside. I’d also throw in that an outsider is less tainted because, usually, they don’t have an emotional attachment to the point of view.”

                  Confirmation bias occurs whenever someone’s starting view makes them less likely to consider evidence that goes against it. This is equally applicable regardless of whether they start inside a certain view or outside a certain view.

                  The problem with the OTF is that it assumes confirmation bias for an unbeliever is less powerful than confirmation bias for a believer. And this simply isn’t substantiated.

                  “I would say that those arguments are in the exact opposite camp, which would claim that an insider is less tainted and an outsider is more tainted.”

                  They are exact opposites; that’s why they are so similar. They both assert that confirmation bias is blinding the other side.

                  “For the record, I believe that I’m just as susceptible to confirmation bias as anyone else; what I have going for me is that I’m well-aware of this and, therefore, constantly on guard against it.”

                  What is your basis for believing that you are more aware of susceptibility to confirmation bias than anyone else? I’m asking honestly.

                  “‘And they simply don’t work. I applied the OTF to my faith and it passed.’

                  Fair enough. That just means you didn’t think hard enough.

                  I kid.”

                  I knew you were kidding, but unfortunately that is precisely what the OTF boils down to.

                  • Nohm

                    davidstarlingm wrote:

                    What is your basis for believing that you are more aware of susceptibility to confirmation bias than anyone else?

                    Please note that I certainly did not claim that I’m more aware “than anyone else”. I would view that as a silly and arrogant claim.

                    I simply stated that I’m aware of it, and yes, I think I’m more aware of it than many people.

                    Why? Well, take 100 people off the street and ask them to define “confirmation bias”, to begin with. My contention is that very few will know what it means. From my experiences, it’s a subject that I study and geek out on far more than other people, simply because many other people don’t have an interest in it.

                    Of course, it depends on the sample set of people. I have no question that there are people in this world who are even more on-guard than I am. I’ve simply found that it’s something that I discuss more than other people.

                    In short, it’s because I’m a geek about things like confirmation bias. It’s the same reason why I think I’m more knowledgable about Hong Kong action films than the average person.

                  • Nohm

                    Confirmation bias occurs whenever someone’s starting view makes them less likely to consider evidence that goes against it. This is equally applicable regardless of whether they start inside a certain view or outside a certain view

                    I disagree with this because I’ve found that people inside a view have more of an emotional attachment to that view than people outside of that view.

                    I think it depends on how much a person has invested in that view.

                    Of course, this all depends on the subject.

                    But from my experiences, theists are more emotionally attached to their theism than I am “attached” to my atheism. For a Christian, losing your faith could mean losing friends and, in some situations that I’ve personally seen, losing their family.

                    If I was to become a Christian, I don’t lose anything. I don’t have an emotional attachment to atheism; the whole theism/atheism discussion to me is an intellectual exercise.

                    Maybe we’ll have to agree to disagree here, but I am convinced that — in the vast majority of situations — people inside a viewpoint are far more open to confirmation bias *for that viewpoint* than people outside of it. I think the only way you can say it’s equal is to make the “outside” group its own “inside” group.

                    For example, I view a situation as “NY Yankees fans” and “everyone else who isn’t a NY Yankees fan”. In that situation, I would argue that “NY Yankees fans” are more susceptible to confirmation bias regarding the NY Yankees than “everyone else who isn’t a NY Yankees fan”. I think that the only way the susceptibility is equal is if you change “everyone else who isn’t a NY Yankees fan” to something like “people who are against the NY Yankees” or “people who want Yankees fans to be wrong” or something along those lines.

                    I wonder if that’s how you see the theoretical “unbelievers” in the OTF. Heck, I wonder if that’s how John Loftus sees them.

                    All I know is that I don’t. For the OTF I view Christians as NY Yankees fans, and unbelievers as everyone who isn’t a NY Yankees fan.

                    I run into this a lot in theist/atheist discussions, because some people have this (imho, weird) expectation that I should be arguing like Hitchens or Harris. Therefore, conflating “atheism” and “anti-theism”.

                    I am an atheist. I am not an anti-theist.

                  • Nohm

                    The problem with the OTF is that it assumes confirmation bias for an unbeliever is less powerful than confirmation bias for a believer. And this simply isn’t substantiated.

                    While I personally believe that it is less powerful for an unbeliever than for a believer, I agree that it’s not substantiated.

                    For the record, I am not defending the OTF. That’s John Loftus’ thing, not mine.

  • Pingback: The End of Christianity? A Skeptical Review (Part 1) | Christianity()

  • http://ochuk.com Adam Omelianchuk

    Good review, Randal. The OTF is exactly the kind of canard you describe. The funny thing, though, is that Loftus came to his unbelief in Christianity from an insider’s perspective. Conversely, Antony Flew came to doubt the nonexistence of God from inside an atheistic worldview. The point is that insiders are privy to perspectives that outsiders are not, and are able to see weaknesses in their views better than those on the outside. Thus, the OTF is neither necessary nor sufficient to properly test one’s beliefs.

    • randal

      That’s a few more shovelfuls of dirt on the coffin.

  • Pingback: Johh Loftus responds: “It is a believing review of my book!”()

  • http://christthetao.blogspot.com/ David Marshall

    As author of one of the anti-Dawkins books (Truth Behind the New Atheism), I’ve debunked a few of John’s ideas, too. He has never tried to respond in any depth, but has been cordial to me more often than not.

    I see John as a kind of apostle to the blue collar, to lightly educated potential skeptics who instinctively conflate Christianity with
    “fundamentalism.” As with most popular propaganda, what makes much of his rhetoric effective is not its careful reasoning, but its appeals to “myths,” as Jacques Ellul put it.

    I don’t see John as a hopeless thinker. Some of the arguments in Christian Delusion (haven’t read End of Christianity, yet) are worthy of serious rebuttal. He gets caught up in his own rhetoric, though, and in the emotional appeals that his audience seems to enjoy. It’s all very personal to him, which I think is what makes him likable, but also why he lashes out at criticism, in his response to this blog, for instance . . .

    I’ve debated Hector Avalos and Richard Carrier on-line, and all in all, though he’s tossed a bit of invective my way, too, John seems somehow humbler,and more approachable, than some of his confederates.

    • randal

      Well said David. I really like John and I think there is way too much hostility in the blogosphere. However, he has a habit of stirring up those “blue collar” readers on Debunking Christianity, in a way that is really, really irresponsible. For example take a look at “Some Bullshit from My Friend Randal Rauser on Trusting Atheists.” In the article I had written which he linked to I defended atheists and critiqued Christians who marginalize them. So why did John label what I said “bullshit”? If you read through the thread you’ll see several people essentially cursing me without having even read my article. Only about half way through does one of the people point out that actually I was defending atheists in the article. So why did John refer to it as “bullshit”? Tsk tsk.

      • Brad Haggard

        I remember reading that thread in disbelief. I honestly don’t know why John doesn’t just delete threads like that.

  • http://contrarariant.tumblr.com contrararian

    “Atheists don’t have to subject their metaphysical commitments to skeptical analysis…”

    Do you have a metaphysical analysis that there is no tooth fairy?

    People who do not share your religion are “apostates”?

    Ha. Ha. Ha.

    /facepalm.

    • randal

      “Contrararian”, my blog is a little different than John’s. Here we don’t encourage uneducated rants. Nor do we shut people up because we think they’re “apostate” relative to our set of beliefs. Again, that is John’s site.

      But maybe you can rise above it. Let’s focus on this rhetorical question:

      “Do you have a metaphysical analysis that there is no tooth fairy?”

      The implicature of this statement seems to be the following “argument”:

      (1) Belief in the tooth fairy is irrational.
      (2) Belief in God is analogous to belief in the tooth fairy with respect to the irrationality of the latter.
      (3) Therefore, belief in God is irrational.

      If this is what you are assuming, please defend (2). Or, if I didn’t get your “argument” quite right you could explain what your assumptions actually are.

      Of course you are also free to reject all reasoned critical analysis and return to “Debunking Christianity” where you can make foolish statements with impunity.

      • http://contrarariant.tumblr.com contrararian

        My we are pompous, aren’t we? You should try rising above that.

        I was commenting on your misunderstanding of the OTF. All metaphysical commitments should be subject to sceptical scrutiny.

        I do not have a metaphysical commitment to there being a tooth fairy any more than I have a metaphysical commitment to there being no “supreme being”.

        If I wish to claim that either being exists, it is for me to demonstrate that to an “outsider” – a non believer in tooth fairies.

        “Reasoned critical analysis?”

        Explain to me why you reject Ayatollah Khamenei’s “reasoned critical analysis” of Islam, in terms which your “reasoned critical analysis” of Christianity could possibly survive…

        • randal

          “All metaphysical commitments should be subject to sceptical scrutiny.”

          Okay, “People exist” is a metaphysical claim. How do you go about subjecting it to “sceptical scrutiny”? “An external world apart from conscious experience exists” is another metaphysical claim. How do you subject that to “sceptical scrutiny”?

          “I do not have a metaphysical commitment to there being a tooth fairy any more than I have a metaphysical commitment to there being no “supreme being”.”

          If you withhold belief in the proposition “There is no supreme being” then you are an agnostic. But you presumably hold that position because you believe the way the world is warrants that conclusion. So you have a position to defend as much as anybody does. Why do you believe the world warrants that conclusion?

          • http://contrarariant.tumblr.com contrararian

            Jumping jehosephat. Your argument depends on the notion that I might not exist? Seriously? Is that honestly the best you can do?

            z. o. m. g.

            And have you really, truly, honestly, never heard of Betrand Russell’s “Am I An Atheist Or An Agnostic?”

            No wonder John Loftus ridicules you.

            You are ridiculous.

            • Brad Haggard

              All bow to the book citing talents of Contrarian

              • http://contrarariant.tumblr.com contrararian

                What is it with Evangelicals’ inability to use Google?

                No wonder you are so absurd.

                Randal – and Brad is appears – blunders thru life thinking that Atheists must have a “metaphysical commitment” to there being no possibility of a supreme being.

                I never know whether I should say “Agnostic” or whether I should say “Atheist”. It is a very difficult question and I daresay that some of you have been troubled by it. As a philosopher, if I were speaking to a purely philosophic audience I should say that I ought to describe myself as an Agnostic, because I do not think that there is a conclusive argument by which one prove that there is not a God.

                On the other hand, if I am to convey the right impression to the ordinary man in the street I think I ought to say that I am an Atheist, because when I say that I cannot prove that there is not a God, I ought to add equally that I cannot prove that there are not the Homeric gods. – Bertrand Russell

                Have you really, truly, honestly never heard that line of thought before?

                • Brad Haggard

                  I need to revise:

                  All hail the Google talents of Contrarian

                  • randal

                    Brad, you keep correcting the misspelling. It is “ContrarARian”.

            • randal

              “Jumping jehosephat. Your argument depends on the notion that I might not exist?”

              I didn’t make an “argument”. I pointed out that “people exist” is a metaphysical claim. According to you, such a statement should be subjected to “sceptical scrutiny”. So please scrutinize.

              • http://contrarariant.tumblr.com contrararian

                Seriously Randall… Most people’s “sceptical scrutiny” of the existence of other minds is finished by the time they are four years old.

                Congratulations, though, for spelling out in detail just how mindless your understanding of (a) atheism and (b) the OFT actually is…

                • http://twitter.com/davidstarlingm davidstarlingm

                  By which I assume you mean that if we come to a particular belief before the age of four, it is justifiable?

                  Tooth fairy….cough….

                  • http://contrarariant.tumblr.com contrararian

                    No. I mean that even people who believe in the tooth faith and santa claus realise how utterly moronic Randall’s argument is.

                    • http://twitter.com/davidstarlingm davidstarlingm

                      And we have another bold argument:

                      (1) If a given class of persons believe in belief A AND deny belief B, then belief B is necessarily more absurd than belief A.
                      (2) Young children sometimes believe in the tooth fairy AND deny the existence of God.
                      (3) Therefore, belief in God is more absurd than belief in the tooth fairy.

                      I’d really like to see a good defense of (1). Because I can provide an extremely simple counterexample:

                      (1) See above.
                      (2) Certain people believe that the 9/11 attacks were a US government conspiracy AND deny that we ever really landed on the moon.
                      (3) Therefore, a real moon landing is more absurd than the 9/11 conspiracy theory.

                      (Note: if you are one of those nutjobs who believes that we never actually landed on the moon, the counterexample can be reworked.)

                • randal

                  Interesting. So now you reject your original claim. We shouldn’t subject all metaphysical statements to “sceptical scrutiny”. So then how do you decide which statements should be subjected to that scrutiny and which should not?

                  • http://contrarariant.tumblr.com contrararian

                    No I don’t. Your word games are completely idiotic.

                    • randal

                      I can understand why critical analysis would look like “word games” to you. And German sounds like gibberish to the monolingual anglophone.

        • http://twitter.com/davidstarlingm davidstarlingm

          If I’m not mistaken, you support the metaphysical claim that the universe around us is inconsistent with the existence of any personal transcendent benevolent omnipotent creator deity.

          Please either deny that claim or apply the OTF to it.

          • http://contrarariant.tumblr.com contrararian

            “personal transcendent benevolent omnipotent creator deity”?

            Wow you like your word salads, don’t you?

            Once you can provide evidence foe the existence of an “personal transcendent benevolent omnipotent creator deity” which satisfies someone who does not share your belief we can talk.

            I am philosophically entirely open to the possibility of all sorts of beings, including invisible dancing pixies, the great green arkleseizure, santa claus and your widely unspecified “personal transcendent benevolent omnipotent creator deity”.

            But why should I believe in any one these things over the others?

            Remember, you guys are telling em that out of all the hundreds religious beliefs out there, and all of the many dozens of denominations of Christianity, YOURS is either the absolute truth or the closest approximation to the absolute truth.

            All you can do in turn is to try and persuade me that I might not exist.

            • http://twitter.com/davidstarlingm davidstarlingm

              “Wow you like your word salads, don’t you?”

              Nah, I just like precise definitions. I try to stay healthy; salad helps with that. Don’t know if you’ve ever tried it or not.

              “I am philosophically entirely open to the possibility of all sorts of beings, including invisible dancing pixies, the great green arkleseizure, santa claus and your widely unspecified ‘personal transcendent benevolent omnipotent creator deity’.”

              Please provide some evidence for this assertion.

              • http://contrarariant.tumblr.com contrararian

                Genius. So now your argument has moved from “you might not exist” to “there is no way of knowing whether you mean what you say”.

                So no-one can know anything, huh? Is this where you step in and tell me that nothing in universe makes sense except in the light of belief of God? And not just God, but the God of the Reformed First Baptist 1867 Church?

                I say again, I am philosophically agnostic. Practically speaking, I am an atheist, because in part theists provide no way of distinguishing between their reasons for accepting their religion while rejecting all others, that do not also destroy their own beliefs.

                Of course, if you listen to those giants of evangelical intellectualism William Lane Craig and John Stackhouse, the entire problem is just that I don’t want to accept the baby jeebuz into my hearty warty….

                • http://twitter.com/davidstarlingm davidstarlingm

                  “So now your argument [is] ‘there is no way of knowing whether you mean what you say’.”

                  Not at all. You simply made the claim that you are philosophically open to belief in any given supernatural being (the Judeo-Christian YHWH implicitly included). I don’t believe you. If I made the claim that I can read minds and plant thoughts in people’s heads, you wouldn’t believe me either. You’d want evidence. And so I’m the same way; I want evidence that your claim is indeed factual.

                  If you want to go ahead and provide evidence, you can simply explain what sort of discoveries or arguments would be capable of convincing you that the Judeo-Christian YHWH indeed exists. If you cannot provide such an explanation, then I am afraid that you are not as open as you claim to be.

                  —-

                  If you have warts on your heart, I suggest you get that checked out. It sounds rather painful and/or dangerous.

                  • http://contrarariant.tumblr.com contrararian

                    If you want to understand non-believers, david, you will have to read what non-believers actually say. It’s apparent you’ve learned everything you know about non-believers from Apologetics.

                    If the “Judeo-Christian YHWH” was the onetruegod[tm], I’d expect to see evidence that “he” was worshipped exclusively amongst the very earliest humans. I’d expect evidence that the Bible was historically and scientifically accurate.

                    Funnily enough, If I read what insiders – evangelical apologetics – says about these things, I see they claim that these very things are true… Just as when I read what insiders in Islam have to say about the Koran, I learn that it’s amply supported by all of the evidence.

                    If, however, I read what non-evangelical apologetics has to say, I find that there is a overwhelming evidence from multiple sources of all beefs, creeds and nationalities that anatomically modern humans existed for over a hundred thousand years before one particular tribe of hill-farmers in the levant decided that their local tribal diety had some sort of primary amongst all of the other gods.

                    Since you are apparently unable to process the simple fact that evangelical apologetics tells you just what it wants you to hear about the “evidence” for all these things, David, I’m not sure what you think you’ll gain from talking to me.

                    • http://twitter.com/davidstarlingm davidstarlingm

                      “you’ve learned everything you know about non-believers from Apologetics.”

                      Who is Apologetics? Is he a friend of yours?

                      “If the ‘Judeo-Christian YHWH’ was the onetruegod[tm], I’d expect to see evidence that ‘he’ was worshipped exclusively amongst the very earliest humans.”

                      Okay then. If I’m understanding you right, you believe that the likelihood of a given deity’s existence is at least somewhat proportional to the number and age of archeological/textual evidences alluding to the given deity as exclusive. That’s an interesting approach. Why?

                      Regardless of whether the evidence actually shows this (I would say the argument could be made either way), I think it’s a rather arbitrary approach. It completely bypasses the very real possibility that a deity might conceivably reveal itself progressively. Most notably, it is the complete opposite of the way we view other positions. You wouldn’t say that a scientific theory is more likely to be true if it was held by more and more people the farther back you go. If that was the case, then a flat earth and nature-abhors-a-vacuum would be more likely than general and special relativity.

                      “If, however, I read what non-evangelical apologetics has to say, I find that there is a overwhelming evidence from multiple sources of all beefs, creeds and nationalities that anatomically modern humans existed for over a hundred thousand years before one particular tribe of hill-farmers in the levant decided that their local tribal diety had some sort of primary amongst all of the other gods.”

                      You mean, if you read 19th century philosophical models for the development of religion?

                  • Nohm

                    If you want to go ahead and provide evidence, you can simply explain what sort of discoveries or arguments would be capable of convincing you that the Judeo-Christian YHWH indeed exists. If you cannot provide such an explanation, then I am afraid that you are not as open as you claim to be.

                    I don’t understand why this would be necessary.

                    I can only speak for myself, here: I state that I am open to any of the things that Contrararian listed. But I find your request that I support that claim, in the way that you would want that claim supported, to be strange.

                    I’ll explain: I don’t know what would convince me that YHWH, or any other supernatural being, exists. I usually like to say, “but [YHWH] knows what would convince me, right?” But I honestly don’t know what would convince me. But that’s not my point when I say that I’m open to it.

                    What I mean when I say “I’m open to it” is that I don’t have any emotional attachment to the idea that YHWH doesn’t exist. What I mean is that, if I was shown convincing evidence (and again, I currently don’t know what that would be), I would accept that evidence because… what other alternative do I have? Not accepting out of spite? I see that as silly.

                    For example, I really don’t want to accept the fact that my mother is dead. But what does that “not wanting to accept” accomplish? Absolutely nothing.

                    Therefore, when I say that I’m open to believing in supernatural beings, I’m saying that I’m accepting of whatever reality is, whether I like it or not, because I view the alternative as lying to myself.

                    Having said all of this, I do not consider the “evidences” I’ve been shown for YHWH’s (or Allah’s) existence to be adequately supportive of the claim that He exists.

                    But that’s just me.

                    • http://twitter.com/davidstarlingm davidstarlingm

                      I can understand taking that approach to hypothesized religious ideas that aren’t at all fleshed out. I don’t know what evidence would convince me of the veracity of Baha’i or Unitarian Universalism, mostly because I haven’t been able to find many concrete claims about reality in either tradition. But Christianity is extremely well-defined; I would think that it would be very easy to explain what evidence would convince you within that particular belief system.

                    • randal

                      Unitarian universalism is more like a social club (e.g. the Kiwanis) than an expression of religious faith. For example, when I attended the Society of Edmonton Atheists they were in the midst of planning a service at the local Unitarian Universalist chapter (or church). (The UU had invited them to conduct a service.) One of the members of the SEA actually told me that he became involved with the unitarian universalists after becoming an atheist because he found it a way of lessening the social impact of leaving Christainity behind.

                    • Nohm

                      Hi David,

                      I had to reply to myself here because the thread won’t allow me to reply to your post.

                      davidstarlingm wrote:

                      I can understand taking that approach to hypothesized religious ideas that aren’t at all fleshed out.

                      From my experience, all religious ideas aren’t at all fleshed out. I’m more than willing to be presented, in detail, with any that you feel are fleshed out.

                      I don’t know what evidence would convince me of the veracity of Baha’i or Unitarian Universalism, mostly because I haven’t been able to find many concrete claims about reality in either tradition.

                      Huh, interesting. It’s been a while since I’ve studied the Baha’i, but I seem to remember that they at least have some claims about reality. Whether or not those claims are “concrete” is another issue.

                      But Christianity is extremely well-defined;

                      This has drastically not been my experience. This blog here has one point of view of Christianity, but then Ray Comfort’s blog has another. And then TD Jakes has another view, and Benny Hinn has another, and the church I grew up in has a very different one.

                      It has not been my experience that Christianity is well-defined, but I’m definitely open to you presenting parts that you feel are well-defined… although I’d ask you to first consider if there are any other people who claim to be Christians who would disagree with those parts. If there are, then I would question how well-defined those parts are.

                      I would think that it would be very easy to explain what evidence would convince you within that particular belief system.

                      But, as I mentioned just above, I don’t see Christianity as just one “particular belief system”; there are many people who call themselves Christians (e.g., LDS, 7th Day Adventists, JWs) where you would strongly disagree with their theology.

                      Also, I would need testable descriptions of things such as “God”, so that if I got evidence that could point to God, I could test it to make sure it wasn’t an optical illusion, or the result of higher technology, or something else of that sort. If you can present to me a description of evidence that you think should be enough to convince an open-minded non-believer, that could not be more easily explained through non-theistic means, I’m willing to listen.

                    • Nohm

                      randal wrote:

                      Unitarian universalism is more like a social club (e.g. the Kiwanis) than an expression of religious faith.

                      From my experiences, I tend to agree with this.

  • http://contrarariant.tumblr.com contrararian

    davidstarlingm:

    Absolute nonsense.

    There is no evidence that 911 was a US government conspiracy. There is ample evidence that we walked on the moon – not the least of which is that the Russians would have told everyone if we’d faked it.

    The mental dances you Evangelicals do to justify your religious beliefs are utterly horrifying.

    All I ask is that you tell my what reasons you have for rejecting Allah which do not also justify me in rejecting your Jesus/God character.

    I don’t require you to be an atheist.

    Why can’t you get that into your heads?

    Oh yeah – because your religion requires you to believe that God created the universe knowing in advance that I would burn eternally in hell for the crime of not believing in him the right way.

    • http://twitter.com/davidstarlingm davidstarlingm

      “Absolute nonsense.

      There is no evidence that 911 was a US government conspiracy. There is ample evidence that we walked on the moon – not the least of which is that the Russians would have told everyone if we’d faked it.”

      Excellent! So you agree that your premise (1) is unfounded? Good. At least we agree on something.

      “All I ask is that you tell my [sic] what reasons you have for rejecting Allah which do not also justify me in rejecting your Jesus/God character.”

      Sure. Reason: Islam makes no falsifiable claim contradicting the simple observation that the Quran is nothing more than the occasionally poetic ravings of an illiterate tribal chieftain.

      All I ask is that you tell me what reasons you have for rejecting idealism (no material world apart from our minds) which do not also justify me in rejecting philosophical naturalism.

      “Your religion requires you to believe that God created the universe knowing in advance that I would burn eternally in hell for the crime of not believing in him the right way.”

      I’m genuinely curious. Do you honestly believe that this strawman is an accurate description of my beliefs, or are you just saying this in pursuit of some ironic flourish?

      • http://contrarariant.tumblr.com contrararian

        David

        Christianity makes a great many falsifiable claims which if I read anything other than Christian apologetics I find have been falsified.

        You are welcome to reject “philosophical naturalism”. that doesn’t make your god exist.

        Of course I was making a rhetorical flourish. Can you really not tell?

        I’m curious tho. Which parts of my statement do you not agree with?

        On the other hand, if you’re going to tell me that the Bible is “true”, I’d rather not waste any more time talking to you.

        • http://twitter.com/davidstarlingm davidstarlingm

          I reject Islam because it makes no falsifiable claims. You’re saying that you reject Christianity because you believe its falsifiable claims have been falsified to your satisfaction. So it looks, in fact, like my reasons for categorically rejecting Islam don’t justify your reasons for categorically rejecting Christ.

          “You are welcome to reject ‘philosophical naturalism’. that doesn’t make your god exist.”

          It makes it a great deal more likely. If philosophical naturalism is off the table, Buddhism and reformed orthodox Christianity are by far the most realistic descriptions of our universe. So I’m wondering whether you can provide me with a basis for rejecting idealism that doesn’t also give me a basis for rejecting philosophical naturalism.

          “I’m curious tho. Which parts of my statement do you not agree with?”

          “your religion” (religiousness is a nonessential aspect),

          “requires you to believe” (my beliefs are more generally the result or independent of my faith, not a condition of it),

          “I would burn eternally in hell” (eternal conscious torment is a nonessential concept), and

          “the crime of not believing in him the right way” (belief cannot save, and unbelief is not a crime).

          • http://contrarariant.tumblr.com contrararian

            “…If philosophical naturalism is off the table…”

            Why on earth is it off the table? Whether naturalism “is all there is”, it is a fantastically successful description of the world.

            You don’t use “supernaturalism” when you build bridges or layout computer chips or calculate orbit trajectories or perform frontal lobe surgery.

            “…Buddhism and reformed orthodox Christianity are by far the most realistic descriptions of our universe…”

            That is 100% unadulterated bull____. Which Buddhism?

            And “reformed orthodox Christianity” gets about five hits on Google.

            You, sir, are an idiot.

      • Nohm

        Sure. Reason: Islam makes no falsifiable claim contradicting the simple observation that the Quran is nothing more than the occasionally poetic ravings of an illiterate tribal chieftain.

        David, couldn’t that charge also be leveled at the Bible?

        “Christianity makes no falsifiable claim contradicting the simple observation that the Bible is nothing more than the occasionally poetic ravings of illiterate tribes”?

        As for Islam making no falsifiable claims, that could be debated (although probably not by me): please google “challenge of the quran”.

        • Nohm

          Hi davidstarlingm,

          To clarify (because I find this whole thing fascinating), when I wrote:

          As for Islam making no falsifiable claims

          It was shorthand for replying to what you wrote, so it should have been written as this:

          Islam does make a falsifiable claim contradicting the simple observation that the Quran is nothing more than the occasionally poetic ravings of an illiterate tribal chieftain.

          It’s called the “Challenge of the Qur’an” (seriously, google it… it’s fascinating), which states that if someone can write a surah as good as any surah in the Qur’an, it will falsify the claim that the Qur’an has divine authorship.

          Seriously, this falsification does exist, and you’ll find many descriptions of this challenge online.

          Now, for real fun, research the method used to compare a human-inspired surah against any surah in the Qur’an.

          So, davidstarlingm, you’ll have to find another reason to reject The One True Faith, Islam. ;-)

  • http://contrarariant.tumblr.com contrararian

    “German sounds like gibberish to the monolingual anglophone.”

    Hey look, Randal, I found this picture of you on the internet.

    • Robert

      That’s me, not Randal.

    • http://twitter.com/davidstarlingm davidstarlingm

      No, Robert; that’s my dad. Clearly.

      Contrararian: you may find this difficult to believe, but when Randal uses a term like “the monolingual anglophone”, he’s not being pompous. It’s just that it’s easier and shorter than saying “any particular person who only speaks American English.” Brevity is the soul of rhetoric.

    • Brad Haggard

      I LOVE it when atheists get down to name-calling.

      • Nohm

        That’s hardly just the domain of atheists, and I’m curious as to why you “LOVE it”.

        • Brad Haggard

          My experience on debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com has weathered it into me. It tells me that someone made a good point.

          This in no way reflects on you, however, Nohm.

          • Nohm

            I don’t believe I’ve ever viewed that site; I will now.

            Also, I appreciate that you said that it doesn’t reflect on me.

            I guess I reacted to your use of the word “atheists” there, instead of “people”, because I would think you’d agree that when anyone starts name-calling, it hints (but does not necessarily, in my opinion, mean) that the person does not have a good counter-argument.

          • Nohm

            Oh, ok… I see now; debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com is John Loftus’ blog. I should have figured that out on my own.

            While I agree with many of John’s complaints about certain apologetic arguments (such as those used by WLC), I do have a particular problem with the way that John argues.

            He does this thing that fundamentalists do to me all the time, and it both fascinates and annoys me: he tells people what they supposedly think.

            I don’t see the point in doing this; I think it is far more polite and intelligent to first ask someone what they think, or what their opinion is, and then respond to that, instead of telling someone what they supposedly think and then taking down that strawman.

            So it’s one of those “I agree with him, just not his method” kinds of things.

            • Robert Gressis

              Hi Nohm,

              Either I didn’t communicate clearly enough in the first place, or you misunderstood my original comment. I was not asking for why you believed atheism, nor was I saying that I’ve never seen anyone get converted from atheism to theism on the basis of arguments (I know of three examples off the top of my head: C.D. Broad, Edward Feser and Trent Dougherty). What I was asking for was why you believed that atheism is not a position but merely the absence of a position, and what I despaired convincing you of was the claim that atheism is a position, rather than the absence of one.

              As for my birther analogy, I agree that if someone said to me “Obama is not a US citizen” I would respond, “why do you think that?”, not “so you’re a birther?” I put matters in the way I did because I was trying to mirror, as closely as possible, the dialectic between you and Randal.

              Anyway, to get to your other points in no particular order:
              (1) Atheists argue for their atheism against theism all the time. They use the argument from evil, impossibility proofs, arguments based on the claim that the burden of proof is on the theist, etc. In my experience, they never say, “I am an atheist because I am not a theist.”
              (2) If atheists aren’t a group, then neither are theists. In fact, neither are Democrats or Republicans, government workers and private sector workers, members of the Gressis family or members of the Nohm family, and existent beings vs. fictional beings. But just because members of a group differ in some ways, it doesn’t follow that they’re not a group. It’s very easy to count as a member of a group!
              (3) You’re right that disbelieving something is different from not believing it. I disbelieve in the existence of Santa Claus or leprechauns. I don’t believe that the number of stars in the universe is odd (nor do I believe that the number of stars in the universe is even). But just because disbelief is different from nonbelief, it doesn’t follow that nonbelief is not a position, at least sometimes. I think that cats don’t believe in God, but I don’t think they have a position on the matter either, for the reasons that they’re not capable of taking a position on something like that and that the matter has never been presented to them in a way they understand. By contrast, nonbelief in something like the moon landing is a position, at least if you’re familiar with the moon landing. After all, there’s all sorts of evidence for the moon landing, and if you still don’t believe in it, then you’re presumably motivated by certain reasons not to believe in it. By contrast, someone from Papua New Guinea who doesn’t know of anything about the world outside of his tribe and its territory doesn’t believe in the moon landing and doesn’t have a position on it either, because the matter the matter has never been presented to him for his consideration. Consequently, he doesn’t have a reason for his nonbelief, because it’s not something he’s considered before. I’m willing to say of him that he doesn’t have a position.

              But you have considered the evidence for and against theism, and even if you’re not willing to say that disbelieve in God, it doesn’t follow that you don’t have a position on God’s existence, because you DO have reasons for your nonbelief.

              One last point, not in direct response to anything you say in particular, bur rather to your overall strategy. In my experience, people who say that atheism is the absence of a position rather than a position want to say that either because they think that if atheism is not a position, then the burden of proof is on theists to prove their theism (either to the theists themselves or to the atheist), and that if they can’t meet this burden, then they are rationally required to be atheists (or agnostics). But, they go on, because atheism is not a position, but rather the absence of a position, atheists are not required to have any reason for their atheism. In other words, what’s motivating this is a burden of proof maneuver, which is itself a kind of argument for atheism. The second reason I’ve seen atheists be so wedded to this point of view is that they’re afraid that the theist they’re arguing with is someone who thinks that atheism is a position, and so therefore is just as much a matter of faith as theism. Because they want to refrain from thinking of themselves as having faith, they hold fast to the notion that atheism is not a position, and so not something they need to have faith in. Do either of those motivations match your own?

              • Nohm

                Hi Robert,

                Thank you for your reply. I plan to return the favor and respond shortly.

                Before I do, one quick question: is it your opinion that theists have the burden of proof regarding the existence of one or more gods?

                And a second quick question: is it your opinion that atheists, who do not claim “There is/are no god(s)”, have the burden of proof?

                (In your situation, I would assume this would be “the existence of God”)

                • Robert Gressis

                  Hi Nohm,

                  I don’t really dig on “burden of proof” claims. I really think it depends on the evidence you have, the goal you’re trying to achieve, and the person to whom you’re talking. If you’re trying to convince a group of theists that they should be atheists, then the burden of proof is on you. If a theist is trying to convince you, Nohm, to be a theist, then the burden of proof is on her.

                  Also, arguments about who bears the burden of proof can themselves be arguments for or against theism or atheism, though I don’t personally find them convincing because I believe the paragraph before this one.

                  Anyway, I don’t think it’s coherent to talk about an “atheist” who doesn’t disbelieve in the existence of God, but who simply doesn’t believe in God, because I understand an atheist to be someone who disbelieves in the existence of God. Someone who merely didn’t believe in God, but who also didn’t disbelieve in God, wouldn’t be an atheist; such a person would be an agnostic who, presumably, would have reasons against disbelieving in God just as she had reasons against believing in God. (Paul Draper is an example of such an individual.)

                  • Nohm

                    Hi Robert,

                    Your last paragraph above is why I said I thought this would (unfortunately) turn into a discussion about definitions and semantics.

                    Theism = belief

                    Gnosticism = knowledge

                    Hence why I call myself an agnostic atheist.

                    You might disagree with me on this, but if you research this online you’ll see that I’m hardly the only person who uses these definitions. This is also why I mentioned that some people would call me an agnostic, but I don’t prefer that label. My experiences tell me that the percentage of people who call themselves atheists, but claim “there is no God”, is very tiny.

                    Again, I’ll still reply to your full comment when I have a chance, but I’d like to quickly write the following:

                    1. As I mentioned before, it’s been my experience that no atheist has left their theism/faith due to being argued out of it; it’s my experience that atheists become atheists on their own. Therefore I view the concept of “an atheist arguing theists for atheism” to be silly. I know that other atheists disagree with me on this, but it’s my opinion that it’s silly.

                    2. Since theists are the ones who make the positive claim that God exists, it seems clear to me that the burden of proof is on them. Only when an atheist claims “there is no God” do the waters become murky, in my opinion. As I said, I don’t make the claim “there is no God” because it’s not a claim that I think I can support.

                    3. The only claim I make, as I stated before, is that I don’t find the arguments for theism to be persuasive. Therefore, I don’t see how the burden of proof would be on me, unless you want evidence that I actually don’t find the arguments to be persuasive. This, too, seems silly to me, but I’m not assuming that you’re asking for this.

                    4. I’ll say again: I view the concept of “arguments for atheism” to be nonsensical. I know that some atheists do this, and I disagree with them on that point.

                    5. I don’t view atheists as a group because all we have in common is what we aren’t. I don’t see you and I in a group because we both don’t accept the divine authorship of the Qur’an, therefore I don’t see myself and any other atheist in a group because we don’t accept the divine authorship of the Bible. It’s the whole “I believe in one less God” thing.

                    6. You are right in that I actively disbelieve in God. Having said that, I don’t make the claim that God does not exist, so I don’t see myself as supporting that. You might also be right that part of my whole “absence of belief” is to make the point that believers are on the hook to support their claim, but I also agree that it depends on the person and exactly what they’re claiming.

                    Okay, back to work, and again, I promise to reply to your full comment in more detail later today when I have time.

                    Thank you for the conversation, Robert.

                    • Robert Gressis

                      Hi Nohm,

                      I’ll do the thing where I copy and paste your comments and respond. So, you wrote:

                      “1. As I mentioned before, it’s been my experience that no atheist has left their theism/faith due to being argued out of it; it’s my experience that atheists become atheists on their own. Therefore I view the concept of “an atheist arguing theists for atheism” to be silly. I know that other atheists disagree with me on this, but it’s my opinion that it’s silly.”

                      I take it you’re arguing that whether someone becomes an atheist is a matter of non-rational factors? (That’s how I’m reading “atheists become atheists on their own”.) Even if this is how most people become atheists, and I think it’s plausible that this is the case, it still seems a big overstatement to say that something like the argument from evil is “silly”. Are you saying it’s silly because you think it’s a waste of time?

                      “2. Since theists are the ones who make the positive claim that God exists, it seems clear to me that the burden of proof is on them. Only when an atheist claims “there is no God” do the waters become murky, in my opinion. As I said, I don’t make the claim “there is no God” because it’s not a claim that I think I can support.”

                      If someone said that they didn’t believe (or disbelieve) that the Holocaust happened, this would strike me as needing lots of evidence in its favor, even if it isn’t a positive claim. And that’s because the positive claim “the Holocaust happened” already has so much evidence in its favor. So, if it turned out that “God exists” has lots of evidence in its favor, or “God doesn’t exist” had lots of evidence in its favor, then “I don’t believe or disbelieve that God exists” would now need to be supported.

                      “3. The only claim I make, as I stated before, is that I don’t find the arguments for theism to be persuasive. Therefore, I don’t see how the burden of proof would be on me, unless you want evidence that I actually don’t find the arguments to be persuasive. This, too, seems silly to me, but I’m not assuming that you’re asking for this.”

                      Frankly, I don’t know what you’re referring to in this passage. I don’t know what I was asking for anymore. I will say this: if you don’t find the arguments for theism persuasive, that’s a perfectly fine reason not to believe theism. However, there’s probably reasons you have for not finding those arguments persuasive. Similarly, since you don’t appear to find arguments like the problem of evil persuasive, there are probably reasons you have for not finding that argument persuasive. I don’t remember what I was saying earlier, but that’s what I’m saying now.

                      “4. I’ll say again: I view the concept of “arguments for atheism” to be nonsensical. I know that some atheists do this, and I disagree with them on that point.”

                      “Nonsensical” is even stronger than “silly.” Why do you find the argument from evil, the impossibility proofs, etc., not even to rise to the level of meaningfulness?

                      “5. I don’t view atheists as a group because all we have in common is what we aren’t. I don’t see you and I in a group because we both don’t accept the divine authorship of the Qur’an, therefore I don’t see myself and any other atheist in a group because we don’t accept the divine authorship of the Bible. It’s the whole “I believe in one less God” thing.”

                      Actually, atheists have a lot more in common than that. They also have the belief that God doesn’t exist, they have beliefs, they have minds, they have bodies, etc. Unless you hold the view that rocks and empty space are atheists too, in which case I think that’s a very strange use of the word.

                      “6. You are right in that I actively disbelieve in God. Having said that, I don’t make the claim that God does not exist, so I don’t see myself as supporting that. You might also be right that part of my whole “absence of belief” is to make the point that believers are on the hook to support their claim, but I also agree that it depends on the person and exactly what they’re claiming.”

                      Well, now I’m completely confused. You actively disbelieve in God? Presumably you have some reason for that. But you’ve already said that you think that arguments for atheism are silly and nonsensical. So is your reason purely a psychological disposition? I gather it’s not, because above, when you thought I was asking you to explain to me why you’re not a theist, you gave a series of arguments of the kind that atheists often use. So, I’m really lost. I think it would be better if we started over and handled just one claim at a time.

                    • Nohm

                      Hi Robert,

                      It’s my opinion that there is a significant difference between a counter-argument against a specific theistic claim/argument/description and an argument for atheism. If that’s our point of contention, then I’ll discuss that, but I hope we agree on this.

                      It’s my opinion that the examples you listed in your comment (e.g., problem of evil) are counter-argument against specific theistic claims/arguments/descriptions, and not arguments for atheism. I view the former as reasonable, and the latter as silly. I understand that some atheists will present the former as the latter, and I think that’s also silly.

                      You wrote:

                      I take it you’re arguing that whether someone becomes an atheist is a matter of non-rational factors? (That’s how I’m reading “atheists become atheists on their own”.)

                      Sorry, no. I meant that people lose their faith due to their own internal counter-arguments and conclusions. I’ve never heard of someone who was argued out of theism by an outside source. Nothing about the loss of my faith had to do with an atheist’s argument or counter-argument; it all had to do with the arguments and counter-arguments going on in my own head, along with my lack of experiences with what I thought was the divine.

                      And I’ve found that’s very similar to the experience of other once-was-a-believer atheists.

                      It’s also been my experience that theists don’t become theists simply because someone presented them with a great theistic argument.

                      Even if this is how most people become atheists, and I think it’s plausible that this is the case,

                      Because of non-rational factors? I’d definitely argue that wasn’t the case for me, nor is it the case for the vast majority of once-was-a-believer atheists I talk with, given their explanations.

                      This also completely ignores the never-was-a-believer atheists.

                      it still seems a big overstatement to say that something like the argument from evil is “silly”.

                      As I mention above, I consider that a counter-argument against a specific description of a god, and not an argument for atheism. Someone could be completely justified by both being a theist and describing their god in a way that allows for the existence of evil.

                      Are you saying it’s silly because you think it’s a waste of time?

                      Yes. I think that a counter-argument blahblahblah is not a waste of time, but that an argument for atheism is, since I don’t see what the point is, unless it’s for “evangelism” (heh), but I don’t think that evangelism is effective.

                      If someone said that they didn’t believe (or disbelieve) that the Holocaust happened, this would strike me as needing lots of evidence in its favor, even if it isn’t a positive claim.

                      I agree, in the practical sense. Technically speaking, the burden of proof would still be on the people claiming that the Holocaust happened, but for practical purposes, for that specific example, I agree with you.

                      The thing is, I just don’t see the Holocaust as being the least bit analogous to theism, much less for Christianity, much less for Robert’s specific description of God.

                      And that’s because the positive claim “the Holocaust happened” already has so much evidence in its favor.

                      We agree.

                      So, if it turned out that “God exists” has lots of evidence in its favor,

                      Then things would be different.

                      or “God doesn’t exist” had lots of evidence in its favor,

                      Then things would be different.

                      then “I don’t believe or disbelieve that God exists” would now need to be supported.

                      In a practical sense, yes. In a technical sense, no.

                      I also notice another issue that leads to our misunderstandings of one another: you appear to view “don’t believe” and “disbelieve” as the same thing. To me there’s a distinction between the two that’s not usually important for casual conversation, but is for more technical discussions, such as arguments.

                      Frankly, I don’t know what you’re referring to in this passage.

                      Sorry. Basically I was saying that I’m not interested in defending the claim “I think A”. I’ll defend “A”, but not ‘I think A”. Just please trust me that I’m not lying to you about what I think. Makes sense?

                      if you don’t find the arguments for theism persuasive,

                      Dispersuasive, actually. ;-) But yes, that’s accurate.

                      that’s a perfectly fine reason not to believe theism.

                      Yay me!

                      However, there’s probably reasons you have for not finding those arguments persuasive.

                      Correct.

                      Similarly, since you don’t appear to find arguments like the problem of evil persuasive,

                      Well, I think that’s only theoretically persuasive when counter-arguing against a specific theistic description. But at most it would only cause the theist to not use that description; I don’t think it would “atheistize” (i.e., persuade) the person. :-)

                      Why do you find the argument from evil, the impossibility proofs, etc., not even to rise to the level of meaningfulness?

                      Because I don’t see those given examples as being arguments for atheism, which is what I described as nonsensical. I view them as counter-arguments against specific theistic descriptions. And to thoroughly beat this dead horse, I think that people generally don’t lose their faith due to counter-arguments from outside sources.

                      Actually, atheists have a lot more in common than that. They also have the belief that God doesn’t exist,

                      Incorrect. My sister certainly doesn’t have this belief, nor does my dad. This goes back to our issue with definitions. As I’ll explain below, I may believe that the Christian God doesn’t exist, but I don’t have the positive believe that no gods exist.

                      they have beliefs, they have minds, they have bodies,

                      Yeah, but all humans have that. You’re now in the atheist group.

                      What do atheists have in common that we all share? Nothing. All we have in common is that we’re not theists, even if you ignore the people who prefer to be called agnostics. There is no one thing shared by every single person who calls themself an “atheist”, that doesn’t apply equally to “humans”.

                      Therefore, there are groups of people who call themselves an atheists and get together, but there is no “atheist group”.

                      What do Christians have in common? The think Jesus was divine. On that issue, they’re a group.

                      Unless you hold the view that rocks and empty space are atheists too,

                      I do not. Every atheist is a human.

                      “You actively disbelieve in God?”

                      To clarify, I actively disbelieve in certain claims/arguments/descriptions of God. You might believe in one that I haven’t heard of. If so, I don’t actively disbelieve in your God.

                      Presumably you have some reason for that.

                      Yes.

                      But you’ve already said that you think that arguments for atheism are silly and nonsensical.

                      Correct.

                      So is your reason purely a psychological disposition?

                      No. If you present a specific theistic claim/argument/description, and if it’s one that I actively disbelieve, then I’ll explain why.

                      I hope I was able to clarify.

              • Nohm

                One more quick thing:

                Robert wrote: “ I was not asking for why you believed atheism

                I do not “believe atheism”. That statement makes no sense to me.

                But a viewpoint that I “believe atheism” might be the reason why the “absence” issue raises your hackles; your definition of “atheism” appears to be different from my (and I would argue, most atheists’) definition of “atheism”.

                Hence why this is a discussion about definitions. I’m okay with agreeing to disagree with the definitions, but I’m also okay with discussing this further. Your call.

                For the record, I often call myself a nontheist just to avoid the many problems due to viewpoints that people have on the word “atheist”. To me the two words “nontheist” and “atheist” are the same; to others, they are not.

          • Nohm

            After doing more research, I now remember the OTF. I support the concept.

            I am more than willing to apply the OTF to my atheism, but it seems a bit strange to me, as I don’t see my atheism as a claim.

            To clarify, in my opinion, the word “atheist” describes what I am not; it does not describe what I am am.

            Therefore, I don’t see “atheism” as a claim; I see it as the absence of a claim.

            Now, having said that, I admit that I do make certain claims about certain theistic claims and arguments. I would also say that I have used variations of the “OTF” (and more) against my claims and opinions. I’m brutal to my own points of view; whatever survives and works is what I go with.

            • Robert Gressis

              Hi Nohm,

              You seem like a good guy. I’ve enjoyed reading your comments here. That said, this line, even when coming from someone as nice as you seem to be, always raises my hackles:

              “To clarify, in my opinion, the word ‘atheist’ describes what I am not; it does not describe what I am.

              “Therefore, I don’t see ‘atheism’ as a claim; I see it as the absence of a claim.”

              Imagine the following situation: I tell you, “I don’t believe that Barack Obama is a US citizen”. You ask in response, “so you’re a birther?” I say, “that’s a weird thing to say; the word ‘birther’ describes what I am not; it does not describe what I am. Therefore, I don’t see ‘birthism’ as a claim; I see it as the absence of a claim.”

              This, it seems to me, would be a weird thing to say. Most people believe that Barack Obama is a US citizen. They see the burden of proof to be on the birther, not on the person who thinks he was born in the USA. And usually, the birther tries to provide circumstantial evidence that Obama was not born in the USA. But even if a birther refused to provide evidence, and asked instead to have evidence of his birth provided, many people who are not birthers could do this. That’s just the dialectic of evidence-giving.

              Personally, I find the same dialectic to be in play with regard to the evidence for and against theism and atheism. Some atheists ask me to explain to them why they should be theists, and I try to oblige. Some theists ask atheists why they (the theists) should become atheists, and the atheists oblige. Both groups take positions, just like people who believe in the existence of composite objects take a position and people who disbelieve in the existence of composite objects take a position.

              That said, I’ve never heard of anyone who, having taken your position, gives it up (yes, that’s me being passive aggressive), so I’m guessing this won’t work. But I’d like to know why you’re not convinced, if you have the time.

              • Nohm

                Robert Gressis wrote:

                You seem like a good guy. I’ve enjoyed reading your comments here.

                Thanks! :-)

                That said, this line, even when coming from someone as nice as you seem to be, always raises my hackles:

                Fair enough.

                “To clarify, in my opinion, the word ‘atheist’ describes what I am not; it does not describe what I am.

                “Therefore, I don’t see ‘atheism’ as a claim; I see it as the absence of a claim.”

                Okay. Before we get into this, I think that there might be some issues with definitions and semantics. I am an agnostic atheist. To me, an atheist is simply someone who is not a theist. Some people prefer to call me an agnostic, but it’s not a label that I prefer.

                Imagine the following situation: I tell you, “I don’t believe that Barack Obama is a US citizen”.

                Ok, but for this to be analogous, I would have to say “I don’t believe that God exists”. Which, you’ll notice, I haven’t said. If I make any claim, it’s this: “I do not find the arguments and evidences of believers to be persuasive; in fact, I find them to be dispersuasive.”

                But, for the record, you’re correct: I don’t believe that any gods exist.

                But let’s continue…

                You ask in response, “so you’re a birther?”

                So, I actually wouldn’t say that. My reaction would be more like, “huh… any reason why?”

                I say, “that’s a weird thing to say; the word ‘birther’ describes what I am not; it does not describe what I am. Therefore, I don’t see ‘birthism’ as a claim; I see it as the absence of a claim.”

                Believe it or not, but I generally agree with this.

                But this is not what I experience from birthers; what I experience from them are positive claims that Obama is not a natively-born American, which would be equivalent to me making the claim “God does not exist”, and I can promise you that you’ll NEVER see me make that claim.

                This, it seems to me, would be a weird thing to say. Most people believe that Barack Obama is a US citizen.

                If you’re making an analogy to “most people believe in a god”, my response would be, “well, sure, but they have thousands of different descriptions of Him/Her/Them”. I hope you agree that it’s difficult to show that the theistic beliefs of Christians are anywhere close to the theistic beliefs of Hindus.

                They see the burden of proof to be on the birther,

                It depends on the individual birther. If it was a “Obama is not an American” birther, then I agree. If it’s a “I don’t believe Obama is an American”, then I would say that the positive claim that has to be supported is that he is an American.

                But this assumes that I care what a birther thinks, and I don’t, which is why I tend not to converse with them beyond the fascination that they have for me.

                And usually, the birther tries to provide circumstantial evidence that Obama was not born in the USA.

                Exactly. This is what I’ve experienced; a birther who claims that Obama is not an American.

                This would only be analogous if I claimed that there is no god(s).

                Which I don’t.

                Personally, I find the same dialectic to be in play with regard to the evidence for and against theism and atheism.

                Talking about viewing things as strange: I view the concept of “evidence for atheism” to be strange.

                Some atheists ask me to explain to them why they should be theists, and I try to oblige.

                This absolutely makes sense to me…

                But this:

                Some theists ask atheists why they (the theists) should become atheists, and the atheists oblige.

                doesn’t make sense to me. If asked this question, my answer would be something like “because you are no longer a theist.”

                It’s my experience that no atheist that I personally know have ever lost their theism due to an argument that someone else made; the decision to move away from theism always seems to be decided by the person themselves. Therefore, I don’t try to “evangelize”; I didn’t become an atheist because an atheist convinced me, so I don’t expect it to work that way for anyone else.

                Both groups take positions,

                Well, I don’t see “atheism” as a group. The only thing I necessarily have in common with any other atheist is in what we aren’t: theists. In America, this is seen as something special. In other countries, not as much. The positions I take are the positions that I take as an individual.

                The only position I really take is, “please first research the counter-arguments to your arguments, before presenting those arguments to me.” Or “I think that argument shows that you don’t really know what you’re talking about.”

                The positions I take are more based on context and the individual.

                That said, I’ve never heard of anyone who, having taken your position, gives it up (yes, that’s me being passive aggressive),

                Well, we’ve heard of many people who claim to once be an atheist but found God (e.g., Kirk Cameron, Lee Strobel, CS Lewis). But yes, I’ve never heard believable stories about someone who has a position similar to mine and gave it up. Having said that, I think you and I probably have different opinions as to why that is. :-)

                so I’m guessing this won’t work.

                I don’t understand what you mean by “this” and “work” in this context.

                But I’d like to know why you’re not convinced, if you have the time.

                Oooooosh.

                As you can imagine, that’s a long answer. It would be easier to answer specific claims, so I could say why I’m not convinced by those specific claims.

                But in a nutshell:

                1. When you lose your keys, or can’t find your dog, or your computer code doesn’t compile or has run-time errors, I’ve found that even the most pious of theists uses non-supernatural means of solving the problem or finding the missing item. Why should I then invoke the supernatural simply because I don’t know the answer to a question?

                2. I’ve found that the theistic arguments I’ve encountered contain many important logical fallacies.

                3. I was a believer once because I had an event happen to me that I was convinced was divine. After a lot of research and investigation, I found alternate, non-supernatural explanations for this event. I find that it’s a better idea to go with explanations that deal with issues I understand, instead of reaching for supernatural explanations that I don’t understand.

                4. I live in a world full of people who are absolutely and sincerely convinced that they have a relationship with the divine. When asked to describe that divine being, the explanations contradict other explanations. If it all just comes down to faith, how am I supposed to choose between Allah and YHWH?

                There are many more, of course, but this response is already getting waaaay too long.

                Thank you for your interest in my point of view, Robert. :-)

            • http://ochuk.com Adam Omelianchuk

              The problem with the “absence only” approach to describing atheism is that it underdetermines the concept. Dogs and cats “lack belief” or “don’t claim to believe” in God either. That doesn’t make them atheists.

              • Nohm

                It could be argued that we have no idea what a dog’s or a cat’s beliefs are.

                Therefore, I don’t see that as a problem.

                It comes down to this for me: when you see me make a positive claim, you are more than welcome to call me on it.

                Whether or not I’d be interested in defending the claim is a different issue.

              • Brad Haggard
                • randal

                  What an incredibly silly comment!

                  • Brad Haggard

                    And it has 8 “likes” right now!

                    Harry used to contribute to the blog, actually.

  • Drew

    Hey Randal have you seen Tom Talbott’s extensive critique of the OTF? I think its pretty good. http://www.willamette.edu/~ttalbott/other-writings.html

    • randal

      Not as of yet. Thanks for the link!

  • http://www.diglotting.com Kevin

    I reviewed Loftus’ The End of Christianity a few weeks ago. I had the exact same feelings about the “introduction” – it was just a rehash of Loftus’ prized OTF, which (as you noted) is essentially, (1) examine your religion with skepticism, (2) if you do not become an atheist then you have not really done step 1.

    Keep the great review coming

    • randal

      Thanks Kevin.

      What I didn’t bother to note is how multipurpose the basic form of the argument is. Thus, for any particular disagreement you can borrow the basic structure of the OTF as follows:

      (1) If you examine the evidence honestly you’ll agree with me.
      (2) If after examining the evidence you find that you still don’t agree with me please see (1).

  • Jesse Toler

    A very good read. This puts the anemic OTF to a robust OTF that actully considers epistemological princibles before coming to uninformed conclusions.

    Using John’s silly OTF, I can posit that 2+2=54 and somehow that would falisify the correct answer.

  • http://twitter.com/davidstarlingm davidstarlingm

    Nohm said:

    “I don’t view atheists as a group because all we have in common is what we aren’t. I don’t see you and I in a group because we both don’t accept the divine authorship of the Qur’an, therefore I don’t see myself and any other atheist in a group because we don’t accept the divine authorship of the Bible.”

    This, I think, is the biggest communication difficulty we have. Let me see if I can explain the theist’s point of view for you.

    Atheists are placed in a common group, not because of what they aren’t (that would be silly), but because of what they are. Atheists are the group of people who have been become aware of theistic claims and categorically rejected them. Atheists are individuals who have chosen to maintain a categorical opposition to theism.

    A nontheist is simply someone who has no particular beliefs about God but doesn’t consider pure naturalism to be particularly more likely than general supernaturalism. An atheist says, “I have reviewed supernatural claims and I find them to be less convincing than naturalism.” Does that make sense?

    • Nohm

      Hi David,

      To start out, all I can say is “I generally disagree with your definitions”. But I doubt that either of us has a big interest in getting into an argument over definitions.

      davidstarlingm wrote:

      This, I think, is the biggest communication difficulty we have. Let me see if I can explain the theist’s point of view for you.

      Well, to nit-pick, this is one theist’s point of view: yours.

      Having done the religion online debate thing for almost 17 years now, I’ve learned that you take 100 different theists or atheists and you’ll get 100 different points of view. For example, your definitions below are drastically different (and, fortunately, far more polite) than the definitions used by Ray Comfort or Paula White.

      Atheists are placed in a common group, not because of what they aren’t (that would be silly),

      I’m glad that we both agree that would be silly.

      but because of what they are. Atheists are the group of people who have been become aware of theistic claims

      I’m with you here, but…

      and categorically rejected them.

      This is where you lose me. I do not categorically reject them. I reject them individually.

      To clarify, I am always open to the idea that there exists a theistic claim that I won’t reject. But, up to this point, I have rejected the ones that have been presented to me.

      Atheists are individuals who have chosen to maintain a categorical opposition to theism.

      But again the problem here is that the this describes only a small number of people who call themselves “atheists”.

      Also, I certainly don’t “maintain a categorical opposition to theism”; as I said before, if I was to become convinced that one or more gods exist, what am I going to say? “No”? “No, I don’t wanna”? “It’s more important that I maintain being an atheist than to accept reality”?

      That seems obnoxious to me.

      So we have the issue of who is “correct” when defining the word “atheist”? The atheists? Or people who do not use the label?

      I’m not suggesting that I know the answer to that, but in most situations I go with the former. For example, I don’t tell LDS members that they are not Christians because they don’t match my definition of the word “Christian”. I take this labels separately and individually.

      A nontheist is simply someone who has no particular beliefs about God but doesn’t consider pure naturalism to be particularly more likely than general supernaturalism. An atheist says, “I have reviewed supernatural claims and I find them to be less convincing than naturalism.”

      Well, by this definition of atheist, I am an atheist, although I would change the statement to “I have reviewed the supernatural claims presented to me and I find them to be less convincing that natural explanations that I have found.”

      I do view that statement as slightly, but importantly, different from your statement.

      Also, and I wish I came up with this quote, but if the supernatural exists, wouldn’t that make it natural, just simply misunderstood?

  • Robert Gressis

    Hi Nohm,

    Well, the software no longer allows me to reply directly to your last comment, so I’m just posting a new one at the bottom.

    First, I think there’s a difference between not believing in X and disbelieving in X. I take someone who disbelieves in God–where God is taken to be a powerful, intelligent, good being–to be an atheist and someone who doesn’t believe (or disbelieve) in God to be an agnostic. Note that I take someone who thinks it is significantly more likely than not that God doesn’t exist to be an atheist. Thus, I would hesitate to call someone who thinks there is a 45% chance that God exists to be an atheist, but I wouldn’t hesitate to call someone who thinks there’s a 1% chance that God exists to be an atheist. These percentages, of course, are just placeholders for the strength of a person’s credence in a particular claim. In real life, people will say things like, “I think there’s a fair chance that God exists”, “I think there’s a low chance that God exists”, and “I think it’s incredibly unlikely that God exists”. The last one would certainly be an atheist (as I use the term), the first one would probably be an agnostic or theist (as I use the terms), and the middle one would probably be an agnostic or atheist (as I use the terms).

    If you describe the argument from evil as a counter-argument to theism, rather than an argument for atheism, then I have little idea of what an argument for atheism looks like. But if this is what you think, then it seems to me that you also have to think that there are no arguments for birthism or Holocaust-denial — there are only counterarguments to the claim that Obama is a US citizen and a counterargument to the claim that the Holocaust happened. I assume you talk this way because you think that any claim like “X is the case” or “X exists” is a positive claim, and so any argument in support of the denial of “X is the case” or “X exists” is not an argument for ~X but is rather a counter-argument against X. You’re free to talk like this, I suppose, but I’ve never heard any of my philosopher colleagues talk like this. One reason we don’t talk like this has to do with how we define an argument. An argument is a set of claims (premises) arranged so as to support another claim (the conclusion). This definition–off the top of my head, but in keeping with every logic and intro to philosophy book I’ve read–doesn’t define arguments into “arguments” and “counter-arguments”. To do so would be unnecessarily bulky, because then you’ve have to decide what counts as a positive claim and what counts as a negative claim, and why go there, especially when it’s so easy to turn any positive claim into a negative claim, and vice versa?

    Now, you might think, “but it’s really easy to say what a positive claim and what a negative claim is! A positive claim is simply a claim that something exists, whereas a negative claim is a denial of the claim that something exists!” Against this, I would say, “well, why say that *that* is what a positive claim is? Why not say that a positive claim is a claim that such-and-such is the case? But of course, if you say *that*, then things like “the world is such that it contains no non-natural beings” is a positive claim, for it says something quite far-reaching about what the world is like. It says that only objects that are in principle amenable to scientific study exist (or whatever it means to say that something is natural).

    Now maybe you want to say that one reason to define a positive claim as the assertion that something exists rather than the assertion that such-and-such is the case is that it’s hard to distinguish positive from negative claims if we define positive claims as claims that such-and-such is the case, but it’s easy to distinguish positive from negative claims if we define positive claims as claims that something exists. The problem with this strategy is that it makes a whole realm of claims into neither positive nor negative claims, despite the fact that one would want to say that these claims require evidence. For instance, “423 divided by 3=141″ is a claim, surely, but it’s not clear at all to me that “423 divided by 3=141″ involves the claim that anything in particular *exists*. And yet one can provide evidence for the claim that 423 divided by 3 = 141; all you have to do is put it into a calculator to show that it gets that answer, or do it long-hand and present your work along the way.

    Anyway, I’m still not sure why you want to say that atheism is not a claim but the absence of a claim. I don’t see at all what hangs on this. If someone asks you why you believe this claim, you can simply say that you see no reason to believe that God exists and lots of reason to believe that there probably is no God. What’s the problem with that?

    • Nohm

      Robert, take any label that you apply to yourself. Maybe “liberal Christian”, as Randal does.

      Imagine that there are a lot of people who don’t use that label on themselves, who have a different definition for that label. Imagine that this different definition is one that you disagree with, maybe because it leads others to believe that you have to support claims that you, yourself, don’t make.

      What would you do in this situation?

      (I’m not assuming that I know what you would do; it’s just an honest question.)

      • Robert Gressis

        In that situation, I would probably change what I call myself. Either I would abandon “liberal Christian” altogether, or I would add a qualifying adjective (like, “metaphysically realist liberal Christian”, which is probably what I am).

        That said, I don’t see you, given all the things you’ve said so far, as being in that situation.

    • Nohm

      Oh my goodness.

      I wrote up a full reply to your post, Robert, but then tried to delete it because I forgot to click the “Reply” button, and I wanted the comment to be correctly threaded. When I tried to reply to your comment, it said that I had already entered that comment, so I just let it stand as its own comment.

      Well, it appears that while the change-to-reply wasn’t accepted, my deletion was, which means that entire comment I spent 30 minutes writing is gone.

      Ugh.

      I’ll try to gather the motivation (that’s nothing against you, just that the idea of writing it all again is currently daunting) to rewrite it.

      That’s why there’s that comment that refrences Romans 1:18-25; it was a clarification to my earlier (now-deleted) post.

      Randal, if there’s any way you can still access that comment, please let me know. If not, I’ll write it again.

      • randal

        I just attempted to restore your comment.

        • Nohm

          Thank you very much, Randal! :-D

  • Nohm

    Hi Robert,

    You wrote:

    First, I think there’s a difference between not believing in X and disbelieving in X.

    Cool. I agree.

    I take someone who disbelieves in God[…]”

    I snipped the rest. The problem here is that we’re using different definitions for “atheism” and “agnosticism”. Again, I ask that you look this up online to at least see that I’m hardly the only person who uses the following definitions:

    Theism = belief
    Gnosticism = knowledge

    And therefore they deal with separate issues. Hence, I’m an agnostic atheist. Whether you’re a gnostic theist or an agnostic theist depends on whether or not you claim to know that God exists.

    I’m not suggesting that everyone agrees with my definitions, just that I’m not pulling these out of my rear.

    If you describe the argument from evil as a counter-argument to theism, rather than an argument for atheism, then I have little idea of what an argument for atheism looks like.

    Same here, which is why I think it’s nonsensical. But, more importantly, an argument from atheism, in my mind, would end with the conclusion of “therefore, it is not reasonable to believe in god(s)” or even “therefore, no gods exist”.

    The problem of evil argument, at least if I was to use it, would end with the conclusion of “therefore, your description of your god is internally contradictory”.

    As I mentioned above, there are theists who don’t have a problem with evil, due to their particular description of their god. Therefore, the problem of evil argument would in no way support the claim that their god does not exist. Therefore, I don’t see the problem of evil to be an argument for atheism.

    But if this is what you think, then it seems to me that you also have to think that there are no arguments for birthism or Holocaust-denial — there are only counterarguments to the claim that Obama is a US citizen and a counterargument to the claim that the Holocaust happened.

    I agree with the latter but I disagree with the former. There are positive arguments that claim that Obama is a Kenyan citizen. Therefore, that would be an argument for “birthism”.

    But again, I don’t really see “Obama is a US citizen” or the Holocaust as analogous to theism; people arguing that the Holocaust happened don’t have 100 very different descriptions of the Holocaust. Even just within Christianity, we have situations where you, Robert, describe your God in one way, but then Ray Comfort describes the same God in a different way, and the Westboro Baptist Church describes the Christian God in another different way (notably, how He feels about military funerals). I don’t see that with claims of the Holocaust having happened.

    I assume you talk this way because you think that any claim like “X is the case” or “X exists” is a positive claim, and so any argument in support of the denial of “X is the case” or “X exists” is not an argument for ~X but is rather a counter-argument against X.

    Not exactly. It depends on how well-defined ‘X’ is.

    Basically, I tend to avoid ~X arguments, and instead focus on “your argument for X contains logical fallacies” arguments. That’s the distinction I’m trying to explain.

    An argument is a set of claims (premises) arranged so as to support another claim (the conclusion). This definition–off the top of my head, but in keeping with every logic and intro to philosophy book I’ve read–doesn’t define arguments into “arguments” and “counter-arguments”.

    You and I agree on this. I was only using the word “counter-arguments” as a rhetorical device to try to clarify my point of view. I agree that the word “counter-argument” is a subset of the word “argument”; every counter-argument is an argument, matching your definition above.

    To do so would be unnecessarily bulky, because then you’ve have to decide what counts as a positive claim and what counts as a negative claim, and why go there, especially when it’s so easy to turn any positive claim into a negative claim, and vice versa?

    I think this is where we disagree, not in general, but on specific items. Theism is one of these items. For the record, I tend to view all arguments as positive claims, as you seem to define that term. The distinction again that I’m trying to make is that I think arguments that end with “therefore there is no reason to believe in God” are very different from arguments that end with “therefore your argument for God contains logical fallacies”. I do not believe that the latter conclusion supports the former conclusion.

    things like “the world is such that it contains no non-natural beings” is a positive claim, for it says something quite far-reaching about what the world is like.

    You and I agree on this.

    And I would never make such an argument, because I don’t think I can support it. What I would instead argue is that specific arguments for the existence of non-natural beings contain logical fallacies and therefore those specific arguments fail.

    I hope you and I agree that the theoretical defeat of an argument for the existence of non-natural beings does not then support the argument that no non-natural beings exist.

    It says that only objects that are in principle amenable to scientific study exist (or whatever it means to say that something is natural).

    And you and I agree here also; that is a positive claim.

    Anyway, I’m still not sure why you want to say that atheism is not a claim but the absence of a claim.

    I hope I helped explain this above, but again I think one of the main problems we have here is that we define “atheism” differently and, since I myself use the label, I ain’t budging from my definition. :-)

    I don’t see at all what hangs on this. If someone asks you why you believe this claim, you can simply say that you see no reason to believe that God exists and lots of reason to believe that there probably is no God. What’s the problem with that?

    To make a long story short, it’s because most theists I talk with online don’t believe me when I say that. They’ll tell me that I really do believe, but that I deny Him (q.v., Romans 1:20-25, and the Qur’an contains surahs similar to this).

    But here? I don’t have a problem with that, and it closely matches what I would actually say. I still don’t see atheism itself as a claim, but I do see “I have no reason to believe that God exists and lots of reasons to believe that there probably are no gods” as a claim.

    I think the problem might be that it seems that you view that claim as a definition of “atheism”, and I don’t; I view it as my own personal viewpoint, but I know other atheists who don’t share that exact viewpoint.

    • Nohm

      Arg, I forgot to click the “reply” button on your post, Robert. I apologize for that. :-/

      • Robert Gressis

        That’s unforgivable, Nohm. I demand that you have my name branded somewhere on your body as penance.

        But I’m a pretty magnanimous guy, so you pick the spot.

    • Nohm

      Ugh, please replace “Romans 1:20-25″ with “Romans 1:18-25″; verses 18 and 19 are important to that issue.

      Here’s the scripture:

      1:18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness;
      1:19 Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them.
      1:20 For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; that they are without excuse:
      1:21 Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.
      1:22 Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,
      1:23 And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.
      1:24 Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves:
      1:25 Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.

      (Emphasis added)

    • Robert Gressis

      I never denied that there are people who use atheist and agnostic in the way you do. I just find the way you use them needlessly convoluted (that’s not meant to be insulting, just the way I see it).

      I think most people who are self-described atheists disbelieve in, or think improbable, the existence of a very specific kind of God: namely, one that created the universe, is very powerful, very knowing, and very good. Given the history of the west, and the way things are done nowadays, most people know what kind of God you’re disbelieving in.

      I see the problem of evil as an argument for atheism, and not a counter-argument against theism, because even though it’s aimed at a specific kind of being, it’s not *responding to a particular theistic argument*. Rather, it’s saying something like, “whatever reason you have to believe in God, there’s a strong reason to believe against God, and so at the very least we’re going to have to weigh the argument for God against the argument against God”.

      By contrast, an argument against the success of the cosmological argument is not an argument for atheism. It’s merely an argument against a particular argument for theism. Lots of theists argue against the cosmological argument.

      As for this logical fallacies business, I don’t see most versions of the argument from evil as purporting to show a logical fallacy in theism. Instead, most of them are trying to show that there’s very strong argument against theism, just like there’s very strong argument against the existence of Big Foot. In addition, arguments against the cosmological argument often don’t try to show a logical fallacy, but rather try to show that we don’t have any reason to believe one of the premises (such as the principle of sufficient reason).

      I don’t see the relevance of the point that people describe God very differently. Westboro Baptist Church thinks that God damns many, many people to hell. I don’t. But, I assume we both believe that God exists, is very powerful, very knowledgeable, and very good. I think there are few Christian theists who deny this, though there are some, I imagine.

      • Robert Gressis

        I hope my latest comment didn’t come off as curt. I was rather exhausted when I wrote it, so I may have expressed things indelicately.

  • txfreethinker

    A “skeptical” review?? Please! This should be called “A Believer’s Review”!

    • randal

      txfreethinker,

      It depends what you mean by those terms. If by “believer” you mean that I believe a certain set of metaphysical claims then yes I am a believer. But then every properly functioning adult human being believes certain metaphysical claims so we’re all in that sense “believers”. As for skepticism, yes, I am skeptical that the authors of the book in question have succeeded in achieving their stated objectives which is to present defeaters to Christianity so decisive that the faith must be abandoned.

      So now that we’ve defined our terms, do you actually have anything intelligent to add to the conversation?

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  • Ed Babinski

    Hi Randal,

    Loftus wrote: “When religions disagree with one another I think they’re all right.”

    But since you knew John was speaking rhetorically elsewhere why didn’t you read that line also as being sarcastic rhetoric? It’s similar in my opinion to the line atheists use, “Christians and atheists both disbelieve in a zillion rival gods, but the atheist disbelieves in one more god than the Christian does.”

    Granted, Loftus could have put things less rhetorically by saying “they’re all wrong,” instead of “they’re all right,” but he was trying to make the rhetorical point that they are right to be criticizing one another on points none of them can prove to the other.

    I was also reading your other review posts and defenses of the Bible and Christianity, and noted that they consist of discussing “theories” that might explain the Bible better, or might explain a theological opinion or belief better. But what about those for whom your theories lack the power to convince let alone convert?

    I admit you find your theories satisfying emotionally and intellectually. But by admitting they are theories don’t you take the questions back to the beginning, begging for faith? (You might also want to start replacing your use of the word “theory” throughout your review with “hypothesis,” since theories are well established like the theory of gravity in comparison to which your theological interpretations seem less well established, more like hypotheses.)

    • randal

      “since you knew John was speaking rhetorically elsewhere why didn’t you read that line also as being sarcastic rhetoric?”

      It isn’t just a single line. This is an extended line of thought that carries over three paragraphs. And John makes it clear that he really does appropriate arguments different “religionists” launch against one another. For example, in this section he appropriates a “fundamentalist” argument against “liberals” — namely that they inconsistently pick and choose how they read scripture — which would do John MacArthur proud. This is NOT just a rhetorical flourish.

      “But what about those for whom your theories lack the power to convince let alone convert?”

      Ed, I’m reviewing a book that bombastically purports to establish the end of Christianity. My point in this review is not to engage in positive apologetics for my views but rather deconstruct the arguments of the atheological apologist where I think they are bad (which is mostly the case). So it is a bit unfair to start demanding that I mount a positive case for Christianity when I’m focused on defeating defeaters.

      “by admitting they are theories don’t you take the questions back to the beginning, begging for faith?”

      I don’t understand what you mean.

      “(You might also want to start replacing your use of the word “theory” throughout your review with “hypothesis,” since theories are well established like the theory of gravity in comparison to which your theological interpretations seem less well established, more like hypotheses.)”

      I think you’re incorrect in your use of terminology. You seem to think that hypothesis and theory are on the same continuum, the latter simply being a more well established conjecture than the former. That is not correct. I’m using the term “theory” in the sense that scientists use it, namely as an overarching interpretive framework of a given set of data. This use is neutral as to how successful the theory is at explaining the data. For example, the Ptolemaic theory is at present dead but it is still a theory.

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