Showing posts with label Scientism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Scientism. Show all posts

Sunday, July 17, 2016

A Nation Ruled By Science Wouldn't Be A Terrible Idea, If Done Right

Recently there were several articles criticizing a tweet by famed astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson about an idea for a virtual country called Rationalia with a single line constitution that all policy should be based on the weight of evidence:

For an evidentialist like me who thinks the justification of a conclusion depends solely on the evidence for it, this seems like a good idea. Who wouldn't want to live in a society where policy is based on evidence? Well, lot's of people apparently. Now mind you, Twitter has a 140 character limitation, and offers little room for nuance. So the details of Tyson's idea aren't able to be hashed out on such a platform. But for someone who just wrong a lengthy blog post about how we should infer ontology and who actively supports applying scientific thinking to society's problems, I can offer some insights and a critique on how such a country could in theory work, and in the process shut down many of the strawmen arguments made about such a view.

Over at New Scientist Jeffrey Guhin makes several mistakes in his critique of Tyson in an article called, A rational nation ruled by science would be a terrible idea. First he immediately calls Tyson's idea "scientism." 

“Scientism” is the belief that all we need to solve the world’s problems is – you guessed it – science. People sometimes use the phrase “rational thinking”, but it amounts to the same thing. If only people would drop religion and all their other prejudices, we could use logic to fix everything.

Now it is true that Tyson has been accused of scientism in the past, so I cannot defend Tyson on this, as I myself reject it in its strong form. But, there are two different kinds of scientism, strong and weak. Here are the differences:

Strong scientism: the view that science alone can render truth about the world and reality
Weak scientism: the view that science is the most reliable method to render truth about the world and reality, but one among many methods that can render truth.

There are various definitions of strong and weak scientism, and no necessary agreement on them among philosophers and scientists, but that's how I define them. Given weak scientism, no one is forced to think science is the sole way to solve the world's problems or the only thing that can count as "evidence." And with that, this critique disappears.

Next Guhin moves onto flaws in science itself. Scientists have irrational biases he says, and this could lead them to mislead us. Sure, we all have cognitive biases, and scientists are not in any way immune to this defect. But the scientific method takes into consideration these inherent cognitive biases and employs methods like double blind peer review to correct for them. In a society like Rationalia which emphasizes scientific thinking, presumably any problems that exist in science, like a lack of funding, or issues with the peer review process, will have special dedications reserved for fixing them. Why would we assume that the problems that exist in science today in societies that do not privilege scientific research and its findings to determine policy would persist in a society that does? In Rationalia scientific funding would take precedent over many other forms of funding, like the insane corporate welfare and military industrial complexes we have in the modern US.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

A Reply To Steven Jake On The Last Superstition - Part 5: Aquinas' Fifth Way

Steven Jake over on the Christian Agnostic blog wrote a review of my review of Feser's book The Last Superstition. So let me now review his review of my review. This is part 5 on Aquinas' Fifth Way.

Aquinas' Fifth Way

The existence of teleological final causes is paramount on the Fifth Way argument. SJ reiterates Feser's example of an acorn turning into a tree, whereby the tree is the final cause of the acorn but there's immediately a problem:

For how, then, can a final cause actually be a cause if it doesn’t actually exist yet? For example, an acorn has an oak as (one of) its final causes. But the oak doesn’t yet exist, only the acorn. So how can the oak actually be a genuine cause if it doesn’t exist? Well we actually do have examples where a final cause doesn’t exist in a substance, but exists in an intellect. An example that Feser gives is that of a builder. See, before a builder builds a house, the form of the house is contained in his intellect. So here the final cause does exist as a form in the intellect of a builder.

SJ doesn't define the "intellect" here and neither does Feser, at least up to chapter 4. If the "intellect" is the mind, then the mind is caused by the brain. Every thought, idea, and concept that you consciously entertain reduces down into a brain state that causes it. And you don't have to except complete physical reductionism in order to accept this. Thomists like SJ and Feser have to deny that this is true, because if they concede that the brain causes the mind, their metaphysic basically comes crumbling down. Feser says the intellect causes the will on p. 127. That sounds to me like the mind. So if the Thomist is going to claim that the form of the house is contained in the intellect and that this is somehow immaterial and that this somehow has causal power over the builder in any respect, he needs to show scientific evidence for that because that basically would violate everything physics says is true. The burden would be on the Thomist because he'd be saying that there is something in addition to the four fundamental forces at work here. And if he says that formal causes would not be verifiable in any scientific way of having causal power on the physical, then he needs to explain why a mere materialistic ontology is not enough. And lastly, we're talking about causes that affect the physical world here, so this is a question in the domain of physics. So one cannot say that I'm assuming scientism.

But, what about final causes that are not similar to artifacts like buildings, like the oak we mentioned earlier? Well there are only a few possibilities: (1) it might exist in the natural object itself; (2) it exists in a human intellect; (3) it exists in an intellect outside the natural world altogether; (4) or final causes don’t exist at all. We have already explained why (1) doesn’t work—the form of the oak doesn’t already exist in the acorn. We know that (4) cannot be true since causal regularity necessitates final causality (see above). (2) cannot be true since we are not the ones that make acorns turn into oaks. Therefore, (4) is our only option, and thus we are led to an intellect which exists outside of the natural order.

SJ made a mistake here, I think he was referring to (3) as the answer, not (4). We have no good reason for granting teleological final causes. None of Feser's arguments for it logically prove its necessity. So granting (4) above is no problem, because once again, mere causal regularity is perfectly compatible with naturalism, and SJ acknowledges this himself. Final causes are when substances generate a range of effects reliably, which is causal regularity. Hence, to get final causes all you need is causal regularity. In this sense, final causes are being defined as causal regularity. But SJ claims the naturalists have "great difficulty" explaining why causal regularity exists in the first place. Three responses. (A) This presupposes the principle of sufficient reason and SJ has not shown brute facts are impossible, (B) this presumes that causal regularity on naturalism is unexpected and no prior is given why it should be unexpected, and (C) if I grant that we have difficulty explaining this, if this is a problem for me, then explaining non-physical causes and why god eternally coexists with our universe and not no universe or another universe is a problem for SJ. If he can appeal to mystery to absolve him of his problem, then I can do the same. I can say that there is a naturalistic answer to why causal regularity exists but that we can't know it because our brains aren't capable of knowing everything. I can do the same thing SJ does.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

An Atheist Reviews The Last Superstition: A Refutation Of The New Atheism (Chapter 4 Scholastic Aptitude - Part 3: Faith, Reason, And Evil)

Faith, reason, and evil

In the final section of chapter 4 Feser defends the notion of faith and its relationship to reason in Christianity and addresses the problem of evil. He makes so many points I want to address that I apologize in advance for how long this chapter's review as become.

Faith, Feser defines, is "the will to keep one's mind fixed precisely on what reason has discovered to it." (154) In order to keep things relatively short, I'll accept this as a definition of faith for this review even though I have objections to it. We also get Feser's definition of a miracle, which is "a suspension of the natural order that cannot be explained in any way other than divine intervention in the normal course of events." (154) This is the traditional definition of a miracle, but not the only one. In fact, some Christians like Kenneth Pearce have even argued that such a definition is incoherent with the traditional notion of an omni-deity. If that's so, I'm afraid Feser's view on miracles would have to be false, and if they are false, the central argument in his book for theism is even less plausible. This is just an extra layer of falsity in addition to the fact that Feser's view is already incoherent for requiring libertarian free will while his metaphysics refutes it.

Feser machine gun blasts several dozen points rapidly here, so let me address some of them one by one. Regarding Christianity specifically, he says:

If the story of Jesus's resurrection is true, then you must become a Christian; if it is false, then Christianity itself is false, and should be rejected. (154)

Um, it's false. We can be fairly confident of that. There is no reason why any rational person should accept the historical or miracle claims in the New Testament, even if one believes there is a god, or a person (or persons) that the character of Jesus was based on. We have plenty of reason to doubt his existence and his divinity if such a person existed.*

Given that God exists and that He sustains the world and the causal laws governing it in being at every moment, we know that there is a power capable of producing a miracle, that is, a suspension of those causal laws. (155)

Feser is of course proceeding as if his previous arguments from before have stuck, but we have no good reason of thinking they have. Some of them are flat out refuted by science or are internally inconsistent. How does an utterly timeless being "lacking any potentiality whatsoever" produce a miracle, like impregnating an under-aged virgin who gives birth to himself as "God incarnate"?

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

An Atheist Reviews The Last Superstition: A Refutation Of The New Atheism (Chapter 3 Getting Medieval)

Feser starts chapter 3 lauding Aquinas' lifelong chastity and devotion to god, as if that's supposed to impress us. Religious obsessions with chastity always reminds me of how masochistic it is. There's also something about serious Catholics that I really don't like. I've always hated Catholicism, but it's hard to hate most Catholics today because most of them are so non-religious that they act almost indistinguishable from your average secular atheist. But the ones who take their religion seriously, like Feser, get me agitated. Feser is convinced his religion is true and wants the world to conform to it, and that's dangerous. I suppose then that it's a good thing he doesn't get much traction.

It's in chapter 3, called Getting Medieval, that Feser lays out his argument for god. He starts by making several insults about the New Atheists and their apparent failure to address the "greatest philosopher of the Middle Ages," especially Richard Dawkins, who is arguably the most famous atheist in the world. As a reminder once again, I haven't fully read The God Delusion, and so I unfortunately cannot speak on Dawkins' behalf. But, from what I did read, Dawkins does make a lot of common sense arguments against the belief in a theistic intervening god - the kind who ensures you have parking space at Walmart while he ignores the prayers of millions of kids starving to death. Hitchens' God is Not Great is really a critique of religion, specifically the Abrahamic ones. He doesn't really try and refute the existence of god per se. Perhaps this is a weakness, but I think his criticisms against Abrahamic theism are strong enough that no argument anyone can make could establish the probabilistic existence of Yahweh. The biblical god and the religions that derive from him are just too absurd to be taken seriously, even when Aquinas' arguments are met head on, as we're about to see.

Feser makes a big deal about the New Atheist's criticisms of William Paley's popular design argument. The reason why so many atheists mention Paley's argument is because it's a very popular argument that a lot of theists make. It's also a very simple argument; one doesn't need to learn complex, esoteric metaphysics like one has to do in order to understand Aquinas. That's why Paley's argument keeps coming up again and again, and the New Atheists (and atheists in general) have to make it a point to address it. Aquinas' arguments are generally too complex and require too much philosophical knowledge for your average wannabe apologist to successfully make. It's much easier for them to memorize the simple premises of the cosmological argument, or remember the scene involved in Paley's watchmaker analogy. It's fair to say that it isn't a straw man to attack design arguments of the Paley variety as Feser thinks on page 81. It's a legitimate argument for god, albeit a really bad one. No, a more proper straw man is like what Feser did in his opening chapter when he says your average secularist thinks strangling infants or fucking corpses or goats is perfectly normal in order to show how secularism is "irrational, immoral, and indeed insane," without even defining what he means by "secularism."

Feser's attitude seems to be that none of the New Atheist's arguments mean anything, until they refute Aquinas. And to be fair, the New Atheists have, by and large, not taken up Aquinas. Feser accuses secularists of swallowing "anything their gurus shovel at them." (80) But he must realize how absurd it is for him to make such a claim, when everyone knows it's organized religion that brainwashes its masses and requires its adherents make statements of faith, usually starting at childhood. And the Catholic Church is about as organized as organized religion can get.

Monday, August 3, 2015

An Atheist Reviews The Last Superstition: A Refutation Of The New Atheism (Chapter 2 Greeks Bearing Gifts)

All throughout the preface and the first chapter Feser made numerous extremely bold claims that he promises to back up in the later chapters. By chapter two, entitled Greeks Bearing Gifts, we start seeing some of those justifications come to light. The chapter starts out on a crash course through ancient Greek philosophy leading up to Plato and then Aristotle. I won't summarize Feser's teaching unless I think it is significant for his objective, which is to show that "a certain kind of" religion and god are not only reasonable to believe in, but that it's logically impossible that naturalism is true.

Plato and Aristotle are considered to be two of the greatest philosophers of all time, and I would largely agree. That's not to say that I agree with all of their ideas, especially their metaphysical ones, it's just to recognize the fact that they were both deeply analytic thinkers and widely influential. For example, I regard the Euthyphro Dilemma, from Plato's Euthyphro, as one of the greatest pieces of moral insight. But, I digress. For Feser, he focuses first on Plato's Theory of Forms, which is one of the things I think Plato got wrong.

Take the triangle. Any triangle physically drawn or created will in some way be imperfect, if only by a tiny amount. They will all lack features that perfectly exemplify a triangle - that is, they will have features not part of a triangle's essence or nature. Plato argues from this that the essence or nature of triangularity is not material or known through our senses, and when we exemplify triangles physically they go in and out of existence, but its essence stays the same. The essential features of triangularity are therefore according to Plato, universal, and not particular, immaterial, and not material, and known through the intellect and not through the senses.

Feser is making the case for Platonic realism, and makes arguments against nominalism, and conceptualism. Platonic realism is the view that universals (like triangles, squares, and other geometric patterns) and abstract objects (like numbers) exist independently of minds or physical space and time. Nominalism is the view that these objects do not exist, and conceptualism is the view that these objects exist, but only as concepts in our minds. Feser presents several arguments to try and show that realism is true and that nominalism and conceptualism are false. The reason why he's trying to do so starts becoming clear on page 36 where he writes:

A triangle is a triangle only because it participates in the Form of Trianglarity; a squirrel is a squirrel only because it participates in the Form of Squirrel; and so forth. By the same token, something is going to count as a better triangle the more perfectly it participates in or instantiates triangularity, and a squirrel would be a better squirrel the more perfectly it participates in or instantiates the Form of Squirrel.

This is all leading up to the natural law theory of ethics that many Catholics, like Feser, think forms the basis of our morality. Feser goes on:

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Night Of Philosophy

Last Friday night I went to an event called "Night of Philosophy". It took place at the French Embassy here in New York and the Ukrainian Institute of America. The idea is interesting: 12 straight hours of half hour presentations giving by many world-renowned philosophers on a variety of topics from logic, to existence, to religion, to god and science. Entry was for free. Oh yeah, and there was a bar. Given how all this stuff is right up my alley, I went straight after work.

Although it was 80 degrees last weekend, this weekend it was 40 degrees. Other than having to wait about 35 minutes in the cold with ferocious winds, the event was very unexpected treat. I missed David Albert's presentation on the arrow of time, but I did get to see presentations from many philosophers I've taken an interest in, including Massimo Pigliucci, Alex Rosenberg, and Tim Maudlin.

Alex Rosenberg gave a speech in defense of scientism and included a PowerPoint slide with his "answers" to the biggest perplexing philosophical questions:

Is there a God? No.
What is the nature of reality? What physics says it is.
What is the purpose of the universe? There is none.
What is the meaning of life? Ditto.
Is there a soul? Is it immortal? Are you kidding?
Is there free will? Not a chance.
What is the difference between right and wrong, good and bad? Nothing beyond the emotions mother nature selected us for having.
Does human history ave any lessons for the future? Few and fewer, if it ever had any.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

“You are an aperture through which the universe is looking at and exploring itself.”

That there is only the natural world, which we are a part of, seems to me truth given the evidence. Thus the naturalist like myself realizes that man and nature are the same thing. Mankind is nature becoming conscious of itself. The late Anglo-American philosopher Alan Watts knew this quite well. In recent years he's become one of my favorite philosophers, and although he may not have technically been a naturalist in the strictest sense, his Zen inspired wisdom and metaphysics more often than not fall perfectly in line with the naturalism espoused by many atheists.

There is no doubt that naturalism can seem a lot more appealing when cloaked in the beautiful poetic language of philosophy and analogy. And Watts was incredibly good at doing this. In the Eastern traditions, the universe is not a creation, it's more like an organism. It grows. And as it grows, it peoples, in the same way that an apple tree apples. Thus, human beings are not born into the universe, they're born out of it. Watts thought that existence was fundamentally musical in nature. And so just as music doesn't have a destination, he argued the universe is not heading towards a particular goal. It is the process of the music unfolding over time that is why we enjoy it, just like when we dance we don't aim at a particular spot on the dance floor. The point is not to finish as fast as you can. The enjoyment comes from the dancing itself. Western philosophy however, which is so heavily influenced by Christianity and Judaism, sees the world and man as two separate creations, each created with a teleology in mind, and this Watts observes, is fundamentally at odds with the Eastern traditions and naturalism.

From some perspectives Zen and naturalism go hand in hand. Perhaps naturalism allows us the best explanation why we at times feel one with nature. In my mind, one can easily be a naturalist and a practitioner of Zen Buddhism. Now I'm not at all advocating Zen, or claiming myself as one of its followers. I'm just noticing that there is this tendency among too many atheists to reject all of what religion or spirituality has to offer because it is associated with metaphysics which the atheist rejects. I too reject the metaphysical claims of almost all religions, but that does not mean that here and there one cannot find bits of wisdom and insight that offer a far richer view of the natural world than through the lens of a purely scientific epistemology. Life is too colorful and our minds are too philosophical to restrict one's way of thinking in such rigid scientism. Philosophies like the kind held by Alan Watts can offer the naturalist who has jettisoned all forms of religion and spirituality with an enhanced understanding of their place in the universe. And so I leave you with his words:

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Missing In Action

It's been a while since I've blogged. I've had a few changes in my life in the past month or so. I got a new job recently and it requires that I work longer hours. That means less time for blogging, but more money, and that means more opportunity for partying. This past winter I spent many cold winter nights huddled in front of my computer blogging and debating online. Now that I have more money, and the weather has gotten nicer, it seems to me that my priorities have changed. Going out partying in the city with my friends has won out over sitting home alone with my computer.

This is not to say that I've lost interest in my atheism. Not at all. I've just been focused much more on the city. I'm still fascinated by metaphysics and questions on ultimate reality. I've been watching the new Cosmos series. So far my reviews are mostly positive. I like the fact that Tyson spends a lot of time inculcating the scientific mentality into the audience by telling them to never rely on authorities and to question everything, especially commonly held assumptions. I'm not sure the new Cosmos is better than the original that Carl Sagan did in 1980. Sagan's was a masterpiece. He had an amazing talent in personifying the awe and wonder of the universe. Tyson certainly has that too, and it's no wonder that he should be Sagan's natural successor. But the new Cosmos hasn't felt to me to be inspiring that awesome wonder that the original did in quite the same way.

I haven't been reading any new books about anything interesting. I've been engaging in a few online debates here and there, and what I've mostly gotten out of them is a further confirmation that theism makes no sense. A few witty Christians I've been debating really think that the evidence lies on their side. I've noticed though, that many Christian blogs have strict commenting policies. If you say anything that they don't like, you're banished. Gone. Most atheist blogs have a free and open commenting policy. I let anyone comment on my blog, and only have to delete the occasional spammer.

Unfortunately, given my new schedule, I won't be able to blog at the same volume I once did. If I'm lucky I'll be able to squeeze one or two a week. I miss those long nights writing for hours on my laptop. I have a host of ideas in their embryonic stages that I want to try committing myself to writing. I want to explore endurantism verses perdurantism, dating dynamics for atheists, and many more. All in due time I hope.

For now, getting over my hangover is my main concern.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

What Would Make You Change Your Mind?

In the fall out of the recent Nye vs. Ham debate, the internet is abuzz with Ham's admission that nothing would change his mind to accept evolution. Ham's faith in the literal truth of the Bible supersedes all possible evidence to the contrary. You see, Ham is really a presuppositionalist pretending to be an evidentialist. He presupposes, on faith, that the Bible is the literal word of god as his starting point, and then he "reasons" from there. There is no hope of having a rational debate with someone who adopts this mentality, because evidence and reason ultimately mean nothing to them; their sacred text is really the only thing that matters.

I, on the other hand, arrived at my atheism through a careful examination of all the evidence for and against theism. So that brings up the question, what would it take for me to accept that there is a god? What evidence would persuade me? Well, it is a worthy enough question. So let me list in the order of strongest to weakest evidence that would convince me that a god existed.

1. If there was direct, verifiable, empirical, scientific evidence for god, I would accept that god is real. This would be fantastically easy for any omnipotent god to provide. Now a critic would say this is too much down the line of logical positivism, but there is no reason why, in principle, god wouldn't or couldn't give us verifiable evidence for his existence. Many would say that if we had proof god existed, then we wouldn't be able to voluntary reject god. I disagree. I can reject my parents or my friends even though I don't deny that they exist, and so I can do the same with god. Thus I feel that the objections against why god wouldn't/couldn't give us proof don't hold up.

2. If, for example, all of the scientific evidence pointed to an earth and universe that was less than 10,000 years old and there was no evidence for evolution (as many creationists believe), or, if all the scientific evidence pointed to a relatively small, geocentric-model of the universe with earth at the center and all the planets and stars revolving around it, then I would say that there would certainly have to be a god, or some kind of creator that made the world for human beings.

Friday, October 11, 2013

J.P. Moreland's Attack On "Scientific Atheism" Part 1

I did a Google Books search for William Lane Craig recently to find material from him that I can use to criticize. Craig's authored or co-authored quite a large number of books. All of them are about defending Christianity and/or attacking atheism. This guy has spent so much time trying to lay waste to atheism it's not even funny. Since one of my goals with this blog is to defend the naturalistic worldview against attacks against it, I feel obligated to respond to the best criticisms against it. So I came across a book entitled, God Is Great, God Is Good: Why Believing in God Is Reasonable and ResponsibleIt's written by a series of theologians and philosophers of religion and is designed to defend Christianity and theism against the recent wave of attacks by the New Atheists like Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris.

I was going to focus on Craig's chapter that critiques Dawkins' seminal work The God Delusion, but since I already wrote two back to back posts critiquing Craig's nauseating attempts to defend biblical genocide and his defense of the cosmological arguments, I will focus here on J.P. Moreland's chapter entitled, The Image of God and the Failure of Scientific Atheism.

J.P Moreland is another one of these contemporary apologists like Craig, who has written many books defending his Christian faith and attacking atheism/secularism. In his chapter critiquing what he calls "scientific atheism" he focuses on undermining the atheistic, or naturalistic worldview, as being inadequate to explain the "facts of reality."

Moreland starts off the chapter by explaining what a worldview is:

It is incumbent on a worldview that it explain what does and does not exist in ways that follow naturally from the core explanatory commitments of that worldview. In this sense, we can call a worldview an explanatory hypothesis. (p. 32)

I don't have any major objections to this explanation and pretty much agree. Moreland mentions though, that there are pesky things he calls "recalcitrant facts." And these dastardly disobedient facts provide "falsifying evidence for the theory and some degree of confirmation for its rivals." (p. 33) At this point the reader can expect that he's going to offer us some "recalcitrant facts" that seek to undermine atheistic worldview.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Presuppositionalism, Again

Where do I even begin?

Presuppositionalists have got to be the most annoying kind of Christian that exists. I spend most of my time debating evidentialists because they're at least willing to start from a neutral standpoint and build a case for god using the same evidence that we all have access to. But when you put the evidence and arguments for god under the microscope for a detailed analysis, it often doesn't end well for god. And presuppositionalists are weary of this. So what they do is they dismiss the evidence altogether, and simply presuppose that Christianity is true and that the Bible is god's infallible word, and any evidence or argument that contradicts the "truth" of Christianity must be wrong by definition. This shields them from having to deal with any counter evidence - they will simply conclude that all the evidence against their religion is a delusion through their presuppositions.

I've been debating with this presuppositionalist lately to sharpen my skills in that area. His argument is basically this: We all assume a metaphysic on faith. He assumes Christianity is true on faith, and then he interprets all the evidence for it and against it under the metaphysic that Christianity is true. Therefore, it's impossible for him to be argued out of his position that Christianity is true because any evidence or argument you use against him is either dismissed a priori, or "interpreted" under the metaphysic that Christianity is true. It's a firewall of sorts. But think about it - if you have to presuppose a metaphysic that excludes even the possibility that you're wrong and that your religion may be false, that shows the inherent weakness of your religion. If Christianity is indeed true and the Bible is its god's infallible word, there should be plenty of evidence from the natural world corroborating its narrative and its claims. And on top of that, he accuses atheists of presupposing naturalism to interpret the evidence for and against god and Christianity. It's the most annoying thing ever.

This is what presuppositionalism gives you. If you don't assume the metaphysic that Christianity is true, then you'll be accused of assuming another metaphysic, either a naturalistic one or one presupposing another religion, in order to interpret the evidence for and against Christianity. In other words, no one can come from a neutral playing field, we all, according to the presuppositionalist, come to the table with our worldview already presupposed. This is because the presuppositionalist knows he can't win without presupposing his religion to be true. If going just by the evidence, and a debate over whether evidence bests fits his Christian worldview, or the naturalists worldview, the naturalist will do better.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Is Atheism Self-Defeating?

I've been debating with this Calvinist Christian who is very fond of presuppositionalism (as many Calvinists are) and he claimed that atheism is a self-defeating position. And so I inquired:

And why is atheism self-defeating? I want to hear your knock down argument against it. If it's any good I'll write a blog about it.

And so he responded to me:

Because it denies theism on the grounds that it is not empirically evident. But neither is the metaphysic that is needed to assume the validity of empirical verificationism. It thus assumes a metaphysic for which it has no empirical evidence in order to argue that things without empirical evidence, like theism, cannot be rationally affirmed. That's just one of the self defeaters within the worldview. 

We got into a long heated debate over epistemology, scientism, faith and belief afterwards that you can check out here. If you want to go rant on his blog and criticize his fundamentalist approach to Christianity, you have my blessing. (But be warned, he's a fierce debater and a hardcore presuppositionalist.) Since I love taking on challenges to atheism, let me take on this argument and show it how is ultimately baseless.

But first, I've noticed many Calvinists are fond of presuppositionalism á la Sye Ten Bruggencate. They presuppose the existence of their deity in order to claim that logic can even work for you to even be able to argue against it. It's the most annoying thing ever, which is why I generally avoid debating presuppositionalists. But since this theist challenged atheism as being self-defeating, I just couldn't resist this one. So let me explain why denying theism is not self-defeating.

1. Atheists don't presuppose naturalism to be true

The theist argued that atheism "assumes a metaphysic for which it has no empirical evidence in order to argue that things without empirical evidence, like theism, cannot be rationally affirmed." So do atheists really assume naturalism or empiricism as a presupposition? No. Most atheists conclude naturalism to be true after a careful assessment of the evidence for and against the supernatural. To hold the naturalistic worldview, one does not have to presume that science is the only way to know metaphysical truths; we certainly need and use logic to verify many things. When properly used, logic can be used to make valid inferences. The scientific method in fact presupposes logic, as does pretty much every worldview and epistemological theory. But we have very good evidence that proper logic works as rational discourse is impossible without it.

The theist argued that religious faith is a reliable way to know metaphysical truths. So let's do a side by side comparison between religious faith and empiricism as a means to obtain metaphysical knowledge.

  • Religious faith, as an epistemology, does not have a proven track record of furthering human knowledge on metaphysics. Indeed, the metaphysics of every religion is in conflict with what we see and observe in the natural world via science. The only way religious belief can remain tenable is if one abandons its description of the history of the world in favor of the scientific explanation. That means empiricism trumps sacred texts as being the most reliable. 
  • Empiricism on the other hand, does have a proven track record of advancing human knowledge about reality and metaphysics. So you could say that we can empirically verify that empiricism works. 

I'm an empiricist only to the extent that I privilege sense data over logically derived data because data derived from observation and experiment has been shown to violate classical common sense notions of logic. For example, no armchair logician could ever have deduced the logic behind quantum mechanics. Only through observation and experiment could we know such things to be true.
    And the thing is, in order for something to be called the "truth" in the ontological sense it has to be logically or empirically verifiable. Any ontological "truth" that exists solely in one's mind that I cannot corroborate for myself, is no truth at all. It's an unsupported belief. And as long as it remains an unsupported belief, it has no authority over me and my worldview when they are in conflict.

    Wednesday, July 31, 2013

    Doubletalk On Verificationism

    I recently tweeted:

    Think about it. What kind of evidence would a theist need to be shown that contradicts their theology? For most, if not all theists, they'd have to be shown empirical evidence. That's right. Theists raise the bar to the level of empirical evidence when it comes to any science that contradicts their beliefs. But they all make exceptions when it comes to the supernatural claims which skeptics reject due to the fact that they cannot be verified.

    This is a clear contradiction.

    Take the soul for example. We have no evidence that we can use to verify its existence. The soul must be believed on faith. Every theist knows this, and yet, the theist will accuse the skeptic of being a verificationist, or a positivist, if he demands empirical scientific evidence for the soul.

    But then the theist will demand that same level of empirical scientific evidence for anything that goes against their theology. For example, with evolution most creationists demand to see with their own eyes one species evolving into another; only then can evolution be true. And when it comes to cosmology, many theists demand to see the multiverse with their own eyes in order for them to believe it - mathematical descriptions are just not enough.

    I'm just saying that if the theist wants to be a bit skeptical about things that we cannot directly see, then why not be consistent and apply that to angels, demons, the soul and to god himself?

    Thursday, July 25, 2013

    Questions For Atheists - Part 1 (Truth, Matter in Motion, Afterlife, Supernatural, Miracles)

    Phil Fernandes has been a Catholic apologist for over 20 years. He has a site called "I Love Atheists - just not their worldview" which is supposed to be a site that explains Christianity to skeptics and lapsed Catholics. In his debates he basically plagiarizes William Lane Craig's standard mantra for the case for god, and does a great job doing a bad impersonation of him. After I saw a debate on YouTube of him debating Jeff Lowder, I decided to look him up and I came across his website. On it, there's a page called Questions For Atheists, with what I assume are supposed to be challenges for the atheistic worldview. So I decided that I'd take a crack at it, and offer some brief answers from my atheist perspective.


    1. What or whom do you consider to be YOUR chosen intellectual starting point, your supreme authority for knowledge, your final standard for truth? Why?

    Truth lies in the inability to be contradicted. I don't hold onto truth by authority. There are no authorities in science for example. Any scientist can be challenged, and any scientist can be wrong. I certainly don't ground truth in ancient scriptures that are full of contradictions. Evolution has equipped us with accurate senses and cognitive faculties (which I defend here), and so we have to use them to construct the best possible picture of reality we can. We may get some things wrong, as is expected, but aside from certain a priori truths, I rely heavily on science to guide my standard of truth because it is the best method we have for weeding out facts from nonsense.

    2. Would you consider turning skepticism on itself and examine your own assumptions?

    Of course! Everything should be critically examined, including atheism. But considering how naturally gullible the human mind is for easy answers that on close examination make little to no sense, a healthy dose of skepticism is more than warranted.

    3. If God exists, could Christianity be exclusively true?

    I have serious doubts that the god of the Bible is logically possible or even coherent. (See here and here) If god is defined as the greatest conceivable being, then all I have to do is conceive of a being greater than Yahweh, and that makes it impossible that Yahweh is god. Thus, the ontological argument can be used to disprove the god of the Bible. So no, even if god did exist, Christianity would almost certainly be false.

    Thursday, April 11, 2013

    Natural Born Skeptic: My Atheist Journey: Introduction

    I want to first start off by saying that I’m not one of those atheists that blames all of the world’s problems on religion. Religious belief has certainly been the root cause of some of humankind’s problems throughout our history, but it is no way is the root cause of all of them. There are many reasons why we harm one another and our environment that has little to no religious motivation. So when I criticize the social effects here of religious belief, I am by no means claiming that religion is the root of all evil.

    With that out of the way I want to articulate as best I can why I think the atheistic or naturalistic worldview is perfectly rational and justified and is preferable to theism. The atheistic worldview is built on the naturalistic worldview, also known as metaphysical naturalism. For short here, whenever I refer to naturalism or the naturalistic worldview, I will be referring to metaphysical naturalism. Metaphysical naturalism is roughly defined as “a worldview with a philosophical aspect which holds that there is nothing but natural elements, principles, and relations of the kind studied by the natural sciences”, or “the thesis that nothing besides the natural world, or nature, exists”. There is also methodological naturalism, which is an aspect of naturalism that assumes metaphysical naturalism to be true when conducting the scientific method (meaning to assume natural causes when doing scientific research since supernatural causes are out of the reach of the scientific method).

    Now all of science operates more or less under both aspects of naturalism. Even though this is true, science doesn’t have to be committed to the idea that the natural world is all that there is, and a quick check of history will tell you that many of the famous scientists (or natural philosophers as they were once called) of years past did assume supernatural causality was responsible for observed phenomenon. When Isaac Newton for example was at the limits of his knowledge in understanding the complex rotations of the planets under his theory of gravity, he appealed to the supernatural to explain that which he could not. It took another genius, Albert Einstein, to discover what gravity was by means of a natural explanation – general relativity. Over the years as our scientific knowledge grew larger, these supernatural assumptions were slowly debunked and replaced with natural explanations. And to date, everything that science can currently explain is explained by naturally occurring phenomenon. This has resulted in the widespread prevalence of naturalistic causality and explanation becoming the preferred worldview and methodology of choice for scientists. So if it is true as many theists claim that knowledge of the supernatural dimension is forever off limits to the scientific method, then scientists are justified in their metaphysical and methodological naturalism, because such unreachable knowledge is never objectively observed, fails to sufficiently explain anything, and therefore might as well not even exist.

    To claim that a being or phenomenon exists outside of what science can determine through observation and experimentation, is to open up the imagination to potentially unlimited amounts of conjecture as to what might exist beyond our senses. You could literally posit the existence of anything that the human mind could conjure up, customize it anthropomorphically to your liking, and say that it’s off limits to being empirically verified. No one will have any way to know for sure if this being or phenomena exists or not, but if its alleged effects could be explained naturalistically or shown to violate known physical laws, then the naturalist is justified in at least disbelieving this being or phenomenon exists until adequate evidence is produced.

    Although, I strongly believe the natural world is all that exists, I don’t claim to know this empirically. It is impossible as far as I know to prove a negative (i.e. that god doesn’t exist). All the atheist or naturalist can hope for is that plausible, natural alternatives can be produced to explain the existence of things believed to require supernatural causes. One criticism of naturalism is that it cannot be scientifically proven. Although that is true, it also cannot be proven that we’re not all living inside a giant computer simulation and that the reality we experience is not in fact real at all. No one can empirically prove or disprove such a claim, and anyone who doubts such a claim, more or less has to take it for granted that their cognitive faculties are reliable. Naturalism, much like atheism, cannot as far as I know be empirically proven, but this is not at all required. All the naturalist/atheist merely has to demonstrate is that there is no valid evidence for the claims made by theists that the supernatural exists and that there exists natural explanatory alternatives, and he or she is justified in holding the disbelief in the supernatural.

    When it comes to the claim made by some naturalists that we should only believe what can be scientifically proven, an idea known as scientism, I partly disagree here. First, anything that can be scientifically proven we know to be true, unless all of our cognitive faculties are unreliable – which we have no evidence for and no strong reason to believe. Second, the existence of truths that cannot be scientifically verified, like mathematical and logical truths, aesthetic truths, metaphysical truths (like believing we are not living in a computer simulated reality), and ethical truths are only to a certain degree not scientifically provable. We cannot scientifically prove that 1 + 1 = 2, we cannot use science to prove logic, and we cannot even use logic to prove logic. We could show that if our universe behaves logically by fully understanding its laws of physics, then it would make sense why mathematical and logical truths exist, but ultimately these kinds of truths might have to be accepted as a given set of axioms. Science can show us why we might prefer certain kinds of beauty from the socio-cultural and biological evolutionary process, but science cannot prove whether a specific painting or work of art is beautiful. Aesthetic beauty fundamentally lies in the eye of the beholder. Ethical truths cannot be determined alone by science because once you interpret the scientific data that a given set of ethical values hinges on, you will have to make sense of them using philosophy. Although science does indeed play a role in determining moral values, it doesn’t have the final and only word on morality.

    In short, just because we cannot empirically prove that the natural world is all that exists, the naturalist/atheist is rationally justified in adopting naturalism because there is no evidence to the contrary. When it comes to the existence of extraordinary claims, like the supernatural, I essentially employ a verificationist attitude: when adequate evidence is produced, I will incorporate it into my belief system, but until then, the default position is disbelief. This is why atheists are called skeptics. We believe a healthy dose of skepticism is needed in our lives to separate fact from nonsense. This is because all kinds of people are making fantastic claims not only about the supernatural, but also about the paranormal, and they’re offering little to no evidence to back up these claims. As a skeptic, I just can’t go on believing that such claims are all true without adequate evidence because that’s being gullible; and being an agnostic on all such claims would then force me to consider the truthfulness of some of the most imbecile and irrational ideas mustered out of every half-thinking brain. Rather, if the assertion is not knowable a priori, or backed up with adequate evidence, the default position should be disbelief – especially if it violates all the known laws of physics. Therefore, since no such evidence exists that supernatural occurrences and agencies are real, the naturalist is perfectly justified in disbelieving in every unscientific claim.

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    Monday, January 21, 2013

    Scientism's Unscientific Claims

    If the question of whether god exists or not is a metaphysical question, and if metaphysics lies outside the empirical domain of science, then it would suggest that god's existence is not something science can ever determine. Most atheists and theists agree on this.

    There have been for decades ongoing feuds between scientists and philosophers. Science deals with the domain of the empirical, and philosophy doesn't. Philosophers are quick to criticize the view some scientists still today hold of scientism that says only scientific claims are meaningful and true. As the critics point out, the claim of scientism itself is not scientific, and is therefore either wrong or meaningless. So scientism is a self-refuting idea.

    Theists who hold that critical view of scientism say there are many things that exist beyond the domain of science that we hold to be true on assumption. Metaphysical statements like "the external world is real" and "the past was not created 5 minutes ago with an appearance of age" are metaphysical beliefs that cannot be scientifically proven, and yet most of us without hesitation go about our lives assuming they're true.

    In regards to the question of whether god exists, we do not have proof one way or the other, yet the atheist is fine going about life assuming god doesn't exist. So if science cannot prove that we are not living in a computer simulation, are we justified in assuming we aren't despite lacking proof? This is a very good question. Without proof, we will never know for sure if we are or aren't. Most people, including myself, reasonably believe the world around us is real, but, I can't prove god doesn't exist, and yet I still assume he is not real. Is this a hypocrisy on the part of the atheist?

    The reason why believing the external world is real is justified because we can directly sense and experience it. We can touch, smell, hear, taste, observe and test our world. While this does fall short of proving that the external world is real, the only way we can interpret the world around us is through our senses. God cannot be sensed in such a way that is not explainable by science. The feeling of transcendence, the experience of seeing and hearing what one thinks is god, angels, demons or spirits, these are explainable by neuroscience as natural phenomenon and are reproducible to a degree in the laboratory. I explained this further in a recent post when I mentioned the transcendent.

    Because it is now possible through science to explain how and why we have experiences that seem supernatural, I'd say it is much more likely that god is a product of the brain and not a product of some metaphysical reality beyond which we can prove.

    Every possible domain it is said that cannot be proven by science - math, logic, metaphysics, morality, aesthetics, and perhaps even science itself - I can grant the all these arguments to be true and god may still not exist. None of them require the supernatural. Everything we know to be true, we know through science. (This doesn't of course account for subjective knowledge that is a matter of preference or opinion, such as the statement that you prefer chocolate over vanilla, or that you find sand dunes to be beautiful.)

    So I would say that a fanatic adoption of scientism is not healthy. Fanaticism of any kind is not healthy, especially in religion. But I don't think it can be denied that scientific progress has enabled us to better discern irrational superstition from what actually is real, and this has greatly aided our progression into a more humane society. Imagine if Medieval Europeans during the witch hunts of the Inquisition were suddenly made aware of the scientific knowledge we have today concerning a germ theory of disease, and the nonsense of alchemy and sorcery. The Inquisition and the thousands that were tortured and burned at the stake never would have happened. No scientifically literate society could justify burning accused witches, only a society steeped in ignorance and superstition aided by religion could do so. So while we can't say that the domain of science unearths all truths about everything, it is the best method we have for understanding reality and separating truth from nonsense.


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