Is there any rigorous philosophical basis for atheism?

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18

Definition/Update

In what follows I use the term God to refer to an entity that has at least one of the following properties:

  1. Has created the universe
  2. Is omnipotent
  3. Is omniscient

Approaches to Atheism

A great many philosophers and scientists have put together their efforts to form what today is known as rationalism; from Socrates in ancient times to Kant in the 18th Century. Rationalism is the underlying foundation in science nowadays as any claim is not valid unless - simply put - no logical contradiction accrues from its acceptance. However, in my humble opinion, this principle has not been extended to apply in religion as - to the best of my knowledge - the following two trends prevail amongst atheists today:

  1. Historical scepticism
  2. Scientific omnisciency

Historical scepticism

The first amounts to rejecting the idea of an "almighty God" because the Holy Bible as well as other religious books contain historical inconsistencies. First of all this approach requires the concept of religion to define itself therefore cannot form a rigid basis and any discussion or inference on this basis is doomed to fail. The debate on this basis boils down to the acceptance of the dogma "I'm right because you're wrong" (from all sides).

Scientific omnisciency

The second trend is more or less the approach that people like Richard Dawkins use. Dawkins in his book titled The God Delusion concludes that one should not believe in God because science provides all necessary tools to reach the truth and leaves no place for the existence of an omnipotent and omniscient entity. The problem is that this very last sentence is not scientifically sound. Was it like that there would be a proof (in scientific terms) that there is no God for example or - at least - there would be a chance that we have such a scientific proof. Science unfortunately does have its limits and this is not something to demean its value; on the contrary... Science should be aware of these limits. This is something one can learn studying statistics. Many say statistics is a big lie in science. This is a glorious manifestation of ignorance! Statistics is science because it knows its limits and its domain of applicability.

Playing devil's advocate I say that the theory of evolution does not imply that there is not God. God created the species as described in Genesis and also the laws of Nature as a control mechanism that guarantees sustainability blah blah... Evolution is about the maintenance of the species; it does not explain how the first cell appeared on Earth. Therefore, evolution to me is not the proper tool or basis to talk about God.

The question

So my question is whether there is some better structured and systematic approach to the question of the existence of God or some interesting atheist treatise published.

Rigor

I would like to clarify a few things about the term rigor here. A statement in science or philosophy is said to be rigorous if (i). Someone made certain assumptions that do not contradict one the other (ii) they used rules of logic to arrive at this result. Different assumptions lead to different results all of which are correct with respect to the initial set of assumptions. Also, more rarely, different logic systems may lead to different results. But, again, a logic system is itself built up on non-contradicting assumptions.

Pantelis Sopasakis

Posted 2011-09-14T23:50:21.587

Reputation: 501

9I think the point of Dawkins it is unnecessary to use the power of an omnipotent being to explain phenomenons that can be explained by science. And if science reached a point where it can explain everything, then whether or not God exists becomes irrelevant. – Lie Ryan – 2011-09-15T03:53:07.350

2I suspect that the headline should read "rigorous" for "rigid", unless I am misreading the questioner's intentions. – Michael Dorfman – 2011-09-15T07:09:34.680

@MichaelDorfman: Rigid=not bending; physically inflexible or stiff. I used it in the sense that it's a complete and sound approach so that there is little space for doubt on a purely logical basis. But I admit rigorous sounds better. Thanks a lot! – Pantelis Sopasakis – 2011-09-15T09:23:49.997

1@Pantelis: Does atheism mean for you not believing in a particular god (the Christian 'God' with a 'G'), or in any kind of god, like Zeus or Shiva or poltergeists? I think (for those with a Christian background) the scientific method provides a rigorous case against those entities. Within the western/Christian tradition the counterarguments to proofs of God's existence are pretty rigorous basis for atheism. – Mitch – 2011-09-15T14:48:16.943

3@Mitch: To me atheism implies the rejection of all kinds of Gods or omnipotent entities; I don't focus on Christianity. The rejection of the Christian God however does not imply per se the rejection of all gods; it takes some more steps to get there. – Pantelis Sopasakis – 2011-09-15T16:35:03.367

2Is there any chance I could persuade you to focus in on something specific here? If this is a straightforward reference request for major works in philosophical atheism it seems like you could avoid most of this discussion here. "Science nowadays as any claim is not valid unless - simply put - no logical contradiction accrues from its acceptance" -- am not sure this is a very constructive definition, and not sure it's really helpful to discuss in the body of the question. – Joseph Weissman – 2011-09-16T05:01:41.427

Please consider trimming this down a bit; just in passing, citing sources might help provide some context as well so the community will understand better what it is you are asking us to explain to you. – Joseph Weissman – 2011-09-16T05:03:32.547

1Religion is a 'leap of faith', and God is a very abstract and personal concept. If you express God as an equation, that will be true in 1 way, but false in 7 billion ways. – CMR – 2011-09-19T16:50:07.670

3Is there any rigorous philosophical basis for some types of theism? – user128932 – 2014-10-19T04:55:32.097

@user128932 Short answer: no. But, religions have been around for a while and they have created quite a few schools of philosophy. Thomas Aquinas, William of Ockam (who is often quoted by rationalists for his razor), of course Anselm of Canterbury and many another. Rigour is not the main characteristic of their philosophy, but they are not to be disregarded. I was looking for some interesting treatise on atheism and recently I discovered some works of Camus and Sartre. The scope of my question was to get such suggestions (preferably some contemporary philosophers). – Pantelis Sopasakis – 2014-10-22T02:37:43.160

1What is rigor anyway when applied to religion or non-religion? There are no rigorous arguments for or against atheism or agnosticism or any religion ,I don't think. Isn't rigor only applicable to Logic and Math ( and sometimes Physics when 'backed' up by Math)? – user128932 – 2014-10-22T02:51:21.040

Answers

28

Off the top of my head, I think it's better to look at the criteria you've proffered for identifying "God". Working backwards,

  1. Omniscience. It's an untenable idea, especially since David Wolpert's proof against Laplace's Demon. We can see this easily, as we can break down omniscience over the universe as these four possibilities:

    a. God is omniscient and the universe is deterministic

    b. God is omniscient and the universe is indeterministic

    c. God is not omniscient and the universe is deterministic

    d. God is not omniscient and the universe is indeterministic

    For omniscience to be true, we can only have (a) or (b). But given Wolpert's proof, it's a impossibility for (b) to hold and God's omniscience to not contradict logic. Given (a) as the only remaining option, we can address

  2. Omnipotence. The Epicurean trilemma works well enough: If God is omnipotent, but not willing to stop evil, it remains difficult to claim He's good, unitary, or any of the other common attributes we want a God to have.

    Possibly the best direct answer to the trilemma is Plantinga's Free Will defense, roughly paraphrased as the concept that free will requires that even an omnipotent deity not intervene to allow morally good beings to exist. However, (a) above appears to entail a very strict form of determinism, which forces one to accept a very particular kind of compatibilism for free will to be a useful answer to the trilemma's challenge.

    In fact, the free will to be accepted here is so ineffectual that possibly your only recourse for continuing to support the proposition of an omnipotent God at all is to accept a Calvinist model of predestination, a morass in which I for one refuse to set foot.

  3. Omnicausal (Created the Universe). Finally the heart of the matter: I tend to think that people only want to know that there's someone responsible for it all, to either praise or blame. At this point perhaps there's no real argument against God as first mover; however, a rational answer would have to provide some kind of identity for the first uncaused cause, as there's a bit of dispute over the matter. Allah? Yahweh? Vishnu? Chaos Monkey? Take your pick.

    This, finally, is where the scientific method declines to answer, as it doesn't need to. If the universe is singular and deterministic, anyone can claim that the Big Bang was set off by a single deity and there's no strictly logical counterexample to dispute that.

    Oh, but wait! It's not just that there is no counterexample, it's that there can be no counterexample, as any kind of multiverse theory already poses further problems: if God created our actual universe, did He create them all? Are there any possible universes which exist that He didn't create? Could God have not created any additional universes, or even prevented them from existing, if there was ever a real possibility of their existence? Where does that leave omnipotence, or omniscience, or even the slightest hint of a relatable Deity that can have an opinion about the way we live our lives?

The problem with God is not lack of evidence, or contradiction with science. It's merely that if you really investigate it, the entire notion of a God as separate Creator is incoherent, which is a much bigger obstacle to surmount than any of the arguments that Harris, Dawkins, or Hitchens levels at religious belief in general.

Ryder

Posted 2011-09-14T23:50:21.587

Reputation: 2 385

2Doesn't Wolpert's proof only apply if God is part of the universe? – Kramii – 2012-10-11T06:20:32.943

But can you craft a coherent model of a creator, if we decide we do not need it to conform to any particular religious dogma? For example, suppose we assume God is omnipotent, omniscient, but also neither "good" or "evil" in any way we understand them. It's only religious dogma that assigns a moral valency to God, what if we say God cannot be assigned any more moral valency than 'physics' could be? – The_Sympathizer – 2017-06-29T05:33:36.560

Although perhaps this is not even without precedent. E.g. in Hinduism, for example, the "Brahman" is described not with "is 'good' [positive moral valency]" or "is 'evil' [negative moral valency]" but rather with other terms, namely the famous "truth, consciousness, and bliss". Although I don't know exhaustively all about Hinduism so maybe there is still a moral valence assigned somewhere. But what I'm really after is, perhaps maybe the thing is we need to instead of thinking about archaic religious concepts, we may need to consider our evidence as suggesting an "update of religion" is needed. – The_Sympathizer – 2017-06-29T05:39:20.487

Furthermore what if we add other tweaks, e.g. God's "omnipotence" is limited to, say, the bounds of logic, that is, God can do everything logically possible, but nothing logically im possible? Then again what is "logically possible" seems also to be itself not entirely a definite thing, because we have alternative logics? But suppose we just fix a logical system, e.g. classical logic. Then God could, for example, make the Earth turn into a giant flower, but could not make a square circle. – The_Sympathizer – 2017-06-29T05:43:36.517

Is it possible to with enough such tweaks and refinements, starting off the original template of religious dogma but freeing ourselves from being constrained to think only in its terms, come up with a reasonable and coherent God concept? If not, why not? – The_Sympathizer – 2017-06-29T05:46:31.563

No, you're absolutely right. I think if we abandon these three classical concepts of divinity, we could absolutely come up with a definition that may satisfy some people as fitting a reasonable definition of a "creator". An "omnicausal" creator with only that attribute is easily posited with little issue, for instance— but it's likely that such an entity would be far removed from what traditional or even most people would be willing to state is "God" in any normative sense. – Ryder – 2017-06-29T17:48:54.943

2Yes, and thanks for pointing that out. I didn't include this because it seemed a stretch to claim that we'd be talking about a God who's simultaneously omnipotent and omniscient with respect to only the actual universe we live in. If one claims God is "outside" the universe in some sense, that person must clarify what sense is meant, and then deal with the implications. I think it's hard to get around having an uninterested God, in a real and problematic sense, by any multi-universe theory normally implied by "God is outside our actual universe" in any way which one would care to hold true. – Ryder – 2012-10-21T21:13:12.440

Could you point to David Wolpert's work on Laplace demon? – Michael – 2013-12-28T18:31:48.063

2

This is related to the position of ignosticism, which holds that the concept of God is too ill-defined to be evaluated.

– bright-star – 2013-12-28T21:42:30.727

1@TrevorAlexander - Oh, thanks for that link. I hadn't taken note of that position before, it sounds like a good fit. I'd make one distinction from Ayer, though: I'm not as strict as he is, as I think it might be possible to provide a definition of what the name "God" actually refers to that would be intelligible and could even be rational- but I've yet to hear any, and any commitment to the notion that "God" entails some entity with a mind similar to our own in any respect probably falls outside of any viable definition. – Ryder – 2013-12-30T15:31:21.627

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@Michael: here's the relevant paper by Wolpert. It's a bit of a read, so here's a summary.

– Ryder – 2013-12-30T15:47:10.690

If the concept of God is in fact too ill-defined to be evaluated, then there really is no "concept of God". In that case, it is not possible for one to "believe in God" because that requires a specific relationship between a human and a concept which cannot exist in the absence of that concept. – David Schwartz – 2014-01-05T03:10:04.250

Can you comprehend infinity? No. Nobody can. And this leads to problems like Hilbert's paradox. Does this mean infinity is an incoherent concept? No. Simply that the human mind is ill-equipped to deal with certain problems. Likewise, I'd suggest your reasoning here has the same problem. Like a 1-dimensional point trying to argue why the 3rd dimension makes no sense. – user6461 – 2014-04-30T23:38:29.787

I believe that there is an inconsistency in analyzing God using logic. Being omnipotent as mentioned in the 'definition', God would then have the ability to surpass logic. – user3660112 – 2014-06-12T08:23:18.873

@user3660112 That definition of "omnipotent" is meaningless: God must be able to destroy Himself, if logic doesn't apply, and there's no evidence He didn't, so what then?

Anyway, the question was posed: is there a logical basis for atheism, not whether God can ever be reasonably analyzed. If you think She can't, I think you've got an uphill battle trying to explain why – Ryder – 2014-06-12T13:43:56.393

@RyderDain: you are analysing a 'definition' using logic when logic needn't apply. – user3660112 – 2014-06-16T06:33:12.117

@user3660112 If logic has no place in your conversation, then we have nothing to talk about. – Ryder – 2014-06-16T11:04:38.103

@user6461 I totally agree- incomprehensibility does not entail incoherency. But that's not the argument I've made- I'm only evaluating the common and wholly comprehensible attributes that the asker, and most people offer as defining God. – Ryder – 2014-06-17T06:24:56.067

24

I think the simplest and most succinct answer to the OP's question ("Is there any rigorous philosophical basis for Atheism?") is yes, the scientific method is the basis upon which atheism—and in general, religious skepticism—rests. There is no "Atheist Treatise" or codified book that sets the standard for atheism; it is merely the rational acceptance of the inevitable discovery through the scientific method that God (and in general, all miracles and deities) lack(s) verifiability (and falsifiability). Regarding the last point, this also informs the rational atheist that his belief can never be fully absolute; that is, Atheists who believe there is absolutely no God are in fact misleading themselves. As a position, most atheists ought to and really only can hold the position that there is almost certainly no God.

Science unfortunately does have its limits and this is not something to demean its value; on the contrary... Science should be aware of these limits.

Yes, science has limits, but that is only because humans have limits. These limits are not of science intrinsically, they are inherent in all epistemological models based on logical reasoning.

The take-home point here is that science—and by extension, atheism—are not epistemological models which disprove theism directly; science offers truth through falsification and induction. There are no arguments in science which absolutely disprove the existence of God. The reason people are atheist today is because all the arguments and reasons for God are either scientifically unverifiable or philosophically unsound. Atheism, then, is a default position until any other position can be proven true.

stoicfury

Posted 2011-09-14T23:50:21.587

Reputation: 11 008

However, how can you say that God is "almost certain to not exist", i.e. "very unlikely to exist" as opposed to simply another of endless possible unknowns i.e. agnosticism? To me, to say something is very unlikely, you need a sound countermanding reason, not merely an absence of positive reasons to accept it. That is, you have to have a high level of disproof already existent. What is that disproof? Note that just because you cannot "prove a negative" doesn't mean you can't make the negative highly likely, i.e. the positive highly un likely. But what you need for that is disproof.(...) – The_Sympathizer – 2017-06-29T05:49:46.377

1(...)Disproof is what reduces the likelihood of something's existence. No absolute disproof is possible but you can have a lot of disproof. – The_Sympathizer – 2017-06-29T05:50:03.990

E.g. we can say it is very unlikely a perpetual motion machine will ever be possible, because we have verified the laws of conservation of energy, and entropy, in a truly mind-boggling array of possible circumstances and at different levels of physics which can describe almost everything we see, and so there is very little if any room for a violation of those laws of the type needed for a PMM to hide. Thus all that evidence constitutes extremely good countermanding reasons. – The_Sympathizer – 2017-06-29T05:53:12.220

But if we knew nothing about physics, i.e. were just fresh out of the caves, it would be an entirely entertainable thought that maybe there was some way to do it. That doesn't mean we could accept it as true with no evidence, but we would be much closer to agnosticism about it. – The_Sympathizer – 2017-06-29T05:53:41.420

Can someone explain what the phrase almost certain means or half certain? There is no such thing g! – Logikal – 2018-04-10T18:24:56.953

@The_Sympathizer Yes I understand. But the phraseology "almost certainly" comes not from the lack of proof for God so much as the abundant proof of all other living and non-living things we know, entities that we have scientifically investigated and categorized. That's why in any scientific textbook (one not otherwise funded by religious sources) will, for example, as a animal biology book might list types of deer and rabbits and turkeys, but distinctly you will never find an entry for ghosts, snarks and grumkins. (1/3) – stoicfury – 2018-04-12T10:13:59.480

God too makes no appearance, and for the same reason -- just lack of evidence, when we have so much evidence for the existence of everything else. There are many ideas of fantastical beasts, ogres, dragons, in novels or village stories passed through the ages. There are many great deities from one religious thought to the next... but at last, they don't make the list until we can prove them, and although no quantity of other things (non-God things) will ever disprove the existence of God (because we don't have a reference point), nevertheless we see it as statistically unlikely because (2/3) – stoicfury – 2018-04-12T10:14:05.863

there are an infinite amount of imaginary things that could be out there, imaginary beings and beasts, gods and universal entities... and that's what makes any given one of them exceedingly unlikely and us confident that, at least for now, all we have is here and now. :) (3/3) – stoicfury – 2018-04-12T10:17:20.027

It strikes me that you don't have a rigorous definition of 'the scientific method' which would be valid since the dawn of anything that could be called 'science'. I've discussed this topic at length and ultimately, 'science' seems to be "anything which helps us to model reality and predict the future". This is a teleological definition and I have found nobody who could provide an equally good or better one. Anything like 'burden of proof' or 'skepticism', seem to be only good to the extent that they are the best-yet-known ways to accomplish the purpose of science. – labreuer – 2013-12-27T18:43:05.630

I would further add that the teleological definition of 'science' I just gave excludes the pursuit of human thriving—or at least doesn't subsume said pursuit. Stated differently, science assumes there is a strong 'ordering' or 'lawfulness' of physical reality, but not of moral reality. This assumption is critical for scientific research, and I claim that something similar is critical for 'moral research'. And yet if we have a solely scientific basis, we are not justified in assuming moral ordering.

– labreuer – 2013-12-27T18:49:55.137

"yes, the scientific method is the basis upon which atheism—and in general, religious skepticism—rests"—I disagree.

– labreuer – 2014-02-19T03:31:18.653

Nothing meets the definition of rigor provided by the OP. – stoicfury – 2014-02-19T09:09:54.167

2So you guys can't get more rigorous than an advisable principle or a default? – Axeman – 2011-09-20T00:26:44.083

9No one can; you seem not to understand that that's what science is all about. This is apparent on a number of levels, from Solipcism to basic philosophy of mind regarding direct vs indirect perception to philosophy of science in general. Science does not typically prove things affirmatively through deduction; most scientific theories are inductive hypotheses based on empirical evidence, which by it's very nature is never completely verifiable. True 'rigor' in science is mounds of quantifiable evidence, not utter certainty from some vague formula or because a 3000 year old book says so. – stoicfury – 2011-09-20T03:22:18.187

2Good answer but I can't accept it for a number of reasons. Firstly, almost certainly is a term that mathematicians have defined and use in a very strict way and I've seen it appearing in discussions about God (e.g. Dawkins uses it) and I consider it an abuse. However I like the approach in the last paragraph of your answer. So I guess it boils down to the discussion on who bears the burden of proof? – Pantelis Sopasakis – 2011-09-20T07:35:09.983

@stoicfury, then it's not rigor. Convention <=/=> rigor. That's what I understand. "Advisable principles", rules-of-thumb, useful conventions, call them what you want, conventions and practices aren't rigor. A proof does not begin with an suggested starting point followed by a square. You're just extending conventions in the realm where we have "mounds of quantifiable evidence" to areas where we have little, and saying the same dynamics apply. I never said the the whole subject wasn't problematic--so please apply the limited negative principle that atheists are so fond of. – Axeman – 2011-09-20T12:08:23.270

3Well I think, for example, that there is rigorous evidence for evolution by natural selection, but I suppose it's all a matter of opinion. It is all based on empirical evidence, which is fallible, and a true scientist will humbly admit this. Are you suggesting you have an epistemological method which provides you knowledge that is 100% "rigorous" (by your standard)? I would love to hear it! :) – stoicfury – 2011-09-20T13:16:30.573

"Are you suggesting you have an epistemological method which provides you knowledge that is 100% "rigorous"? Again, you're failing to understand what atheists pretend to understand: the limited implication of negatives. Saying X is not rigorous does not imply that I know of a Y that is more rigorous. Science, by the way, has no information on how rigorous Science is, and different people interpret the rigor of science in different ways. – Axeman – 2011-09-20T13:54:24.190

6"Again, you're failing to understand what atheists pretend to understand: the limited implication of negatives." All atheists pretend to understand this? Interesting claim. By the way, I was asking if you were suggesting that, not assuming (which is why that sentence ends in a question mark). Be careful in getting worked up over other people's false assumptions when you've falsely assumed they've made an assumption yourself. I don't feel any strong desire to continue bandying words with you in comments; if you want to talk further about it rationally, feel free to create a chat room. – stoicfury – 2011-09-20T18:47:18.140

You expect the scientific method to tell you whether a being trancends this universe? Good luck with that. – Neil Meyer – 2015-02-16T17:03:33.233

While some claims can be proven (scientifically) to be false, just because one can't doesn't mean it is true. The burden of proof rests upon the person making the claim. For example, the claim that "there are giant, super-intelligent, ice-cream squirrels outside the universe controlling everything", along with an infinite number of potential claims, cannot be disproven by anyone, let alone science. That does not make them true. As a skeptical position, anything that is not established with the scientific method is unknown. We don't claim to have 100% truth, only the best we can do for now. :) – stoicfury – 2015-02-18T02:13:04.997

Put in other words: Yes, I do think the scientific method as a philosophical position and methodology can tell me whether a being transcends the universe. The scientific method is a skeptical approach to systematically organizing input data from impressions that come before our mind. All that which we organize through this scientific method is added to a pile of knowledge, or "what is". Everything else isn't. – stoicfury – 2015-02-18T02:18:31.890

18

Non-contradiction is significant, but non-contradiction can only apply to that which can actually be known.

To be known, as opposed to simply being a concept which is a floating abstract, something must have some grounding in reality. It must exist and it must be provable to exist or at least shown that the basis for belief in the existence has basis in reality.

It is the existence of such evidence that allows is to know whether something is or is not, because when the evidence is present, we know it (whatever it is) is also present, and when the evidence is absent, we know that in the time and place in question, it is not present.

Any concept which has no such grounding is arbitrary - and there is no evidence to support it's existence - and no evidence to disprove it either. Since it can't be proved true OR false, one cannot know anything about the concept, one can only have these floating abstractions from which we then draw conclusions that are as baseless as the concept itself. (Simple logic - any argument founded on an unsound premise is an unsound argument)

So the rigid philosophical basis for atheism (not capitalized, thank you, we're not a religion) is the same rigid philosophical basis for not believing in the idea that there's a species of intelligent alien beings living in our upper atmosphere, that we cannot perceive by any normal means. Its not that there isn't any proof - it's that there is no proof possible.

The better question to ask is, "Is there any rigid philosophical basis for Religion?"

The Evil Greebo

Posted 2011-09-14T23:50:21.587

Reputation: 313

4It's a common misconception that there's no evidence for, say, Christianity or any religion. Reality itself is evidence of a creator. The order and laws of nature are evidence of its intelligence. The scope of our universe is evidence of its power. Not convincing evidence to all, nor conclusive, but evidence nonetheless. And each religion has its own brand of further evidence (like the history/popularity, and reports of miracles). Believers don't believe for no reason at all. It's not as arbitrary or baseless as some would like to think. – user6461 – 2014-05-02T01:57:24.533

6You say that reality is evidence of a creator. This implies that because existence exists, something must have created it. This is a fallacy. It is legitimate to say that because existence exists, something MAY have created it - but there is a problem with this : if the existence of a thing requires a creator of the thing, then the existence of a creator requires a creator of the creator. This leads to an infinite recursion of prior creators being required. (tbc) – The Evil Greebo – 2014-05-02T13:25:22.630

6Now, if you say that the creator doesn't require a prior creator, then you create an exception: Some things do not require prior creation in order to exist. However, if that possibility exists, then why shouldn't it simply exist for existence? Why can't the thing that doesn't require a creator simply be creation? Existence exists - this is axiomatic. Ultimately everything that you submit as "evidence" for existence of a creator isn't evidence - its only one POSSIBLE explanation that very conveniently fills in the gap caused by "we don't know". – The Evil Greebo – 2014-05-02T13:27:33.387

1Evidence isn't a conclusion, therefore saying existence is evidence of a creator isn't implying this must be the only explanation. You say "something MAY have created it" is legitimate, and this aligns with the point I was trying to make. These "maybes" are usually the basis for belief. "Maybe early Christians were right about Jesus" for instance. The point being, this is all non-conclusive evidence and the reason many believe. Belief is not typically arbitrary with no evidence whatsoever. – user6461 – 2014-05-05T18:52:45.603

3Also, if we accept that the existence of something doesn't necessarily suggest it must have been created, then it's not a problem to say something created our universe, but nothing created that something. – user6461 – 2014-05-05T18:59:24.647

10

Rationalism is the underlying foundation in Science nowadays as any claim is not valid unless - simply put - no logical contradiction accrues from its acceptance.

This is an odd way to frame it; I'd suggest we remove the double negative and say that "rationalism" (in this context) simply means "committed to the probity of reason."

The first amounts to rejecting the idea of an almighty God because the Holy Bible as well as other holy books contain historical inconsistencies. [...] The debate on this basis boils down to the acceptance of the dogma "I'm right because you're wrong" (from all sides).

No, not really. There is one side making specific claims (in this case, historical and metaphysical) and another side arguing that those claims do not hold up. These things can be debated rationally and logically, and with recourse to evidence; there is no need for a reliance on dogma for either position. (And, it is useful to remember where the burden of proof lies in this case.)

Playing devil's advocate I say that the theory of evolution does not imply that there is not God. God created the species as described in Genesis and also the laws of Nature as a control mechanism that guarantees sustainability blah blah... Evolution is about the maintenance of the species; it does not explain how the first cell appeared on Earth. Therefore, evolution to me is not the proper tool or basis to talk about God.

But that's where Occam's razor comes in; if evolution can explain things without recourse to God, there's no need to posit a God.

And that is the basis of most structured approaches to atheism. It is not necessary to prove the impossibility of their being a God; it is enough to demonstrate the contingent fact that there doesn't happen to be a God matching the description posited by the believer. If a believer wishes to remain committed to the probity of reason, the burden of proof is on the believer to argue that the existence of the God of their choosing is a) consistent with reason, and b) the most parsimonious way to explain the given state of affairs. The atheist, to prevail, must argue that either a) or b) have been violated in relation to the positive claims made by the believer.

As to your final question: besides the Western sources, there is a long classical/medieval Indian debate tradition, which contained many debates between the Nyāya (who attempted to prove the existence of Īśvara) and Buddhists who argued from a strictly atheist position.

Michael Dorfman

Posted 2011-09-14T23:50:21.587

Reputation: 22 863

@NeilMeyer 1. No it can't. 2. What part of "Occam razor" do you not understand? Why are you posting a comment that completely disregards the answer is in response to? – Acccumulation – 2018-04-11T14:43:07.913

@Acccumulation Occam's razor is not a law, and it has no rigorous justification apart from weak inductive arguments. It is highly ironic to berate someone for supposedly not understanding Occam's razor, when by your own fabled Occam's razor, the correct solution would be the simplest one, which (if one is to judge by text length) is that of NeilMeyer. – Carl Masens – 2018-09-26T15:05:32.087

2@CarlMasens 1. I never claimed Occam's razor is a law. 2. Occam's razor has a variety of justifications. 3. I berated NeilMeyer not for understanding Occam's razor, but for posting a comment that disregards the answer it is in response to. 4. It's not "my" Occam's razor. 5. I don't understand what you're claiming is "by [my] own Occam's razor", or how it's ironic. 6. Occam's razor is not simply a matter of text length. – Acccumulation – 2018-09-26T15:18:58.547

Evolution can just as easily explain the existence of life with God. – Neil Meyer – 2015-02-16T17:04:54.623

7

I suppose your two trends are broadly correct (not counting the reactionary atheists who had a really bad experience with some religion and almost seem to be disbelieving in God in order to punish him).

But I think you mischaracterize historical-skeptic arguments that can be found in many places including the writings of Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins. These at their core go something like this (my summary, not a real quote):

People believe in piles all sorts of different religions, and have for ages. These are almost all mutually contradictory; which religions are widespread and which are not has varied dramatically. Therefore, consensus on religion is not, on its own, a reliable guide to truth. Thus, we must seek other evidence free from confirmation bias, social pressure, and so on. If we have no evidence, given the mutual contradictions between (and sometimes within) religions, we should assume any given religion is false because many more must be false than true, and we can't tell if we've got a true one (if they even exist) or a false one.

This brings us to the Dawkins/Harris-style application-of-science arguments, which go something like so (again, not a real quote):

Because popularity contests have, historically, been so unstable, one might seek to try a more reliable evidence-based approach to determine whether any religions are true. And these approaches make the prospects for truth of religions dismal indeed--we can explain pretty much everything via natural mechanisms, and the religious explanations, when testable, are not borne out by evidence.

Anyway, there are plenty of treatises from various people (Daniel Dennett comes to mind), but I don't think you've fully grasped even, say, Dawkins' arguments. If you say

Evolution is about the maintenance of the species; it does not explain how the first cell appeared on Earth

you do not appear to really be understanding the issues involved--speciation at various levels, drift, the distinction between abiogenesis and evolution, etc. etc. etc.. There is a huge gulf between explaining the first cell and everything just being "maintenance", for instance. I'm not sure that better structured philosophical treatises are what's going to help you here as opposed to a much deeper understanding of the history of life on earth and the physical processes that underlie life and evolution. Planet Earth: Cosmology, Geology, and the Evolution of Life and Environment by Cesare Emiliani is a decent starting point. (If you read various books by Dawkins carefully, you can get a lot of the same material, but it's not very efficient or complete.) Without approximately that much background, I'm not sure it's possible to even understand why Dawkins, for instance, seems to think there are not any gaps for God to hide in any more.

Rex Kerr

Posted 2011-09-14T23:50:21.587

Reputation: 15 388

6

I think you are missing the point of the scientific case against religion entirely. It's not that science is pretending to be omnipotent or even potentially so. Of course science is limited.

The point is that up till this day, the only reliable method to uncover truth as far as we can tell has been science. And when we use that very method to explore religions, we can only make the constatation that they fall apart.

Raskolnikov

Posted 2011-09-14T23:50:21.587

Reputation: 402

the only method? There's a dirty name in philosophy for people who believe that only measurable things can be true.. – Dr Sister – 2012-08-29T06:33:41.413

Well, go for it, name me one other method that has uncovered any deep truths about reality that is not in any way science. I suppose you could argue that all the popular knowledge of medicinal plants and grandmother's remedies are such an example, but truly, the method by which they have been found is not unlike science at all. It's just less systematic than science. – Raskolnikov – 2012-08-29T16:24:08.400

2Pantelis: Some scientists back in the 1920's suggested the use of Radon(!) as a pigment compound for lipsticks [and this is just a single example]. Sure, but an example of what? Compare with the equally true: Some scientists murdered(!) their wife and children [and this is just a single example]. You seem to be confusing the opinions of some scientists on public matters, with what the scientific method achieves. – Did – 2012-08-30T15:34:03.647

@did: The borderline between 'isolated cases' and 'mainstream' is always hard to find. Anyway, if these scientists you mentioned murdered their wives (i) it was not part of their job and (ii) it was not acknowledged by the scientific community of their time. Don't you think? The scientific method can be well abused - e.g. check out the modern Babies-and-Storks paradox. Statistics for example can produce tons of irrational results that people incline to accept as facts. I find it hard to find people who concur with me that statistical results should never be taken for granted unless they – Pantelis Sopasakis – 2012-09-18T01:59:52.293

@did: can be backed up otherwise (mechanistically, theoretically). If Science is not an abstract idea but we agree it's made up of Scientists (i.e. people), then I have numerous reasons to doubt about its ability to replace religion in its quest to unveil any truth. Filtering any kind of information using one's own intelligence is more valuable than taking from granted any facts provided by scientists. Science as a concept - not as a social activity - is at least untractable, but this is part of some other discussion. – Pantelis Sopasakis – 2012-09-18T02:06:38.417

What a mishmash... Just two examples of confusion. (1.) Science is not made up of scientists, science is produced by scientists--and by plenty of other people as well, by the way. (2.) The scientific method can be well abused... precisely, abused, and this is the scientific method itself that will allow to unveil these cases of abuse. // All in all, if you want to mount a convincing case for religion against science, you will have to try harder. – Did – 2012-09-18T05:00:28.930

Thanks for your answer but in my humble opinion we should not idealize Science. Some scientists back in the 1920's suggested the use of Radon(!) as a pigment compound for lipsticks [and this is just a single example]. This is no "truth" whatsoever! Claiming that this is no science is like claiming that what priests say is no religion and that real religion lies in our hearts... Thinking that science holds or can/will hold pure truth is like inventing a new religion. What Science does provide however is the right to doubt. – Pantelis Sopasakis – 2011-09-20T08:05:25.687

7So when did I claim that science holds pure truth? I said: science is the only reliable tool to uncover truth. That doesn't exclude mistakes happening. But when the mistakes are discovered, they are discovered through the scientific procedure as well, not by praying to a deity. – Raskolnikov – 2011-09-20T08:49:07.497

This is so plainly false as to be ridiculous. What about the Historical method has that not uncovered any truths about history? What about Violin method has it not discovered any truths about violin playing? – Neil Meyer – 2015-02-16T17:07:44.703

Explain how the historic or the violin method are fundamentally different from the scientific method? I mean, they are not equal to the scientific method, but they share the same basic principles. Surely, the method to play the violin has been arrived at through experimentation, passing on of the method through teaching and tradition. How is that any different from how the scientific method works? In fact, even religion does those to some extent. The problem: if it did to the fullest extent, it would not stand up because religion makes truth claims in domains where science does. – Raskolnikov – 2015-02-16T22:19:47.597

And in those domains it has rather consistently been proven wrong. – Raskolnikov – 2015-02-16T22:20:04.737

4

I believe each time we are looking for a proof, we refer to reason.

Kant has well defined the boundaries of the realm of rationalism, and its demonstration of the impossibility to prove the existence of God is also applicable to God's non-existence.

So I do not see any possibility of giving a rigorous philosophical basis for atheism.

Mauceric

Posted 2011-09-14T23:50:21.587

Reputation: 97

1Two centuries ago Kant believed that people need God to be moral. However history has shown that religion has failed to bring the peace about (The crusaders believed in God, so did the medieval interrogators). On the contrary I daresay... This raises a second question, more important than the one I asked: Is there any practical necessity to believe in any God(s)? Kant gives a positive answer, but allow me to disagree. – Pantelis Sopasakis – 2011-09-20T08:37:21.343

This is a very different question ! Spiritual experience has nothing to do with practical nevessity, however people are ready to die rather to recant their faith. Is there any practical necessity of art ? Not really, however art is necessary to human soul. – Mauceric – 2011-09-20T10:24:41.877

I can argue that there is practical necessity of Art but let us not start this discussion here. I agree nonetheless that the discussion on the necessity of people adopting a (any) religion is quite interesting and intriguing so thanks for pointing it out. – Pantelis Sopasakis – 2011-09-20T10:41:31.123

So your justification for the impossibility to give a rigorous philosophical basis for atheism is also equally valid and strong a justification for the same for -theism-, right? – Mitch – 2011-09-20T18:43:25.270

Right, Mitch here are the boundaries of rational thinking ! – Mauceric – 2011-12-28T17:34:43.170

Theism might be needed practically, even though it is (very nearly) provable to be wrong? Is that what Kant was saying? Similar to how money is necessary, even though it is (very nearly) nonexistent (it is a convention). As Spock's Father said, "What is necessary is never unwise." But when it is no longer necessary, we should please drop it before any more people are killed. – None – 2016-06-30T16:14:20.557

3

Disclosure: I'm agnostic with Ietsist streak.

Definition of God

Omniscience, omnipotence, omnibenevolence and creator-of-the-universe do not make a God. The defining characteristic of a God is he/she demands worship, obedience, sacrifice and holy fear. That's why its called religion, it involves respect, reverence and allegiance. It means a relationship or bond between a man and his God. It's excellent though if you bonded with an entity who is all-powerful, all-knowing and all-good.

Edit:

Religion in the Biblical equates to the term "covenant", and is found in Genesis 17. I quote here the relevant parts:

17 When Abram was ninety-nine years old the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless, 2 that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.” 3 Then Abram fell on his face. And God said to him, 4 “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. 5 No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. 6 I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. 7 And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. 8 And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God...... 17 The Lord said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, 18 seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? 19 For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice, so that the Lord may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.”

I have bolded the obligations and italicized the rights (blessings) under the covenant, among other things.

Is there any rigorous philosophical basis for atheism?

Short answer: No.

Long answer: Asking for a rigorous philosophical basis of atheism or theism is to ignore knowledge's very limitation, no matter how rigorous it is and no matter how seemingly useful it is. All philosophical beliefs may be debatable given sufficient inclination. But do we just rely on that and stop (or start) believing in a God? Knowledge might be incrementally expanding, but there is a real limit to what humans can know. One example of limitation would be that what is shared by all men, like the gap between noumenal and phenomenal world that's been the subject of Descartes' meditations, Hume's enquiries and Kant's critiques. How do we know that our net has caught from the noumenal world everything we need? Our net might be rigorous but still, it got holes.

Philosophy concerns itself with reason, and spirituality/religion with faith, so has much larger scope than philosophy. Deep philosophical and thoroughly rational proofs may exists and may have value in certain circumstances, but for me, they're inadequate and less valuable than direct experience. All philosophical, rational beliefs and proofs will fade once confronted with direct experience. My belief is based on what I can experience in my current short lifetime.

And this is my experience: yes, the world is beautiful, mysterious, even mystical there must be something out there from which radiates these manifestations, but what is it? I know of no entity who has communicated to me and to other humans wanting him/her to be my and other humans' God without any intermediary. And that is very important: if I have to have a relationship or bond with another entity, it has to be direct, not through any intermediary, because it is supposed to be a personal relationship. That entity must also be identical with what other humans have experienced. Since he is all-powerful and all-knowing, he would know how to achieve that. I can follow, but up to my limitations. He has to adjust to my limitations because supposedly he has none.

I do not exclude the possibility of meeting a fear-inducing/inspiring entity in the future who will cast me into perdition. But that would be his/her fault, he/she should come/appear to me when it would still make a difference, like I'm still on earth and able to do his/her commands. I'm easy to talk to, I'm supposed to be weaker/dumber than him/her. I'm not really waiting, but my door is open.

I do not exclude the possibility of a God who is all-powerful, all-knowing and all-good, or even many Gods, existing now. Or them not existing at all now. My attitude towards theistic and atheistic beliefs is like how Pyrrhonic skeptics will deal with them: they're dogma, therefore I must suspend belief.

In summary, I reject both philosophical atheism and theism. I value direct experience as more primary than abstract philosophical musings.

Noble_Bright_Life

Posted 2011-09-14T23:50:21.587

Reputation: 169

Your definition of 'religion' seems to exclude the type where the deity comes to serve, not to be served. Or the kind where the deity would say, "If I were hungry I would not tell you." Also, I'm not sure I get the 'demands' bit, given that an omnipotent God could get everything he/she demands quite easily. – labreuer – 2013-12-28T17:30:57.053

In a man-God relationship, God is there not to serve, but to be served. Its by nature a hierarchical relationship. If you're thinking of Jesus, I don't believe he is a God, so would not qualify. I don't know of any God who serves. This is not Christianity.StackExchange, so will not explain that further. The 'demands' bit means "requires" those in a relationship, in exchange for protection, help and providing the man's other needs. – Noble_Bright_Life – 2013-12-28T17:46:17.970

To elaborate, religion is like a contract or treaty, there are rights (you get some) and obligations (you give some). But its always an asymmetrical relationship: you're at the bottom. If the entity is of the disinterested type ("If I were hungry I would not tell you."), then in the first place, there is no need for a relationship (e.i. religion), so there is no deity. – Noble_Bright_Life – 2013-12-28T17:56:35.727

This is fine, but you've pretty much excluded Christianity from being a 'religion', or at least excluded a major, orthodox interpretation of Christianity from being a 'religion'. – labreuer – 2013-12-28T23:38:16.640

Actually I didn't. The majority interpretation in Christianity is that God is a Trinity. YHWH, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are one God. YHWH (Father) is honored if Christians worship Jesus (Son) as YHWH commanded. YHWH is worhipped through Jesus. Jesus served men following YHWH's command and as a model for humility. Even if majority of Christians think Jesus is one of the persons in the Godhead, it does not erase the fact that Jesus will is to do the will of YHWH, not his own. So the eventual recipient of honor and worship is YHWH (the Father). – Noble_Bright_Life – 2013-12-29T05:15:59.603

I suggest looking at Ps 50:12, Jn 1:1 and Mt 20:28. You've also excluded the possibility that the will of YHWH apparently involves giving people a large degree of freedom over their wills. I don't mean to get into a huge debate here, but you're making 'religion' out to be extremely servile, and I think that is but one spin. Contrast this to the possibility that YHWH's will has many possible paths, but does exclude some ("eat of any tree but..."). This is a very different spin.

– labreuer – 2013-12-29T17:48:21.370

I also want to limit discussions about religion here. Religious interpretation of Jn 1:1 is controversial, we're on different sides of the fence I assume, so I will not discuss that. All religions are by nature servile, to the extent that there are positive and negative commandments. But how extremely servile a religion (its degree) depends on the kind of covenant. The Jewish God requires a more servile relationship than say, the Christian God. In Christianity, a lot of commandments were done away with. Like any laws, anything not required by religion man is necessarily free to do. So the – Noble_Bright_Life – 2013-12-30T05:18:49.990

presence of such freedom does not deny that any religion is inherently servile. Humans in general acquiesce to such servility because of their unease towards their inherent limitations (knowledge and power) and wants it covered by a supposedly all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good God. Servility is not inherently bad it's ok with me, provided I get assurance that God himself exists by directly communicating to me and others (assurance that I am not deluded). He hasn't and absence of any direct experience is my only proof I have no God yet. I said no God yet, not there is no God. – Noble_Bright_Life – 2013-12-30T05:46:07.987

On the "If I were hungry I would not tell you." (Ps 50:12), that is rhetorical. Firstly, He is a spirit and does not eat, drink or go hungry. Secondly, He is scolding them for preferring to do burnt offerings and sacrifices instead of following the covenant and keeping their vows. That's why He essentially asked "Do I go hungry? Will I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of goats?" in reference to these burnt offerings. Essentially, with God there is no time God ever he was hungry, thus rhetorical. God is just saying "I don't go hungry, I have no use of your sacrifices!". – Noble_Bright_Life – 2013-12-30T06:08:18.760

So could not be used to show a non-communicating or disinterested God (which I initially assumed) thus could not enter into a relationship. My impression with the biblical God is he remains interested in his creation. As for "the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve" (Mt 20:28) showing a type of God who serves as his nature, this is wrong. He served to give them a model to follow (John 13:6-17). He washed the feet but not the hands and head, for it is symbolic. And he remains the Master and Lord, not servant of them. Thus Jesus is not an example of a serving God. – Noble_Bright_Life – 2013-12-30T06:46:15.183

Thanks for explicating some. Your view on Mt 20:28 is fascinating; mine makes perfect sense, so we must have quite a few differences. When I think of what the perfect relationship between two rational beings would be, it doesn't include one bossing the other around, but each helping the other to become something excellent. Rules and laws aren't anathema; I doubt rape will ever be 'good', and thus a divine law against it wouldn't be putting us in a 'straightjacket' or anything like that. Anyhow, you and I seem to greatly differ on what we think a perfect being would be and act like. :-) – labreuer – 2013-12-30T16:51:36.723

I would love to be in a perfect relationship (like that) with a God :D Unfortunately, man-God relationship is not of that kind. There is nothing we can offer God (Acts 17:25) to improve him. He does not need from anyone anything (Job 41:11, Rom 11:35-36). Apologies if I relied too much on biblical description of God and not what I wish he is. Cheers. – Noble_Bright_Life – 2013-12-30T18:24:30.230

It was either Calvin or Luther who said, "God doesn't need your good works; your neighbor does." And yet, when you do something good for what a person highly values, you bless them. YHWH is said to value his creation, so us taking care of that creation would actually be a way to give to God, would it not? Think of how a parent lets his or her child do something poorly, even though he/she could step in and do it better. There is a joy there that I think a deity could experience. Imagination is different from reality. – labreuer – 2013-12-30T23:46:52.173

You're actually right, that's why I think the concept of religion and God not needing anything is broken. If he is perfect and not in need of anything, why start religion in the first place? And if the concept of religion is broken, why not the concept of God existing as well? If one of the messages is broken, why, other messages could be broken as well. That's why experience has primacy with me. Nothing beats it. – Noble_Bright_Life – 2013-12-31T07:03:18.957

1

The simplest rigorous defense of atheism is that reference must be an intentional cognitive act. Lacking any knowledge of or understanding of god, we have no way to refer to him. Under these circumstances, belief in god is logically impossible.

For example, 5,000 years ago, no human could have believed that semiconductors could exist. They simply lacked sufficient information about semiconductors to refer to them. Anyone who claimed to have such a belief would simply be mistaken.

David Schwartz

Posted 2011-09-14T23:50:21.587

Reputation: 1 010

What about a newborn baby looking for and finding comfort in his mother? That baby has a belief in his mother, although he doesn't understand the concept. – yippy_yay – 2014-01-04T23:37:03.113

4This is just defining your way out via a linguistic trick. We believe that humans exist, but we hardly know anything about humans compared to what there is to know. Even most atheists can imagine something with God-like qualities, and that's enough to attain some degree of belief. – Rex Kerr – 2011-09-19T07:29:41.647

2It is not about how much we know compared to how much we could know, it is simply about whether we do or do not know enough to identify a specific thing. – David Schwartz – 2011-09-19T08:01:07.537

How is this relevant given that we have plenty of understanding of what would count as God, if He exists? – Rex Kerr – 2011-09-19T08:06:07.547

2But we don't. We don't know what he would be made of. We don't know what his limits would be. We don't have any test to determine what is a god and what isn't. We don't know how he would do things. (All his purported attributes are negations. He has no limits. He is incapable of evil. He has no mass.) We are in the same position someone would have been with "semicoductors" 5,000 years ago. – David Schwartz – 2011-09-19T08:13:28.130

3You don't think that the exercise apparently unlimited power, voices from burning bushes, angels trumpeting around, and so on, might be enough of a hint, if it happened? You're just claiming that we have no idea about what God would be, when in fact we have many descriptions (mutually contradictory, to be sure, but absolutely not covering every possible observation!) from various religions. Any of those, or anything sort of like those would be more adequately called "God" than anything else. – Rex Kerr – 2011-09-19T08:28:40.763

1The exercise of limited power is fundamentally different from the possession of unlimited power. "Unlimited power" is not "limited power, just lots of it", it is a fundamentally different thing. No observation of power, no matter how large, would give us any clue what "unlimited power" even means. Voices from burning bushes would still give us no idea what God was like sufficiently to identify what was god and what wasn't. The proof would be that each observer would reinforce beliefs in a different notion of god -- proof nobody really has a good one. – David Schwartz – 2011-09-20T06:21:37.030

I added the definition of God in the sense of what I had in mind when was writing the question. I think it encapsulates different peoples' understanding of it. – Pantelis Sopasakis – 2011-09-20T07:53:33.177

I suppose I could add another answer, but with that definition, the counter-argument is simply to shred each part of the definition. For example, "has created the Universe". But what is the Universe? If it's "all that exists", then God cannot exist (since to create the universe he'd have to be outside it). But if it's "all except God', the definition is circular. So what does that mean? "Is omnipotent" only tells us what God is not (no limit), that's not good enough to permit belief in God, so belief by that definition is not possible. And so on. – David Schwartz – 2011-09-20T07:56:18.653

We could equally well argue that we don't know what a chair is. This really is all linguistic tricks that yield no substantive understanding. I grant that philosophy does include the study of linguistic constructions to shed light on whether we do or can mean what we think we do, so the mistake is understandable. But there is no doubt it is a mistake: people can classify objects of all sorts with extremely limited understanding. We have examples of the sorts of things God should do, and that's all we ever have, ultimately: examples. Then we cluster and structure based on them. – Rex Kerr – 2011-09-20T14:07:33.333

We couldn't equally well argue that we don't know what a chair is, because we can point to a chair, draw boundaries around it, and identify what is a chair and what isn't a chair. We know a chair has mass. We know a chair prevents a person from going through that chair. We can easily perform tests to determine if two people are referring to the same chair. We can coherently describe positive attributes chairs have. We can point to chairs. – David Schwartz – 2011-09-20T22:15:11.367

How about unicorns? Dragons? Santa Claus? The Flying Spaghetti Monster? Ghosts? Electrons? Charm quarks? The Higgs Boson? Harry Potter? Gandalf? The Borg? The 9/11 conspirators? We could identify any of these things under appropriate circumstances, including the ones that don't actually exist. If we can do that, surely we can identify God if He does the right things. That He hasn't done the right things is a problem, of course, but it's not because it would be impossible for us to interpret. – Rex Kerr – 2011-09-21T03:42:37.730

1We would certainly go through those things one by one, and the answers aren't the same for each of them. I'm saying we couldn't identify god, even if he does the right things, and I think I've explained why. For example, how could we identify omnipotence? What finite demonstration would demonstrate omnipotence? – David Schwartz – 2011-09-21T03:50:52.953

Suppose we had an entity that matched the Old Testament descriptions to a tee, except that it wasn't able to create new galaxies on a whim but only move them around at below the speed of light. You're trying to tell me that we shouldn't call this entity God? – Rex Kerr – 2011-09-21T06:31:11.747

@Rex Kerr: By the given definition, yes. Omnipotence requires the ability to create new galaxies on a whim. And "created the universe" has the problem I explained earlier -- if this god is part of the universe and always existed, then he didn't create the entire universe. If he's not part of the universe, the definition of "universe" becomes incomprehensible and therefore so does "created the universe". – David Schwartz – 2011-09-21T06:37:14.023

Yes, the question asks for things that are a bit dodgy. But IMO you are missing the point rather badly--it seems that you would say it is not Santa because he is wearing orange instead of red even if everything else fits. This is useful during certain philosophical discussions in order to try to refine one's definitions, and otherwise is worse than useless: it robs us of the ability to use language to express the identity of things that we aren't too sure of. Anyway, SE is now grumbling about this being a chat, and I think I finally understand your position, so I'll shut up. – Rex Kerr – 2011-09-21T07:01:57.090

I am not robbing us of anything. I am pointing out that expressing the identity of a thing requires at least a certain level of knowledge about the thing, otherwise it is simply impossible to isolate that thing. We lack that level of knowledge about the given definitions of god, thus those definitions cannot identify an existent entity and anyone who believed otherwise would be mistaken. – David Schwartz – 2011-09-21T07:16:39.187

1

Yes There is and No There is not :

In mathematical logic there are some logical statements that are independent of all other statements in the system, the choice of including or non-including them within the system does not make the system inconsistent, for example the with or without continuum hypothesis there are 2 sets of mathematical set theory.

Now with philosophy the extra axiom of existence of God or Gods ( Although nobody has a proper definition of what they are ) does not add anything to the system nor it is required to have it within any Philosophical framework.

So at the end neither the Atheism nor the opposite can be proved or disproved, but only followers of one have the choice of accepting the other or not.

However once the God (aka a non defined entity ) is included in the system, there will be many new questions spawned from it, and has an effect on the decision making within the system that can no longer be explained by mere logic alone, the choice at the end does not make an iota of difference on the effects of the philosophical system that individuals are toeing.

jimjim

Posted 2011-09-14T23:50:21.587

Reputation: 784

Is there such a thing as skepticism applied to arguments for atheism or agnostic belief? Skepticism is supposed to be able to be applied to ANY arguments or philosophies? – user128932 – 2014-10-19T05:01:04.223

1An open question is different from a statement that cannot be proved or disproved; and it's a hard to prove that something lies outside the range of a system's axioms. That is the case for the continuum hypothesis using ZFC. But can you prove that God, the way I defined it does not create any contradictions. Can for example this being create a stone it cannot lift? This is a contradiction for example... – Pantelis Sopasakis – 2011-09-22T19:30:30.477

@Pantelis : Thank you, I have been trying to find out about the validity of this idea for a while now, ability to distiguish one type of conceptual stuff from another is nothing less than being able to see a different color. The stone example is just a contradiction in the logic being used and is different from the higher enitity. The example of a class going to get a test next week on a day that would not expect is another one, they know exam will not be on friday because by then they will be expecting it, not thursday ( since it can not be on friday )... so it can not be on any day, but .. – jimjim – 2011-09-22T20:54:48.950

.. next week one day they get the quiz and they were not expecting it since they proved that it can not be any day that week! So far I have not seen any example anywhere that would depend on existence or non-existence of a/many God(s). – jimjim – 2011-09-22T21:00:33.327

1

The framework for modern atheism is usually logical-positivism, the idea that knowledge should be reduced to statements about sense-impressions using a precise formal language, and that questions which cannot be decided using sense impressions are meaningless. This is an axiom of thought as I see it, and it makes two of your statements about God impossible:

  • God created the universe

This is meaningless in logical positivism, since you can't make any sense impression about something outside the universe.

  • God is omnipotent

again, how would you know anything sufficient to decide omnipotence in the standard sense?

These two claims are kind of ridiculous in light of logical positivism:

  • God is omniscient

this one is not so ridiculous, because knowledge is abstract, it's software. When you are talking about these abstract things, you can define a notion of an omniscient God which is logically positivistically satisfying, and which explains what is all that stuff that religious people are talking about.

The basic premise is that all individual intelligence is tied together into large networks with greater intelligence, through shared literature and communications, making an internet of brains in the world. This internet has its own ideas, separate from those held by individuals but composed of these, the same way a brain is made up of neurons.

This allows you to identify gods as collective agents, and then the notion of an omniscient God is just a limiting conception, of the agents grouping together to make larger and larger agents and so on. This conception is fine within logical positivism, since it makes testable predictions on collectives of people.

One of these predictions, of a limiting conception of God, is that collectives of people will come to agree on various questions as their collective agency approaches the omniscient limit. This means that if you grab two snapshots of the knowledge from two different times, the earlier people will know less collectively, the later people will have more knowledge, and more accurate knowledge, and their ethics will be better, when evaluated from any later point. This is reasonably accurate, and surprising.

The progressive notion of God is the main point--- the ethics of social collectives improve as the intelligence of the social collectives grows. It goes forward because literature is roughly stable. The progressive notion means that one can back-extrapolate to a beginning, and if all you are looking at is literature, you would date this beginning of time to approximately 6000 years ago, roughly the date of invention of writing. This is the age of the world in the Bible, which is expected given the nature of God in this point of view.

The importance of this conception is that it gives you faith that if you know something more than other people, there will come a time when they will all know it, since God will be revealed more perfectly through the action of the holy spirit (in the Catholic way of saying it), or your works will be fruitful (more protestant or anti-trinitarian description), or your "tikkun olam" will work (the Jewish version), or your jihad will succeed (the Muslim version), and this gives your life purpose and meaning--- making a permanent change in the knowledge or structure of humanity. That's a pretty significant thing, so people have a strong stake in faith. Even people without faith say they want to "change the world", where it is implicit that if the change is permanent it is for the better. What law of nature guarantees that all permanent change is for the better? This law of nature defines the positivist conception of God.

But the atheism of logical positivism--- the assertion with confidence that it is meaningless to say "God created the universe" in anything but the most annoyingly metaphorical way, or that "God is omnipotent" in anything but the most teleologically minded way, or "God is omnipresent" in anything but a stupidly vacuous way, this insight still stands. So it is not a mistake to go around spreading atheism, because the claims of religious faiths regarding what is a permissible question and what constitutes a plausible answer leaves much to be desired, and it is in direct conflict with methods of scientific knowledge accumulation, methods which in modern times have done significantly more to reveal new truths and ameliorate human suffering than all the faiths put together.

Ron Maimon

Posted 2011-09-14T23:50:21.587

Reputation: 1

"you can't make any sense impression about something outside the universe"—this begs the question of how you're defining 'universe'. If I run a simulation of digital beings, surely there is an important sense in which their world is distinct from mine. And yet, it seems like I could still communicate with those beings. But if you define 'universe' as simply "all that there is", then the programmer and his sentient beings would both exist in the universe. At this point, we'd ask whether this definition of 'universe' is a natural kind.

– labreuer – 2013-12-27T18:34:34.113

1

A good argument I have seen against the existence of a God is based on Occam's Razor. In particular, consider the formulation of Occam's Razor:

When deciding between two theories that predict the same phenomena/events/results, one should choose the theory that is less complex

When considering how the Universe works, for the purposes of this question, we have two theories:

Relativity, Quantum Mechanics, and whatever ties them together

OR

Relativity, Quantum Mechanics, whatever ties them together, and God

If these two theories predicted different physical events, then we could scientifically test which is correct. So far it seems that such scientific investigation is impossible, so these theories predict the same thing. The second theory is more complex because it adds a class of entities while keeping the rest of the theory the same.

Therefore, by Occam's Razor, we should assume that the first theory is more likely to be true than the second, so we conclude that without further evidence, there is no God.

murgatroid99

Posted 2011-09-14T23:50:21.587

Reputation: 111

1Occam's Razor is an equally abused concept such as the ones of God, Natural Selection, Science, etc. Occam's Razor is a rule of thumb suggesting how to pick a good theory among multiple equally correct ones. It is not about how to chose the most plausible version of a story about which one has no clue. Again, lack of evidence is not evidence for lack of any God(s). Example: I checked all numbers from 3 to 10^10. No evidence for numbers that violate Goldbach's conjecture. Ergo: Goldbach's conjecture holds true under lack of evidence that suggest otherwise! (?) – Pantelis Sopasakis – 2012-09-18T01:47:48.393

I never said it was a proof. I was arguing that scientifically, in terms of ability to predict physical events, the two theories are equally correct, so it is more probable that the simpler one is correct. And as for your last point, what you wrote does not prove Goldbach's conjecture but it does imply that it is reasonable to assume it is true until a counterexample is found. – murgatroid99 – 2012-09-18T01:53:06.577

Mathematically speaking, the probability that Golbbach's conjecture is true/false is exactly 50%. The fact that we tested some among the infinite natural numbers does not bias the a priori probability of it being right or wrong. Any other statement is a matter of faith which I respect but I don't consider it methodologically sound. – Pantelis Sopasakis – 2012-09-18T02:12:16.290

@PantelisSopasakis "Mathematically speaking", probability is based on belief, and the value of "exactly 50%" requires a uniform prior and no evidence, which itself is a "matter of faith". Note that frequentism does not apply here because we do not have an infinite collection of universes with known values of Goldbach's conjecture for each one. – Carl Masens – 2018-09-26T15:10:16.197

@CarlMasens You're right, we need to assume a uniform prior. But this is the maximum entropy distribution which corresponds to the total lack of information. In any case, my point was that we should be careful with arguments like "it is unlikely that there is any God." – Pantelis Sopasakis – 2018-09-27T16:30:56.467

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Omnipotence implies the ability to manifest paradoxes in reality. This critically includes the ability for a thing to be true and false simultaneously.

Showing that an argument leads to a paradox is the root source of all knowledge of falsehood.

Claiming the existence of an omnipotent being would either require (to maintain consistency) rejecting the sum total of all logic, especially the most fundamental, or accepting that no logic is possible.

edit: I should also mention that various religions have definitely and clearly addressed this. The Christian religion addressed it during the Council of Nicea and developed the Nicene Creed which modern churches still accept as central dogma and which most Christians recite on a regular basis in their churches. It absolutely rejects logic, and accepts that real paradoxes are and have been manifested by their god. The Council of Nicea defined attempts to defend the Christian belief system as logical or rational to be heresy and this is a position still held by modern Christian churches - although seemingly unbeknownst to most active Christians who actively engage in exactly the heresies the Council was formed to combat.

otakucode

Posted 2011-09-14T23:50:21.587

Reputation: 151

0

As far as I know the Baruch Spinoza - 'the prince of the philosophers' - demonstrated in his Ethics (Ethics, Demonstrated in Geometrical Order) with logical rigor that the Universe is ALL and made of only one substance. He left no room for any kind of God or more than a single one substance.

from Plato.stanford.edu

Spinoza’s fundamental insight in Book One is that Nature is an indivisible, uncaused, substantial whole—in fact, it is the only substantial whole. Outside of Nature, there is nothing, and everything that exists is a part of Nature and is brought into being by Nature with a deterministic necessity. This unified, unique, productive, necessary being just is what is meant by ‘God’.

In physics we try to obtain the simplest description of the universe and we have identified four distinct forces. We have to try harder.

Helder Velez

Posted 2011-09-14T23:50:21.587

Reputation: 101

The nature of Spinoza's theism or lack thereof is controversial; as to whether it is pantheism, panentheism, or atheism. – Tautological Revelations – 2018-04-21T14:56:00.113

The Universe is all that exists and everything is obtained thru it's Unique substance. As he demonstrated only One substance is primordial (the vacuum) and even the matter and particles are constructed with it. From a physical viewpoint it is the only theory that pleases me: unification of all forces/energies. The god personification is irrational. Imo. And call it pantheism or atheism is not important to me. Spinoza is the ultimate rationalist Appending a God to create the Universe only postpones the question: Who created the creator? Unsolvable question it is. – Helder Velez – 2018-04-21T15:58:02.397

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Yes, there is.

In short, the rational approach when thinking about existence is to assume there's a strong asymmetry related to truth and falsity.

We don't assume everything is true and eventually test some of the beliefs about that (for any reason whatsoever). It's the other way round.

If we look at how we come to believe things (at least the kind of believable ones we're talking about here), we'll see that we are born without the idea of the thing and, of course, the belief in it's truth or falsity.

In this respect, although there's a difference in believing something false and don't having even the concept o this something in mind, both are equivalent in relation to how we act in the world in respect to the existence of this specific thing, that is: we don't take this concept into account when reasoning and acting.

So, the burden of proof seems to relates to the cost we have for adding an entity in our "model of the world" as well as investigating what implications it has for us. This explains why is natural to ask for a proof when someone says to us that there exists "mysterious being X", but strange to ask for somebody to proof that such thing doesn't exist in absence of any motive for believing on its existence.

This doesn't mean that the burden of proof is always with the theist, but seems to imply that any necessity of proof of non-existence implies there's already some justification for the belief (that's why accepted it in the first place). Additionally, part (most?) of these "proofs" end up just being arguments against the justifications of the belief (so they don't really proof non-existence).

Rhalah Rikota

Posted 2011-09-14T23:50:21.587

Reputation: 11

This answer could be improved if there were any sources to the philosophical literature for the claim of the necessity of the assumption of the asymmetry between truth and falsity in order to have a rational approach about existence. The most likely reason that there aren't any such sources in this answer is because, almost by definition, the rational approach is to assume neutrality ab initio, not an assumption of falsehood which seems to be this answerer's excuse to assume an atheistic viewpoint. – Carl Masens – 2018-10-17T02:15:26.783

How do you figure out "the rational approach"? You and I can very likely agree on what rules of logic to use, for logic cannot create information, but only prove things from axioms. I wonder if you have perhaps snuck things into "the rational approach", under the guise that "any reasonable person" would accept it, without explicitly stating it. This is bad philosophy. :-p – labreuer – 2013-12-27T18:32:11.770

OK, Labreuer. My fault. – Rhalah Rikota – 2013-12-27T18:37:31.443

I put "in short" because I intended to explain in the rest of the text why there's the supposed asymmetry. I indeed think any rational person will accept the argument but tried to show what it's all about, so I don't want to hide myself behind some "rational shield". All that I wanted to show was that there are sound reasons people would accept based on already accepted ones (the way we come to believe things). – Rhalah Rikota – 2013-12-27T18:48:58.943

I find your use of Ockham's razor to be suspect. You must provide a way to measure "the cost we have for adding an entity", a way to measure benefit, and then show that the cost outweighs the benefit. Otherwise, you're blatantly assuming that Ockham's razor applies everywhere without sound reasoning. It tends to apply when modeling scientific phenomena; let's suppose it works 99% of the time. Well, how do we know which times are in the 1%? I'm interested in how you measure cost and benefit; much will be revealed if you indicate how you do this. :-) – labreuer – 2013-12-27T18:57:27.493