Stan Stephens’s Categorical Misunderstandings of Atheism, Part 2

In my last post about Stan Stephens, I documented how he fundamentally misrepresents the purpose and nature of my evidential case for naturalism, in turn because he seems to fundamentally misunderstand inductive arguments.

Let’s continue reviewing Stan’s post on empirical evidence.

Now we can more readily see that not a single line item is a defeater for the question being asked, which again is this:

“where is the material, empirical, falsifiable but not falsified, replicable and replicated, open data, peer reviewed undeniable evidence that there cannot exist a deity?” And no matter how the questions are answered, they do not select or differentiate atheism as truth, necessary or even contingent.

If Stan knew as much about philosophy as he claims, he would know that questions don’t have defeaters. That massive category error–which lies at the heart of his statement that “not a single line item is a defeater for the question being asked”–simply reveals his ignorance of defeaters, not a problem with the evidence provided. But let that pass.

At the heart of Stan’s confused reply is the myth that atheists, naturalists, and materialists must believe that God cannot exist. That is a straw man of his own creation. The atheist qua atheist does not believe that God cannot exist; rather, he believes that God does not exist. The naturalist qua naturalist does not believe that the supernatural cannot exist; rather, he believes that the supernatural does not exist. The materialist qua materialist does not believe that the immaterial cannot exist; rather, he believes that the immaterial does not exist.

Because atheists, naturalists, and materialists aren’t required to believe that God, the supernatural, and the immaterial, respectively, cannot exist, there is no justifiable reason for Stan’s insistence that they prove as much.

If you’ll pardon an analogy between God and Sasquatch, here’s an analogy. I am an aSasquatchist because I think the existence of Sasquatch is extremely improbable. Stan’s requirement that atheists prove that God cannot exist is analogous to the demand that aSasquatchists prove that Sasquatch cannot exist. The proper response to both demands is, “Why? Why must I prove that such things cannot exist, when I don’t even believe that?”

Stan continues:

It is apparent that the concept of empirical evidence is different for JJ Lowder, in that it seems to refer to personal inferences which are taken from material situations, and even then not all of the claims even refer to actual material “things”. Perhaps this is a consequence of habitual inductive thinking; but the term “empirical” should ring a bell, one would think. Empiricism is the gold standard for material evidence. However, under mataphysical [sic] naturalism, who knows what the criteria might be, since they would likely be metaphysical? That renders them nonfalsifiable, empirically, though, and thus they can’t actually qualify as knowlege.

This is mostly a bunch of philosophical gibberish, but let me attempt to clarify what I think they key issues are. (1) As a Bayesian, I believe evidence is a term that describes a relationship between two or more propositions. One proposition (A) can be evidence for another proposition (B) insofar as A increases the probability of B.  (2) For “ultimate” metaphysical hypotheses like supernaturalism, naturalism, and theism, we can objectively compare the intrinsic probabilities of such hypotheses using such criteria as modesty and scope. 

The idea that subjective conclusions which are inferred from observations are conclusive, is incorrect.

Once again we see Stan attacking that stupid “atheists must believe conclusively / categorically / incorrigibly that God cannot exist” caricature of atheism. (What would Stan do without that idea?)

Stan then complains I did not respond to the following challenge.

Here’s the challenge to atheists: Rather than disproving disproof, as your approach has been, the more straightforward simple proof for atheism illuminates the problem for atheism:

When you can prove, conclusively, robustly, and incorrigibly that there positively is no deity in existence, cannot under any circumstance be a deity in existence, and have the material evidence for that, or even a disciplined, grouunded, [sic] deductive argument for that, then you have proven your case (atheism), and not until.

Further, when you can prove, conclusively, robustly, and incorrigibly that there positively is no non-material existence outside and beyond the capacity of material detection, and have the material evidence for that, or even a disciplined, grounded, deductive argument for that, then you have proven that case (materialism/physicalism as closed system), but not until.

Failure to provide these straightforward proofs would indicate that atheists and physicalists cannot have actual knowledge which supports their atheism and physicalism. Without that knowledge, atheism and physicalism are no more supported than mere fantasies.

At the risk of repeating myself, here is my response.

1. Atheists qua atheists don’t believe that there “cannot under any circumstance be a deity in existence,” so there is no justifiable reason for Stan’s demand that they provide such evidence.

2. Atheists qua atheists don’t believe that there “is no non-material existence outside and beyond the capacity of material detection.” Here Stan seems to be confusing atheists with materialists, and so his demand of atheists is misplaced.

3. Stan’s assertion–that the belief that God does not exist requires a deductive proof to be justified–is just that: an assertion or a claim which requires some sort of justification. I do not find such a reason anywhere in his post. On the contrary, it seems to me that there is good reason to think Stan’s assertion is false. Just as theism can be justified if the weight of the evidence makes God’s existence highly probable, atheism can be justified if the weight of the evidence makes God’s existence highly improbable.

About Jeffery Jay Lowder

Jeffery Jay Lowder is President Emeritus of Internet Infidels, Inc., which he co-founded in 1995. He is also co-editor of the book, The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave.


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