Stupid Arguments Christians Should Avoid #51: 3 Stupid Arguments from Alvin Plantinga (2 of 3)

Stupid Arguments Christians Should Avoid #51: 3 Stupid Arguments from Alvin Plantinga (2 of 3) February 28, 2020

Alvin Plantinga is an eminence within the Christian apologetic community, but even he can only play the hand he was dealt. He was interviewed by the New York Times and gave three arguments (or sub-arguments) so stupid that a high school student shouldn’t be allowed to get away with them (part 1 here).

One Christian responded to comments to the interview:

It appears that many of the commenters either didn’t read the interview carefully or didn’t understand Plantinga’s arguments. They’re much more sophisticated and formidable than some of the superficial dismissals of the commenters might lead one to believe.

Sophisticated and formidable? That certainly doesn’t apply to these arguments. See what you think.

#2. Moon no longer connected to lunacy

Plantinga’s interviewer asked about the God-of-the-gaps problem: explanation is a zero-sum game, and things that science explains well—like lightning, drought, and disease—no longer need the God hypothesis. The list of things that God could plausibly cause continues to shrink. The interviewer gave evolution as an example of something that science now explains much better than Christianity ever could and asked, “Isn’t a major support for atheism the very fact that we no longer need God to explain the world?”

Plantinga responded:

As a justification of atheism, this is pretty lame. We no longer need the moon to explain or account for lunacy; it hardly follows that belief in the nonexistence of the moon (a-moonism?) is justified. A-moonism on this ground would be sensible only if the sole ground for belief in the existence of the moon was its explanatory power with respect to lunacy.

Right—we have lots of reasons to believe the moon exists. Drop “Of course the moon exists—how else would you explain lunacy?” and you have more reasons. By contrast, we have pretty much zero reasons to believe God exists, and Plantinga in this article does nothing to change that.

The same thing goes with belief in God: Atheism on this sort of basis would be justified only if the explanatory power of theism were the only reason for belief in God. And even then, agnosticism would be the justified attitude, not atheism.

As we saw in part 1, Plantinga’s definition of an atheist is someone who says, “I’m certain God doesn’t exist” rather than “I have no God belief, but I’m not certain.” I agree that evolution’s explanatory power doesn’t prove that God doesn’t exist (and so can’t help atheist #1), but then that’s not my definition. I go where the evidence points (atheist #2), and by explaining the diversity of life on earth by evolution, “Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist” (Richard Dawkins).

Here’s my distillation of Plantinga’s argument: we have many reasons to believe the moon exists, so if one reason goes away, we’re still justified in believing in the moon. No one questions the existence of the moon, in no small measure because can all see it! Contrast that with God: before modern science, Christians explained puzzles in nature with the stock answer, “God did it.” There was no evidence to support this claim, but (in Europe) Christianity was pretty much the only game in town. Now with science explaining things far better than Christianity ever could, Christians have even fewer reasons to accept the Christian claims.

Plantinga tries to salvage his discouraging situation by acknowledging that there are fewer reasons to believe in God now but pointing out that the number of reasons isn’t yet zero.

Let’s return to the opening point, “as a justification of atheism, [God being replaced by science] is pretty lame.” Redefine atheism as most of us see it (lack of god belief), and science’s incredible track record for explaining reality vs. Christianity’s inability to teach us anything new actually makes a powerful argument. Not only does the Bible not pass on any useful science (how about a recipe for soap or an explanation of how to avoid spreading disease?), but many of its claims about nature are wrong.

Imagine someone saying that just because some of the miraculous claims for alchemy are false, that doesn’t make them all false. That’s true, but we now know that they are indeed all false. Christianity has traveled the same road.

Concluded in part 3 with the claim that beliefs provided by evolution are as likely false as true.

Madness is rare in individuals,
but in groups, states, and societies,
it’s the norm.
— Friedrich Neitzche

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Image from Marc Arias, CC license
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  • eric

    Atheism on this sort of basis would be justified only if the explanatory power of theism were the only reason for belief in God.

    Sounds like another attempt to flip the burden of proof. A belief in an entity X, when said entity explains nothing, still needs a justification; not believing in X until you have a reason to is the null hypothesis.

    • Ann Kah

      Even a deity that explains everything is merely a concept, comforting to many. That reason and that desire for comfort still provides absolutely no evidence for a god. Now if a god appeared right in front of all of us, dressed in a nice clean robe and creating puppies and oak trees and entire worlds left and right, theists might be justified in demanding to know how atheists can justify their non-belief. But absent a visible deity and verifiable miracles, without even rigorous studies showing a positive correlation between prayer and favorable outcomes, we owe them no explanations at all.

      • BertB

        The older I get….and I am pretty damned old…the more preposterous theistic claims seem to me.

        • Ann Kah

          Yes, I am PDO myself. I have been an atheist since about the middle of the 1950s, and theist claims seemed ridiculous to me even then …and that’s before their silly claims got traction in the days of the internet. My question then was “how” did god do things, and being a scientist at heart, even in my youth, there was never a mechanism proposed that was not the functional equivalent of “magic”. I wasn’t about to swallow that nonsense, and in all the intervening decades, nothing I’ve seen could possibly convince me to return to religion.

        • Greg G.

          I have been an atheist since about the middle of the 1950s

          That makes me wonder if you saw me as a baby and realized that there was no god.

  • RichardSRussell

    Most of what Plantinga asserts is just a variation on the old argument from ignorance: “I’m too stupid, ignorant, or biased to understand what’s going on, therefore God.”

    • Michael Neville

      Despite being a PhD philosopher Plantinga couldn’t think himself out of a wet paper bagge.

      • Greg G.

        Despite being a PhD philosopher Plantinga couldn’t think himself out of a wet paper bagge.

        He is well-respected because he has a large… uh…. I mean he knows a lot of words.

  • Joe_Buddha

    Actually, I am certain God doesn’t exist. However, I’m open to evidence. I feel the same way about purple unicorns. Show me one and give me the back story and I may reconsider. However, since no one has a consistant definition of God in the first place, I think the unicorn is more likely.

    • Verbose Stoic

      If you’re open to evidence proving that God or purple unicorn exists, then you aren’t CERTAIN that they don’t exist. If you’re certain that they don’t exist, then you don’t accept any rational possibility that you’re wrong about that. This would also be the case if you merely claimed to KNOW that they don’t exist, but you could argue that it is possible — as knowledge is defined as “justified true belief” — that your justification is incorrect and that it will turn out that while you thought you knew that they didn’t exist you were wrong and actually DIDN’T know that they didn’t exist. If you are merely claiming to BELIEVE that they don’t exist but not that you are certain about that or know that, then you can claim to be open to evidence.

      This is important because such a strong claim can’t be married to a demand for evidence from your opponent. Not only would that be violating the burden of proof, it’s actually inconsistent which makes discussions frustrating since someone can essentially insist with such a strong claim that unless the other person can provide sufficient evidence to convince you THEY must accept your strong conclusion. After all, if you really are certain or really know that God doesn’t exist, and everyone has access to all the same evidence, why wouldn’t they be equally certain or equally know that? By definition, they’d have to, but without strong evidence from you there is no justification for that strong an implication.

      • Doubting Thomas

        If you’re open to evidence proving that God or purple unicorn exists, then you aren’t CERTAIN that they don’t exist.

        Using that standard, the idea of certainty becomes useless. I understand that it is possible to be a brain in a vat, but I don’t use that possibility as a factor in determining what I consider myself to be certain about. When we use that standard of certainty about religious ideas, we’re already ceding too much.

        • Verbose Stoic

          The last person in epistemology to really insist that certainty had real use was probably Descartes, which got dropped because we couldn’t ever really achieve it outside of logical statements and mathematics, so it not being that useful isn’t much of a concern. Also, atheists here have been insisting that they AREN’T certain about the non-existence of God, so getting certainty out of the debate doesn’t seem like much of a problem.

          There are three basic levels of warrant here in epistemology:

          Certainty: There is no way that the proposition could reasonably be false.

          Knowledge: The proposition has sufficient justification at this time that I cannot rationally consider it false.

          Mere Belief: I consider it to be true, but do not have sufficient justification to claim knowledge.

          “Strong” atheists could consider themselves to be in any of these three categories, but none of these are a mere “lack of belief”. In all of these cases, there is a belief there that would need defending.

          If Joe_Buddha is really certain that God doesn’t exist, he’s in the top category which is incompatible with being open to evidence proving him wrong.

        • Doubting Thomas

          Certainty is used all the time in everyday conversation and yet it’s only when we start talking about gods does certainty become unattainable. I’m certain I’m typing on my computer. I’m certain ewoks aren’t real. And, in the very same way, I’m certain gods don’t exist. I don’t feel the need to change my standards when religion becomes the topic.

        • Verbose Stoic

          I’m not saying that you can’t feel certain that gods don’t exist. I’m just saying that you can’t be certain of that AND claim that you’re open to evidence proving you wrong, or base that on a mere lack of evidence. And if you’re upset at people claiming that certainty is unattainable when it comes to religion, take it up with Bob, not me. HE’S the one insisting that most atheists merely lack belief in god, and merely lacking belief means that you clearly aren’t certain that gods don’t exist.

        • Doubting Thomas

          People can be certain and open to evidence because they’re not using your definition of certainty. As you pointed out, the idea of certainty you’re using hasn’t been useful since Descartes. People don’t use that definition when they speak of certainty, and we don’t need to use it when talking about gods.

        • Verbose Stoic

          People can be certain and open to evidence because they’re not using your definition of certainty.

          Then what definition of certainty ARE you using? Because regardless of what eric asserts I’m not using some kind of esoteric philosophical definition of certainty here. Even the common notion of certainty makes the statement “I’m certain that I’m right but I’m open to there being evidence that I’m wrong” seem like either the person isn’t certain about it or is using a platitude in the last statement but doesn’t really believe it. As I’ve noted elsewhere, even saying “I know this but am open to evidence that I’m wrong” seems odd. You clearly can’t be expecting such evidence if you make a knowledge or certainty claim, so most people will translate such statements as no more than “But I’m not dogmatic about it”. Fair enough, but you aren’t really going to be open to evidence in the same way as someone who limits their statements to “I merely believe that, but I’m open to evidence for the opposing claim because there is a significant chance that I could be wrong”. Again, certainty and knowledge claims, even in common parlance, don’t allow for there to be a significant chance that they are wrong.

          As you pointed out, the idea of certainty you’re using hasn’t been useful since Descartes.

          Certainty being useful as an epistemic tool went out with Descartes, or shortly thereafter, because it’s hard to achieve outside of logic or mathematics. That’s why most people talk about knowledge instead. But being certain about something always implies having very strong knowledge that it’s true, and that’s not compatible with entertaining any reasonable doubt about it.

        • Doubting Thomas

          I’m using certainty in the everyday way it is used. Are you certain you’re reading this right now? Could you possibly be wrong about that? Yes, you could be a vat brain. But the odds of that is close enough to zero that it doesn’t need to be considered. If on the tiny chance that some evidence arose that you were a vat brain, then you would change your mind.

          My certainty isn’t dependent upon possible future evidence, but it would change as a result of it.

        • Verbose Stoic

          I’m using certainty in the everyday way it is used.

          I was looking more for a definition that we could explore the ramifications of, not an example since we would seem to agree on the examples but not on what they mean.

          Are you certain you’re reading this right now? Could you possibly be wrong about that? Yes, you could be a vat brain. But the odds of that is close enough to zero that it doesn’t need to be considered.

          While I screwed up the blockquote above, this means that you don’t merely lack belief that you’re a brain in a vat, you aren’t entertaining any reasonable doubts that you might be a brain in a vat, and you don’t expect to come across evidence showing that you are really a brain in a vat. So this aligns with my definition of certainty. And I then go on to say that this implies that most common meanings of “open to evidence” don’t work with that definition. You accept the remote, remote, remote possibility that you could be wrong, but if someone tried to present evidence to that degree your first reaction would almost certainly be extreme skepticism, and you would require exceptionally strong evidence to overturn that belief. Saying that you are open to evidence that you are a brain in a vat seems more like a platitude in this case since you are more likely to demand something akin to proof than mere evidence.

          (As an aside, reading and the brain in a vat is a bad example, because reading can be defined as having an experience of words that convey information, and if that’s the case I can clearly have that while being a brain in a vat. There just wouldn’t be a real book out there. But cogito ergo sum still holds.)

        • Doubting Thomas

          You’re aptly named. This seems to be an exercise in semantics and I’m already tired of that.

        • eric

          I’m not saying that you can’t feel certain that gods don’t exist. I’m just saying that you can’t be certain of that AND claim that you’re open
          to evidence proving you wrong

          Nobody here is claiming absolute philosophical certainty. You’re simply moving the conversation away from regular, provisional certainty because you know you’ll have a much much harder time arguing atheists can’t have that.

          I am certain gods don’t exist in the same way I am certain fairies aren’t living in my garden. No more. No less.

          But thank you for confirming one of my earlier posts. I wrote the following in this very thread, before you showed up to post there. And then you came and posted exactly what I expected a theist to post:

          1. I am absolutely philosophically certain no God exists <= stupid.[Late edit: also, the windmill many theologians like to tilt against, thinking they are vanquishing atheist giants]

        • Verbose Stoic

          Nobody here is claiming absolute philosophical certainty. You’re simply moving the conversation away from regular, provisional certainty because you know you’ll have a much harder time arguing atheists can’t have that.

          There is clearly no notion of certainty where you can claim that you are certain of something but merely lack belief in the proposition and not have a positive belief in the proposition, at least not without there being something incredibly odd and contradictory going on. I’ve also never argued against atheists being unable to have even that sort of certainty, so you have run off the end of the argument, as evidence by your purported “confirmation”. I didn’t address anything related to that in this comment thread, and in the one where I did pointed out that Plantinga’s definition can indeed include MUCH weaker statements than even your weakened notion of certainty.

          I am certain gods don’t exist in the same way I am certain fairies aren’t living in my garden. No more. No less.

          So, do you merely lack belief in their existence? Do you entertain any reasonable doubts about their non-existence? Are you reasonably open to and therefore expect that there might be evidence proving they do? Because those are the things that I’m saying are not compatible with certainty, and I’m pretty sure that none of these are actually true for you.

  • Lex Lata

    1. “And even then, agnosticism would be the justified attitude, not atheism.”

    Okeedoke; I’m not all that hung up on labels. But if Plantinga’s epistemology and terminology are going to be consistent, then he’d have to plead mere maybe/maybe-not agnosticism with regard to the existence of Amun, Brahma, Cernunnos, Demeter, Enki, Freya, Gaia, and the countless other deities he considers inadequately evidenced. But my guess is that’s not his position.

    2. Plantinga’s moon analogy had me genuinely perplexed, because I couldn’t believe someone with any serious brainjuice would draw such a goofy comparison between an immaterial something and an obviously material–indeed, huge, visible, and visited–something in this discussion. But then I realized his point seems to be less about evidence than about motive. And I would agree that personal motives–anxiety, loneliness, social/family pressure, desire for love or meaning or answers or comfort, etc.–are, strictly speaking, “reason[s] for belief in God.” Indeed, sufficient or even compelling reasons for many people.

    But our personal motives are in no way evidence for the actual truth of associated transcendent beliefs. This 14 billion-year-old universe, with its 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000+ stars, has exactly zero obligation to conform to the hopes and desires and questions of an incredibly young band of balding primates riding a mote of rock around one of those stars. And that goes double for anything outside or before or beyond this universe–if it even exists (whatever “exists” means in that context).

    • Michael Neville
      • Bob Jase

        Don Camp is a cartoon, literally?

    • crackerMF

      what is really surprising is that plantinga has a phd and doesn’t know that agnosticism is about claims of actual knowledge and atheism is about opinions.

      does anyone actually take anything he says seriously?

  • Bob Jase

    We don’t need the moon to explain lunacy, we still have religion.

  • That argument could be used to prove the existence of any deity: Greco-Roman ones, Allah, those of videogames or role-playing games, etc. It and pretty much many others used by apologists.

    As for Luna, imagine if Genesis said it was another world that shines reflecting sunlight and even described its surface (craters)

    • Cozmo the Magician

      Nobody has ever found the dead body of an invisible imaginary dragon, this proves that my pet Fluffy is immortal. And being immortal is also All Powerful, All Knowing, and a really good cook.

      • The only way these arguments would be more restrictive are those that are more suitable for one type of deity, not all (ie, Yahweh and Artemis are rather different)

      • Dave Maier

        Hail Fluffy!

      • eric

        I confirm the good cook part. Somehow, miraculously, everything Fluffy makes is 0 calories.

        • Cozmo the Magician

          And when tasting what Fluffy makes, nobody EVER said ‘tastes like chicken’ (;

        • Michael Neville

          Except, of course, when Fluffy makes something with chicken.

        • Cozmo the Magician

          Nope, when Fluffy cooks chicken, it taste like frog. (;

  • Cozmo the Magician

    M-O-O-N that spells “what an ‮toidi‬”.

    • larry parker

      I agree with your stand.

  • Jim Jones

    > Plantinga’s definition of an atheist is someone who says, “I’m certain God doesn’t exist”.

    They are certainly included. I’m certain that the Loch Ness Monster doesn’t exist. Of course if they found one, I’d be less certain. The real problem with ‘God’ is defining it.

    > Plantinga tries to salvage his discouraging situation by acknowledging that there are fewer reasons to believe in God now but pointing out that the number of reasons isn’t yet zero.

    It’s always been zero. The only support for ‘gods’ is wishful thinking.

    • eric

      IMO…
      1. I am absolutely philosophically certain no God exists <= stupid. [Late edit: also, the windmill many theologians like to tilt against, thinking they are vanquishing atheist giants]
      2. I am regularly, vernacularly certain no, none, no possible concept of God exists <= touch and go. There's deism.
      3. I am regularly, vernacularly certain no intervening detectable God that humanity would actually care about exists, and on top of it your theology appears to contain logical contradictions which you have yet to deal with <= very solid
      4. I am regularly, vernacularly certain no intervening, detectable etc…God exists <= solid
      5. Since I am not absolutely philosophically certain no God exists, I will say I am uncertain. I will remain agnostic on the question <= gross exceptionalism granted to religion that is not granted to other hypothetical unevidenced entities.
      6. I am a believer or agnostic because I think there's evidence both for and against some God concept <= well…personally I fail to see it.
      7. I am a believer because the evidence is incrontrovertible <= I don't see that one either. And if it were true, it's wierd that the entire world doesn't agree on it.
      8. I am a believer because it would be awful if my religion wasn't true/it makes me feel good <= grow up.

      I put Christianity on a 3. Keep in mind, dealing with things like theodicy only changes it to a 4. I sometimes get the sense that our regular posting believers somehow think solving the theodicy problem is going to move everyone suddenly to 7. Um…no.

      • Jim Jones

        I have a definition of god that works. Theists, however, have none.

  • Matt Brooker (Syncretocrat)

    I continue to be shocked by Plantinga – every time I hear one of his arguments I think, it must be me missing something, he’s an educated man, this argument surely can’t be so obviously flawed… am I being too charitable?

    • Rudy R

      Every argument Plantinga uses for evidence for a god is also evidence against a god. Take for instance the Teleological Argument. Theists will have you believe that the universe could not be created any other way and that the orderliness it demonstrates is required to sustain itself and to provide an environment to produce life. Such “order” could only be derived from a mind. But a mind, aka omni-god, could have created any other type of universe to sustain life, so an infinite amount of alternative universes would have been possible to sustain life. Additionally, an omni-god would not be limited to an ordered universe, because every single sub-atomic particle could be arbitrarily guided in an un-orderly fashion and still allow for an environment for life to flourish.

      It is this orderliness that we observe in this World is exactly what we would expect to see in a non-creator World. For a non-creator world to sustain itself, it would need to be ordered, otherwise, interactions between matter and energy would be unpredictable and random, if it could exist at all.

      • Greg G.

        Every argument Plantinga uses for evidence for a god is also evidence against a god.

        His Maximally Great Being argument is like that. It starts with the premise that it is possible that an MGB exists in some possible universe which leads to it existing in all possible universes because an MGB that exists in all possible universes is greater than one that exists in one universe. So it must exist in this universe.

        But an MGB that can prevent all unnecessary suffering is greater than the one that cannot. An MGB that would prevent all unnecessary suffering is greater than one that would not.

        There is unnecessary suffering in this universe, therefore the MGB does not exist in this universe, which means it does not exist in all possible universes which means it cannot exist in any possible universe, which disproves his premise.

        • epeeist

          His Maximally Great Being argument is like that. It starts with the premise that it is possible that an MGB exists in some possible universe which leads to it existing in all possible universes because an MGB that exists in all possible universes is greater than one that exists in one universe.

          P1. It is possible that p
          P2. Necessarily, if it is possible that God exists, then it is necessary that God exists
          P3. Necessarily, if God exists, then it is not the case that p
          C. Therefore, it is not possible that God exists. (from P1, P2 and P3)

          Different possible sentences for p

          1. Gratuitous evil exists
          2. All minds are physically realized
          3. The world’s metaphysically free, non-God creatures produce more moral evil than moral goodness such that their freedom is not worth the cost.
          4. A maltheistic deity exists
          5. Some other being besides God created the universe

        • Rudy R

          The problem with a belief having to be justified based on a philosophical explanation is that it can be easily refuted based on a philosophical explanation. And as I stated numerous times in past comboxes, empirical evidence that can be offered in addition to a philosophical explanation is what tips the scales on which explanation is more probable. If theists truly believed they had empirical evidence to justify their belief, Christian Apologists wouldn’t be necessary.

        • rationalobservations?

          All apologetic are circular excuses for the nonexistence of evidence of any of the millions of fictional gods, goddesses and god-men.

          https://i1.wp.com/36.media.tumblr.com/de1f373a2f3a8ecfe11a70c6dde0ead2/tumblr_o3nch6g75k1rpw0zao1_1280.jpg

        • crackerMF

          Maximally Great Being = anselm’s ontological argument.

          it was wrong way back when anselem first posited it, and it is still wrong.

      • Matt Brooker (Syncretocrat)

        The same is true of the ontological argument – even if you accept the argument, there are no end of ways that the god of the Bible falls short of “maximal greatness”

    • Michael Neville

      I’ve never been impressed by Plantinga. The first time I was exposed to his thinking was in PZ Myers’ Pharyngula blog with Alvin Plantinga gives philosophy a bad name. Plantinga argued against evolution to “disprove” material naturalism. Myers, who is a PhD biologist, showed that Plantinga’s understanding of evolution was poor and, as an accountant, I saw how he misused statistics in his paper. He attacked a strawman and ineptly demolished it.

      Since then nothing I’ve read by or about Plantinga has improved my opinion of him. This latest series of critiques of atheism tells me that Ol’ Al doesn’t or won’t understand how the majority of atheists reach their conclusions on the existence of gods. Again he’s arguing against a strawman.

      • Rudy R

        Thanks for sharing the link. Plantinga’s Evolution vs. Naturalism essay should be a mandatory case study in a Philosophy 101 class on how NOT to formulate logic and reason.

      • Lord Backwater

        … showed that Plantinga’s understanding of evolution was poor…

        Yes it is. and the hilarious part is that he has criticised other people (e.g. Dawkins) for philosophising without a license.
        Ma href=”https://www.booksandculture.com/articles/2007/marapr/1.21.html”>linky-poo

    • crackerMF

      yes, yes you are. way too charitable.

  • Geoff Benson

    Platinga doesn’t seem to have any arguments in favour of belief in god, he seems content simply to try and rebut the critics with ‘well maybe it’s not so bad’. His position is not, as far as I can see, rational, in the sense that a genuinely neutral person could possibly be persuaded by it, yet he’s still esteemed in apologetic circles.

    • epeeist

      Platinga doesn’t seem to have any arguments in favour of belief in god,
      he seems content simply to try and rebut the critics with ‘well maybe
      it’s not so bad’.

      It’s the old creationist trick in another guise, “There are ‘problems’ with evolution, therefore it is false, therefore creationism wins by default”.

  • Michael Newsham

    No-one ever argued that because lunacy, therefore the moon. The argument went the other way. We have pre-existing evidence the moon exists, we have pre-existing evidence insanity exists; the hypothesis is a connection between them. Because that is disproven it does not affect either of the two premises.

    • rationalobservations?

      The moon exists therefore tides. Tides exist therefore the moon.
      None of the millions of undetected and undetectable gods goddesses and god-men have ever been observed or exerted any repeatable direct influence upon anything.

      We are all atheists – with the exception of one mythological, undetected and undetectable nonexistent god in the case of christian and islamic religionists.
      The rest of us dismiss their imaginary friend for the same reasons they dismiss those in which they have not been brainwashed to believe exist without evidence of it’s actual existence.

      https://external-preview.redd.it/KOR8lvX9Y6PmImGQxt5MDSKx8NPkVpQPCXZ8ZYAmpQI.jpg?auto=webp&s=a95d0284e01c903a7698f3c28db62a1b59518fa5

    • The Bofa on the Sofa

      This was something I was trying to figure out. Whoever made the claim that lunacy was evidence for the moon in the first place? Lunacy exists, the moon exists, the relationship was tenuous.

      But as rationalobservations? notes below, the bigger failure comes from the fact that, while God just shrinks, and shrinks and shrinks, the role of the moon has actually grown in a lot of ways. We now understand the tides as a matter of the moon. That was not known before.

      Give me an example of something where the understanding has improved with the use of God?

  • Verbose Stoic

    As we saw in part 1,
    Plantinga’s definition of an atheist is someone who says, “I’m certain
    God doesn’t exist” rather than “I have no God belief, but I’m not
    certain.”

    From your own quoted text, no, it’s not:

    The problem is his definition of “atheism.” A few sentences earlier,
    Plantinga had defined atheism as “the belief that there is no such
    person as the God of the theistic religions.”

    You can believe that something doesn’t exist and not be certain of it, or in fact even claim to KNOW that it doesn’t exist. If you think that the Christian God doesn’t exist or arguably even that it is less probable that it exists than that it doesn’t exist, you pretty much have to have the belief that the Christian God doesn’t exist and so don’t have the “mere lack of belief” that you are relying on here.

    • Michael Neville

      Since the strong or gnostic atheist has exactly the same burden of proof that the theist, particularly the gnostic theist, has, Plantinga’s objections to strong atheism are reasonable. However, most atheists are weak or agnostic atheists. “I know gods do not exist” is not the same as “I do not believe that gods exist”. Plantinga doesn’t deal with the second claim at all.

      • Verbose Stoic

        As per the quote, Plantinga is actually dealing with ANY case where someone would say “I believe that gods do not exist”. Knowledge is not required. As an example, I’m an agnostic theist, but only have a belief that God exists and don’t claim to know that. If someone claims that they believe that the Christian God doesn’t exist but doesn’t claim to know it, they would fit into Plantinga’s definition. Only someone who effectively didn’t take a position on the subject could claim mere lack of belief.

        • Michael Neville

          I do not believe that gods due to the complete and utter lack of evidence for their existence. Knowledge of the various evidences and arguments that theists present to “prove” their gods is required for me to dismiss those theist claims. However I don’t know that gods don’t exist. It’s possible that some deist deity is hiding in the background somewhere. Also I don’t know every possible argument for gods and therefore can’t dismiss those arguments of which I’m ignorant.

          There are arguments against the specific omnimax Christian god, the Problem of Evil and related Problem of Suffering are both strong arguments against such a god. However those arguments don’t work against a god like Wotan or Zeus who’s just very powerful rather than omnipotent. A malevolent or indifferent god is also not affected by the Problems of Evil and Suffering.

        • Verbose Stoic

          Knowledge does not require certainty, so you could still make a knowledge claim while still noting that there could be arguments and evidence that you don’t have access to that could ultimately overturn that. So you might still be justified in making a knowledge claim about those gods at least.

          For the deist god, you can believe that there is no such deist god while acknowledging that it’s possible that there is one. If you do, then you fit into Plantinga’s definition.

          And you clearly believe that the Christian God doesn’t exist and probably think you know that the Christian God doesn’t exist based on those arguments. If you present those arguments and expect that if theists accept them they would be rationally required to also believe that the Christian God doesn’t exist, then you’d almost certainly be making a knowledge claim as well, as nothing weaker can ground that expectation.

          So you’d fit into Plantinga’s definition of atheist for pretty much all of the gods that we’d be talking about, at the very least believing that they don’t exist and even making knowledge claims that they don’t exist. Then the question is whether those can indeed be justified merely by lack of evidence (noting that for the Christian God, at least, that’s not what your belief is based on anyway).

        • Michael Neville

          Knowledge does not require certainty, so you could still make a knowledge claim while still noting that there could be arguments and evidence that you don’t have access to that could ultimately overturn that. So you might still be justified in making a knowledge claim about those gods at least.

          I agree that knowledge does not require certainty. However the strong, gnostic atheist that Plantinga is arguing against does have certain knowledge about the existence of gods. Since I specifically have not made that claim nor have I made a claim that gods, even the Christian god, cannot exist, then I fail to match Plantinga’s definition of an atheist.

          And you clearly believe that the Christian God doesn’t exist and probably think you know that the Christian God doesn’t exist based on those arguments. If you present those arguments and expect that if theists accept them they would be rationally required to also believe that the Christian God doesn’t exist, then you’d almost certainly be making a knowledge claim as well, as nothing weaker can ground that expectation.

          I have no expectations that Christians would accept my arguments against the existence of their god. Alvin Plantinga himself has come up with a variant of the “Gawd allows evil ’cause free will” argument and many of his fellow apologists’ reaction was “wow, Al, you’re really smart coming up with that response.” As with all flavors of the free will argument, it doesn’t consider the free will choices of victims not to be victimized, but Plantinga hand-waves that rebuttal away because he can’t actually answer it.

          However the Problems of Evil and Suffering only strongly suggest non-existence of an omni-max god like Christians claim their god is. Omnimax gods could still exist because of some loophole in the Problems. It doesn’t make sense to me but I can’t rule it out since I’m quite aware of my ignorance and faulty thinking on all too many subjects.

        • Grimlock

          […] Alvin Plantinga himself has come up with a variant of the “Gawd allows evil ’cause free will” argument and many of his fellow apologists’ reaction was “wow, Al, you’re really smart coming up with that response.” As with all flavors of the free will argument, it doesn’t consider the free will choices of victims not to be victimized, but Plantinga hand-waves that rebuttal away because he can’t actually answer it.

          If you’re talking about Plantinga’s FWD to Mackie’s logical problem of evil, then it’s really not aimed at explaining the free choices (or lack thereof) of victims. It’s aimed at, well, demonstrating that Mackie’s logical PoE is unsound.

        • Verbose Stoic

          I agree that knowledge does not require certainty. However the strong, gnostic atheist that Plantinga is arguing against does have certain knowledge about the existence of gods.

          As I pointed out, by Bob’s own quote from Plantinga his definition doesn’t require certainty. So that isn’t the only atheist, at least, that Plantinga is using his definition to argue against.

          Since I specifically have not made that claim nor have I made a claim that gods, even the Christian god, cannot exist, then I fail to match Plantinga’s definition of an atheist.

          If you don’t merely lack belief in the Christian God, for example, but in fact believe that the Christian God doesn’t exist, then you fit Plantinga’s definition. That was the whole point of my comment.

          I have no expectations that Christians would accept my arguments against the existence of their god.

          Do you believe that Christians who do not accept your arguments are acting rationally wrt the evidence and arguments for and against the existence of God?

      • Grimlock

        Since the strong or gnostic atheist has exactly the same burden of proof that the theist, particularly the gnostic theist, has […]

        Why?

        • Michael Neville

          Because both of them are making positive claims. The theist is claiming that gods exist, the gnostic atheist is claiming that gods do not exist.

        • Grimlock

          I don’t see why that has to be the case. If you’re saying that any two people making a positive claim has the same burden of evidence, that’s obviously not the case.

          Consider the following two claims:
          1. There exists precisely seven black holes in the Milky Way galaxy.
          2. There exists seven or more black holes in the Milky Way galaxy.

          Clearly, both of these are what you could call positive (existence) claims. But it’s equally clear that they don’t share the same burden of evidence.

          You might be thinking that claiming that since
          a) there exists god(s), and
          b) there does not exist any gods
          are negations of each other, they share the same burden. But that does not appear to make sense either. Because, consider (1) and

          3. The number of existing black holes in the Milky Way galaxy is not seven.

          Now, (1) and (3) are negations of each other. But it doesn’t then follow that they have the same burden of evidence.

          In short, I find your justification for why (a) and (b) above have the same burden to be flawed.

        • Michael Neville

          I don’t see how your black hole analogy has anything to do with whether or not gods exist. Black holes exist, nobody but the most ignorant denies their existence and, furthermore, it’s known there are a lot more than seven black holes in the Milky Way Galaxy. NASA says:

          Judging from the number of stars large enough to produce such black
          holes, however, scientists estimate that there are as many as ten
          million to a billion such [stellar-sized] black holes in the Milky Way alone.

          Unlike black holes, there’s no evidence that gods exist and, at the same time, there’s no evidence that gods don’t exist. The only answer to “do gods exist” is “we don’t know.” So anyone making a claim about the existence of gods has a burden of proof regarding that claim, regardless of whether the claim is “gods exist” or “gods do not exist”.

        • Grimlock

          I don’t see how your black hole analogy has anything to do with whether or not gods exist.

          Let’s recap.

          You state:

          Since the strong or gnostic atheist has exactly the same burden of proof that the theist, particularly the gnostic theist, has […]

          I ask you why. You say,

          Because both of them are making positive claims.

          I provide an example (the black holes thing) to illustrate why this justification of the initial remark is flawed. (Or, to put it bluntly, wrong.) That’s what black holes has to do with the burden of evidence.

          Now you appear to be providing a new attempted justification, namely this:

          Unlike black holes, there’s no evidence that gods exist and, at the same time, there’s no evidence that gods don’t exist. The only answer to “do gods exist” is “we don’t know.” So anyone making a claim about the existence of gods has a burden of proof regarding that claim, regardless of whether the claim is “gods exist” or “gods do not exist”.

          But this also appears flawed. The burden of evidence deals with who has the burden of providing the evidence. Meaning it’s how the burden is distributed before considering the available evidence.

          In other words, it’s not relevant whether we have evidence for or against black holes, gods, bicycles, or the tooth fairy, when it comes to determining the burden of evidence.

          For amusement, it’s worth noting that you’re making a claim about the non-existence of evidence for or against the existence of gods. I guess that means you hold the burden of evidence for demonstrating that that happens to be the case.

        • Michael Neville

          I still don’t understand what your black hole analogy has to do with the existence or otherwise of gods. It obviously means something to you but for me it has zip point zero relevance to not only a completely different question but a completely different type of question.

          In other words, it’s not relevant whether we have evidence for or against black holes, gods, bicycles, or the tooth fairy, when it comes to determining the burden of evidence.

          Since there appears to be no evidence EITHER WAY on the existence or non-existence of gods, then someone making a claim about their existence or non-existence has to provide evidence to support their claim. This seems a simple and straight-forward concept to me but apparently you seem to have problems with it.

          For amusement, it’s worth noting that you’re making a claim about the non-existence of evidence for or against the existence of gods. I guess that means you hold the burden of evidence for demonstrating that that happens to be the case.

          You’re right, I cannot say that there is no evidence for or against gods. I haven’t seen any evidence and I sincerely doubt there is any evidence. But I can’t rule out the possibility that evidence will emerge on one or other side of the question. Congratulations, you got a gotcha.

        • Grimlock

          I still don’t understand what your black hole analogy has to do with the existence or otherwise of gods. It obviously means something to you but for me it has zip point zero relevance to not only a completely different question but a completely different type of question.

          You asserted a principle for distributing the burden of evidence, namely that the burden between two claims was equal because they both make positive claims.

          I then proceeded to give an example of two claims that clearly do not have equal burdens of evidence (because one is inherently more plausible than the other). Thus rebutting your principle for distributing the burden of evidence.

          Which was the principle that you used to justify that the ‘strong’ atheist and theist positions have the same burden of evidence.

          Thus, quite relevant.

          Since there appears to be no evidence EITHER WAY on the existence or non-existence of gods, then someone making a claim about their existence or non-existence has to provide evidence to support their claim. This seems a simple and straight-forward concept to me but apparently you seem to have problems with it.

          You appear to conflate assessing the available evidence with determining who has the burden of evidence.

          Regardless, you justification for why the ‘strong’ atheist and theist positions hold the same burden of evidence now appears to be dependent upon there not being any evidence for either position.

          Which, as far as principles for distributing the burden of evidence goes, is just a tad bit too circular for me to take seriously.

        • Michael Neville

          I still don’t understand how your black hole analogy has anything to do with the existence or non-existence of gods but it doesn’t matter. You’re arguing about something that has nothing to do with my argument. I’m not interested in continuing this discussion. You win by default.

        • Grimlock

          You win by default.

          I hadn’t realized that it was a competition. Yay, I guess.

    • Len

      Saying “I do not believe that gods exist” is clearly not the same as saying “I believe that gods do not exist”.

      Speaking for myself (as an atheist), I can say that:
      1) I do not believe that gods do exist. And
      2) I do not believe that gods don’t exist.

      #1 is because no real-world evidence has ever been presented by anyone to anyone to show that any gods really exist (much less the specific god worshipped by Christians). And as science unravels more and more of the mysteries of the universe, any god (eg, the Christian God) becomes more and more a diminishing deity.

      #2 is because saying that gods don’t exist goes beyond what we as humans can know, even though (based on what we see in the real world) the chance of any deity existing is vanishingly small.

      If only believers would (or could) provide evidence (any evidence applicable and visible in the real world would do), then maybe I’d change my mind. But up to now all that’s ever been presented is logical fallacies, sophistry, semantics, and guesswork.

      Believers typically conflate persuasion (eg, through a background of family or culture) with evidence. Or take an example of philosophical arguments versus real-world evidence. If you’re going to make laws reflecting your religious beliefs, which will affect people in the real world (who may not share those religious beliefs), then you are honour-bound (that is, you must) provide real-world evidence that your beliefs are true, not just unproven philosophical arguments.

      • Doubting Thomas

        2) I do not believe that gods don’t exist.

        Why not?

        All the evidence we have demonstrates that gods are man made fictional characters. I see no reason to withhold disbelief of gods any more than I do any other fictions.

        • JustAnotherAtheist2

          Same here. I believe gods don’t exist as strongly as I believe unicorns don’t exist. The only difference is that the former gets awarded (read: not earned) a confounding amount of epistemic caution in these discussions.

        • Len

          I think the caution might be due to many of us having been challenged to try to provide evidence that gods don’t exist. Obviously you can’t prove such a negative but I at least try to avoid being in that position.

        • JustAnotherAtheist2

          I think the position you describe isn’t perfectly apt, but it does accurately describe the burden atheists have.

          Unless, of course, you really do have a different belief position on god than you do for other mythical beings.

        • Len

          No, I don’t believe in any of them. The ones that appeared in my lifetime however are for me worth believing they don’t exist. As for others (eg, more ancient), I have no horse in that race (as they say), so I’ll continue to not believe in them.

        • Len

          As I mentioned above, even though the chance of any god existing is vanishingly small, it goes beyond our knowledge to say that one doesn’t exist.

        • Doubting Thomas

          There is basically nothing you couldn’t say the same for except logically impossible entities. Is there anything that you believe doesn’t exist? Unicorns? Ewoks? Vampires?

        • Len

          Things that we know were made up in our time are pretty sure to not really exist (ewoks) but the ideas about some things have been around longer than living memory, so who knows 🙂

        • Doubting Thomas

          I know. I know because all evidence points to them being fabrications of the people of their time. Part of the reason we can be so certain is that the fictions have timestamps of the people who made them.

          The idea of unicorns has been around for eons. Does this make unicorns more plausible to you? Are you unsure of their nonexistence?

        • Len

          I don’t believe that unicorns exist.

        • Doubting Thomas

          Yes, but do you believe that unicorns don’t exist? Because many of the reasons you don’t actively disbelieve in gods can be applied to unicorns.

        • Len

          I agree, many of the same arguments apply. And I don’t believe that gods or unicorns exist.

          Why do you want me to specifically say that I believe unicorns (and gods) don’t exist?

        • Doubting Thomas

          Why do you want me to specifically say that I believe unicorns (and gods) don’t exist?

          Because that is the obvious conclusion to draw from all the evidence we have. For every entity we have that we know is fiction, we actively disbelieve in their existence. We should do the same with gods. Not doing so gives religious ideas unwarranted respect and biases the conversation from the start.

        • Len

          I disagree. I’ve said I don’t believe in any gods. I see no reason to actively disbelieve in God (or Superman, unicorns, vampires, Ewoks, etc)

        • Doubting Thomas

          I think that knowing something is fictional is a very good reason to disbelieve it. I don’t know if I could think of a better reason than that.

        • Doubting Thomas

          If your epistemology is so timid and noncommittal that it doesn’t allow you to say “I don’t believe Superman is real” then you should probably reconsider it.

        • Len

          I realise you’re trying to goad me into saying that I believe gods aren’t real but it won’t work.

        • Doubting Thomas

          Hell, I’d take “Superman isn’t real” at this point.

          Do you not see a problem when your epistemology rules out you holding such obvious positions?

        • Len

          I’m OK with saying that I believe Superman isn’t real – we know when he was first thought up 🙂

        • Doubting Thomas

          I’m hoping this joke is also a realization of the need to change your epistemological standards?

        • Len

          Not sure which joke you mean here – I’m serious.
          The god of the Bible is clearly also made up, based on the contradictions describing him – eg, the unchanging being who has changed over time. This specifically reminds me of Superman: initially he could only leap tall buildings in a single bound, later he could fly (even as Superboy, when a building hop should have been his max). His story evolved in the telling. The god of the Bible similarly grew from a local deity to the mega-omni-everything-god that Christians want us to believe. Well, I don’t believe he exists.

          Why is it that some people can’t just accept that I don’t believe in any gods?

        • Doubting Thomas

          The point is that you realize that both Superman and Yahweh are fictional characters, but while you will say that Superman doesn’t exist, you won’t do the same for Yahweh. Why not treat them both equally epistemologically since they are both equally fictional?

        • Len

          One was invented in my lifetime, one wasn’t. Superman was thought up to be a fictional character, I don’t think that Yahweh was but I don’t know. I can say with confidence that I believe Superman doesn’t exist. But I can’t just make myself believe that gods don’t exist (even with the total lack of evidence for them). But I can honestly state that I don’t believe they do.

          I realise you’re trying to force a “gotcha” but it ain’t working.

        • Doubting Thomas

          So the reason you hold the two things differently is the timing of their fabrication? Again, are you similarly positioned with respect to unicorns? Or Medusa?

          It’s not a “gotcha.” It’s pointing out that you hold something to a different standard for a very bad reason.

        • Len

          Good point. The inconsistency was bugging me too. Having dug around my thoughts a bit more, I’ll revise my previous position to say that while I don’t believe that Superman does exist, I also don’t believe he doesn’t exist. That’s what I originally said about gods – why should Supey be different?

        • Doubting Thomas

          deleted

        • Doubting Thomas
        • Grimlock

          I believe that Superman is real, and you believe that he isn’t real. That means we have the same burden of evidence… right?

        • Len

          Wrong.

        • Grimlock

          Okay. Could you explain why?

        • Len

          The null hypothesis would indicate that he doesn’t exist. Please prove he does.

        • Grimlock

          But I think that the null hypothesis would indicate that he does exist.

          Why should the null position be that he doesn’t exist?

        • Len

          If you wish to have significant variation accepted, then it’s up to you to provide real evidence. Unless you think we’re all Supermen and Superwomen, in which case that becomes the norm and a non-super being would require the evidence.

        • Grimlock

          Alright. Let’s say that I agree with that way of distributing the burden of evidence.

          Doesn’t that mean that we can determine that the burden of evidence could still be on the theist, even if the atheist holds that gods doesn’t exist?

        • Len

          Yes, but most theists don’t see it that way. They want evidence of non-existence.

        • Grimlock

          Heh, I’ve noticed that that is a recurring theme, yes.

          But I guess my point is that I think the way you frame your atheism to be needlessly convulted. Just because some theists have an erroneous conception of the burden of evidence doesn’t mean that you should hold to such a convulted position.

        • Len

          I don’t think it’s that convoluted (but it is fun linguistically 🙂 ). I see it as a big step between saying “I don’t believe in X” and “I believe NOT-X”. It usually means knowing and analysing more data than I have access to. In the case of Superman, that might not be a problem; for other cases it can be.

        • Grimlock

          To be honest I’m struggling to make sense of that position. The idea of lacking belief in something is certainly coherent (most people lack a belief one way or another about the Banach-Tarski theorem, for instance). But it doesn’t always strike me as a functional description.

          Let me try putting it another way. For someone familiar with the idea of Superman, is there any other options than these?
          1. I believe that Superman exists.
          2. I believe that Superman might or might not exist, but haven’t got much of a belief either way.
          3. I believe that Superman does not exist.

          If someone lacks a belief in Superman’s existence, and has considered the question of Superman’s possible existence, then that would be either (2) or (3).

          Is there another option?

        • Len

          Is there another option? Yes. Namely: I don’t believe Superman exists.

          Why are you trying to get me to say I believe [something]? Why can’t you accept it when I say I don’t believe?

        • Grimlock

          But I already noted that not believing that Superman reduces down to either (2) or (3). Does it reduce down to yet another option? If so, what?

        • Len

          You already noted that you think everyone has to believe something. I believe you’re wrong. Why can’t you accept that someone doesn’t believe something?

          You really only have two options: you do believe in Superman or you don’t believe in Superman.

          You sound like a theist who keeps trying to prove that everyone believes something about everything. That’s not correct.

        • Grimlock

          Why can’t you accept that someone doesn’t believe something?

          […]

          You sound like a theist who keeps trying to prove that everyone believes something about everything. That’s not correct.

          I’ve noted that someone can lack a belief in some things. As I said to you two comments ago:

          “The idea of lacking belief in something is certainly coherent (most people lack a belief one way or another about the Banach-Tarski theorem, for instance).”

          Clearly I don’t think that everyone believes something about everything.

          Anyhow. Would I be correct in understanding your position to be the following:
          1. You do not believe in any god(s).
          2. You do not believe that there are no god(s).

          Yes?

        • Len

          You finally understand my position 🙂 For Superman and deities (except for Mr Deity of course – he’s obviously real).

          As for your different shades of not believing, I believe I might fall into category I if you changed the description to say “possibility” rather than “plausibilty”.

          As for the Banach–Tarski paradox, I have no opinion 🙂

        • Grimlock

          As for your different shades of not believing, I believe I might fall into category I if you changed the description to say “possibility” rather than “plausibilty”.

          Hmm. Fascinating. So you’re actually one of those wishy washy people who think the existence of Superman is basically 50/50? As likely that he exists as that he doesn’t exist?

          As for the Banach–Tarski paradox, I have no opinion 🙂

          https://xkcd.com/804/

        • Len

          Your words, not mine. I guess that reading comprehension isn’t your forte 😉

        • Grimlock

          It is, actually.

          Instead my impression is that the problem is the position you want to take. You want to say both that
          1. Superman existing is implausible, and
          2. Superman not existing is not plausible.

          Put another way, you want to reject a proposition without saying anything about the negation of that proposition. It’s a perplexing position, to say the least.

          On an unrelated note, it seems to me we’re in similar time zones.

        • Len

          You want to say both that…

          Actually, no. You want me to say that. And I have no problem with the position I take; you (apparently) do.

          My timezone is Central European Standard Time (GMT+1). You?

        • Grimlock

          Okay, so, from 1 to 100 %, roughly how likely would you say it is that Superman exists? 20 %? 70 %? 3.14 %?

          My timezone is Central European Standard Time (GMT+1). You?

          Huh. The same. Norway.

        • Len

          Assigning a percentage to something I don’t believe in is a pointless exercise. I don’t believe Superman exists. That’s it.

          I bounce between BE & NL. Sometimes UK.

        • Grimlock

          You’re not even willing to say that it’s less than 50 % probable that Superman exists? I gotta admit that that strikes me as a bit of a useless epistemic approach.

          Ah, traveling for work? If so, that sounds like a hassle.

        • Len

          I’ve said repeatedly that I don’t believe he exists. How much he doesn’t exist is meaningless.

          Yes, traveling for work. Fun at first, less so later. But almost retired

        • Grimlock

          Alright, one final try from me.

          Is there any general level of confidence or probability above which you will believe a proposition? For instance, if something is true with a 99 % probability, will you believe in its existence?

          If so, your confidence in Superman’s existence would be less than that. Are you willing to go there? That Superman’s existence is less than 99 % probable?

          I can definitely relate to the traveling thing. I did that at some point, and I had these great plans for how I’d explore the place where I was working, try different restaurants, and so on. Let’s just say that it didn’t work out that way.

        • Len

          Sorry for the late reply – I was actually thinking 🙂

          If you know that a proposition is true, then it’s not a question of belief but of knowledge – I can’t half-believe something. To ask whether I believe that any god (or even Superman) exists or doesn’t exist with x% confidence is missing the point.

          I guess that won’t satisfy you 😐 sorry, that’s all I have.

        • Susan

          I believe that Superman is real, and you believe that he isn’t real.

          Hi Grimlock.

          Sorry to interrupt, but you promised a while back that you’d provide a definition of supernatural.

          You still haven’t.

          Not natural or transcends natural are not a definition.

          Please respond.

        • Grimlock

          Hi Grimlock.

          Sorry to interrupt, but you promised a while back that you’d provide a definition of supernatural.

          You still haven’t.

          Not natural or transcends natural are not a definition.

          Please respond.

          Considering that you hold to not a theist as a definition of atheism, I find that objection to be peculiar.

        • Susan

          Considering that you hold to not a theist as a definition of atheism, I find that that objection te be peculiar

          .

          Considering that you promised to define “supernatural” if we only provided you with the secret answer, (the secret word was “gumballs”), I find your unwillingness to provide a definition peculiar.

        • Grimlock

          Leaving aside your hopelessly biased narrative there, I did provide a definition. You don’t like the definition, but since your objection to it reveals a blatant double standard, it’s easily dismissed.

        • Susan

          Leaving aside your hopelessly biased narrative there

          I have made great efforts to communicate with you. If you want to claim that I have a hopelessly biased narrative, you’ll have to show where I did so.

          You don’t like the definition

          I don’t see how it is a definition. It clarifies nothing. I guess you could say that “supercat” means “not a cat” or “transcends a cat”, but it doesn’t clarify what you mean by “supercat”.

          since your objection to it reveals a double standard

          Then, show the double standard. I’m not playing games. I’ve asked you frequently to define your terms and it was like pulling teeth.
          Finally, you said “Not natural”. That is not a definition.

          it reveals a blatant double standard

          Maybe. I have no idea what you’re talking about, so either I’m really thick or it’s not “blatant”.

          I am happy to have a discussion. But I need definitions if you want me to take a position.

          You insisted we take a position before you provided a definition.

          “Gumballs” did the trick and all you did was provide a “not ” definition.

          Which so far, seems to me, to be not a definition.

        • Grimlock

          Clearly, this is going nowhere.

        • Susan

          Clearly, this is going nowhere.

          I agree.

          I asked you to define the position on which you insisted I take a position.

          You agreed to defining that position on certain conditions.

          When those conditions were met by someone else who chose “gumballs” instead of “grains of sand on a beach”, you provided a non-definition.

          When I pushed you on that, you accused me of bias, without demonstrating where I showed bias.

          At this point in the discussion, you have yet to provide a coherent defintion of “supernatural”, the point on which you insisted we take a yes or no position.

          You have resisted any attempts anyone has made in the directions you want us to take.

          So, we’ll leave it at that.

          =====

          Edit: a few seconds later.

          Unless you have something useful to add, or a clear correction to make.

          If you’re just going to accuse me of bias, without demonstrating my bias, we’ll leave it at that.

        • Grimlock

          You agreed to defining that position on certain conditions.

          When those conditions were met by someone else who chose “gumballs” instead of “grains of sand on a beach”, you provided a non-definition.

          False.

          When I pushed you on that, you accused me of bias, without demonstrating where I showed bias.

          Source?

        • Grimlock

          You know what? Let’s see how quickly we can go nowhere.

          I provided the following definitions. (Which are somewhat more elaborate than “not natural”, and doesn’t actually involve the word “transcend”, but whatever.)

          Anyhow. Here are a handful of definitions that I find useful. Pick whichever you prefer.

          supernatural person: a person that is neither a part nor a product of the physical universe

          Source.

          Here are some definitions of naturalism, where a supernatural entity would be one that does not fit whichever of these definitions that you prefer:

          “Naturalism is true iff everything that exists is either ontologically reducible to the nonmental, or causally reducible to the nonmental, or both … For A to be ontologically reducible to B, there must exist nothing in A that is not made up of elements of B … For A to be causally reducible to B, it does not have to be ontologically reducible to B or to anything else, it only has to be entirely causally explained by B or some arrangement of B … A mental object is any object that is distinctive of the contents or activity of a mind, in contrast to what we do not consider as such. The most obvious examples of mental objects in this sense are thoughts, perceptions, and emotions.”

          “The hypothesis that the natural world is a closed system [in the sense that] nothing that is not a part of the natural world affects it.”
          Source.

          Note that your definition of atheism is what you can a “not” definition so clearly you don’t have a problem with that type of definition. To quote you,

          we are not theists, which in English, is well-described by “a”theist.

          […]

          I’m not a theist. I’m an atheist. I’m not a believer in gods. I’m a non-believer in gods.

          […]

          I’m not a theist. That makes me an atheist.

          Hence, your objection to my definition on the grounds that it’s a” not” definition is a clear double standard.

          Now kindly grow up and admit that being a “not” definition is not in and of itself a problem.

        • Susan

          Let’s see how quickly we can go nowhere.

          Whether you believe it or not, this exactly what I don’t want to do. I would like to think that you might be willing to take responsibility for some of that.

          a person that is neither a part nor a product of the physical universe

          How could we come up with a probability for that without very clear definitions?

          Here are some definitions of naturalism, where a supernatural entity would be one that does not fit whichever of these definitions that you prefer:

          I still have a problem here, but at least we are getting closer to some specific definition.

          “Naturalism is true iff everything that exists is either ontologically reducible to the nonmental, or causally reducible to the nonmental, or both

          First of all, this shifts the burden toward metaphysical naturalism, rather than in the correct direction of being placed on the person who claims (or asks one to subscribe a probability) toward “super”naturalism.

          Secondly, in the case of Buddhism, all of reality can have an underlying consciousness which does not provide a god. It just means “nature” is conscious.

          Of course, there is no clear model, nor evidence to support the idea of nature being fundamentally
          “mental”.

          Note that your definition of atheism is what you can a “not” definition so clearly you don’t have a problem with that type of definition.

          You must be kidding.

          “Nature” is something we all accept exists. When someone suggests that something “extra” or “super” exists, they carry a burden to show the extent of “nature” and to show how something goes beyond it.

          When I say I’m not a “theist”, it’s because no claim about a “god” is sufficiently defined, nor provides evidence to support that burden.

          I’m an “aleprechaunist” too.

        • Grimlock

          Could you categorize your objections to the definition? Because I’m struggling to see precisely what you’re objecting to. Like,

          1. Do you dispute that I have provided a definition of the supernatural?

          2. Do you dispute that the definition I’ve provided is sufficiently precise for your preferences?

          3. Do you assert that the definition I’ve provided is incoherent?

          4. Do you assert that there is no evidence for the supernatural on the definition I’ve provided?

        • Susan

          Do you dispute that I have provided a definition of the supernatural?

          I think that, yes. I do. You have described “naturalism” as being “not mental” ontologically. I’m not sure that lines up with Buddhist claims, for instance. Nor does it provide us with a clear description of what “supernatural” means. It only implies that “supernaturalism” is mental, ontologically.

          Do you dispute that the definition I’ve provided is sufficiently precise for your preferences?

          I don’t think it precisely describes supernaturalism. I took more than a day to respond respectfully, and put a lot of thought into it. I don’t think it does anything if you are asking people to make probabilistic statements on the subject. There is no denominator there, as far as I can tell.

          Do you assert that the definition I’ve provided is incoherent?

          I’m not asserting it, so much as saying I have no idea what claim you’re asking us to evaluate.

          “Mental”? What are we supposed to do with that, even if we accepted “ontologically mental” as a defintion of “supernatural”?

          Do you assert there’s no evidence for the supernatural on the definition I’ve provided

          Do you have any evidence of the ontologically mental? Is that what “supernatural” means?

        • JustAnotherAtheist2

          It is intentionally beyond knowledge…. which yet another reason why it is reasonable to believe in non-existence.

        • Len

          … reasonable to believe in non-existence.

          Thereby giving theists an opening to try and shift the burden of proof to me. No thanks

        • JustAnotherAtheist2

          You do adopt a burden, but it’s no more than believing Bigfoot doesn’t exist. There’s no need to prove non-existence; showing the other side failed to meet their burden is enough to satisfy yours.

      • Verbose Stoic

        That you don’t or can’t know the truth of a proposition doesn’t epistemologically prevent you from believing it. We all believe things that we don’t know all the time. So why are you unwilling to even take a stance to the extent of saying that you’re willing to bet that gods don’t exist, even if you don’t know that they don’t?

        • Len

          Judging by the lack of any real evidence for their existence, I expect that such a bet (gods don’t exist) would be a safe one. However, I realise that my knowledge (indeed the knowledge of all humans) is too limited to be sure.

          I realise you’re trying to get me to admit that I believe gods don’t exist (ie, positive), rather than that I don’t believe they do exist (ie, negative). My guess is so you can have a “gotcha” moment and declare Plantinga therefore correct in his usage of the definition.

        • Michael Neville

          Verbose Stoic is playing the same game with me further down the thread. My response is similar to yours: I strongly suspect that gods don’t exist, I do not believe that gods exist, but I don’t know.

        • Susan

          I strongly suspect that gods don’t exist, I do not believe that gods exist, but I don’t know.

          There is also the very large problem of being asked to take a stand on an incoherent claim.

          Superman is pretty clearly defined.

          A “god”, not so much.

          Superman comes from another planet. He has strength that surpasses human strength, (the ability to make the earth go backwards, for instance), natural skills that provide him with an advantage over our biology when it comes to gravitational challenges (faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound).

          There is no evidence for anyone who’s ever existed on this planet being able to do any of those things.

          With “god”, we have some vague reference to “supernatural” which just means “not subject to natural rules”, which just casts the burden over to anyone who acknowledges that we can make descriptive rules of how nature behaves.

          It doesn’t tell us what the new “rules” are, just that they’re “not natural rules”.

          It’s ridiculous.

          They have no foundation, nor support for their claims.

          No rules.

          Nothing by which we can evaluate their claims.

        • Phil Rimmer

          This is why I now tend to say, “so what?”, after the claim God exists. What is it to me? Not even worth arguing.

          Its the singular super-power, “able to make moral laws at a single act of fiat”, that is ever un-grounded by arguments from mere existence or even arguments from creation (and especially that via hurtful processes looking suspiciously like physics.)

          Our example from parents doesn’t bode well for moral authority from a creator.

          At least such creators do exist. At least they evolve.

        • Phil Rimmer

          That old idea that one becomes obliged for one’s existence is easily countered by being disobliged for one’s un-requested possible misery and misfortune.

        • Verbose Stoic

          If you so strongly suspect that they don’t exist, then why DON’T you know? How more improbable would gods need to be to get to the level of knowledge for you? How much more evidence would be required? Knowledge does not require certainty. It merely requires that you have a justified belief (that happens to be true, but knowing whether you know something is meta-knowledge, not knowledge). Do you think that you have a sufficiently justified belief that they don’t exist?

        • Michael Neville

          I didn’t see this until just now.

          I don’t know because I DO NOT KNOW. It’s like you asking “do you know how the universe began” which I can only honestly answer by saying “I don’t know”.

          It’s true that knowledge does not require certainty. But my high probability answer to “do gods exist” is “probably not BUT I DON’T KNOW!” Why is it so important to you for me to justify my lack of knowledge? Let me just reiterate what I’ve told you several times about my knowledge of the existence of one or more gods I DO NOT KNOW! Sorry that my lack of knowledge does not meet with your approval.

        • Verbose Stoic

          I’m not trying to a “gotcha” of that type, but am more wondering why you are so resistant to the idea that you might actually have a belief that at least the Christian God doesn’t exist, which I guess is the fear of some hidden implication that might cause some issue (although you’re replying to me and haven’t actually addressed my point that Plantinga’s definition doesn’t require certainty, so it’s hard to see what I could hang on you from that). My point here is that your only reason for claiming to merely have a lack of belief is at best that you don’t know it, but we don’t have to know something to believe it, and moreover you seem to be basing that on the idea that you can’t know something unless there is no possibility you could be wrong about that. All of these are, to me, common epistemic blunders that cause problems, like for example Bob’s insistence that Plantinga’s definition requires certainty when it doesn’t.

          It also creates gotchas the other way, as people using these arguments often act like they have a positive belief or even knowledge — by, for example, insisting that based on the evidence theistic belief is clearly irrational — but then retreating to “I merely lack belief!” when challenged to present sufficient evidence. I accept that there may be some people who merely lack belief and am not terribly upset with them being called atheists, as long as the people who call themselves that type of atheist don’t exceed the warrant that position would allow for.

        • Len

          My only feeling in this is that if someone wants to believe a god exists, then they’ll have to bring evidence if they want to convince me. If not, then not. On the other hand, if someone wants to make laws based on their beliefs (ie, that affect other people, including non- or other-believers), then I think they really must present evidence to back up their beliefs.

      • eric

        #2 is because saying that gods don’t exist goes beyond what we as humans can know

        I think you’re falling into the trap of equating “X’s don’t exist” with “I’m absolutely, philosophically certain X’s don’t exist.” We say the first one all the time, and have no problem with it. With a few exceptions, nobody ever really claims the second, even about God.

        • Len

          I try to choose the words to describe my position carefully because I’ve had believers try to drop the burden of proof (disproof) on my shoulders. Also, I don’t want to make a claim about what does or doesn’t exist; I just want to present my position – and that is a lack of belief in any god.

    • JustAnotherAtheist2

      Fair enough, then let’s weigh the burden properly. All I need to do to support a belief in non-existence is explain why the evidence and arguments in favor of existence don’t hold water. I have no need to show that god doesn’t exist, let alone do so with absolute certainty.

      • Verbose Stoic

        Well, no. If someone presents to you a claim of the existence of something and you don’t find the arguments convincing, that in and of itself wouldn’t justify you claiming that it is reasonable to conclude that the thing therefore doesn’t exist. That the arguments don’t convince you that it exists don’t mean that it doesn’t exist, after all. You’d need at least one positive argument, which in essence is always that it conflicts with another belief you have (which you might know). So pretty much any atheist with the belief that gods or a God doesn’t exist will argue that they aren’t convinced by the arguments for God’s existence and find at least one of the arguments against God’s existence convincing. Only an actual lack of belief can be justified merely on the grounds that the evidence/arguments aren’t convincing.

        EDIT: If you expect others to agree with your stance on the topic, then you do need to show that the God doesn’t exist, or else they can indeed be rational in rejecting your stance and maintaining belief.

        Also, I’m not certain why you are talking about absolute certainty here when the entire thrust of my comment was that Plantinga’s definition, at least, doesn’t require certainty to be an atheist.

        • crackerMF

          after 200,000 years of failed god arguments, one can justify the belief that none of the gods ever foisted upon mankind exist.

          other gods/beings we would consider godlike may exist, but nobody currently worships one of them.

        • JustAnotherAtheist2

          I didn’t talk about absolute certainty, it was just a preemptive tag at the end. I also didn’t say that my finding it unconvincing was the entirety of my justification. You should read more carefully.

        • Verbose Stoic

          I didn’t talk about absolute certainty, it was just a preemptive tag at the end.

          So let me be more clear in what my question was, then: what do you think that was preempting, when my comment was that certainty is not required for even atheists who are not merely “lack of belief” atheists?

          I also didn’t say that my finding it unconvincing was the entirety of my justification.

          I didn’t accuse you of that. I claimed that merely having that WOULDN’T justify it, so claiming to have further justifications seems to prove my point and not yours. And you did say this:

          All I need to do to support a belief in non-existence is explain why the evidence and arguments in favor of existence don’t hold water.

          To which my reply has always been that that is, in fact, NOT sufficient without an additional positive belief justifying the non-existence of that thing.

        • JustAnotherAtheist2

          what do you think that was preempting

          The very common dishonest theistic tactic of positioning atheism as requiring absolute certainty.

          I didn’t accuse you of that.

          Yes, you did.

          claiming to have further justifications seems to prove my point and not yours.

          No, it doesn’t.

          We’re no connecting, so I’ll try a different tack. Strong atheIsm has a burden, but it’s not as usually described To support that position I have no need to show god doesn’t exist; merely explaining why the evidence for god as insufficient is enough. Same with alien abductions, I don’t need to show the person wasn’t abducted to believe he wasn’t. I just need to explain why the evidence isn’t strong enough to warrant acceptance.

          Frankly, this is such a well understood framework that we apply it to an infinite number of logically possible but not yet demonstrated things every day. Only god has been granted unwarranted epistemic privilege that says you have to prove non-existence before taking a strong disbelief position.

        • Verbose Stoic

          The very common dishonest theistic tactic of positioning atheism as requiring absolute certainty.

          Well, you’re safe with me, then, since even “strong” atheism for me only requires a belief, not knowledge, not certainty.

          We’re no connecting, so I’ll try a different tack. Strong atheIsm has a burden, but it’s not as usually described To support that position I have no need to show god doesn’t exist; merely explaining why the evidence for god as insufficient is enough.

          Strong atheism requires that you have a belief that God doesn’t exist. To reasonably have such a belief, you have to be able to point to at least one positive belief that makes that move reasonable. That’s not proof or showing that it doesn’t, but you have to have a reason to claim that God doesn’t exist beyond “You haven’t convinced me He does”. That can be evidence or argument or a stance on what you do when you don’t have sufficient evidence, but you need something more than simply “I find the evidence for its existence unconvincing”.

          Frankly, this is such a well understood framework that we apply it to an infinite number of logically possible but not yet demonstrated things every day. Only god has been granted unwarranted epistemic privilege that says you have to prove non-existence before taking a strong disbelief position.

          But we don’t. We don’t form beliefs that all of those things DON’T exist. We don’t consider them at all because they aren’t relevant to our lives. The only times we jump from “Someone claims this thing that I haven’t heard of before exists” to “I believe it doesn’t exist” is, as i just noted to eric, when we have some other belief that biases us towards its non-existence.

          This is why I said that your comment that you didn’t just have “insufficient evidence” as your sole justification supported my point, because your strong atheism does NOT rely only on that justification and so you HAVE the extra thing that I argued you need to have. So you’d need to support the case where someone who is not in your position could reasonably be a strong atheist.

        • JustAnotherAtheist2

          Strong atheism requires that you have a belief that God doesn’t exist.

          Agreed.

          you have to have a reason to claim that God doesn’t exist beyond “You haven’t convinced me He does”.

          Agreed, but that reason does not need to be evidence that god doesn’t exist. Merely pointing out the flaws and insufficiency of evidence for the positive claim is enough.

          The only times we jump from “Someone claims this thing that I haven’t heard of before exists” to “I believe it doesn’t exist” is, as i just noted to eric, when we have some other belief that biases us towards its non-existence.

          This is mistaken. Non-existence is the baseline null position for all claims until sufficient evidence is provided. So if I tell you that new, undetectable universes form every time a meth lab explodes in New Mexico, you can support strong disbelief merely by pointing out that I’ve done nothing to justify this claim. You don’t need to show that undetectable universes aren’t actually spawning.

          God has more superficial support than my claim, so strong disbelief takes a little more legwork to satisfy, but the end result is the same. Once theistic evidence is dispatched, strong disbelief is supported.

        • Verbose Stoic

          Agreed, but that reason does not need to be evidence that god doesn’t exist. Merely pointing out the flaws and insufficiency of evidence for the positive claim is enough.

          Actually, merely pointing out the flaws and insufficiently of the evidence for the positive claim IS stating that you aren’t convinced that it exists, or that the positive claim is true. So either you aren’t agreeing with me or else you are implicitly importing something else into that assessment.

          This is mistaken. Non-existence is the baseline null position for all claims until sufficient evidence is provided.

          As an epistemic commitment, this idea would count as “something else”. Importantly, it isn’t one I share, as I think true mere lack of belief is more convenient in these cases. If someone tells me that something exists that I have no bias towards or against, and their evidence is insufficient to justify even mere belief, then it seems the more convenient and better option is to simply dismiss the proposition entirely, neither believing that the thing exists or that it doesn’t exist. Jumping to a belief that it doesn’t exist seems too likely to lead to errors and is unnecessary, since I can act like the thing doesn’t exist perfectly well just by not believing that it does exist in most cases, and in any case where I’d change my behaviour based on the explicit belief that it doesn’t exist it’s probably better for me, in this situation, to not do that either.

          So if I tell you that new, undetectable universes form every time a meth lab explodes in New Mexico, you can support strong disbelief merely by pointing out that I’ve done nothing to justify this claim. You don’t need to show that undetectable universes aren’t actually spawning.

          You make the same mistake eric did (and I will get back to your response there) by picking a proposition that we think outrageous and then using the lack of evidence argument to conclude it false. But that we think it outrageous gives us a prior reason to think it false that the evidence cannot overcome, which gives us the positive belief. Here, for example, I’d conclude that it doesn’t exist because I believe that you can’t form new universes from exploding meth labs. That’s a positive belief based on science, and there’s no argument given to show how that understanding and thus that belief is even likely to be false. So I am justified in at least believing it false based on the beliefs I have. It’s when that’s not the case that I’m talking about.

          So consider this example:

          There is an official Canadian commemorative coin for Corey Hart.

          My evidence: Canada has done commemorative coins for popular Canadian singers, and Corey Hart was a popular Canadian singer.

          Now, this evidence is clearly insufficient, as Canada does not create such coins for all singers and Corey Hart was not iconic. But it’s merely insufficient, as it doesn’t give us any strong reason to think it false either. Do you think that based on that evidence, we are reasonably justified in claiming that such a coin DOESN’T exist?

        • JustAnotherAtheist2

          merely pointing out the flaws and insufficiently of the evidence for the positive claim IS stating that you aren’t convinced that it exists, or that the positive claim is true. So either you aren’t agreeing with me or else you are implicitly importing something else into that assessment.

          Not at all. Being unconvinced and being able to explain how the evidence is flawed are entirely different things.

          You make the same mistake eric did (and I will get back to your response there) by picking a proposition that we think outrageous and then using the lack of evidence argument to conclude it false.

          You think it is outrageous? Why? In the paragraph above you explained that, absent evidence, you don’t jump to either belief. So what justifies taking a strong disbelief in this instance?

          As for your response to Eric, the error was at least equally yours. It’s true that there are often (always?) hidden beliefs and those help influence belief as much as the “absence”. The problem is that your example has even stronger hidden assumptions, so if doesn’t make the point you appear to be making…. unless your objective was to illustrate the “problem” by offering a more overt version of it.

        • eric

          So, VS, if someone presents to you a claim of the existence of purple unicorns and you don’t find the arguments convincing, that in and of itself wouldn’t
          justify you claiming that it is reasonable to conclude that purple unicorns don’t exist.

          Is that your argument?

          I think a lack of convincing evidence for purple unicorns is sufficient to say “I find it reasonable to conclude purple unicorns don’t exist.”

          You’d need at least one positive argument, which in essence is always that it conflicts with another belief you have

          My only belief about purple unicorns is that there’s no evidence for them. There’s nothing in biology or physics that says they can’t exist. We just have no observational evidence they do. And that is sufficient to draw a conclusion.

        • Verbose Stoic

          So, VS, if someone presents to you a claim of the existence of purple unicorns and you don’t find the arguments convincing, that in and of itself wouldn’t
          justify you claiming that it is reasonable to conclude that purple unicorns don’t exist.

          No, it wouldn’t. You only think it does because you have or think you’d have a whole host of hidden positive beliefs that would do the work. For example, you choose unicorns as such a strong example, but the hidden belief is that most people — and almost certainly you — already believe that unicorns are myths and so don’t exist. So if someone claims that a unicorn exists — even a purple one — and doesn’t have sufficient evidence, you simply maintain your existing belief that they don’t exist. But that itself is a positive belief, and counts as the sort of belief I was talking about.

          So let’s try this one: Someone claims that I had pancakes for breakfast this morning.

          Now, you don’t know what I had for breakfast, and presumably have no belief about that either. You know that people do eat pancakes for breakfast, but don’t always, and so the belief doesn’t clash with any general belief you have but also isn’t something that you think is likely enough to be assumed. So you should have no real opinion on the topic and so your beliefs should, for the most part, cancel out. You’re in a state where the evidence itself is going to determine what you believe.

          And their reasoning is that people like pancakes for breakfast, which is clearly insufficient evidence.

          Would you think yourself justified in therefore concluding that I DIDN’T have pancakes for breakfast?

        • JustAnotherAtheist2

          You are correct that hidden beliefs and assumptions cloud the picture, but they do the same for your example as well. Clearly the justification for pancakes is poor, but it is also true that pancakes are a popular breakfast food, and it’s this commonality that forces us to remain cautious in how far we go in our disbelief. If instead you supposedly ate something wholly foreign to human experience, that we have no reason to accept could be eaten, then our disbelief can justifiably get much stronger.

        • Verbose Stoic

          Which is my point: we have existing background knowledge and beliefs that suggest the existence of that object is false, and that’s what ultimately justifies the belief that it doesn’t exist. In your example, if the suggestion was for something that we generally thought wouldn’t be eaten for breakfast, then if the arguments and evidence for that being eaten were insufficient THAT belief — that people wouldn’t eat that for breakfast — would justify the claim that I didn’t eat that for breakfast. But that’s a positive belief IN ADDITION TO the claim that the evidence and arguments presented are insufficient.

        • JustAnotherAtheist2

          we have existing background knowledge and beliefs

          Agreed, and those beliefs can play a large part.

          that suggest the existence of that object is false, and that’s what ultimately justifies the belief that it doesn’t exist

          The background beliefs clearly play a part, but there being zero valid and sound evidence for god is by far the biggest factor. That the dreadful evidence provided is all people have come up with after thousands of years and the hypothesis itself has grown increasingly untestable as we understand more of reality are directly related background beliefs that firm up my strong atheism. There are plenty of tangential background beliefs that reinforce my position further, but what I’ve offered is already enough to justify strong atheism.

          All that said, if god were like formulations of the multiverse, which we have no reason to accept and no context by which to reject, i’d be in more of a limbo position. So if you can cobble together a god hypothesis where the background detail is just as foggy as the primary offering, I’ll gladly concede a softer stance. Note, though, that this “god” cannot be a mind, since evidence overwhelmingly indicates such a thing is impossible absent a physical structure, and it can’t interact with our reality since this should leave detectable traces, the absence of which would be enough to push toward strong disbelief.

        • Greg G.

          If instead you supposedly ate something wholly foreign to human experience, that we have no reason to accept even could be eaten, then our disbelief can justifiably grow much stronger.

          That is what I was thinking. My example would be purple unicorn bacon as a side dish with the pancakes.

        • eric

          You only think it does because you have or think you’d have a whole host of hidden positive beliefs that would do the work.

          There’s nothing hidden here. Unicorns have been discussed at length, historically. People looked for them and didn’t find them. Thus we have a relevant empirical record on which to base our conclusion. The same is true for yeti, for the loch ness monster, and for spirits and gods.

          The same is not true for your pancakes example. I have no empricial access to your routine, neither now nor through other people’s independent observation. To analogize that with God, we should add that the entire world watched you eat this morning, and there were no pancakes. You still insist there were, and we all just couldn’t see them. And, further, we’ve done this same event every day for centuries. Always you claim the pancakes are there. Lots of people watch you eat. Nobody ever sees pancakes. There is no evidence for pancakes. What should I conclude about your pancake claim if we had such a historical record?

        • Verbose Stoic

          The same is not true for your pancakes example. I have no empricial access to your routine, neither now nor through other people’s independent observation. To analogize that with God, we should add that the entire world watched you eat this morning, and there were no pancakes. You still insist there were, and we all just couldn’t see them. And, further, we’ve done this same event every day for centuries. Always you claim the pancakes are there. Lots of people watch you eat. Nobody ever sees pancakes. There is no evidence for pancakes. What should I conclude about your pancake claim if we had such a historical record?

          You have conceded my point. My point is that without such a historical record — ie set of positive beliefs — you can’t go from “I find your arguments unconvincing” to “Your proposition is false”. So, yes, if you possessed the belief that I don’t like pancakes or that I don’t eat breakfast, you could justify a move to a belief that I didn’t have pancakes for breakfast in response to the claim, because the evidence for the claim would be insufficient and the positive belief or beliefs count against it. That was my entire point: you can’t get to belief in lack simply from a claim that the arguments are insufficient. You need another reason to make that move, and your comment here proves that by trying to build in such reasons to justify the move. But since I claim you NEED such reasons to make such a move, your argument supports my case.

        • JustAnotherAtheist2

          You’ve convinced me. With a true absence, the only possible position to take is a shrug and, “how the hell should I know?” The must be some background details that give a nudge toward strong disbelief.

          That said, with this particular type of absence, that nudge does not need to be large. This isn’t like the multiverse where even proponents acknowledge how unknowable it is (though we have robust mathematical frameworks and the idea emerges from the math we use to describe the stuff we can test). Instead, we have a enormous amount of people convinced for woefully inadequate reasons. That alone can strengthen disbelief.

          By contrast, to move the needle toward belief, you have scads of work to do. You need to be able to define god in a clear, concise manner. Possibility is required before you can point to a god as being the best explanation for something. If god is a disembodied mind, then you must explain how that works and what mechanism this mind uses to influence reality. You need to then show that we don’t actually have an absence at all, we have positive evidence that points toward this god over other possibilities.

          You also need to be consistent throughout, so you can’t say god is good while simultaneously saying he has obscure reasons for the stuff that appears to be not-so-good. If god is that inscrutable, then you forfeit your ability to judge him as being good.

          So I concede you are correct about the background beliefs, but the burdens for each remain wildly dissimilar.

        • Grimlock

          You’ve convinced me.

          It’s awesome to see people write this.

        • Thanks4AllTheFish

          I have looked into every crevice, under every stone, behind every star. I have searched into the microscopic, the telescopic and the psychotropic. I have scoured the supernatural, the natural and the imagined. I have gone from nowhere to everywhere, nothing to everything and all the dreams, ideas and visions in-between.

          I found all and god was missing.

        • Grimlock

          […] You’d need at least one positive argument, which in essence is always that it conflicts with another belief you have (which you might know). […]

          Yes. This.

          Frequently that belief is not necessarily something that favors atheism per se, but something along the lines of, e.g.,

          (i) most things that can be conceived of doesn’t exist, so unless A has evidence in its favor, A probably doesn’t exist, or

          (ii) something should not be added to one’s ontology unless it has great explanatory power.

        • Verbose Stoic

          Yes, (i) is an epistemic commitment, (ii) is a practical one. Either or both can be valid — although they aren’t necessarily demanded — if the evidence itself isn’t sufficient to settle the question one way or another.

      • Grimlock

        All I need to do to support a belief in non-existence is explain why the evidence and arguments in favor of existence don’t hold water.

        Why is this true in the case of God?

        Don’t get me wrong, I do think that it’s true in the case of God (particularly the Christian one), but I’m curious as to how you’d justify it.

        • JustAnotherAtheist2

          A being that does not manifest is indistinguishable from a being which doesn’t exist, so the null position on existential claims is non-existence until there’s reason to think otherwise.

          What this means is that those arguing for existence must offer support for this claim, those arguing for non-existence only need to show the positive arguments lack merit.

        • Grimlock

          I admit I had another goal in mind by asking, in addition to being curious about how you’d put it. When VS below says,

          “You’d need at least one positive argument, which in essence is always that it conflicts with another belief you have (which you might know).”

          What you outlined seems to me to fit quite well with such a belief with which a god’s existence is in conflict.

          A being that does not manifest is indistinguishable from a being which doesn’t exist, so the null position on existential claims is non-existence until there’s reason to think otherwise.

          I’m not sure if I’m following. But that strikes me as a pragmatic approach, in the sense that for practical purposes, we don’t care about the distinction between an entity that doesn’t interact with the rest of reality and an entity that doesn’t exist. Would that fit with your view?

        • JustAnotherAtheist2

          Yes, it is very much a pragmatic approach, but it’s philosophically grounded as well. The set of logically possible things dwarfs that of actual things, so the null position is non-existence. The burden is substantial to move from the null position and not nearly as much to maintain it.

        • Grimlock

          Sounds reasonable to me. How would you distinguish the burden between two different existence claims? I mean, it doesn’t seem plausible that two existence claims necessarily hold the same burden of evidence.

        • Otto

          Why is this true in the case of God?

          IMO it is because that is the only thing offered is in favor of a God-thingy (admittedly stolen from Greg…thanks Greg).

        • Grimlock

          Uh, what’s the only thing being offered in favor of a god?

        • Otto

          Bad evidence and bad arguments.

        • Grimlock

          Well, yes.

        • JustAnotherAtheist2

          Because once you remove all the evidence for something, there is no reason to believe it and no reason for epistemic caution in your disbelief.

          Oops, I just realized this is my second response. Feel free to ignore.

        • Grimlock

          That assumes that disbelief is always the default absent of evidence, though, doesn’t it?

        • JustAnotherAtheist2

          For existential claims, I contend that it is.

        • Grimlock

          Okay. Consider the following (somewhat silly) claims:

          1. Something (as in, not nothing) exists, but no more than seven separate entities.
          2. Something exists, and more than seven separate entities.

          Is disbelief the default for both of these claims? It seems to me that these claims are mutually exclusive and there are no existence claims that doesn’t overlap with either of these.

        • JustAnotherAtheist2

          Perhaps something is going over my head, but I don’t see how it is contradictory to disbelieve both of these statements.

        • Grimlock

          I don’t think it’s contradictory. But it means that the initial probability of one of these three statements being correct is 100 %,

          1. Something (as in, not nothing) exists, but no more than seven separate entities.
          2. Something exists, and more than seven separate entities.
          3. Nothing exists.

          But I’m not sure if we can assess the probability of (3) very well, and (1) and (2) hardly seems symmetrical. There might be some contradictory or weird conclusions in there somewhere.

        • JustAnotherAtheist2

          Well, then we’re not dealing with a true absence. This is a bit like asking if I disbelieve both a) the number of stars is even and b) the number of stars is odd. This is different than the god question because you are conjoining questions that necessarily have a 100% probability. I know one must be right, so I have to be a lot more cautious in that evaluation.

          That said, I probably need to firm up the wording on my position or even reconsider it to avoid such issues.

        • Grimlock

          Ah, your example with the stars was a wee bit more intuitive. I mean, it’s certainly a very artificial question, and aimed specifically at digging into what might be a part of your position that needs firming up.

          It’s sort of related to a question I mentioned to you earlier, namely how to distinguish between the different burdens of two existence claims.

          Because it’s clear that not all existence claims have the same burden. For instance, consider these two claims:

          1. There are five planets in the closest solar system to ours.
          2. There are five or more planets in the closest solar system to ours.

          Clearly (2) is more plausible than (1), because if (1) is true, then (2) is true, but if (2) is true, then (1) is not necessarily true.

          In this case, it’s easy to determine their relative (but not absolute) burdens. But that’s not the case for all existence claims, as they generally don’t overlap in such a way.

          To be clear, I’m not saying that I have good answers here. It is, after all, easier to problematize something than to actually propose something.

        • Otto

          That assumes that disbelief is always the default absent of evidence, though, doesn’t it?

          I believed absent of (good) evidence, I believed because I was a child and did not understand that what I was being given was indoctrination. People (including me) believe all kinds of things for bad reasons. As an educated adult I now try to have a higher standard for things that I believe…though my success rate may not be as high as I would like.

        • Grimlock

          I think that’s an admirable attitude.

          Alas, I’m a bit too lazy to match it. It takes too much effort to focus on evidence about everything, so I try to limit my focus to those areas where it has a significant importance, or at work, where anything else would be unprofessional.

        • Otto

          I am not convinced my attitude is really any different than yours. Of course we all take shortcuts regarding beliefs all the time, and we are all susceptible to making mistakes regarding them. I also think most everyone tries to focus their skepticism on the parts that are most important. I think a lot of people don’t consider their religious beliefs to be worth putting under a microscope, sometimes because those beliefs are not considered that important, but a whole lot of times it is for other reasons, cultural, personal, etc…notice this is just conjecture on my part from personal experience. 😉

  • Phil Rimmer

    God-existence is not really the point of my atheism. The hypothesis for God is without any substantiation so far. Ditto the Matrix until the glitch.

    My atheism isn’t a lack of belief in Gods. (Who cares?) It is a lack of belief in the God licensed moral authority of God believers, which lack is grounded on burgeoning evidence of moral incompetence.

    We need to assert far more often that the God-hypothesis is fatuous and per se, empty of import. (Our accumulation of understanding and mastery of ourselves and the universe is, if anything, the better for it.) . It is the moral-giving God hypothesis, far more elaborate and in need of additional proofs, this binding macguffin for early societies, turning increasingly sceptic, that needs now justify itself.

    Atheism is not the position (for me) of lacking belief, but that those that claim theistic moral privilege in the public space have utterly failed to produce their licence for it.

    • BertB

      Atheism is not the position (for me) of lacking belief, but that those that claim theistic moral privilege in the public space have utterly failed to produce their licence for it.

      Very well put, Phil. Except I would spell it license. :>)
      ADDED: Victor Stenger wrote a book titled “God: The Failed Hypothesis.” It’s a good read.
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/God:_The_Failed_Hypothesis

      • Phil Rimmer

        American spellings are like that attempt to diss their tedious parents by kids spelling their given name Jon. Its not your fault you have been cut off from the etymology of words… 🙂

        Dawkins also, in TGD, quite rightly identified a Creator God as a hypothesis, and a scientific one at that.

        • Greg G.

          American spellings are like that attempt to diss their tedious parents by kids spelling their given name Jon. Its not your fault you have been cut off from the etymology of words… 🙂

          A few years ago, I was in Vietnam on my birthday. Our friends invited some of their friends to a Karaoke parlor where they have rooms for up to 15 or 20 people for such events. I have tried to learn Vietnamese and can do the phonemes. But I had only done karaoke once and I am not a good singer. People were singing the songs and I was singing to myself along with them. Someone handed me a microphone and I began to sing the songs. They let me sing a couple of songs and then they were asking if I understood them. I told told them I understood very little and when I did it messed up my concentration. So I asked if they understood me and they said, “Yes! We understand you!”

          I know “ahn yeu em”, “em yeu anh”, and “di an pho”. I doubt anybody who knew as much English as I know Vietnamese would be able to do that.

          Arbitrary English Language
          We’ll begin with box, and the plural is boxes,
          But the plural of ox should be oxen, not oxes.
          The one fowl is goose, but two are called geese,
          Yet the plural of moose should never be meese.
          You may find a lone mouse or a whole nest of mice,
          But the plural of house is houses, not hice.
          If the plural of man is always called men,
          Why couldn’t the plural of pan be called pen?
          The cow in the plural may be cows or kine,
          But a bow if repeated is never called bine,
          And the plural of vow is vows, never vine.
          If I speak of a foot, and you show me your feet,
          But I give a boot, would a pair be called beet?
          If one is a tooth and a whole set are teeth,
          Why shouldn’t the plural of booth be called beeth?
          If the singular’s this and plural is these,
          Should the plural of kiss be nicknamed keese?
          Then one may be that, and three would be those,
          Yet hat in the plural would never be hose;
          And the plural of cat is cats, not cose.
          We speak of a brother, and also of brethren,
          But though we say mother, we never say methren.
          Then the masculine pronouns are he, his and him,
          But imagine the feminine she, shis, and shim!
          So our English, I think you will all agree,
          Is the greatest language you ever did see.
          –Commonwealth, as quoted by Life, Vol. 28, July-December 1896

          I take it you already know
          Of tough and bough and cough and dough?
          Others may stumble, but not you
          On hiccough, thorough, slough, and through?
          Well done! And now you wish, perhaps
          To learn of less familiar traps?
          Beware of heard, a dreadful word
          That looks like beard and sounds like bird.
          And dead; it’s said like bed, not bead;
          For goodness sake, don’t call it deed!
          Watch out for meat and great and threat,
          (they rhyme with suite and straight and debt)
          A moth is not a moth in mother.
          Nor both in bother, broth in brother.
          And here is not a match for there.
          And dear and fear for bear and pear.
          And then there’s dose and rose and lose —
          Just look them up — and goose and choose.
          And cork and work and card and ward,
          And font and front and word and sword.
          And do and go, then thwart and cart.
          Come, come, I’ve hardly made a start.
          A dreadful language? Why, man alive,
          I’d learned to talk it when I was five,
          And yet to write it, the more I tried,
          I hadn’t learned it at fifty-five!

        • Phil Rimmer

          All so true….yet in those irregular plurals and diverging pronunciations lie the deep history of our language. We’ll smooth it all over at quite some cost.

          It least the text is a prompt to the sound. Pity the Vietnamese or Chinese speaker with hanzi….

        • Greg G.

          At least the text is a prompt to the sound. Pity the Vietnamese or Chinese speaker with hanzi….

          OTOH, The Chinese characters are used by the Japanese, though Japanese adds some squiggles. IIANM, they can read the text of the other language in their own.

          I visited the Emperor’s Palace in Hue. They had plaques in the ground that described what the area was in three languages. The first one I looked at had Vietnamese at the top, another foreign word began the second, and I recognized French in the last paragraph. I has Spanish in high school, but not enough to speak it, but I could make out some French words. Then I noticed the middle paragraph was English. The place was where the emperor’s wives and lesser wives lived. I would not have understood what “lesser wives” were if I hadn’t read “concubines” in French.

        • Phil Rimmer

          Very true. A worthwhile advantage.

          I stammered when young and was rescued from it by eleven when I started to learn Latin at school. Suddenly Latin gave me the key to so much of my own language (and others). Its like my vocabulary tripled. Seeing a troubling word coming up I could swap it out for another. I no longer got beaten up as a stammerer. I got beaten up as a smart alec,… much better.

        • Phil Rimmer

          I chauvinistically believe that, English, by being the most mongrel of languages its poetic and evocative potential may be one of the greatest. I would argue strongly against a program of verbal eugenics.

          Language is provocative of thought.

          Newspeak, anybody?

        • Ignorant Amos

          For goodness sake, don’t call it deed!

          Like those sweaty socks do.

          “I’ll hit you in tha heed and make you deed”

          https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Deed

          Sometimes spelt “deid”.

          https://stooryduster.co.uk/scottish-words-glossary/words-d.htm

    • Michael Neville

      I personally could not care less about what other people believe. If someone thinks the world and the rest of the universe were created by a magic being some 6,000 years ago then go for it. I’ll only discuss it if they bring it up. However if they try to have that nonsense taught in schools instead of science then I’ll say something. Likewise I’ll say something if they try to deny LGBTQ+ people their civil rights because “Gawd thinks buttsechs is icky or otherwise try to impose their beliefs on me or people I care about.

      Keep your beliefs to yourself and I won’t say a word. Try to force those beliefs on me and I’ll complain loud and long.

      • Phil Rimmer

        My concern is for their own children, if they don’t allow them an education that at least gives them the thinking tools for personal choice, then the future for generations to come remains dim.

        Those tools are never put back half as well after puberty. Chronotopy sees to that.

        Too many children’s talents, unrealised by narrow dis-empowering education is the huge scale abuse that needs addressing in American culture.

        Adults, we have to accept, are their own fault. But culture is stable for centuries because of childhood over-imitation. Like lambs to the slaughter. Only the cleverest escape and only then at some psychological cost. Until the US properly seizes the nettle of education and fixes that, its only going to change verrrrrrry slowly.

    • Phil Rimmer

      One the takeaways of this stance is that it brings atheism (my atheism, always political) into line with those who check the box “none” on surveys.

      What I believe is the binding factor for most of the nones, who may variously declare to feelings of religiosity or a belief in a deist god, is a shared disbelief and possible distaste in the self-assumed moral authority conferred on religions by a moral-giving God. I think the atheist debate has been too much framed by Creator or Physics/Evolution and not enough directed at how do we live day to day; how do we do morals?

  • rationalobservations?

    We are all atheists – with the exception of one mythological, undetected and undetectable nonexistent god in the case of christian and islamic religionists.
    The rest of us dismiss their imaginary friend for the same reasons they dismiss those in which they have not been brainwashed to believe exist without evidence of it’s actual existence.

    https://external-preview.redd.it/KOR8lvX9Y6PmImGQxt5MDSKx8NPkVpQPCXZ8ZYAmpQI.jpg?auto=webp&s=a95d0284e01c903a7698f3c28db62a1b59518fa5

  • rationalobservations?
  • David B. Appleton

    “It appears that many of the commenters either didn’t read the interview carefully or didn’t understand Plantinga’s arguments. They’re much more sophisticated and formidable than some of the superficial dismissals of the commenters might lead one to believe.”

    On the surface they’re awfully deep, but way down underneath they’re terribly shallow.

    • Geoff Benson

      Rather like a description I heard about African Christianity

      “ X-tianity in Africa is a mile wide, but it’s only an inch deep”

      • RichardSRussell

        “When the missionaries came to Africa they had the Bible and we had the land. They said, ‘Let us pray.’ We closed our eyes. When we opened them we had the Bible and they had the land.” —Bishop Desmond Tutu

        • Geoff Benson

          Ah yes, I remember that one. Good one too.

        • Ignorant Amos

          And not just in Africa.

  • JustAnotherAtheist2

    We no longer need the moon to explain or account for lunacy; it hardly follows that belief in the nonexistence of the moon (a-moonism?)

    LOL! You’ve got to be kidding me.

    Alvin, the stuff god supposedly explains is the evidence provided for his existence. As the things that require explanation dwindle, so does the evidence for god.

    By contrast, whether the moon causes lunacy is wholly independent from whether it is actually there. You can’t really be stupid enough not to recognize this important difference, can you?

    • Otto

      The question is…is his Christian audience able to recognize the difference?

  • crackerMF

    i tried to read some of plantinga’s nonsense one time. the stupid made my nose bleed. it doesn’t look like he’s gotten any better with time.

  • Phil Rimmer

    I think given the amount now written about it, we can safely conjecture the existence of an orbiting teapot as a possible cause of potty arguments like Alvin’s. (My kids always liked the films though.) I can find no rational alternative…

  • Geoff Benson

    Oh wow. I’ve just read a Plantinga interview in the NYT and the guy goes beyond illogical, almost into unbalanced. I’ll not bother quoting it in case Bob is including it in the next instalment!

  • Lord Backwater

    And even then, agnosticism would be the justified attitude, not atheism.

    Once again, this is special pleading. I have been to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and there is no entry for asantaism.

  • RichardSRussell

    “God” is merely a hypothesis with a large marketing department.

    • Michael Neville

      Or has a large fan club.