Monday, August 16, 2010

Answer to Brap Gronk on rational warrant for atheism

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Ancient portrait of Mythras


Our famous visitor form another planet, Brap Gronck, makes I comment that I feel is a great chance to get on my soap box. First here is the full comment:

Since you mentioned rationally warranted belief in your most recent comment, I have a question for you. Let’s assume someone is unaware of the case you present for belief being rationally warranted. Let’s also assume the seven points below are true for this person. Would you agree that non-belief is rationally warranted for that person, given the following seven points, or any subset of these points?

1. I have never seen God.
2. I have never heard God.
3. I don’t know anyone who has ever seen God, or claimed to have seen God.
4. I don’t know anyone who has ever heard God, or claimed to have heard God.
5. I am not aware of any evidence of God’s interaction with our world. Natural laws can explain how things work and why things happen, as far as I know.
6. Humans have wondered about the origins of the earth, the sun, the stars, and themselves for a long time. Many creation myths were developed in ancient times in an attempt to explain these origins, and these creation myths are easily proven to be untrue given the current state of scientific knowledge. The account of creation in the book of Genesis appears to be another easily disproven creation myth.
7. I have read “The Demon-Haunted World” by Carl Sagan, and I can’t think of anything in that book I disagree with.

My initial answer was to say this:

Meta:
Thumbnail answer: Any given argument might be rationally warranted, depending upon how it's argued. Rational warrant is like "logical permission to believe something" not actual proof.

A person is logically justified in not believing something if that person truly has no reason to believe it.

However, there's a point at which one can go beyond the line of credulity. For example the reasons you gave for not believing would only be understandable for someone who never actually read a book and knows nothing about modern thought at all.
Now let's break it down:

Why do I say that "I have never seen God" and the other initial responses are only understandable for someone who  has never read a book and knows nothing about modern thought? The answers he gave that  I put in this category are:

1. I have never seen God.
2. I have never heard God.
3. I don’t know anyone who has ever seen God, or claimed to have seen God.
4. I don’t know anyone who has ever heard God, or claimed to have heard God.

I include these answers because they are fallacious as reasons not to believe in God. Let's consider them for a moment as reasons not to believe something we can reasonably sure is true: I have never seen an atom. I have never heard an atom. I don't know anyone who has ever seen an atom I don't know anyone who has ever heard an atom. If one lives in a Modern industrial country and has a college education that person must know that the absurdly simplistic world view of CARM atheists (atheists who post on the message boards at CARM) is extremely simplistic and overly lauds a reductionist outlook while ignoring all evidence to the contrary of that view. Anyone with a college education should know that modern physics, for example, is largely theoretical and deals with things no readily observable. Even a middle school student would know that now days seeing and hearing something are too surface level to understand as epistemic proof. Any one who has been around since Descartes ought to know that. I'm just assuming a sparse exposure to philosophy. Anyone with any kind of real knowledge of religious belief should understand that 99.9% of religious people in the world do not believe the deity is physically observable.

No 5 is an interesting case:

5. I am not aware of any evidence of God’s interaction with our world. Natural laws can explain how things work and why things happen, as far as I know.

Of course that statement suffers from the same flaws as the first four (I assume "our world" means the life world of 20th century earth not this guy's pretend planet).  In  that sense this is just a multiplication of examples from 1-4. But it also appeals to natural laws in general as an alternative to belief in God. Logically that's a non starter because no religious person I know of has said that physical laws are opposed to God, or God has to make things happen directly without recourse to natural law. Atheists have this odd habit of thinking that just becuase it's "natural" it guaranteed to be separate from God. the reason for that is because LaPlace assumed so ("I have no need of that hypothesis"). He was basically the one who kicked off the secular nature of modernity and offered physical law as an alternative to God. But religious people don't' understand it that way. Nature did not just pop up out of nothing, God created it. Of course we will observe nature seeming to run on its own because God created it to be that way; in fact Newton advanced that notion with his theory of comets. Thus, that is all we would see. We should not expect to see anything but natural laws at work in the world becasue they are made to work autonomously. But such laws are a dead give away that there has to be a mind running the universe at some level, see my 3d God argument, "fire in the equations."

The last two points he makes do present some challenge and are moving in the direction of valid reasons for unbelief. They are not really justifications for unbelief, but the thing is I can hear my old inner atheist saying "unbelief needs no justification." I am not sure that's true I think it depends upon one's level of education. The more one has been exposed to good reason to believe the more accountable one is for unbelief short of valid justifications. Obviously what I said above holds, that "A person is logically justified in not believing something if that person truly has no reason to believe it." In the sense that no reason means one is a priori without reason to believe that state of being requires no justification but is self justifying. On the other hand, how any atheists who post on message boards or read blogs are truly without exposure to any good reason fro belief? I would venture none really. This is where atheist incredulity kicks in. Most atheists are opposed to the concept of belief regardless of evidence so for most atheists there can be no such thing as "good reason" to believe. Moreover, this is the clash of paradigms. For those still live and work in a paradigm based upon natural law as the basis of reality and no God, there can be no such thing as 'reason to believe.' For those who live in a believer's world (by virtue of their paradigm) no justification is needed. It's only where the two agree to meet and trade view points and do mutual learning that a common ground is created upon which a discussion can place. Only on that ground can a "good reason" or a justification matter.

Brap says:

6. Humans have wondered about the origins of the earth, the sun, the stars, and themselves for a long time. Many creation myths were developed in ancient times in an attempt to explain these origins, and these creation myths are easily proven to be untrue given the current state of scientific knowledge. The account of creation in the book of Genesis appears to be another easily disproven creation myth.

This is interesting because he takes at face value the creation myth as the point of departure for justification. This is baggage from the assumptions atheist make in transiting form religious world to secular world, and the kind of thing atheists get stuck on as a quasi justification for their view. It demonstrates an inability to take the religious world at face value and refuses to think of religious thought as modern thought but insists upon rooting it in ancinet outlooks that apply to any modern  believer. It also makes makes several root assumptions of which Brap has probably not even though of (not to sell the guy short, but I doubt that many atheists think about these things).

(1) it assumes that the reason for belief in modern world is the same as the reason for the existence of religion in the ancient world.

(2) it assumes that religion exists in order to explain where we came from,as though that's the only major question that really concenred ancinet man (which if you think about it is based upon an hidden assumption that all of human knowledge and development turns upon some ancient desire to do scinece).

(3) since they assume science is the only form of knowledge they assume that scinece must be the origin of all human thought.

(4) it assumes creation myths are the actual accretion of ancient religious wisdom

Modern religious people are modern people. Many of them may be less educated in certain area, although there is no shortage of religious people in the sciences and in other areas of higher education. A Gallop poll in the 90s found that taking all fields into account the percentages of modern professors in universities and their religious beliefs reflect that of the general population. The study that finds only 5% of NAS people who believe God is based upon a strict fundamentalist definition of God and confined to a self selecting body. Another study found that 45% of all people with scientific degrees bleieve in God. The point is that modern religious people are modern people. Their beliefs are not based upon ancinet creation myths, their belief systems include a harmonization of scinece and faith in a modern sense. I doubt that anyone actually believes in God because of the Genesis creation myth. Science is not the origin of religion. Religion did not evolve because people wanted to explain physical things. Religious evolved out of the human contact with the sense of the numinous.

Mystical experince at the root of all religions


Transpersonal Childhood Experiences of Higher States of Consciousness: Literature Review and Theoretical Integrationm (unpublished paper 1992 by Jayne Gackenback http://www.sawka.com/spiritwatch/cehsc/ipure.htm

Quotes:

"The experience of pure consciousness is typically called "mystical". The essence of the mystical experience has been debated for years (Horne, 1982). It is often held that "mysticism is a manifestation of something which is at the root of all religions (p. 16; Happold, 1963)." The empirical assessment of the mystical experience in psychology has occurred to a limited extent."


a). Core of Organized Religion


The Mystical Core of Organized Religion

David Steindl-Rast http://www.csp.org/experience/docs/steindl-mystical.html

Brother David Steindl-Rast, O.S.B., is a monk of Mount Savior Monastery in the Finger Lake Region of New York State and a member of the board of the Council on Spiritual Practices. He holds a Ph.D. from the Psychological Institute at the University of Vienna and has practiced Zen with Buddhist masters. His most recent book is Gratefulness, The Heart of Prayer (Ramsey, N.J.: Paulist Press, 1984).

"If the religious pursuit is essentially the human quest for meaning, then these most meaningful moments of human existence must certainly be called "religious." They are, in fact, quickly recognized as the very heart of religion, especially by people who have the good fortune of feeling at home in a religious tradition."



b)What all Religions hold in Common.


Cross currents

Thomas A Indianopolus
prof of Religion at of Miami U. of Ohio

http://www.crosscurrents.org/whatisreligion.htm

Quote:


"It is the experience of the transcendent, including the human response to that experience, that creates faith, or more precisely the life of faith. [Huston] Smith seems to regard human beings as having a propensity for faith, so that one speaks of their faith as "innate." In his analysis, faith and transcendence are more accurate descriptions of the lives of religious human beings than conventional uses of the word, religion. The reason for this has to do with the distinction between participant and observer. This is a fundamental distinction for Smith, separating religious people (the participants) from the detached, so-called objective students of religious people (the observers). Smith's argument is that religious persons do not ordinarily have "a religion." The word, religion, comes into usage not as the participant's word but as the observer's word, one that focuses on observable doctrines, institutions, ceremonies, and other practices. By contrast, faith is about the nonobservable, life-shaping vision of transcendence held by a participant..."

Smith considers transcendence to be the one dimension common to all peoples of religious faith: "what they have in common lies not in the tradition that introduces them to transcendence, [not in their faith by which they personally respond, but] in that to which they respond, the transcendent itself..."(11)

Creation myths as we know them are late inventions. The Cosmogony became a form of literature and is based upon thousands of variations and re tellings and old old camp fire fare long before anyone ever wrote them down. Thus they are not reasons fro belief. They are something much different than reasons to believe.  They are not even really explainations. Creation myths as we know them are mythology and mythology is about archetypes, it's a form  of communication that speaks to the psyche it's not a naive simple transition of factual data. A mythology is a symbolic transmission of unconscious understanding. It's about the psyche not about history.


Brap's final statement:

7. I have read “The Demon-Haunted World” by Carl Sagan, and I can’t think of anything in that book I disagree with.

I have not read that book, but I'd be willing to bet that he got it wrong. If what Brap is saying is an accurate reflection I would assume that Sagan makes the same fallacious assumptions that Brap does. I suggest one read Joseph Campbell (The Hero With A Thousand Faces) as an introduction to mythology. That book is too anti-Christian but it will give one a much better understanding of mythology than will Carl Sagan! Ancient studies were not even his field. I'm betting me mad all sort of outmoded assumptions about religion, probalby nineteenth century assumptions, most atheists are stuck in the nineteenth century when it comes to understanding religion.

The French revolution was not far behind and most of what scinece assumed about religion was conditioned by Laplace and the reason for that was becuase the French Philosophes set the tone for ant-clerical thinking due to the enormous influence that the Catholic chruch wielded in relation to the french Monarchy. The Monarchy used priests as enforcers of the educational system and other things that created a lot of enmity with the people. Fighting against the Monarchy in the revolution and opposing the Church became one and the same thing. That set in motion the anti-clerical thinking of Europe which dominated the development of scinece in the nineteenth century. Social scinece were just getting started, sociology developed out of France with August Compt  and thus it took the form of seeking to explain why religious belief began and to set it apart from modern thought, as a means of justifying the existence of the new scinece. Though most social scientists don't make a habit of running down religion as the hallmark of their disciplines in those days they did, because that was the basic origin of sociology.

We need to move beyond the simplistic understanding of the world that seeks to set "scientifically proved" "facts" as the foundation of the world view off against all other forms of knowledge. This is the hall mark of the atheist ideology, to create the pretense that scinece is the only form of knowledge, that atheism is scientific (it's really anti-scientific becuase it refuses to accept any scientific facts that back religion while claiming to be totally scientific in its outlook and the falling back on the ideolgoical slogan "atheism is just the lack of a bleief, nothing else"). Thus we need to shed this  delimiting crutch that only "scientific proof" counts as a valid reason to believe something and move toward a global understanding of knowledge in general.

8 comments:

Cammie Novara said...

:Would you agree that non-belief is rationally warranted for that person, given the following seven points, or any subset of these points?" I completely agree with that. There's a really interesting debate that I thought would be of interest on evolution vs. intelligent design going on at http://www.intelligentdesignfacts.com

Metacrock said...

"I completely agree with that. There's a really interesting debate that I thought would be of interest on evolution vs. intelligent design..."

Evolution is not opposed to belief in God. The reality of evolution is not a disproof of God, belief in God is not synonymous with the ID movement itself.

I believe evolution is true and I believe in God at the same time.

Brap Gronk said...

Part 1 of 2 (maybe 3):

In the category of better late than never, my comments:

Meta: "Any given argument might be rationally warranted, depending upon how it's argued. Rational warrant is like "logical permission to believe something" not actual proof. A person is logically justified in not believing something if that person truly has no reason to believe it."

Brap: I had long response written about that paragraph, but in the end it didn't really go where I thought it was going. Maybe this will be shorter. Essentially I think it boils down to when an argument for rational belief or non-belief is presented, the debaters will treat it as an argument for proof of that position and respond accordingly, as you did in this post and as your friendly (and not-so-friendly) atheist opponents do on your site. I can understand your not wanting to present your arguments as positive proof of God's existence, but that's how they are perceived and addressed by the peanut gallery. Just an observation, really, since I don't think it matters whether you call it rationally warranted belief or proof of God's existence, the responses will likely be the same.


Meta: "Why do I say that "I have never seen God" and the other initial responses are only understandable for someone who has never read a book and knows nothing about modern thought? . . . I include these answers because they are fallacious as reasons not to believe in God."

Brap: These points were just to establish that God is not part of the perceived universe. (Dividing the universe (or whatever the universe is a subset of) into three categories: Perceived, Detectable, and Theoretical.) God may have chosen to be part of the perceived universe for some people in the Old Testament, but that doesn’t seem to be the case in modern times.

Brap: 5. I am not aware of any evidence of God’s interaction with our world. Natural laws can explain how things work and why things happen, as far as I know.

Meta: “We should not expect to see anything but natural laws at work in the world becasue they are made to work autonomously. But such laws are a dead give away that there has to be a mind running the universe at some level, see my 3d God argument, "fire in the equations.""

Brap: Can we tell the difference between these three things:

a) A God that interacts with our world in ways that do not appear to violate the laws of nature. (In other words, undetectable.)

b) A God that does no longer interacts with our world, because nature runs on its own and works autonomously.

c) A God that does not exist.


Your “fire in the equations” argument seems very similar to the argument for intelligent design, which simply theorizes that absent a more plausible scientific theory regarding the origin of an apparently designed X, some sort of intelligence is behind it. (Intelligence - - > Supreme Being - - > God) I will agree that the appearance of design does exist in both DNA and the laws of physics, but at one point in the not too distant past the human body appeared to be intelligently designed, as did the arrangement of the earth, moon, sun and stars. Science eventually closed those gaps in human knowledge, so fewer and fewer gaps needed God as an explanation. Right now the last two major gaps seem to be abiogenesis and the Big Bang. But I don’t push the God of the Gaps argument because it’s really pointless. If and when science does solve that last remaining gap, the believers will simply say, “So that’s how God did it” and continue believing.

Brap Gronk said...

Let's try this again. Part 2 of 3:

Brap: 6. Humans have wondered about the origins of the earth, the sun, the stars, and themselves for a long time. Many creation myths were developed in ancient times in an attempt to explain these origins, and these creation myths are easily proven to be untrue given the current state of scientific knowledge. The account of creation in the book of Genesis appears to be another easily disproven creation myth.

Meta: “This is interesting because he takes at face value the creation myth as the point of departure for justification. . . .

(1) it assumes that the reason for belief in modern world is the same as the reason for the existence of religion in the ancient world.”

Brap: A major factor in both is the carryover of the beliefs of the prior generation. Any original religious beliefs typically lead to schism.

“(2) it assumes that religion exists in order to explain where we came from,as though that's the only major question that really concenred ancinet man.”

Brap: I think religions came about to explain not only origins but also what happens after death, and what causes weather, natural disasters, disease, etc. But I think the true origin of religion has to do with two things: A) Worship of imaginary gods who controlled the weather and the few other things early humans cared about (such as fertility, or bountiful crops once people started farming.) Any young tribesman who told the elders it was a waste of time to do a rain dance because the rain is a result of natural processes would have been quite the outcast. As the saying goes, in an insane society, the sane person appears insane. So belief in the false gods persisted and other false gods were added over time. Then someone had the bright idea of worshipping an omnipotent god who controlled everything, but even that omnipotent God couldn't keep all of his followers on the same page. And B) Religion did help bring people together for common activities during and after the transition from a mostly nomadic species of hunter-gatherers to a more settlement-based society.

“(3) since they assume science is the only form of knowledge they assume that scinece must be the origin of all human thought.”

Brap: Quite the contrary, I know the human brain is quite capable of thinking up non-sciencey stuff.


“(4) it assumes creation myths are the actual accretion of ancient religious wisdom”

Brap: It doesn’t really matter to me whether a creation myth is the accretion of ancient religious wisdom, the foundation of a religion, or just a side story. The fact that the creation story in Genesis was generally accepted as fact only until the evidence against it became overwhelming, and is still accepted as fact by some people, is troublesome.

Brap Gronk said...

Part 3 of 3 (hopefully):

Meta: "Religious evolved out of the human contact with the sense of the numinous. . . . Mystical experince at the root of all religions"

Brap: I have read your links in the past where you discuss the studies about mystical experiences and their documented transformations. The reason this atheist doesn’t view that evidence as a rational reason to believe in God is that the cause of the mystical experiences themselves is too easily explained by the current state of knowledge about neuropsychology, cognitive sciences, etc. They have natural explanations, in other words. (See Valerie Tarico’s work)

I think you had a blog post a few months ago arguing that it doesn’t matter if there are natural explanations for these mystical experiences or the sense of the numinous. If I’m getting the gist of that right, it takes me back to a question I asked earlier in this comment, which is how can we tell the difference between a God that interacts with our world in a way that doesn’t violate the laws of nature and a God that does not exist?

Meta: "Creation myths as we know them are late inventions."

Brap: Is “late” anything after the Pentateuch was written?

Meta: "Creation myths as we know them are mythology and mythology is about archetypes . . . It's about the psyche not about history."

Brap: The creation myth in Genesis does seem fairly important for Christianity, though, because that is the reason, as I understand it, humans are burdened with original sin. I have asked this question on other blogs, but never have gotten an answer: Without a literal Adam and Eve, how are humans burdened with original sin?

Brap: 7. I have read “The Demon-Haunted World” by Carl Sagan, and I can’t think of anything in that book I disagree with.

Meta: "I have not read that book, but I'd be willing to bet that he got it wrong. If what Brap is saying is an accurate reflection I would assume that Sagan makes the same fallacious assumptions that Brap does."

Brap: I would estimate that less than 5% of the book deals directly with religion, and Sagan is much gentler on religion than Dawkins or Hitchens would be while heavily sedated. I would love to see a review of that book by a person of faith, to see if they disagree with any sections not dealing with religion, and why. As I recall there are sections where he does focus on the mythological aspects of religion, so you wouldn’t like those parts.

Meta: "We need to move beyond the simplistic understanding of the world that seeks to set "scientifically proved" "facts" as the foundation of the world view off against all other forms of knowledge. . . . Thus we need to shed this delimiting crutch that only "scientific proof" counts as a valid reason to believe something and move toward a global understanding of knowledge in general."

Brap: “The Demon-Haunted World” clearly spells out the dangers of believing in things with insufficient proof, providing examples throughout history and in modern times. It’s easy to come away from that book both scared for and disappointed in humanity. Groupthink is a powerful and potentially dangerous phenomenon, and nobody and no group is immune from it, including scientists and atheists.

Metacrock said...

I am making a new thread out of my answers.

Metacrock said...

that discussion answering these comments begins here

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