Monday, August 01, 2011

Bad Reasons to Doubt God

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Some guy named Andrew Zak Williams asked well known (suppossedly) atheists why they don't believe in God. This is in the NewStatesman (25, July 2011).

Someone I've never heard of (but then I'm such a fogie and so dedicated to living in the past) asked public figure atheists:

Maryam Namazie
Human rights activist:

I suppose people can go through an entire lifetime without questioning God and a religion that they were born into (out of no choice of their own), especially if it doesn't have much of a say in their lives. If you live in France or Britain, there may never be a need to renounce God actively or come out as an atheist.

But when the state sends a "Hezbollah" (the generic term for Islamist) to your school to ensure that you don't mix with your friends who are boys, stops you from swimming, forces you to be veiled, deems males and females separate and unequal, prescribes different books for you and your girlfriends from those read by boys, denies certain fields of study to you because you are female, and starts killing in­discriminately, then you have no choice but to question, discredit and confront it - all of it. And that is what I did.

Some people in some religions don't' question, some in some religions do wrong things. That's a reason not to believe in God? Why is it that religious people doing wrong things is a reason to doubt that there's a God but religious people doing good things is only an excuse to examine that person super closely and be hyper critical in an extremely petty way and go after them with a vengeance (like Christopher Hitchens went after Mother Tresa) but it's not a reason to believe in God?

Philip Pullman
Author

The main reason I don't believe in God is the missing evidence. There could logically be no evidence that he doesn't exist, so I can only go by the fact that, so far, I've discovered no evidence that he does: I have had no personal experience of being spoken to by God and I see nothing in the world around me, wherever I look in history or science or art or anywhere else, to persuade me that it was the work of God rather than
of nature.
Of course this guy hasn't looked at my list of 42 God arguments has he? When people say this is usually turns out they have never really evaluated a God closely they just go by the surface "feel" of their attitudes. When they do actually go toe to toe I can take you though point for point and show you why they don't win. The next day of course they out there saying "there's no evidence." I have been through month long knock-down-drag-out debates and wound up with atheists virtually admitting there has to be "something there" yet the next day saying the same mistaken stuff I disproved the day before. In my Internet argument career I found several atheists, maybe six, who actually addmitted they would no longer be atheists any more because of my arguments.Of cousre the much more common result is that they usually wind up saying things like "O well logic doesn't really mean anything, arguments aren't proof, proof is not proof."

Actually, in my view, the answer "I don't see the evidence stacking up to prove it" is really the only good answer to the question. I really don't mean to criticize anyone who says this. The one doesn't see it stacking up that way is understandable and acceptable as a valid answer. It's when they work overtime not to see that bothers me.

Kenan Malik
Neurobiologist, writer and broadcaster

I am an atheist because I see no need for God. Without God, it is said, we cannot explain the creation of the cosmos, anchor our moral values or infuse our lives with meaning and purpose. I disagree.

Invoking God at best highlights what we cannot yet explain about the physical universe, and at worst exploits that ignorance to mystify. Moral values do not come prepackaged from God, but have to be worked out by human beings through a combination of empathy, reasoning and dialogue.
This is true of believers, too: they, after all, have to decide for themselves which values in their holy books they accept and which ones they reject.
And it is not God that gives meaning to our lives, but our relationships with fellow human beings and the goals and obligations that derive from them. God is at best redundant, at worst an obstruction. Why do I need him?

This is a classic sort of answer based upon classic misconceptions. Belief in God is not predicated upon the need to explain things (with the one exception of sense of the numinous and other co-determinate related sensations). The areas he mentions: explain cosmos, anchor morality, give meaning, I have never seen atheists pass my challenge to produce their own systems that offer even one or all of these three things. I have yet to see an atheist advance a moral system that can get past my cirteria for a valid grounding of moral axioms. When atheists talk about meaning in life their whole its an exercise in cross purposes before form the get go they can't mean real actual universal meaning; their concepts of meaning are relative, private and discordable.

Beleif in God is not about explaining the physical universe. We don't need arguments about he inapplicability of the universe to predicate rational warrant for belief. I urge everyone to read my list of 42 reasons and pay special attention to the religious experience arguments. Yet I have never seen an atheist answer the Cosmological argument with anything but duplicity and question begging and putting the problem off through logical loops that bring up more problems than they solve (I refer to Infinite causal regression).

Take that last part:

And it is not God that gives meaning to our lives, but our relationships with fellow human beings and the goals and obligations that derive from them. God is at best redundant, at worst an obstruction. Why do I need him?
Yes it is precisely God who does that. I have not seen an atheist ever provide me with a basis for such meaning that isn't either the privatized relativist meaning that just amounts to giving yourself an award, (it means something to me, of course my life is meaningless against the backdrop of eternity but it's ok it's my little meaning--which I get form silver age DC comics). He's just begging the question with this statment then redudantly echoing "why do we need him?" Because you can't make your own meaning. That's the special Olympics startegy of meaning "You all won a gold medal just for being you." Not to put down the special Olympics. that's fine for self esteem but it's not a basis for real meaning in life.

Susan Blackmore
Psychologist and author
What reason for belief could I possibly have? To explain suffering? He doesn't. Unless, that is, you buy in to his giving us free will, which conflicts with all we know about human decision-making.
O brilliant! Free will is disproved by what we supposedly know yet I choose not to believe in God. Of course if we have no free will (human decision making is where she puts the emphasis for determinism) then what means does she use to refuse to believe in God? It's obviously not something she figured by her own intelligence because it's determined. It's cut and dried, no free will remember? We know it, it's a fact beyond dispute. you are not smart for being an atheist and you didn't choose to be one. That means also means atheists are stupid for mocking and ridiculing religious people because no one chooses remember?

In fact it is not a done deal, is not proven. There is good scientific evidence that we do have free will.

Veto Power


Glenn Miller, Christian Think Tank:

"The studies of neuronal timing by Libet has demonstrated that conscious will exerts a veto effect on action sequences initiated at an unconscious level [Journal Consciousness Studies:1.1.130; CS:TSC:342f]. In other words, an unconscious process may get a muscle ready to move, but when that readiness becomes 'visible' to the conscious mind, that conscious mind can let the action continue, or shut it down! Elsewhere [CS:TSOC:113], Libet explains the implications of this veto-power, over against those who would ASSUME that even the veto was "upwardly caused":

"It has been argued that the appearance of the conscious veto would itself require a prior period of unconscious neural development, just as for conscious intention; in such a case even this conscious control event would have an unconscious initiating process. However, conscious control of an event appears here after awareness of the impending voluntary action has developed. Conscious control is not a new awareness; it serves to impose a change on the volitional process and it may not be subject to the requirement of a preceding unconscious cerebral process found for awareness. In such a view, a potential role for free will would remain viable in the conscious control, though not in the initiation, of a voluntary act. These findings taken together have a fundamental bearing on the issues of voluntary action, free will and individual responsibility for conscious urges and actions."


In case you didn't get that--the veto cannot have antecedent unconscious processes (before it becomes aware) , since it only appears in as the initiated action has ALREADY become aware--it controls with a go/no-go decision THEN.
This is why I avoid harangues about free will vs determinism. Determinism is self defeating because if they are right there's no sense in arguing about positions you are determined by genes or whatever to defend even though without those influences you would be free to reject a position that had you not been influenced by those influences that control you would be wrong anyway. It's not as though you can convince the other side, they are determined to be against you.

Richard Dawkins
Evolutionary biologist
I don't believe in leprechauns, pixies, werewolves, jujus, Thor, Poseidon, Yahweh, Allah or the Trinity. For the same reason in every case: there is not the tiniest shred of evidence for any of them, and the burden of proof rests with those who wish to believe.
So, why don't you believe in God? This is so obviously just an attempt to slander belief by classing it among ideas we all know are false and which are discredited long ago; but then it's a just a pretense, and a stupid one, to assume that belief in God is like belief in these contingent myths that have nothing to do with God. They all fit the atheist straw man propaganda about "superantuarl." Of of cousre they have nothing to do with the Christian concept of Supernatural. For this reason I find it hard to take Dawkins seriously. This is not a serious reason to disbelieve. "I disbelieve in God because I don't believe these things that are totally different from God."

Then Dawkins goes on to give a perfect example of slippery reasoning. He illustrates exactly what we meant by "a greasy debater" back in high school and college debate.

Even given no evidence for specific gods, could we make a case for some unspecified "intelligent designer" or "prime mover" or begetter of "something rather than nothing"? By far the most appealing version of this argument is the biological one - living things do present a powerful illusion of design. But that is the very version that Darwin destroyed. Any theist who appeals to "design" of living creatures simply betrays his ignorance of biology. Go away and read a book. And any theist who appeals to biblical evidence betrays his ignorance of modern scholarship. Go away and read another book.

He starts by saying "can you make a case for a general concept of God apart from any tradition?" then his reasoning against doing that is based upon a specific God of a specific tradition. Never mind the fact that he's only using bad bits from one part of the Bible, never mind that the Bible is not the only basis for Christian concepts, he would have to deal with the real thinkers of the tradition and he stays as far away from them as he can, but the fact of it is he's doing what he said he's not going to do. In both cases, both paragraphs he's basing his reasons on things that have nothing to do with what he's supposed to be arguing about. This classic case of mis direction is exactly what we mean by "propaganda."

His assertion that Darwin destroyed any part of Christian belief is pure ignorance. It' no state secret that only the most primitive literalists are displaced by Darwin. Here's the kind of stupdity that really seals my opionoin of this clown:

And any theist who appeals to biblical evidence betrays his ignorance of modern scholarship. Go away and read another book.

That kind of backward stupid thinking that makes my job so tough. My job: explicating Christin theology to people who mock and riducle it but don't seek to understand it. The reason this is so pathetic and puerile is because the average atheist who hasn't studied logic and doesn't know about textual criticism reads that and get's the legalistic idea that one dare not refer to a book to prove that book. Of cousre atheists do that all the time. They want to prove Dawkins is right tthey look in his books and compare what it says to other things. Do that with the bible and they all go "you can't do that that's circular reasoning." This is exactly what I've been fighting for a month on message board. I show that there are eight levels of verification in the Gospels that refer to older works that the gospels draw upon and rather than example a single bit of that evidence they call "you can't prove a book with that book."

Here's what they are confusing, and Dawkins is purposely leading them in the confusion:

Fundie says: the Bible is the inerrant word of God

skepic: how do you know it is

Fundie" It says it is in verse X.

Obviously you can't prove the authority of a book by the books own statement of it's own authority. That's about the idea of having outside proofs that demonstrate the validation of the book. Obviously there could be statements in a book that refer to external touchstones that show you how to prove the books own veracity. That's why why people defend Dawkins books. The Bible can and does have the same kind of touchstones. The Bible says the walls of Jericho came tumbling down. Archaeology finds the walls they did tumble their tumbling is consistent with the Biblical account, that's an external verification mentioned din the book. The atheist fundie, the Dawkamenaltist says "no you can't do that that's a rule" (of Dawkamentalism).

The reasons for unbelief are just as shallow and silly seeming as the reasons for belief (given by many). What one should be doing rather than evaluating other people's reasons is seek for one's own. Ask yourself what you believe and why you believe it. Then ask yourself if your reasons for belief or unbelief really satisfy you. One can have total absolute assurance of God's reality but that's different from an objective reason that will convince others. The way most people reason about things it's clear that objective well argued reasons are just not important in terms of convincing others. One need only seek truth in one's own hear to find God. There's no problem with doing that. It' snot illogical it's not wrong it's not violating some secret rule of logic. The main problem is it's not satisfying, because you can't use it to convince others, but that's becuase one is concerned with the views of others. We can also have rationally warranted reasons to believe. See my God argument list.

4 comments:

Brap Gronk said...

Regarding your comments on Maryam Namazie’s section:

“Some people in some religions don't' question, some in some religions do wrong things. That's a reason not to believe in God?”

No, that is not a reason not to believe in God, and that is not what Ms. Namazie is saying.

“Why is it that religious people doing wrong things is a reason to doubt that there's a God . . .”

It isn’t a reason to doubt that there’s a God, and that is not what Ms. Namazie is saying.

What she is saying is that for some people (and this is very dependent on the culture), the only reason to eventually question the existence of God is when you have a reason to question what people are doing in the name of God. If you grow up in a culture where almost all of your family and friends are believers, and nobody ever does anything to you that you consider wrong (using religion to justify it), you have no reason to question why. However, if you grow up in a culture like she presumably did, where many things are done in the name of religion that she considers unfair (especially toward females), then it is reasonable to question those actions and try to determine why. She asked “why” enough that she eventually got to the point of asking why people believe in the existence of God, and she apparently felt the evidence was less than convincing.

She was giving her personal account of what started her on the journey to question the existence of God. She certainly did not connect all the dots.

“but religious people doing good things is only an excuse to . . . but it's not a reason to believe in God?”

No, what people do as a result of their beliefs has no bearing whatsoever on the validity of those beliefs.

Metacrock said...

He Brap, long time no read from.

I respect your comment but I disagree. Questioning what people do in the name of god is fine and necessary but is not a reason to disbelieve in God. That's illogical. To care what people do in the name of God is to imply a tacit belief in God.

Brap Gronk said...

"Questioning what people do in the name of god is fine and necessary but is not a reason to disbelieve in God. That's illogical."

Agreed, but at least it gets some people started in that direction. That's all she's saying. Lots of steps on that journey, as most people who have crossed the line (in either direction) will confirm.

"To care what people do in the name of God is to imply a tacit belief in God."

How so? If someone attacked you or treated you unfairly in the name of some other god that you knew didn't exist, would you care?

(Replies may be delayed. Headed to Schlitterbahn . . .)

Metacrock said...

all gods point to God; the reality behind all the different cultural constructs.