Friday, May 30, 2014

Things Christians should bear in mind

Kristor of The Othoshpere wrote an article in response to Debunking Christianity's 'Ten Things Christians Should Keep in Mind When Debating Atheists.' Here are a few snippets that caught my eye...

1. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Consequently, the burden of proof is on the theist rather than the atheist.
The atheist as Taggard construes him – the agnostic atheist – does not know enough yet to warrant either the claim of the theist that there is a God, or of the gnostic atheist that there is no God. From the agnostic atheist’s perspective, both claims are equally extraordinary, and require equally extraordinary evidence.

Strictly speaking the agnostic atheist has no evidence at all, one way or the other; nothing, at any rate, that he considers proper evidence. If he had any, he would not remain an atheist, but would instead commit himself either to gnostic atheism or to theism.
Kristor doesn't have this quite right. It sounds like he's attempting to redifine agnostic atheism as a position of endless shoulder shrugging. That's not the case. Agnostic atheists (like myself) do have a lot of evidence on our side. My non-belief is not devoid of evidence as Kristor suggests. Far from it. I posses evidence of falsified Bible claims, logical impossibilities pertaining to the supposed nature and abilities of God, scientific explanations supported by further evidence... As an agnostic atheist, I can have all the evidence I want and still not be a gnostic atheist. You can be 99.99% sure in your non-belief, but if you still allow for a sliver of possibility that you could be wrong, and don't claim to posses all knowledge, you still wouldn't be gnostic.

Also, from the agnostic atheists point of view, both views aren't equally extraordinary. One claims the existence of an infinitely powerful super-being. The other? Well the other claim is that there is no infinitely powerful super-being... Add to that the idea that there is no such being has some evidence on it's side, and the claimed existence of God is by far the more extraordinary claim.
The agnostic atheist has nothing he is trying to prove. He is not making any claims at all about whether or not God exists. So not only does the burden of proof not fall on him, but he needn’t provide a single jot of evidence of any sort. He has no dog in this fight; has no substantive argument either with theists or gnostic atheists, but rather only isolated methodological disputes over the cogency of the items of evidence they propose.
Thus unless the agnostic atheist or the theist forget for a moment that the former doesn’t claim that there is no God, this point never pertains to their discussions.
It would be interesting to theists here whether agnostic atheists such as Taggard have ever sallied forth against the arguments and evidences proposed by gnostic atheists, or if they reserve their efforts to repudiating those of theists. What is the agnostic atheist methodological critique of the proposition that there is no God?
Personally, I feel that the claim to know for 100% that there is no God is a silly one. After all, to completely disprove the existence of anything is impossible. But Kristor has made another mistake. The burden of proof doesn't fall on the one(s) making any claim, but the one making the positive claim. Remember, it's impossible to 100% prove that God doesn't exist. Thus, that line would be a waste of time. But it should be very possible to prove that he does exist (if he does). Until the theist fulfills this burden of proof, agnostic atheism is the only logical position.
2. Science has radically altered how we understand the universe, so theism must grapple with the implications of science before offering prescientific beliefs as truth.
The notion that theism has not grappled with science is simply false. Theists have spent huge amounts of time and effort grappling with science. Why shouldn’t they? Science is a Christian invention, after all. I suppose it’s just that atheists haven’t read what theists have written on the subject.
Science is a Christian invention... Come again!? That statement couldn't be any less true. Lets start by determining when Christianity was 'born'. Was it 107 CE, when the oldest use of the term Catholic Church was recorded? Maybe it was 30-36 CE when Jesus is said to have been crucified. Or was it 27-29 CE when he supposedly started his ministry. The oldest we could place Christianity's birth would be the story of Christ's birth in 2-7 CE.

But science is a much older discipline. So how could it be a Christian invention? The Greek's where already doing science as far back as 700 BCE. Pythagoras and  Aristotle are two of many minds of early science that you've no doubt heard of. Eratosthenes ran a scientific experiment in about 250 BCE to measure the true size of the Earth. And that's just one example.

There's no doubt that Christianity didn't invent science. Sometimes Christianity accepts it, sometimes it denies it, sometimes it begrudgingly accepts it after years of denial, and yes, the church has had
scientific clergy, and funded research. But it's quite a mixed bag of good and bad.
5. The problem of miracles is a serious challenge that must be overcome for any testimony or private revelation of the divine to be taken as veridical.
This cuts both ways, doesn’t it? At least, that’s what a thoroughgoing, consistent agnostic atheist would have to insist. So long as science has failed to nail down an *absolutely exhaustive and complete* naturalistic explanation for *absolutely everything,* naturalism has some serious challenges to overcome before it can be taken as veridical.
Incorrect again.  Remember, agnostic atheists can, and usually do, have evidence. Science has explanations that are supported by evidence. These explanations are explanatory and consistent with the natural world. But as with all theories in science, they are conditional. Miracles? Well, they have no evidence in their favor at all. So Kristor is comparing apples to oranges.
6. Faith is not [a sound] epistemology, and the retreat to faith is a concession of the failure of the belief to be defended on rational grounds.
This is true only if “faith” is taken to mean “belief in a proposition that cannot be defended rationally.” If that is what “faith” means, then:
  • It is true tautologically, by definition, and trivially.
  • Everyone has faith, including the atheist. There is no other way to think, because in order to get started with reasoning, we must perforce presuppose some axiom or other which we cannot but intuit to be true, even though we may not be quite sure why they are true; as for example the Law of Noncontradiction, or the Identity of Indiscernibles, or “cogito.”
Faith is belief without evidence or proof. Kristor says that atheists have faith too. But I'd contend that what we display is trust, which is a very different animal.
But this is not in fact what “faith” means. Faith is the willing assent of the intellect to a proposition whose truth the intellect does not immediately see to be either intuitively obvious (such as the Law of Noncontradiction) or demonstrably true (such as that 2 + 2 = 4, or that there can be no more than one necessary being). We all have faith in thousands of propositions. E.g., when someone believes that Julius Caesar existed on the basis of the
testimony of others, he has faith. Likewise, when someone believes that the Earth orbits the Sun without having made the necessary observations and worked out the math for himself, he has faith. Faith is not – thanks be to God – an unreasonable thing to do. If it was, we’d all be nuts.
Faith is not needed to know that Julius Caesar existed. Why? Because there is proof of his existence. The same is true of the Earth orbiting the Sun. There is evidence! But what if you believe the Earth is round only because someone told you so. That still doesn't require faith. If that person has been reliable or is an expert in that field, it's trust you're displaying, not faith.
Identifying God with the Good is the only coherent way to think about him. A god who is evil would not be worthy of worship, and would not therefore qualify as God; for he would fail to meet the definition of God, who as the perfect being possesses all perfections perfectly, including the perfection of Goodness. If you aren’t thinking of God as identical with the Good, you aren’t thinking about God at all. Even the silly old Gnostics knew this. Honestly, this is so basic; it’s been common knowledge for 4,000 years.
 You're right, the Christian god isn't worthy of worship. Anyone who has actually read the Bible honestly can't help but think that God can be pretty damn evil. He certainly doesn't come across as 'the perfection of goodness'. Killing babies, ordering his people to wipe out cities, and committing mass genocide (to name a few) doesn't sound 'all good'. Sorry, but you don't get to redefine 'god' to fit your premise.

1. (in Christianity and other monotheistic religions) the creator and ruler of the universe and source of all moral authority; the supreme being.

2. (in certain other religions) a superhuman being or spirit worshiped as having power over nature or human fortunes; a deity.

You see? Neither says that God has to be all good. You can't just redefine your deity to equal 'all good' and then just claim that this shows him to be all good. I could redefine my cat as a Pulitzer prize wining author, but that's not going to make it so.
9. Atheism is a conclusion, not a worldview. Atheism is not an answer to life, the universe, and everything – just the conclusion that theism isn’t.
Agnostic atheism isn’t a conclusion that theism is not the answer to life the universe, etc., but rather that the agnostic atheist himself doesn’t know that theism is or is not that answer. Taggard has no opinion about whether or not theism is or is not that answer. He is in the dark.
Thus agnostic atheism is not a conclusion at all. It is rather a radical openness to persuasion on the question of theism.
Seriously... He's still riding this horse? Agnostic atheism is a conclusion. A tentative conclusion that is open to change, but a conclusion none-the-less. True, I may not know 100% that theism is not the answer. But I do know that I've seen no evidence that theism is the answer. So in the mean-time I'll go with the evidence... which isn't in theism's favor by the way. Yes, I am open to change, but that in no way means that I am the clueless straw man Kristor repeatedly makes out agnostic atheists to be.

And why does he continuously list the choices as theist, agnostic atheist, and gnostic atheist? Why split both kinds of atheism, but not theism? He presents agnostic atheists as people with no evidence and no real convictions. But what about agnostic theists? They are agnostic as well, so by his reckoning, they should also be shoulder shruggers an no more as well. Yet his pretends that theism doesn't have two halves. Maybe it's because he realizes that even a Christian can't know for sure that their god is real. Or maybe he just splits atheism to try and make it appear weaker. But one thing is for sure. His methods are not even handed, and may even be purposely deceptive.

-Brain Hulk

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