Monday, September 01, 2008

atheism is a matter of faith, not science: the debate continues

Following the letters page in last Wednesday's Metro and the follow-up comment on this post I’m pleased to see that the beginnings of a debate are brewing, and I intend to use this post to pick up the baton again.



Unsurprisingly, I’m going to start by responding to the aforementioned comment. I apologise if my tone was deemed to be a bit sharp, but I have no hesitation in defending the point I was trying to make.



According to dictionary.com, faith can be defined as “belief that is not based on proof.” As there is no proof that God does not exist, belief that God does not exist (i.e. atheism) must be faith.



Now, I take your point that “as human beings we are always revising and fine tuning what we hold to be true based on the evidence to hand, what we discover and our ability to determine what is probable or improbable.” To digress slightly, that is why switching on the Large Hadron Collider is going to be something of a milestone, as it could either serve to prove a theory or force a bit of a re-think.



However, the attitude of some atheists implies that as the human race has grappled with the existence (or not) of God in this way we’ve got to the stage where no-one with intelligence would ever question the “fact” that there is no God. This is what my letter to the Metro aimed to refute.



Glossing over the fact that to adopt this attitude is insulting and belittling to the many eminent and intelligent scientists who do believe in God, the bottom line is that it’s just not that clear-cut.



If it were, then surely one would expect the majority of the world’s population to adhere to the view that there is no God. Although we are a very advanced race, only a very small proportion of the population are confirmed atheists. The rest of us can’t all be that stupid, can we? At the very least I’d have expected those agnostics who sit on the fence to have no trouble nailing their colours to the mast and agreeing that there is no God.



There are no “different rules” here for belief in God; it’s just that the evidence against it is not as strong as some would claim.



Certainly if the evidence was that convincing I wouldn’t worry too much about the effect of parental or other conditioning, because as children are properly educated they will see the error of their ways. Forgive the slight sarcasm, but although I can see the point about belief in God being furthered in that manner I’ve been interested to note that it is often under regimes in which religious faith is actively stifled that believing communities grow the most.



Finally, I’d like to pick up on your comment that “proof that God existed would be self-evident”. To an extent I disagree, although as I can’t offer proof that God exists either it’s a fairly mundane point. I do however think that there is a lot which could (and I believe does) point to the existence of God. Furthermore, I’d advise caution when it comes to making such general comments about religious texts. The Bible is full of accounts of people who struggled with the existence of God, and the idea of putting their trust in Him. To pose just one example, I’m not sure that if “proof was always so abundant” the Israelites would have wasted their time worshipping home made ‘gods’ constructed from wood and metal.

24 comments:

Anonymous said...

It is theists who posit a theory about the universe. Atheism can be described as simply not adhering to that theory. There is no belief involved. Your myopia is preventing you from taking a neutral view of the question of gods existence. If I believe that a miniature Frankenberry vs. Count Chocula War is going on in my pancreas, is it up to you as a non-believer to prove your non-belief? Of course not! The idea that the burden of proof is on the atheist is ludicrous and just so very stupid. When will you godly people realize that atheism is no belief at all. Most of us remain neutral on the question, and are simply awaiting evidence. So show us!

Anonymous said...

JP,

Hopefully the tone of the first comment from anonymous won't lower the tone of the debate.

Thanks for your response to my previous post. As usual you make a number of valid points. Where you appear to misunderstand my previous point is the implication that atheists would view the belief in god as a measure of intelligence. This is clearly not the case. I doubt that any "intelligent" people would suggest that there are any statistically significant variations in the intelligence levels of people who do or don't believe in a god, gods. The point which I began to articulate with the reference to "parental conditioning" is that if you bring up a child to believe in the god of your choice as a fundamental truth (you don't need proof when here when dealing with the very young) they are unlikely to make the transition from believer to non believer. Of course there are many examples of people that do, but the vast majority will not. Likewise, you can find many people not brought up to be religious who go on to "find god" in later life, but again these would not be the majority from this demographic.

The point is you can not play down the role of parental or cultural condition in determining the religious or other beliefs of a person.

I don't think trying to equate belief with intelligence is productive or even a valid approach to tackling the belief in god vs atheism debate.

Far more progress is made in answering the question as to "why does a person believe". This is a far more interesting question and can, when looked into, reveal very interesting findings.

A person who approaches the debate from a belief point of view and one that does from a non belief point of view will see things in very different ways. I think that this is probably the point that anonymous was making. What is perhaps more revealing is looking at those people that change their beliefs or faith and what motivates them or influences their "decision". What does seem to be the case though is that people have an innate need to believe in something, and what that something is is influenced by the aforementioned cultural/parental conditioning. What is perhaps changing is the number of people who don't submit to this need or perhaps more likely the number of people who feel that they can without fear of repression and persecution. These days we talk about protecting the rights of religious persons, several hundred years ago what was probably more required was protection of the rights of the non religious. Of course what this really means is that the rights of all should be protected such that one can feel free to follow their own beliefs.

The next question is why do we end up having this debate. Surely it doesn't matter that someone has different beliefs to you. It should be a personal choice. Sadly humans want people to have the same beliefs as them to establish shared identity and understanding of though processes. This is probably the main driver in people wanting others to share their religious views, though this is usually disguised as achieving salvation for those persons (not usually from the atheists) or making them see sense (atheists and theists alike).

Another point that anonymous made was the one regarding the burden of proof, and in this he is correct. It does not follow that the burden of proof is symmetric. Just because god has not been proved 100% does not mean it equally valid (based on proof alone) to believe or not believe. This point is fairly academic however, as a person who believes in god is likely to see evidence in god's existence in things that are not evidence, and also have a much more likely usually understood explanation, but this is a totally separate topic of discussion.

A book which touches on a lot of these serious points through humour, as Ben Elton's "Blind Faith" fictional novel.

Anyway enough for a quick (probably full of typos) lunch time response.

Des ( I think I missed typed it as Dev last time).

JP said...

Thank you both for your comments so far. I didn't see the first comment as lowering the tone, partially because I've seen worse on this blog (but that's not a challenge...) and partially because on occasion I'm also quite guilty of telling it how I think it is with no holds barred.

Whilst you were writing your lunchtime comment, Des, I was offline penning a few thoughts in response to the first comment. If this response seems a bit biased in that sense, I apologise, but if I don't touch upon something you raised this time around I'll try and come back to it later if appropriate.

I wouldn't go so far as to say that when it comes to the existence of God the entire burden of proof is on the atheist. If you approach the question from the atheistic point of view that God does not exist, then I would expect some responsibility to be taken for justifying that, but that's not what my point is about here. If someone is going to stick their neck out and take the view that "obviously atheism is the only intelligent choice" then of course I'm going to say "prove it", and it's perfectly reasonable for me to do so. So far, I remain unconvinced.

I also remain unconvinced about the idea of remaining neutral; I think that most people are biased in one way or another (myself included) and that's just part of life. I also think that God could show up in the most blindingly obvious way and there would still be people who'd deny it, and remain "neutral" whilst they patiently waited for more evidence.

You might accuse theists of being myopic, but it's an argument that is going to end in stalemate, because I could just as easily say the same about some atheists I know who are completely closed to the idea of God and don't consider some of the things which might suggest otherwise.

The most interesting part of the debate for me so far is the notion that the existence of God is directly comparable with such things as the existence of upward flowing waterfalls. It suggests that the existence of God is an isolated theory, dreamt up by someone who has no real reason for it. It's as though we might just as easily have ended up with a pervading culture of belief in pink flying elephants, but instead we have the idea of God.

The reality is somewhat different. The 'theory of God' is tied in with big questions such as "why are we here?" and "is there any purpose in life?"

I also think that the question of 'why people believe' is an interesting and important one. In my experience, Des is right when he says that people have an innate need to believe in something, which I find quite intruiging. I also think that he's right about parental conditioning playing a key role here but I wonder if it has more of an effect on the form the belief takes rather than the need to believe in the first place. I'm not sure that a lot of the people I know who were bought up in an 'unbelieving environment' (for want of a better term) would be able to tackle some of the aforementioned big questions without the desire to believe in something at least attempting to surface.

There are all sorts of reasons why people end up having this sort of discussion or debate, in my experience. In this case it's because - rightly or wrongly - I didn't like the inferred tone taken by some of the writers in the Metro and decided to comment accordingly.

Quite often though, it's because I like to share my faith. For the record, it's not a numbers game (how many people can you save?), nor is it a competition with other faiths or the need to self righteoussly convince people that they need a 'get out of hell free card'. Instead, it comes from the fact that my God and my faith are really important to me and have had a huge (positive) impact on my life and I think that it's so great that I want to share that with others. As someone who does not believe in the concept of Relative Truth, I believe that if it's true for me it must be true for you as well, which means that there are issues for everybody to at least give some thought to.

Without wishing to sound like something of a victim (especially because I believe that Christians have brought a lot of it upon themselves anyway) I do feel that the Christian faith has become quite misunderstood, and that there are a lot of unfortunate stereotypes and misconceptions floating around. Sometimes such discussion at least puts us all on a level playing field, so that when I say "my faith is important" you can understand why I think that, even if you choose to disagree.

Finally, I like such discussions because I don't have all the answers and I enjoy grappling with some big issues. And even if I disagree with people it's always good to know what makes them tick.

Anonymous said...

JP,

Again JP from a “confirmed atheists” point of view "god" and "pink flying elephants" are a just as likely (or rather unlikely as one another). This website parodies this point: http://www.thepinkhippo.org/.

The other key issue that “confirmed atheists” have with the existence of god is who made god or put another way why do theists believe that god could just be, but not the universe. Personally, I think that the concept that god might just be is orders of magnitude more unlikely than that the universe should just be. Having said that that is my opinion, and I don’t think one should abandon the question of why the universe should exist. A belief in god, to me at least, is just avoiding trying to tackle this question, but clearly I expect you to disagree.

When you say “You might accuse theists of being myopic, but it's an argument that is going to end in stalemate, because I could just as easily say the same about some atheists I know who are completely closed to the idea of God and don't consider some of the things which might suggest otherwise.”, it would definitely be interesting what proof you would require that good does not exist. I imagine that nothing would satisfy you. On the other hand, with god defined as omnipotent he has every means available to prove his existence. If god were to start speaking directly to people (in front of third parties) as he is supposed to have done then that would be pretty convincing proof once fraud had been ruled out. What would you describe as one of the blindingly obvious ways that god has manifested his existence to you?

You also state that: “It's as though we might just as easily have ended up with a pervading culture of belief in pink flying elephants, but instead we have the idea of God.” What you actually mean is that in certain parts of the world, for the last few thousand years we have had the notion of god. There is also the notion of magic mountains in some cultures, sacred cows in others or belief systems built around ancestors, so god is by know means the “instead we have the idea of God” notion.

When talking about wanting to share your faith you say that “it comes from the fact that my God and my faith are really important to me and have had a huge (positive) impact on my life and I think that it's so great that I want to share that with others”. The positive impact that you mention is largely relative to yourself. I imagine others would see those same impacts but not describe them as positive. Once again it comes down to these things really being a personal choice. You may not be part of that camp, but I have frequently had discussions with Christians who do see it as there duty to convert me or who ever they are talking to. Some can go to great lengths and certainly do try and tell you thing like “life is pointless with out god” or even, “you will go to hell if you don’t believe in god” or “are you not afraid of what will happen to you / your ‘soul’ when you die”. It always strikes me that those persons (and again I don’t count you here JP) who are most keen to share the religious beliefs with you are least keen that you should share yours with them.

However, I’m in danger of coming across as trying to persuade people not to believe in god, which is not my stance, just that one should be encouraged to reach an informed decision for themselves rather than be encouraged to have a particular view.

Anyway, as I alluded to last time, it would be interesting to discuss the “why” someone believes rather than the “what” they believe, but time is against me now as I have an early start tomorrow.

Des

Sir Walter Scott said...

Atheism is impossible for anyone who has even a notional grasp of history, literature, or science. Everything declares His glory; much declares our need; and pure Christianity has the greatest record as a solution to this known to man.

Only people blown along by the spirit of the age, or languishing in (understandable) ignorance thanks to modern education, or just tired, or just proud, refuse it.

Samuel Skinner said...

"According to dictionary.com, faith can be defined as “belief that is not based on proof.” As there is no proof that God does not exist, belief that God does not exist (i.e. atheism) must be faith."

They are using the nontechnical version of proof which means evidence. A lack of evidence for certain things is evidence of absence. For exemple I can positively state that there are no trout in my pants... okay, bad example.

"However, the attitude of some atheists implies that as the human race has grappled with the existence (or not) of God in this way we’ve got to the stage where no-one with intelligence would ever question the “fact” that there is no God. This is what my letter to the Metro aimed to refute."

No reasonable person would believe God exists. God, for starters has no clearly defined meaning and is hence a nonsense word. Some of the various meanings are even more bizarre, invocking special words and concepts that don't match reality, like supernatural. If a concept requires an entire rewriting of the laws of nature (which is what supernatural does) it is almost certainly wrong. The laws of nature are based on all recorded human observation of the universe and have never been disproven. To say they are wrong is to declare that all the previously accumulated evidence is wrong.

"Glossing over the fact that to adopt this attitude is insulting and belittling to the many eminent and intelligent scientists who do believe in God, the bottom line is that it’s just not that clear-cut."

The truth hurts, but it is only through facing the truth that we can understand the word. And it is clear cut. The bible is so contradictory that no one can take the whole thing literally, the majority of Christians have never actually read it, it has more plot holes and broken aesops than the Ghost series by John Ringo... of course, that is only a specific religion.

Outside of that working on "generic religion"... it makes less sense. A religion needs to explain why an all powerful being would need or want to create a universe, why it would need or want to create intelligent life, why it lets evil occur and why we should believe in it if it doesn't even bother to interact.

"There are no “different rules” here for belief in God; it’s just that the evidence against it is not as strong as some would claim."

All that against God is logic, reason and the accumulated weight of science. It is like this:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2eMkth8FWno

"Certainly if the evidence was that convincing I wouldn’t worry too much about the effect of parental or other conditioning, because as children are properly educated they will see the error of their ways. Forgive the slight sarcasm, but although I can see the point about belief in God being furthered in that manner I’ve been interested to note that it is often under regimes in which religious faith is actively stifled that believing communities grow the most."

False, The fact of the matter is that you can fill kids will all sorts of unbelieveable BS and they WILL believe it. As for growing under communism... ha! Before communism, ALL of Russia was theist. After communism, only a third was. Vietnam is 80% atheist. Albania hit 100%, but they only did that because their fearless leader wante to be number 1!

"Finally, I’d like to pick up on your comment that “proof that God existed would be self-evident”. To an extent I disagree, although as I can’t offer proof that God exists either it’s a fairly mundane point. I do however think that there is a lot which could (and I believe does) point to the existence of God. Furthermore, I’d advise caution when it comes to making such general comments about religious texts. The Bible is full of accounts of people who struggled with the existence of God, and the idea of putting their trust in Him. To pose just one example, I’m not sure that if “proof was always so abundant” the Israelites would have wasted their time worshipping home made ‘gods’ constructed from wood and metal."

Which suggests that they didn't have evidence OR they viewed their God differantly. They did believe other Gods existed after all, how is it such a stretch that they believed they would get a better deal?

As for belief, it isn't intelligence, it is intellectual honesty- the ability to admit you previously head a false belief. Such an ability is rare.

"These days we talk about protecting the rights of religious persons, several hundred years ago what was probably more required was protection of the rights of the non religious. Of course what this really means is that the rights of all should be protected such that one can feel free to follow their own beliefs."

What country do you live in? Where I am the religious people are trying to establish a theocratic state. Slight hyperbole... unless you live in Turkey. Or any third world nation really.

"The next question is why do we end up having this debate. Surely it doesn't matter that someone has different beliefs to you. It should be a personal choice."

Belief leads to thought. Thought leads to actions. If your beliefs fail to match reality, than your actions will as well.

"I wouldn't go so far as to say that when it comes to the existence of God the entire burden of proof is on the atheist. If you approach the question from the atheistic point of view that God does not exist, then I would expect some responsibility to be taken for justifying that, but that's not what my point is about here. If someone is going to stick their neck out and take the view that "obviously atheism is the only intelligent choice" then of course I'm going to say "prove it", and it's perfectly reasonable for me to do so. So far, I remain unconvinced."

Because the God described by Christianity is logically impossible, as is the Gods described by all other religions. Additionally it violates everything we know about the universe.

"I also remain unconvinced about the idea of remaining neutral; I think that most people are biased in one way or another (myself included) and that's just part of life. I also think that God could show up in the most blindingly obvious way and there would still be people who'd deny it, and remain "neutral" whilst they patiently waited for more evidence."

I am unbiased. I am not neutral. The two are differant concepts.

As for "people denying it even if they have proof"... the popularity of superheroes and Warhammer 40K shows such an idea is rather hollow. Alot of people have pointed out they are the ultimate wish fullfillment. Having them actually exist and be provable would have people flock to whatever their banner is by the billions. If superman landed on Earth and we had none of the rest of their universe, do you doubt that people would worship him as a God? People WANT Gods- a fact that Hitchens hates, but almost all atheists do not share his virulent hatred of the concept.

As for Sir Walter Scott... you do realize you declared being educated leads to atheism? And since education is generally learning about reality, that understanding reality leads to atheism? Your own words condemn you.

Sir Walter Scott said...

What ugly idiocy!

Gareth P said...

JP you don't half attract the lunatic fringe here.

The arrogance present in those on both extremes of this debate is stupefying.

Samuel Skinner: To describe yourself as unbiased is akin to describing the Grand Canyon as a small hole in the ground.

Sir Walter Scott: Resorting to name calling? Surely you can do better than that if you're right?

Des and JP are having an excellent, inteligent and thought provoking discussion and you two are just lowering the tone. My advice is to sit on the naughty step for 5 minutes and think about what you've done.

JP said...

Wow, there are now a lot of strands in this debate. I think that to avoid misunderstanding and confusion we need to clarify things.

Let's begin with the pink flying elephants (or pink hippos, or whatever fictional pink animal you would like). When I differentiated between the existence of God and the existence of pink flying elephants, I was thinking of pink flying elephants as being just that - elephants which are pink and can fly - and nothing more. Evidently, Des, you have taken it to mean the concept of 'god' embodied by pink flying elephants, in the same way that pinkhippo.com has embodied 'god' as a pink hippo, which puts a completely different spin on things.

Although I have approached this debate from a Christian perspective, I have so far been very vague about what I mean by God, largely because to some extent the question of existence of 'god' and the form this 'god' may or may not take are two separate issues. However, most people who believe in 'god', especially those with what I would term an 'active faith' do have an idea of who or what it is they believe in. Comments therefore that "it is a nonsense word" are not particularly helpful or relevant. Someone recently said that the Christian God "might be unprovable, but He is not unknowable" which I rather liked. Deep.

Moving on, the use of the term 'unlikely' raises an interesting point. It's worth bearing in mind that there are cases in which something can be 'unlikely' but still be plausible and widely accepted. The fact that under the Big Bang theory exactly the right conditions for the formation of life occured would be one such example here.

Now at this point I wouldn't be surprised if someone started to harangue me and excitedly point out that the Big Bang theory is still much more 'likely' than the existence of God, so I shall pre-empt that by saying that in the general case the two things are not mutually exclusive. Obviously if you impose conditions such as the idea that God must have created the world in seven days then you have a decision to make, but then that's a different issue.

Suffice to say that I disagree with the anonymous commentator who stated that "all that against God is logic, reason and the accumulated weight of science." Much as I love Monty Python it is perhaps a shame that the youtube link wasn't anything which added weight to this statement.

I also disagree with the comment that "no reasonable person would believe God exists," simply because lots of reasonable people do.

When it comes to the idea of encouragement or repression of belief in God, it's certainly true that you can tell kids all sorts of things and they will believe it. But no-one seems worried about telling them about Father Christmas and the Tooth Fairy in case they continue to believe it as they grow up. The statistics about belief in communist states make for interesting reading. I'll admit that when I originally made the comment I was thinking about the rapid growth of the church in China and South Korea, and am happy to concede that I might not have been right across the board. But it would be helpful to know a bit more about the statistics you quoted; if you are going to survey people in a country where people have been fearful about admitting to a belief in God the results will doubtless be biased. It also depends on how you ask the questions; ascertaining that someone has no specific religious faith is not necessarily tantamount to saying that they are atheist.

Lastly (for now), let's look at the idea of the Bible, which has been brought in to this debate as apparently "being so contradictory that no one can take the whole thing literally, the majority of Christians have never actually read it, it has more plot holes and broken aesops than the Ghost series by John Ringo..."

Is this a case of the pot calling the kettle black? If not, and you have read the Bible I'm surprised that you think that it is a work which is meant to be taken literally in its entirety. Incidentally I'm not saying that I would just pick and choose just some bits of it and brush the rest under the carpet, but it is worth noting that not all literary work has to be taken literally. Ooh, look at that for a tongue-twister. Anyway, perhaps you'd also like to pick one of the contradictions you have found and ask me how, as a Christian, I deal with it.

dave said...

What I'm going to see has no doubt already been said by some learned Atheist before me, but I note that all the posts above are MASSIVE. This debate doesn't require such deep thought or intellect. It's simple.

The definition of science isn't fact. Science is the investigation of answers to questions, continually updating our BELIEFS on what happens in the universe according to the new results we find. So Atheism is very much science and not faith.

I am in Kuala Lumpur at the moment. This morning I visited the Petronas Twin Towers, the second largest building in the world. I was awestruck. I had seen pictures before I arrived here. But I had to have faith that they actually existed, I had not seen actual proof they existed until I saw and touched them myself. Obviously I always believed they existed as the sheer amount of evidence I had before me pointed to their existence. The sheer amount of evidence we hold points to the non-existence of any higher power, and so that is the opinion we must take. Trust me, the Petronas Towers are real.

Gareth P said...

Dave, what specific scientific evidence points to God not existing?

Anonymous said...

Haven't time to post a proper response on this occasion, but one point I felt had to be made was as follows:-

Though there are many parallels to be drawn in believing in god, Father Christmas (FC) and The Tooth Fairy(TTF), promise of good things if you do as I say/ promise of bad things if you don't etc.

However you can't extend this to the concerns about getting them to believe in a god. Parents who teach there children about FC and TTF don't believe it themselves, and the disbelief slowly leaks to the child. People who teach their children to believe in a god(s) usually fundamentally believe it themselves, as such the effects of this are very different.

Des

JP said...

Hi Dave - welcome back, as it were. I hope that you're having a good time in Kuala Lumpur.

I think my main response to your post would echo Gareth P.

I would also like to comment that the words 'belief' and 'faith' are inextricably linked to the extent that to imply that atheism isn't faith but it is a belief is treading on thin ice.

Des, I can see your point but maintain that if believing in God is as misguided as some would make it out to be then it doesn't matter - if it's so obvious that God does not exist then most kids will work it out.

On the other hand, if it's not so clear cut, the same worries could be applied to atheists who impose their faith on their children.

Anonymous said...

JP,

Your second point I agree with completely. I believe imposing your faith on your children is very wrong atheist or otherwise. One should encourage children to find their own answers to these questions, and as far as is practicable give them the tools to do so.

It is one thing telling your children what you believe. It is another telling them what to believe.

It is achieving the former without the latter which is often (though by no means always) either difficult, or made difficult by religious peers, for religious people at the for fear of compromising their own faith.

As for your first point I do not agree. I think that the level and type of reinforcement and also the frequency of this reinforcement between the FC/TTF on the one side and god(s) on the other make it very different. FC is a once a year for a few weeks phenomena whereas god can be daily/constant thing for some. I would suggest that for children where god was a daily part of their early child hood rather than a once or twice a year, the ease with which they might transfer from believer in their god(s) to no god(s) or another is significantly diminished.

Furthermore, children in the “daily” god category are also more likely to be surrounded by a higher percentage of friends and family that fall in the same category, often in the context of their faith, thus not only reinforcing their beliefs but also their group identity.

To date similar groups have not really existed for atheists, but that may be changing with humanist organisations gaining wider visibility and exposure. It would be very interesting to see how atheism belief transfer patterns modify in such groups if they take hold, but I would be just as concerned about influencing children into being non believers under such circumstances.

Des

dave said...

I think I explain very clearly (aimed at Gareth P and JP) that just because there is no evidence against a higher power, that is not sufficient evidence to believe that there is a higher power. Echo for the spaghetti monster orbiting alpha centauri.

However, the existence of items such as the Kabbalah, Bible, Koran etc. I think all work as very good evidence for the non-existence of any God that they describe. So God doesn't exist. That is fact. Higher power, or some other form of other being that possibly influences or has influenced the creation of the Universe(s). It is impossible to answer that question due to the nature of our Science. We can only get so far in such a short space of time. If you compared the life of the Universe to the life of a man aged 65, humans only came into existence a minute ago, and Jesus was born a millisecond ago. So we've had about 3 milliseconds to start looking at the stars, for 2.5 of those milliseconds, there have been religious apologists meddling in the business of Science (and still do a little bit), give us a little bit of time, and you'll get your answers. Show patience. It is a virtue.

Gareth P said...

Surely if "there is no evidence against a higher power" then your contention that God doesn't exist is something you believe.

You couldn't say "I know God doesn't exist" any more than a theist could say "I know God does exist" because there is no definitive evidence either way. A concession you yourself have made.

All either side can say is "I believe God does/doesn't exist"

Now i guess it comes down to what you percieve faith to be but for me that is the very difinition of it. Believing in something even though you know you can't prove it.

dave said...

Dude, are you misunderstanding me on purpose just to wind me up or are you actually that dumb?

I make a clear distinction between God (who definitely doesn't exist) and Higher Power (which in all likelihood can never be proven either way). I use the term Higher Power to encompass ANYTHING. ie. Are we part of a computer program? Erm don't know. Is there a spaghetti monster orbiting Alpha Centauri? Erm don't know. Is the Universe on the back of a flea, on the back of a dog, who lives in a house with a family that lives on a planet in an infinitely larger Universe than ours? Erm don't know.

To my mind, the last of those 3 suggestions is more logical than a bloke pushing buttons. Granted there is no evidence for either.

Gareth P said...

But you still have no evidence that the Christian, Jewish, Muslim or any other religious God doesn't exist. Just because you don't like the religious texts doesn't mean they are evidence against God.

You say God definately doesn't exist then prove it. If you can't prove it then it is something which you believe to be true. Then it becomes a question of faith...

Anonymous said...

Does that mean that not believing in the things that other people believe in, but we are not aware of, is faith?

For example is it faith that prevents you believing in the magical properties of a particular mountain sacred to the members of some little know religion.

How many people have to believe in something before the onus is on the non believers to prove that that said thing does not exists.

Gareth presumably you apply certain constraints in your previous assertion. I would be interested to know what they are?

Des

Gareth P said...

Not really, I think most things come down to faith at some point.

An example i would site is evolution. I believe in evolution - the scientific evidence for it is overwhelming but with that said there is always that possibilty that literal creationism is true, or infact the spaghetti monster from alpha centauri did it. Just because I think they are improbable doesn't mean I'm going to discount them entirely or ridicule those who believe in them.

I guess my point ultimately is, that as you yourself have said, we are so young in the grand scheme and know so little that all we have is what we believe. And belief for me is faith.

Also I don't think the onus is on non-believers to disprove something. However when you assert that God definately doesn't exist and that is fact then you need to be able to back it up.

Going back to the specific debate. I assume you get upset when theists try to convince you, that as an Atheist you are 'wrong' and wish they wouldn't. Then perhaps it is also true that Theists feel the same about Atheists who try to convince them their beliefs are 'wrong'?

In my opinion (and the rapture ready lot will no doubt disagree) the onus on all people of faith (Theist or Atheist) isn't to say this is why you're 'wrong' but to simply say this is what I believe and explain why. Then we let other decide and don't ridicule or harrangue them for the choice they make.

dave said...

Gareth,

I respect this little exert:

"In my opinion (and the rapture ready lot will no doubt disagree) the onus on all people of faith (Theist or Atheist) isn't to say this is why you're 'wrong' but to simply say this is what I believe and explain why. Then we let other decide and don't ridicule or harrangue them for the choice they make."

One niggle with this however is the whole one life thing. A child has one life and should be allowed to believe whatever they want and pursue whatever goal they have in life, without the constraints put on them by religion usually from their elders.

Oh and I wish you would stop calling Atheism a faith. It is a decision based on results. The only way Atheism is a faith is if EVERYTHING is faith. One must draw the line somewhere, and Atheism doesn't fall over the line of faith.

JP said...

Gareth, I liked your last post and you summed up a lot of things rather nicely. The section Dave picked up on is one I would also agree with.

Dave, once again you raise some interesting points. I disagree with your "little niggle" however, or at least part of it.

I agree that a child should be able to believe what they like.

I also agree that they should be able to pursue whatever goal they would like, up to a point. You run the risk here of encouraging a very self-centred society which is most certainly not a good thing, although given your previous views on other issues I'd be surprised if you didn't actually apply the same caveat.

However, I disagree to some extent with what you say about religion applying constraints. I cannot deny that there are well documented cases in which religious people constrain and pressurise people, however well meaning that may be. But religion does not necessarily equal constraint.

From my point of view, for example, the misconception that being a Christian is about being constrained by a set of rules is a big bugbear.

Anyway, the other side of the coin is that many 'non-religious' people also exercise constraint on their children. I know of children who are prevented by their non-believing parents from joining in with their friends and coming to a church run group of one kind or another. It's Henry Ford all over again - "you can have any religious belief you like, so long as it's atheism".

Oh and when it comes to atheism being a faith, I'm afraid I'm sticking to my original view, because there is a difference between religious belief and science. Atheism isn't science.

If atheism were simply a "decision based on results" I'd expect to have seen those results by now. Furthermore, if these results were convincing I'd expect, as a theist, to be in the minority.

I'm not putting burden of proof purely on the atheist, but when you start considering some of the questions such as "why are we here?" and considering issues such as morality, conscience, and (for want of a better word) 'supernatural' experiences, atheists have as much to prove as the theist.

JP said...

Obviously my last sentence should read "atheists have as much to prove as theists" or alternatively, "the atheist has as much to prove as the theist".

Contrary to what some appear to think, atheism hasn't virtually eradicated the alternatives... ;)

Gareth P said...

To be honest Dave everything is faith isn't it?

It's kind of an existential question but we can only be certain of one thing and that is our own consciousness. The rest comes down to belief and perception. And that for me is the very definition of faith.

Also on a related note, I caught the end of Derren Brown: Messiah last night and he summed it up rather well for me. People of faith - Theist or Atheist - do what all people do when debating a point. They pick out what backs up their argument whilst playing down that which doesn't. His conclusion was that anyone of the groups could be absolutely right and I second that. There is no evidence I can see that discount any particular religion/world view. As i said just because I find it improbable means nothing - because in the grand scheme of things I know nothing. Perhaps (and I'm getting existential again) the need for Faith is part of the Human Condition because there are very few genuine agnostics.