Thursday, August 12, 2010

Atheists & The Fake Concession.

If you've watching a lot of internet atheists discussing God or Christianity, you've probably seen this move employed at one point or another:

"Look, I'd be more than happy to believe in God! I would change my mind immediately if the evidence were simply there. If God spelled out "I exist" with the stars in the sky, I'd believe. If a 900 foot Jesus appeared outside my window, I'd believe. If some powerful angel appeared, really seemed to be an angel, and claimed to be a messenger from God Himself, I'd believe. Supposedly God has performed miracles, and all of these would be easy for Him to accomplish, so why not do any of these if He really wants me to believe in Him?"

Now, there's a lot going wrong with this kind of claim, but I want to focus on one problem in particular: This is typically going to be a skeptic for whom, on any other related question (Christ's resurrection, healing miracles, the hard problem of consciousness, the origin of the universe, the origin of life, the origin of information, etc), they will continuously play two different cards: The "logically possible non-miraculous and/or non-intentional explanation for the issue in question" card (Christ had a twin! The universe just got lucky! We live in a multiverse and things like that happen now and then! Etc), and the "we have no answer for that now but eventually we will" card (Cosmology awaits its Darwin! Consciousness will be shown to be totally physical some day! That miracle will be explained in time! etc).

But that opens them up to the charge that, between their imagination (X happened and a lot of luck was involved!) and their delays (promissory materialism), they've placed themselves in a dogmatic position for which any contrary evidence or experience will simply be explained away. In other words, "evidence", empirical or otherwise, doesn't mean diddly to them due to their prior commitments.

Hence the reply of, "That's not true! Why, I'd be willing to believe if (listed, particular) miracles happened!"

But here's the problem: The examples of miracles given always, in principle, could be explained away in the same manner the atheist explains away any other report of miracle or evidence of God. It's not as if "luck" or "deception by a non-God agent" or "delusion" or "I don't know, but we'll have an explanation eventually" can't be deployed to explain away even the miracles the atheist says would convince him. The distinction is arbitrary - what was a God of the Gaps argument in all other cases becomes, inexplicably, a theoretically compelling argument for the same atheist.

And the inclusion of these arbitrary exceptions are supposed to serve as demonstrations that the atheist isn't dogmatic after all. Because hey, you can't be accused of dogmatism if you can name something, anything, that would change your mind, right?

Naturally, I find "I would just believe if..." claims like this to be utterly insincere. But, psychoanalyzing someone in a discussion is almost always going to be a dead end.

So, my reply to claims like this tends to be as follows: Point out that the "miracles/evidences that would make me believe" are subject to the exact same criticisms and dismissals the atheist deploys against current miracle claims or evidences for God, and thus constitute utterly arbitrary exceptions. But if an arbitrary exception to the atheistic/skeptical norm constitutes a valid and reasonable justification to believe in God, *then far and away most skeptical arguments against miracles-as-proof-of-God, natural revelation of God, and otherwise die on the spot*. If arbitrary exceptions to the norm are permissible and reasonable, then citing anything from the Miracle of the Sun to fine-tuning to the mere existence of coded language in the natural world (Perry Marshall's DNA argument) to otherwise work just as well. The only difference is that the atheist's arbitrary exception concerns miracles and evidences they don't believe have happened yet, and other people's arbitrary exceptions concerns miracles and evidences they do believe have happened.

Of course, the atheist still has some options open: Retreat into utter dogmatism (Okay, fine, no miracles or evidences could EVER compel a reasonable person to believe in God!), sacrifice the very idea of atheist apologetics (Alright, reasonable people can come to vastly different opinions on this subject, ergo theism and religious belief are not enemies of reason, ergo the evangelical atheist project is dead in the water), plea for more time (There's a response here, I'm sure of it, I just don't know what it is yet!), etc. But trying to salvage the specific, subjective preference of miracles is going to be nigh impossible while at the same time holding onto the favored skeptical moves.

27 comments:

Ilíon said...

What? No "!"

Ilíon said...

So, what you're saying is that the "fake concession" is an instance of an unprincipled exception ... that is, it's yet another example of the pervasive intellectual dishonesty of Evangelical Atheists?

Crude said...

What? No "!"

Hey, a man's gotta shake things up now and then. Can't be too predictable.

So, what you're saying is that the "fake concession" is an instance of an unprincipled exception ... that is, it's yet another example of the pervasive intellectual dishonesty of Evangelical Atheists?

Not that it's limited to EAs, but sure, I'm willing to bet. That and flat-out ignorance at times. I can see a lot of EAs offering up "miracles that would convince me God exists" thinking that that's what a reasonable person would do without even noticing how utterly damn arbitrary the 900 foot Jesus or severed leg growing back before his eyes or other "reasonable proof" is by his very own measure.

I've never seen any theist call them on this either, though I assume someone has and I've missed it. Of course, there's other valid problems with the EA's line of thought, so it's easy to miss.

Steve said...

Sometimes I have wondered how we would tell whether a miracle was due to God or a super-advanced being who wasn't god?

Crude said...

Steve,

That's one of the quasi-atheistic outs available. But that particular one opens up its own can of worms.

For one thing, most atheists explicitly think of God as "a super-advanced being" anyway - hence the direct comparisons to Zeus, to Thor, etc. To posit a "super advanced being" as being responsible for certain apparent miracles or acts comes dangerously close to ceding one or another variety of theism anyway, at which point the game is over for atheism. Especially when this gets into things like the simulation hypothesis (I've seen self-described atheists adhering to that belief, and it always boggles me.)

But to reverse and say "No. Zeus and Thor and the rest weren't really deities, they were just powerful beings. You can believe in powerful beings that have tremendous control over reality and still be a naturalist / an atheist" comes with a ferocious price tag. For one, it sticks naturalists and atheists with the bill for nearly every incident of superstition the world has ever known.

Tom said...

most atheists explicitly think of God as "a super-advanced being" anyway - no we don't, We don't believe there is a god at all so we can only cast a descriptive based on what we hear from theists.

And we don't believe in Zeus or Thor either so the comparison is invalid.

How can you stick atheists with the bill for superstition? That's your domain.

Ilíon said...

Isn't the atheists' continuous ignorance and/or inability to reason or follow an argument so tiresome?

Crude said...

Tom,

It's amazing how much utter bullshit you've managed to pack into such a short comment.

"We don't believe there is a god at all" is not incompatible with thinking of god(s) as a "super-advanced" being.

The equating of the God of Christianity with Zeus, Thor, etc is a common atheist schtick, and it forms the popular basis for the whole "We're all atheists about some gods" game. I'm pointing out that if someone were to make that move of "Such and such apparently miraculous event took place, but it was a very powerful being, not God", given that atheists consider Thor, Zeus, etc "gods" right alongside the Christian Logos, it's not clear that "a very powerful being" isn't just a god by another name. Particularly if the "very powerful being" in question were, say.. the programmer of "our simulated universe" or such. And it wouldn't even need to go that far (Zeus wasn't nearly as powerful as someone would be in that situation.)

But if they bite the bullet and admit that atheists can believe in "super-advanced beings" like Zeus, Thor, etc and still be atheists/naturalists (Thus no longer equating pagan gods and so on with God in a relevant sense), then every superstition borne out of such beliefs - and there are many - were atheist, even naturalist beliefs all along. Pagans and others were merely believers in "super-advanced beings" - these were *naturalistic* explanations.

Now, piss off. I ain't much for people rolling in here all bitchy and arrogant off the bat, and frankly you have the stench of the irrational steaming off you.

Crude said...

Isn't the atheists' continuous ignorance and/or inability to reason or follow an argument so tiresome?

At times it gives me one hell of a laugh at least. But I'm not about to waste time on someone who has an aura of "PZ Myers D-list comment junkie" about them.

Tom said...

Oo, we are precious aren't we.

How can an atheist think of any deity in any way? All an atheist can do is reflect the terminology of various deities as described by theists.

then every superstition borne out of such beliefs - does this not belie the concept of atheism? If you are a believer in any form of 'super-natural being' then you are not an atheist.

Tom said...

Perhaps I could sum it up by saying the title of your article could read "Fake Atheists & the Concession".

I say this because my point is that true atheists would make no concession.

Crude said...

Oo, we are precious aren't we.

Tremendously so. I'm a goddamn faberge egg.

How can an atheist think of any deity in any way? All an atheist can do is reflect the terminology of various deities as described by theists.

If you do not know how an atheist can both conceptualize a deity yet deny said deity's existence, you're beyond help. By your standard atheists wouldn't even realize they're atheists, because that would require having in mind deities in the concrete or abstract, and by some twist of logic you think atheists are incapable of doing this.

If you are a believer in any form of 'super-natural being' then you are not an atheist.

No, because not every "super-natural being" is a deity - you're conflating atheism with naturalism (and this puts aside that "naturalism" hardly means anything anymore). More to the point, what was being discussed is how there is deep crossover between pagan gods and "super-advanced beings". I'm pointing out that a "super-advanced being" is, given certain capabilities, a pagan god by another name. So if someone were to claim that "miracles" really took place, but were performed by a "super-advanced being", they would find themselves in the position (again, given certain miracles in question) of having to deny that "super-advanced beings" like Thor, Zeus, etc were deities in the relevant sense to maintain their atheism.

But if they deny THAT, then every bit of "superstition" associated with pagan gods or similar beliefs land on the atheist's lap, and quite possibly the naturalist's too. Because suddenly, believing in Zeus, Thor, etc is just a belief in "super-advanced beings", like Raelians believe, or like Francis Crick believed. Meanwhile, by the atheist-in-question's own definition, believe in the Logos or the Prime Mover would be a distinct belief, in an/the actual God. It would be a catastrophe for them.

I say this because my point is that true atheists would make no concession.

Alright, now I'm thinking you're a theist sock-puppeting a fake atheist. You've just wiped out a tremendous number of supposed atheists from the "real atheist" column. Jerry Coyne's apparently a fake atheist. So is, if I recall right, Richard Dawkins, PZ Myers, and countless others.

I don't even care to argue about that, since frankly I suspect most atheists are closet deists or non-traditional theists anyway. Whatever floats your boat.

Ilíon said...

"But if they bite the bullet and admit that atheists can believe in "super-advanced beings" like Zeus, Thor, etc and still be atheists/naturalists (Thus no longer equating pagan gods and so on with God in a relevant sense), then every superstition borne out of such beliefs - and there are many - were atheist, even naturalist beliefs all along. Pagans and others were merely believers in "super-advanced beings" - these were *naturalistic* explanations."

And, of course, Zeus and Odin and company *were* naturalistic, definitionally. For, they were effects of nature, rather than being the cause(s) of nature.

Orandat said...

If the rapture happened and I were left behind, I would then believe in God.

Crude said...

Yeah, and if Cheers got renewed for a direct sequel that lasted 14 seasons, I'd admit Christianity were false.

The two pivots are as reasonable as each other upon inspection.

Orandat said...

If the rapture happened, this is what is would mean:

1. A prophecy of the Bible would be fulfilled, and no one could say it was added to the Bible after the fact or cliam it used as some form of literary device, such as a metaphor for something.
2. Good things would happen to believers (they get to go straight to heaven), bad things would happen to non-believers (they're stuck here on earth.) As it stands now, good and bad things are fairly evenly distributed among believers and non-believers.
3. A miracle would occur. Reanimation of the dead (and not just the recently expired) is not something that would be unexplained, it would be truly miraculous.

The rapture fills at least three requirements many atheists have for believing in God, making it the perfect event for converting them. Some atheists have given considerable thought as to what evidence would cause them to believe in God. Probably the best essay on this is ebonmuse's The Theist's Guide to Converting Atheists. He also issues a challenge to theists to submit their list of things they would accept as proof that atheism is true. You should submit your Cheer's Proof.

Crude said...

Orandat,

The gaping problem with your example is that it, like every other conceivable event, is still just as subject to the atheist's explain-this-away devices as anything else.

Let's have a closer look at some of the problems.

1. Catholics don't have the same view of the "rapture" as some protestants do. In fact, protestants don't all have the same view. Are you even aware of what the "biblical" basis for the rapture is? Are you just assuming that the Left Behind series is pretty on-target?

2. Good things would happen to believers? How would you know? You would be stuck on earth, remember? All you'd know is that "believers" were all gone. As a matter of fact, you wouldn't even know who the hell got taken. By typical LB style rapture stories, quite a lot of apparent "believers" (We Catholics) aren't going anywhere. And some people who get taken won't necessarily be recognized as having been "believers". In fact, by either bible or popular discourse, you have no way of knowing which people or in what amount should be either taken up or left behind.

3. Further, you yourself wouldn't know that believers "went straight to heaven" unless you decided "Well, this is the rapture. They must be in heaven!"

4. Worse, for the popular idea of the "rapture", good things would not be happening to "believers". You know what comes after the rapture in those views? "The tribulation." Those remaining "believers", whether converting after the rapture or being 'left behind' for some other reason, would be persecuted. So much for "bad things happen to non-believers, good things happen to believers".

5. Re: Your 3, putting aside the question of what this has to do with the rapture (I will assume this takes place in the Left Behind series and I missed it) the only difference for you between a true miracle and a mere apparent miracle is your own willingness to call it a or accept it as a miracle. You wouldn't know that these were the same people raised from the dead. Hell, if this is rapture related, you wouldn't even see them if this is a "and the dead shall rise and be raptured" incident. But what's more, even if every dead person in the world rose, even if they all were raptured in the most showy, spectacular way, you still wouldn't be left with the certain knowledge of a miracle. You'd have a strange, even fantastic event on your hands to explain.

6. And the latter part of 5 is the key here. Every single typical atheist dodge is still on the table - everything from "mass hallucination" to "no real explanation, but hosts of logically possible explanations" to "no explanations, but an assertion of possible explanations" to "super advanced beings, but not God/not the christian God" to otherwise. Even the most showy, exceptional Rapture you could ever imagine remains subject to these dodges. Your reversal would be arbitrary.

I'm not saying that this or that atheist doesn't have "requirements they think could be in principle met" before they'd believe in God. I pointed that out from the start! I'm noting what a sham those "requirements" are, how utterly damn arbitrary, and how if their arbitrariness is overlooked on the grounds that "well, for me at least, that would be sufficient", then their arguments against just about every theist out there is dead in the water - all that's differing is which arbitrary point of knowledge is doing the job for them.

The only difference with this "Rapture" case is that it isn't only arbitrary, it is - as you've related it - horribly thought through.

Tom said...

Hi Crude. I didn't know that you are of Russian stock!

While you can lump the names you mentioned into any basket you like, I find it odd to consider that the likes of PZ Myers or Coyne could be considered to be 'concessionists' in any way.

A true atheists would have as much concept of any deity as a Martian might have of a bicycle. Like I said, any 'image' is based on descriptions offered by others.

I agree that naturalism has become a basically irrelevant term nowadays. Atheists don't believe in miracles either so it doesn't matter what type or level of deity or super-being you wish to enunciate, they don't apply.

Crude said...

Tom,

Lump the names? I'm telling you who, given your standards, is not 'really' an atheist. Jerry Coyne is right out, since this post was in part inspired by his "What evidence would convince you that a god exists?" blog entry where Coyne was listing what amounted to 'miracles that would convince me God exists'. Same with various other atheists he quotes. And the atheists in his comments thread seem more than happy to play the game. Hell, I even got one here.

Incidentally, sure, "naturalism" has become near meaningless. The problem is, "supernatural" becomes the same since it relies on "naturalism" to define itself. And throw "miracles" into the bargain too.

But whatever. For a fun project, I suggest you write an email to every atheist you admire asking them if there were any "miracles" that would convince them God exists. Prepare to be unpleasantly surprised as they shoot back miracle lists.

Tom said...

I think you may have misconstrued Coyne's intent through a slight overdose of literalism Crude.

When he, and I'm sure many others, state 'miracles that would convince me God exists', they are not implying that they believe that miracles do actually occur.

They are stating that something would need to be evidentially demonstrated to have no other possible cause before they would accept that it is a genuine 'miracle' and that some deity or super-being therefore played some part in the event.

Crude said...

Yes, Tom, I never said anywhere in here that those who "list the miracles that would convince them God exists" believe that miracles have occurred. That's been the damn point all along - that their distinctions are utterly arbitrary.

What's more, neither Coyne nor the others ever said "need to be evidentially demonstrated to have no other possible cause". You're trying to save your favorite atheists' from their blunders by telling me what they "really" meant (rather like how people used to try and reverse-strawman Dawkins, giving possible arguments he could have given to replace the shitty ones he actually gave in his book. Until they gave up and just got used to thinking of him as the Oral Roberts of atheism.)

What's more, it doesn't even work, because A) It's not possible to "demonstrate something has no other possible cause" - As I said in the OP, those possibilities *never go away* even in principle, and B) To say "Well, I would consider event X to best be explained by God, even though there are alternative explanations available in principle" is to give up the game all over again. At which point someone who accepts God exists because DNA is a coded language is as evidentially in the right as can be.

But hey, as you yourself accidentally admitted - these guys likely aren't atheists anyway. Hell, Coyne has explicitly said that mere deism is entirely compatible with science. Enjoy that one along with his list of arbitrary miracles that would convince him of God's existence.

Tom said...

A) It's not possible to "demonstrate something has no other possible cause" - As I said in the OP, those possibilities *never go away* even in principle, and B) To say "Well, I would consider event X to best be explained by God, even though there are alternative explanations available in principle" is to give up the game all over again. - ah, good. So I can use these next time someone tries to claim that god exists or that creation?ID is real?

You really do seem to be scratching around for grounds to justify assertions that atheists aren't seriously atheist. Is that to help justify your own theism?

Crude said...

Tom,

ah, good. So I can use these next time someone tries to claim that god exists or that creation?ID is real?

"I can use these"? You're asking me for permission?

Spare me the show. You use these as is. One more time - that was the point right in the OP. Even an apparently compelling demonstration or bit of evidence can be and is routinely staved off with "Well, I don't have an answer, I don't know how this could be other than you say. But I trust an answer will come in time!"

I've seen atheists deny the law of causality, the law of non-contradiction, and otherwise when they thought they were backed into a corner. The sort of 'outs' atheists have invite universal skepticism.

You really do seem to be scratching around for grounds to justify assertions that atheists aren't seriously atheist. Is that to help justify your own theism?

You really seem to not know what the hell you're talking about, and are lashing out at having that exposed repeatedly. Go think about what you've learned, Tom. And I suggest you at least be honest with yourself so you realize what position you're coming from, what circularities it has, what pitfalls it holds, and more. It could do you a world of good.

The Phantom Blogger said...

"I've seen atheists deny the law of causality, the law of non-contradiction, and otherwise when they thought they were backed into a corner."

I've seen atheists use an argument against causality before. It was against the Kalam Argument which basic premise is:

1.Whatever begins to exist has a cause.

2.The universe began to exist.

3.Therefore, the universe has a cause.

From the Wikipeia page on the Kalam Argument it says:

"Victor Stenger has claimed that quantum mechanics falsifies the first postulate of the argument, that is, that something can come into being from nothing, or happen without a cause. He postulates that such events are constantly happening in nature, for example the Casimir effect and radioactive decay."

The wikipedia page thus claims that Stenger has refuted the Kalam Argument.

But the claim made by Stenger is inherently incorrect. The claim that quantum physics provides
exceptions to premise 1, because on the subatomic level
events are said to be uncaused, is based on a basic misunderstanding.

In the traditional, indeterministic interpretation of quantum mechanics, particles do not come into being out of nothing. They arise as spontaneous fluctuations of the energy contained in the subatomic vacuum, which constitutes an indeterministic cause of their origination. And another problem with there claim is that most scientists don't believe that subatomic events are uncaused in a determinstic manner either. They believe the problem arises out of our modern view of quantum
physics (the Copenhagen Interpretation) and hence are exploring deterministic theories and models like that of David Bohm, which wouldn't suffer from the same problems. Thus, quantum physics does not provide an exception to the law of causality.

Crude said...

TPB,

The deeper problem with those claims of "stuff can happen uncaused because quantum physics!!" is that A) As you pointed out, this rests on an interpretation of what we see in QP. Not a demonstrated reality. In fact it can never BE a demonstrated reality, because there is no way - not even in principle - to observe something arising from nothing, or something happening utterly uncaused. B) For Stenger to claim that the Kalam argument is falsified on the grounds that he's willing to say "these events, I say they're happening utterly uncaused!" is like saying QM proves that God exists on the grounds that events with no physical cause are constantly witnessed (radioactive decay, Casimir effect) and therefore a supernatural cause is all that's left to be responsible. Not only do I have as much actual data backing me up as Stenger does, I have more - the jump from 'caused, but by the supernatural' is far smaller than 'not caused at all'.

The real nasty move on behalf of guys like Stenger is - surprise - trying to pass off what amounts to philosophy and metaphysics as science. Or more specifically, trying to make the philosophical speculations of scientists count as science itself. Again, this is why I always regard those claims of "scientism" on the part of so many atheists as utter BS, as it implies some enshrining of actual science. In reality, they detest science because it does not and cannot give them what they need, so they abuse it by passing off philosophy and metaphysics as science.

Ilíon said...

Phantom Blogger: "I've seen atheists use an argument against causality before [by appealing to an interpretation of quantum mechanics]"

Crude: "[adherents of scientism actually hate science]"

As here

Crude said...

Yeah, UD is where I've seen it happen repeatedly, in part because StephenB over there is merciless about the topic. He'll flat out ask atheists "do you accept the law of causality", spell it out, and insist that if the law of causality is accepted then a First Mover must exist. And the atheists, faced with that choice, will time and time again freak out and choose to deny the law of causality.

It never ceases to amaze.