# On A's and Theists

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If something is probable or improbable would be based on evidence for or against something would it not? Regardless of whether or not it was provable, when you figure out probabilities you are weighing evidence that something can happen vs. evidence that something can't. I could be wrong there though. So if you can not provide evidence for either then you can't figure out a probability can you?

Well, I'd say that if there is zero evidence for something to exist, I would estimate its probability of existing at zero, not at 50%.

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Laure,

I loved your Dawkins quote. To me, that is the correct attitude in terms of reason.

As to your last statement about zero evidence of the existence of God resulting in a zero estimation of probability, there are too many variables to consider where knowledge is impossible so far to make such a flat out zero estimation.

As I mentioned earlier, there is no knowledge without the knower. As the knower is not omniscient, but limited instead, it has to follow that he always has to keep the "What is it?" open in his mind enough to know he will encounter new stuff all the time.

That fact is what makes a small possibility stay open and why it cannot go to zero. But the complete lack of conceptual evidence as of this point in time makes the probability very small.

Dawkins got it right.

Also, we know that we will learn many new things as time goes on. We still may uncover an organizing force from the top down. Our minds do this already with integration. Whether this will be called God or simply "cosmic integration energy" or something like that is a question for later.

Michael

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If something is probable or improbable would be based on evidence for or against something would it not? Regardless of whether or not it was provable, when you figure out probabilities you are weighing evidence that something can happen vs. evidence that something can't. I could be wrong there though. So if you can not provide evidence for either then you can't figure out a probability can you?

Well, I'd say that if there is zero evidence for something to exist, I would estimate its probability of existing at zero, not at 50%.

Except there is also no evidence saying that there is no God. So you would have to say the probability of there being no God is 0% as well. Seeing as one of them has to be true I would say 50% works quite nicely for both of them. I would rather leave probability out of it completely, however if you insist.

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You're not getting my point. Positing the existence of something is fundamentally different from positing its nonexistence. Let's say the two of us are walking out in the desert, and we come upon a black box. You say to me, "I bet there's a raisin inside the black box." Unless I suspected that you'd planted the box there, I'd bet you there was no raisin inside the box, and I'd probably win.

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You're not getting my point. Positing the existence of something is fundamentally different from positing its nonexistence. Let's say the two of us are walking out in the desert, and we come upon a black box. You say to me, "I bet there's a raisin inside the black box." Unless I suspected that you'd planted the box there, I'd bet you there was no raisin inside the box, and I'd probably win.

To build on this argument, Danneskjold, atheists often substitute "Santa Claus" or "The Tooth Fairy" or "Flying Spaghetti Monsters" for "God". There's no evidence that any of these entities DON'T exist either. Is that any reason not to believe in them?

Judith

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In the stated case you're probably right. However, the metaphor isn't accurate to the situation. Precedent can be used as evidence. Also, there are numerous other things that could be in the box besides a raisin. So based on the fact that it could be anything in the black box, and that there have been very few raisins found in black boxes in the middle of the desert, you can provide evidence that it is unlikely that there is a raisin in the black box.

So let's try another metaphor. Let's say we are talking about death and you say "There are no such things as ghosts" and I say "There are such things as ghosts" and neither one of us have any reliable evidence on which to base our claims. Neither of us has a better chance of being right.

Another situation would be if I said "There are aliens living in the universe" and you said "There are no aliens anywhere in the universe" and neither of us had evidence or knowledge of the surrounding universe (inhabitability of planets). Either way it is stupid to take a formalized position because we have a 50% chance of being right having no evidence whatsoever.

Note: Both of my scenarios are dependent upon their being no precedent, and no evidence either way. That is the only way in which you can approach the question of God.

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At the risk of getting involved in this discussion, I'd like to point out that no one has yet defined "God." When and if the concept is defined in a non-contradictory and intelligible manner, then perhaps it will be time for a discussion of theism vs atheism.

Barbara

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In the stated case you're probably right. However, the metaphor isn't accurate to the situation. Precedent can be used as evidence. Also, there are numerous other things that could be in the box besides a raisin. So based on the fact that it could be anything in the black box, and that there have been very few raisins found in black boxes in the middle of the desert, you can provide evidence that it is unlikely that there is a raisin in the black box.

So let's try another metaphor. Let's say we are talking about death and you say "There are no such things as ghosts" and I say "There are such things as ghosts" and neither one of us have any reliable evidence on which to base our claims. Neither of us has a better chance of being right.

Another situation would be if I said "There are aliens living in the universe" and you said "There are no aliens anywhere in the universe" and neither of us had evidence or knowledge of the surrounding universe (inhabitability of planets). Either way it is stupid to take a formalized position because we have a 50% chance of being right having no evidence whatsoever.

Note: Both of my scenarios are dependent upon their being no precedent, and no evidence either way. That is the only way in which you can approach the question of God.

Danneskjold,

Again and again you make the same point without adding anything new to the discussion. Again and again, you fail to grasp a crucial point: at least when conjecturing out of thin air as to there being raisins in a black box or not—at least we understand the concept “raisin” as opposed to the anti-concept that is “god”, and as Barbara has correctly pointed out, has never been defined—except as being a “supernatural being” which tells us nothing. That the atheist rejects the idea out-of-hand does not make him “dogmatic” or ridiculous as you stated in your original post. Now, do you understand the point here?

You said: I am simply stating that there is an equal amount of evidence that there is no God as there is that there is a God.

No, there isn't any evidence for the existence of 'god' whatsoever. As an atheist, what on earth do you take as evidence for the existence of god--as equal to there being evidence that there is no god? [This position is so fantastically irrational to begin with, I'm sorry]. Did you hear this question?: What on earth would "evidence of absence" look like? Why not answer it?

-Victor-

Edited by Victor Pross
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A being conceived as the perfect, omnipotent, omniscient originator and ruler of the universe, the principal object of faith and worship in monotheistic religions.

Here is a definition.

Kat

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Kat,

‘God’ has never been rationally defined. When the theist affirms that ‘god’ is an existent other than, and separate from, the material universe, and when he invests this separate, hypothetical existent with attributes of personality, omniscience, omnipresence, omnipotence, eternity, infinity, immutability, and perfect goodness—and the atheist rejects this out-of-hand” [doing so rationally] because the theist “definition” is self-contradictory, as well as contradictory of every-day experience.

As Barbara said: "When and if the concept is defined in a non-contradictory and intelligible manner, then perhaps it will be time for a discussion of theism vs atheism."

It is the atheist who is being reasonable by rejecting the notion, not the theist. That's my point.

-Victor

Edited by Victor Pross
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Again and again you make the same point without adding anything new to the discussion. Again and again, you fail to grasp a crucial point: at least when conjecturing out of thin air as to there being raisins in a black box or not—at least we understand the concept “raisin” as opposed to the anti-concept that is “god”, and as Barbara has correctly pointed out, has never been defined—except as being a “supernatural being” which tells us nothing. That the atheist rejects the idea out-of-hand does not make him “dogmatic” or ridiculous as you stated in your original post. Now, do you understand the point here?

Again and again and again I say the same thing because I have yet to be shown evidence that God does not exist. I could be sold on the probability argument, but you would have to tell me what goes into the probability. If it is something that can be used to say God doesn't exist then I will rethink my current position. However, precedent is invalid because I can't think of another situation like this one, and evidence is invalid because there can be no evidence for or against God.

You said: I am simply stating that there is an equal amount of evidence that there is no God as there is that there is a God.

No, there isn't any evidence for the existence of 'god' whatsoever. As an atheist, what on earth do you take as evidence for the existence of god--as equal to there being evidence that there is no god?

That evidence being zero. Both sides have zero evidence in their favor, and zero evidence against them. You say I keep saying that again and again and again, however what I'm saying doesn't seem to have sunk in.
What on earth would "evidence of absence" look like?

Well, the question I'm asking is whether or not abscence of evidence qualifies as evidence of abscence. So I'm still trying to figure that out but no one has answered my question.

As for a definition of God, how's this:

God... a being whose only definition is that he is beyond man's power to conceive.

Ayn Rand

Quit expecting me to define God. People have been trying for forever. Ayn Rand is the only one that is even remotely close to being right.

Sorry for the overall lack of real content to this post, my brain is fried.

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Danneskjold,

The primary problem for the agnostic is that he allows arbitrary claims to enter his cognitive context. The fully rational man, on the other hand, does not seek evidence to prove or disprove arbitrary claims, for he has no reason to believe that such claims are true in the first place. Agnostics will often respond to those who reject an arbitrary proposition by saying, "How do you know it isn't true?" The proper response is to point out that the burden of proof rests on he who asserts a proposition. No value is achieved by going around refuting arbitrary claims—it is a waste of time and effort.

D. Moskovitz

http://www.objectivistcenter.org/ct-880-Wh...n_agnostic.aspx

Nuff said.

Victor

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Very interesting. Actually quite convincing as well. My only real question is what makes the claim that God doesn't exist not arbitrary?

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Here is a quote from Damien's article:

And it is true that the existence of God, as conventionally conceived, can be neither proved nor disproved, for two reasons.

Then he goes on to give them according to his line of argument.

I think those who are atheists would stop being atheists if one day God showed up and made Himself understandable by reason. Until then, atheists honor the mental equipment they were born with by not accepting the existence of God as a rational fact. And I think the word honor here is proper.

On the mystical side, there are those intense personal experiences that are constantly reported. We gain our fundamental knowledge through induction, which means from personal experience plus mental processing. When a person has an experience of a mystical nature he cannot deny, it would be immoral for him to proclaim that it did not happen. It did. And it feels practically the same as induction to him. So he honors his integrity by stating that it happened, and having happened, he tries to describe it as honestly as he can. Many people call that experience contact with God for lack of another referent. I am sure they would be more than pleased to have a rational understanding of what happened to them, even if it should ultimately deny the existence of God. But there is no rational referent so far.

The point is that in terms of sensory referents in reality, it would be foolish to say God exists, principally in that form. Postulating any existence outside of that form is arbitrary and we all know the rest of the argument from there.

But the idea of God to a person who has had an intense mystical experience (or whatever you want to call that mental event) is not completely arbitrary. He can point to his experience and say, "Something happened to me that nobody can explain." He has an inductive experience that serves as his basis in reality, so the idea is not arbitrary. But it is not completely rational, either. It is in a different category than normal knowledge (at this time of our history) because it is a personal experience without outside referents.

I am confident that with mankind's increasing knowledge, we will ultimately discover what that experience is and means or we will discover God in a form we can rationally grasp.

Until then, talk of proof is... er... arbitrary.

In that sense, proof of the existence or nonexistence of God is 50-50%, or 0-0% to be more precise. Using reason as our standard of knowledge, though, the probability is vastly lopsided toward nonexistence.

Michael

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Wowie, zowie.

Kudos. At least the discussion moves along, and that is a blessing (oops, sorry, I shouldn't say that, not atheist PC maybe?).

The deeper problem for O-world folks willing to discuss...

If one discusses spiritual consciousness (or call it "it," whatever you want; stuff like MSK points out--brain scans, etc.), it becomes subjective, not objective.

So, obviously that's a problem, eh? It's about what's going on inside.

But for me, the issue is more on the macro level. It is down to basic things like not having hostility in dialogue. These are basic values that can be seen in many religions, notably Christianity. Tolerance, respect.

Love.

Reason is the bomb, for sure. But, is it your master? Does it run you? I don't like being "run," even by reason.

I work on the outskirts, so to speak. The issues are great to debate. But my concern lies more in how those engaged in debate honor one another. I'll leave it at that for now.

rde

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MSK: On the mystical side, there are those intense personal experiences that are constantly reported. We gain our fundamental knowledge through induction, which means from personal experience plus mental processing. When a person has an experience of a mystical nature he cannot deny, it would be immoral for him to proclaim that it did not happen. It did. And it feels practically the same as induction to him. So he honors his integrity by stating that it happened, and having happened, he tries to describe it as honestly as he can. Many people call that experience contact with God for lack of another referent. I am sure they would be more than pleased to have a rational understanding of what happened to them, even if it should ultimately deny the existence of God. But there is no rational referent so far.

What Michael cites here is known as a “religious experience.” In philosophy, it is more precisely called “the argument from religious experience” and is usually employed as a proof for the existence of God.

Thus: Many people have claimed to have had a personal experience or encounter with God; therefore God must exist.

Okay, nobody said the argument was sophisticated or complex, but it’s in the pot along side the teleological and cosmological arguments. However crude the argument is, I don’t think all moderns employ it in the same manner the primitives did. There are people who do not conceive of “God” as some old bearded dude sitting on a throne with a vast ledger keeping count of who has been naughty or nice. It is more akin to what Michael describes above. For many moderns, their “religious experience” has more of an ethical import than it is an epistemological stance—or a metaphysical statement about the universe. The main thrust of it, I believe, is this: I am better than what I have been before. I want to be a better person. My ultimate salvation is to be found in religion.

-Victor-

Edited by Victor Pross
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The main thrust of it, I believe, is this: I am better than what I have been before. I want to be a better person. My ultimate salvation is to be found in religion.

Sometimes like this, no doubt.

For me, no, although the first sentence gets close, my friend. Perhaps my actions are more positive, useful (no guarantees implied or stated, no warranty). It's really an alteration/addition of consciousness. Something like that. In my case. I can talk to others in that way who have had something happen to them, and there is commonality.

More connected. An integration has occured. Maybe one that was delayed.

There is a good section in "Varieties of Religious Experience" where James talks about the "once born" and the "twice born." Some of us get it later, and by nature there is a representational framework that goes in place. This is a certain kind of religious sentiment. There is no going back.

Some very good things tend to come out of it. For one, the hostility to a lot of the traditional religious practices is heavily reduced. Meaning, I used to squirm and get angry if I had some occasion to, say, attend a Mass. Instead of turning into a curmudgeon, I can see things that I appreciate. Certain beauties. You can start to see significance in rituals, art, and so forth that were, before, hidden to you. So that's good.

Generally, tolerance levels increase. Certainly, I have absolutely positively no quarrel with atheists. The heat comes from, if anyone, places there, and it's no different to me than the same stuff I get off of hardcore fundamentalists. What these sort of folks show me is a discomfort. A need for surety.

Maybe that's it, as I have mentioned before-- I'm more comfortable with the not-knowing part.

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Does it run you? I don't like being "run," even by reason.

Reason, being a function of your brain, will run you only if you let it. Supposing it does run you it is just another part of your brain. So really you're still just running yourself by means of reason.

In that sense, proof of the existence or nonexistence of God is 50-50%, or 0-0% to be more precise. Using reason as our standard of knowledge, though, the probability is vastly lopsided toward nonexistence.

I have heard this said, but I am yet to understand it. What goes into probability aside from evidence and precedence? I don't know if there is anything else or not.

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Where'd everybody go?

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God... a being whose only definition is that he is beyond man's power to conceive.

Ayn Rand

It seems clear that Ayn Rand was pointing to the fact that the concept of God was not defined in a manner that allowed one to make a meaningful discussion of God. Barbara's comment that she needed a definition before it made sense for her to enter the discussion was her direct way of saying the same thing.

The definition that Kat pulled from the American Heritage Dictionary is certainly one held widely by many Christians and essentially by Muslims and Jews too. As Victor has pointed out, this definition makes no sense.

Einstein used to talk about God, but his god seemed to basically be reality, not any supernatural being. In fact he contributed a Foreward to Homer W. Smith's Man and His Gods in which he makes it very clear that he thinks that man invented the gods of the major religions, which is Homer Smith's thesis. This book is fascinating reading by the way.

The Greeks had gods with more limited powers and they seemed to be very anthropomorphic. These gods and goddesses were much more conceivable than the Christian god is. One can imagine finding aliens who have some powers we do not have and who are much more intelligent than we are, and then debating whether we should think of them as gods. If we ever find such beings, one could have that debate. However, it seems clear that they would have to be very much more powerful and intelligent before they would satisfy the conditions for what most people seem to expect of a god today.

I am an atheist because I am not a theist. Or we can say that I am an atheist because it is not the case that I believe in a god.

Many people convince themselves that they believe in God, because they think that they can only find their values in those given to them by a God. They need values, so they invent God and invest him with the sole right to dispense values. This eases the strain on their minds to develop a defense of their values and it joins them to large numbers of other people who are similarly motivated.

I create my own values by virtue of my own life and the choices I make in living it. Perhaps this means that I am my own God. However, I do not really find it necessary to reframe myself in that way. It is sufficient that I am a value seeker and a value creator.

About the time I was 15, I had a religious experience. I had an event when I was swept up in a state of exhilaration in my admiration for the Good. I do not attribute this event to God laying his hand upon me. I attribute it to the power of my mind to love my values. I am sure that this event was purely internal to my consciousness, but I can see how others experiencing such an event might attribute it to God. One of my sisters seems to experience mental events which she assumes are acts of God, but which seem a lot like acts of her imagination to me. Of course, there is no way to fully evaluate the experience of someone else's mind. I am the authority on my own mind only.

To date, I have no experience or knowledge that convinces me that there is a god. If he is as reclusive as many people say he is, perhaps this is not surprising. Somehow, despite the many difficulties of knowing such a god, many people claim to know of his existence. When I ask them how they know, few will offer a reason for their belief. Many of the few who do offer weak arguments. Some speak of their religious experience, which almost always takes place in their own mind. Then some say they were simply so lucky in some event that God must have protected them. I have been lucky, but it is not clear to me that it was because God protected me.

In any case, if a being were worthy of being regarded as a god and if he did give us our wonderful minds by design, he would be expecting us to use his great gift. I think about the only thing that would make a real superior being upset with us would be to see that we had abused his gift by not using it to live as rationally as possible. Operationally, he will respect those of us who are atheists far more than the vast majority of the theists. I feel well prepared for Judgment Day, should there ever be one. I am happy to take Spinoza's bet.

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I'm still curious about what goes into probability. If I knew that I could figure out which is less or more probable.

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Danneskjold,

Your question is more one of epistemology than metaphysics. Probability evaluations come from the nature of how you know what you know. Once that is defined, you can properly judge what you know (and, consequently, what you know exists).

Study more about why concepts have to boil down to sensory evidence (on a fundamental level) to validly reflect reality and this becomes clearer when discussing God.

Charles,

In any case, if a being were worthy of being regarded as a god and if he did give us our wonderful minds by design, he would be expecting us to use his great gift. I think about the only thing that would make a real superior being upset with us would be to see that we had abused his gift by not using it to live as rationally as possible. Operationally, he will respect those of us who are atheists far more than the vast majority of the theists. I feel well prepared for Judgment Day, should there ever be one. I am happy to take Spinoza's bet.

I could have easily written this paragraph. You speak for me here.

Michael

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Well said, MSK.

And, to consider the possibility of "extrasensory" faculties (I don't consider them above or beyond, more like seldom-used or not recognized at all even when in use).

See, this is the problem. Rank/File O-folk don't, as a rule, believe in higher levels of consciousness. That's a mistake.

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• 3 weeks later...

"Apatheism" is a wonderful neologism!

Here is my take on the subject:

One cannot disprove a negative directly. One can only prove a positive that logically contradicts the negative. Hence, one can logically disprove a negative (at least in some cases), but not empirically. Hence, Atheists cannot run a scientific test to detect no God. Scientific tests detect things, not detect no things. Theists, whose argument consists of "science does not explain everything (yet)" are committing a non-sequitur. It does not follow that because science doesnt explain everything that their God exists. Their attack on evolution is simply moronic. Evolution is a theory, true, but it explains a lot of empirical facts, and further, intelligent design is another non-sequitur. God may have not been the designing intelligence! It could have been the aliens (the Raelians may be right!). Also, Evolution may not be completely (or even mostly) right but that does not prove God. See Panspermia for more details.

Lets analyze precisely what each side is attempting to prove:

Theism: That the deity of Christianity (Jehovah, Yahweh, The God of Abraham, etc), an omniscient omnipotent omnipresent omnibenevolent (and essentially 'infinite in all respects') consciousness exists and created existence.

Atheism: That said deity does not exist (and/or its so unlikely that said deity exists that reasonably we should reject said deity's existence).

The Atheist case is logically provable without empirics or evolution, using simple logic. 1) 'infinite' deity violates the law of identity, and 2) an existent creating existence is a stolen concept ('existent' presupposes 'existence' along with its corrolary axioms that their god violates). On this basis, Atheism wins.

However, by the above definitions, this does not disprove the existence of currently unexplained phenomena, which may or may not include certain entities that some might consider 'spirits' yet have a specific nature. In these situations, however, there is little knowlege, certainly not much in the way of scientific verification, and as such the rational position on these issues is agnosticism.

Hence, I am an Atheist-Agnostic: The God of Abraham as described in the bible obviously does not exist, but with regard to any possible unexplained-but-logically-feasible existents, I will need to see evidence before I believe in it (i.e. I dont know).