Respectful Insolence

The role of faith summarized

I love this guy’s explanations of skepticism and critical thinking.

In this installment, it is quite clearly and cleverly why it’s impossible to “prove” the existence of God or any god and thus why such gods are always a matter of faith and belief without evidence:

Comments

  1. #1 Alex
    October 1, 2009

    Reminded me of how sad it is to see Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck in Amazon’s top three, while Richard Dawkins is at #21.

    http://www.amazon.com/gp/bestsellers/books/ref=pd_dp_ts_b_1

  2. #2 Ge
    October 1, 2009

    I like this little film; However I didn’t get his first written arguments starting at 1.36. The others are indeed quite simply impossible.

    I don’t get why ‘An omniscient being capable of choice’ would logically be impossible.

    Just to clarify; i’m not saying there a being. I’m just saying that it is, however unlikely, a possibility. (just as it might be possible that, however unlikely, a long time ago in a galaxy far far…)

  3. #3 sksfreund
    October 1, 2009

    Ge,

    The reason that an omniscient being capable of choice is impossible is because if a being truly knows everything, then its future would be preordained, and since its future is preordained it therefore cannot make any choices. For instance, if I know everything, then I know exactly what I will be doing in one hour (let’s say I know I will be reading a book). If I truly knew that I would be reading a book, I cannot do anything else but actually read a book. I cannot choose to do something else, or else I would have been wrong and therefore not omniscient. But if I have to read a book in one hour, then I am not capable of choice. Hope that helps!

  4. #4 seborgarsen
    October 1, 2009

    I’d love to see a reply from the other side apart from the usual “yew atesit are idoits”.

    I made the mistake of commenting, as usual I got a personal message from someone offering to explain The Truth[tm] to me.

    At least this video wasn’t related to islam, so I avoided death threats.

  5. #5 Matthew Putman
    October 1, 2009

    This is such a high quality philoshophical arguement. I agree completely. I think it should be required viewing for school children, though I doubt that it would go over when some Americans don’t even want President Obama speaking to them about working hard and staying in school.

  6. #6 Ge
    October 1, 2009

    @ sksfreund

    That does help, thanks.

  7. #7 Sigmund
    October 1, 2009

    Orac, the new atheist?
    Seriously, while I think atheists and agnostics will have no problem with this video I’m not so sure theists – even moderate theists – would be quite so accepting of the premises.
    The idea that almost all religious beliefs have the same underlying level of positive proof is generally the basis of most non-theists lack of support for a specific religion. A common way of expressing this is the Santa Claus argument or variations of it (flying spaghetti monster, magic leprechaun etc). Religious people, however, react very badly to this particular argument.
    This is a serious dilemma because it is one of the main arguments against specific religions and yet there are is no acceptable way of using it in a discussion with a theist without the strong possibility of being seen as rude or insulting (some may use the argument as an insult but many atheist use it as a serious point).

  8. #8 Cantor
    October 1, 2009

    @sksfreund: Having fore-knowledge does not neccessitate preordaining. Imagine you had a magical book in which the characters were free-willed beings. From the character’s point of view, they have a concious awareness of the present and a memory of the past (just like us). This changes from page to page (time), always moving forward. All previous pages are history and latter pages are the future. As a person holding the book, you are free to read ahead, but this does not invalidate the characters ability to choose in any way. The logical loop-hole that allows this is that the reader exists outside the temporal framework as understood by the characters. I think the main gist of the video is that since the characters (in my example) cannot see outside the book, or even conceptualize it in any conventional way, that it would be logically unsound for the characters to make any statements regarding the existence or nature of the “reader/author”.

  9. #9 Cantor
    October 1, 2009

    On another note: While I agree with the bulk of the logic in the video, it is unfortunate that the author does not extend the same logic to his own (obvious) sub-agenda. When you make a value statement like “what does that say about you?” or even when you berate others for being illogical, you are appealling to a universal set of standards that fall into the same logical category as God. (In other words, what makes you think being logical is even a desirable thing? Keep your moral views to yourself!) In short: any and all value judement is logically unsupportable in the absence of universal value, which are unprovable for many of the same reasons mentioned in the video. So the idea of trying to logically shame someone into keeping their religeous views to themselves is silly. Many atheists retreat to the “pragmatic” justifaction that this point, but that is pretty darn close to just having “faith”.

  10. #10 Confused
    October 1, 2009

    Cantor: I think you’re confusing who is omniscient and who has choice. The characters have choice, although which choice they will make is predefined. I think sksfreund’s point was that you cannot be omniscience and choice in the same person.

    I’m also not convinced I agree; you could conceive of a God-like being who was omniscient in the sense that they were aware of all possibilities arising from every conceivable choice; but still has the power to make each choice. (I think Frank Herbert described something like this in Dune, but it’s been a while…)

  11. #11 Cantor
    October 1, 2009

    Confused: You make a good point. I didn’t extend my analogy further for fear of my post getting too long. So what if the *character* (in my example) was omniscent? I think its logically impossible unless the character also possessed awareness that trancended the temporal awareness of the book, which would be supernatural from the other characters viewpoint. In short: I think that a omniscient god whom is completely contained by the measurable universe is logically impossible. But as soon as you allow God to trancend this limitation, I think the loop-hole is there. The problem is, as soon as you ditch time as a concept, cause and effect goes away – as well as conventional if-then choice propositions. How can you even talk about a being knowing its own future in the absence of time?

  12. #12 Confused
    October 1, 2009

    any and all value judement is logically unsupportable in the absence of universal value

    Rubbish.

    With regards to pushing logic as a virtue, to some extent that’s fine (at least, it’s a separate debate); but the video is definitely addressing people who build theological arguments on logical premises. It clearly says that if you want to hold an illogical faith for personal reasons, that’s fine – but it’s not fine to push it on other people.

    It is also definitely possible to make value judgements on acceptable behaviour based on social notions of what acceptable behaviour is. Sure, social conventions are neither absolute or universal, but that’s not the same as saying that they don’t exist. We have a social convention that says that it’s unacceptable to persecute someone without being able to support your reasons logically – you can’t, for example, have someone thrown in jail for killing your wife if you don’t have a persuasive logical argument that they did so.

    There’s also a massive difference between sharing ones faith and pushing it on people. They’re not trying to “logically shame someone into keeping their religeous views to themselves”. It is perfectly acceptable – healthy even – to share your religious views. The problems come when these views are discriminatory (i.e. “it isn’t possible to be a good person and an atheist”) or forcing behaviours on another person (i.e. “you must pray”).

  13. #13 Ender
    October 1, 2009

    I’d love to see his measurable verifiable evidence that ‘illogical’ beings cannot exist in an inaccessible intangible realm of existence.

  14. #14 JohnV
    October 1, 2009

    I always thought the point was that faith required, well, faith. If you had concrete evidence (signed photograph or whatever) then it wasn’t faith anymore, it was fact.

    Perhaps this is why I’m not evangelical.

  15. #15 Joseph C.
    October 1, 2009

    I’d love to see his measurable verifiable evidence that ‘illogical’ beings cannot exist in an inaccessible intangible realm of existence.

    That’s beside the point and a red herring. The burden of proof, as always, is going to fall on the individual making the exceptional claim. As the video says, we just have no reason to take these claims seriously on a logical basis or an evidence-based one.

  16. #16 jtradke
    October 1, 2009

    @Ender – you want material evidence of the non-existence of an immaterial being? There’s at least two absurdities in that statement.

    Anyway, if there IS, in fact, Something Big out there which has a material effect on us, then we ought to be able to detect it. If, however, there is Something Big out there which has no material effect on us, then it is undetectable, and then it is, for all practical purposes, non-existent.

  17. #17 James Sweet
    October 1, 2009

    @Sigmund: People do occasionally “get it”, though. It’s rare for that to happen, but what other choice is there other than to present the rational approach again and again and again and hope it sticks sometimes?

  18. #18 Cantor
    October 1, 2009

    Confused: Rubbish? :) I maintain that statements like ‘but it’s not fine to push it on other people’ are not supported by pure logic. Why? Because lacking a universal meaning of what it is to be ‘fine’, the best you can do is fall back on socially agreed upon definitions of what is acceptable and good. But social might-makes-right is not logical justification. If 99% of the population thinks you should pray everyday, and is willing to put you to death if you don’t, does that make it “fine”? Under a framework with no universal values, I think its perfectly OK to say “I think its socially unacceptable to push religious views on other people” or even to say “I think its unacceptable to push religious views on other people for socially pragmatic reasons”. But it is impossible to make such claims based on pure logic because the “givens/assumptions” inevitably rest on subjective value qualifications. To attempt such a claim involves having “faith” that everyone shares these subjective valuations and/or (ironically) being forced to ‘push them’ on others. (To be clear: I think mutual respect, tolerence, etc are all noble endeavors which I fully support. I just don’t try to justify them in the pure-logic manner under discussion.)

  19. #19 Ender
    October 1, 2009

    @Ender – you want material evidence of the non-existence of an immaterial being?

    No. That would be absurd. ;) (You’ve misread what I was saying)

    Anyway, if there IS, in fact, Something Big out there which has a material effect on us, then we ought to be able to detect it. If, however, there is Something Big out there which has no material effect on us, then it is undetectable, and then it is, for all practical purposes, non-existent.

    This is true.

    Joseph C: That’s beside the point and a red herring. The burden of proof, as always, is going to fall on the individual making the exceptional claim. As the video says, we just have no reason to take these claims seriously on a logical basis or an evidence-based one.

    I was just responding to the specific positive claim he made in the video, (approx) “there are things we can rule out from existing in some intangible inaccessible realm of existence” – I’m not making any claim, I’m just questioning whether that is true.
    There are reasons we can rule out things that are impossible to fit in a box, because we know things about boxes. What do we know about inaccessible realms of existence?

  20. #20 Coriolis
    October 1, 2009

    Fine Cantor, but let’s face it by “pure” logic you cannot prove anything at all. To me that only means that it’s not as great as it’s cracked up to be.

    In practice, one always has basic assumptions which are taken as true without proof – in math, in science, even in political theory (i.e. “all men are created equal”, “private property”). And once you define what your basic assumptions are, you build or science or society based on them – and at that point you can start arguing that something is illogical.

    I.e. if you hold the notion that “all men are created equal” then claiming that black people are 3/5 of a person is wrong – you need to either change your original assumption or stop being a racist (although there is no “logical” way to decide which is the correct option). Or at least accept that your position is inconsistent.

    This is the point where the religious by and large crash and burn – in being consistent about what their assumptions are and what their consequences are. Which isn’t terribly surprising since by and large they aren’t even interested in examining their religions in such a way.

  21. #21 Joseph
    October 1, 2009

    by “pure” logic you cannot prove anything at all

    I don’t think that’s true. You can prove that there’s no natural number such that no other natural number is greater.

  22. #22 Rogue Medic
    October 1, 2009
    by “pure” logic you cannot prove anything at all

    I don’t think that’s true. You can prove that there’s no natural number such that no other natural number is greater.

    Next, peace in the Middle East. ;-)

  23. #23 redfish123
    October 1, 2009

    by “pure” logic you cannot prove anything at all

    Well, anything is a little extreme. There are logical paradoxes, self-contradictory little things where logic can breakdown.

    http://www.logicalparadoxes.info/

  24. #24 Jim
    October 1, 2009

    @ JohnV, #14; exactly the problem, if one has good solid factual evidence of their god, they need no faith and so then they would need no religion. So to keep the faith do not bother looking for facts, they just get in the way of the collection plate……..

  25. #25 Coriolis
    October 1, 2009

    There are at a basic level assumptions about what you mean by a “natural number” or a hare and a tortoise (or passing each other) and so on. Whether you go that far in questioning or not, you always could. I’m a physicist, not a mathematician, but the one of the nice illustrations of how this works in physics is momentum.

    People knew for a very long time that the quantity mass times velocity (called momentum) remains constant in every measurement they ever made, but no one really knew why that is, so it was simply an accepted assumption in physics. Nowadays in quantum field theory (and probably with the appropriate classical theory), you can show that in fact if space is isotropic (i.e. there are no special points in space), then momentum has to be conserved. So you’ve explained why momentum is conserved – but you haven’t explained why space ought to be isotropic. So in effect you’ve only pushed your ignorance back one level.

    Still, this process tends to be quite fun and useful at the end of the day ;).

  26. #26 James Sweet
    October 1, 2009

    There are at a basic level assumptions about what you mean by a “natural number” or a hare and a tortoise (or passing each other) and so on.

    Right… but without assuming some kind of shared reality, we are left with solipsism (booooring!) and without assuming some basic semantic compatibility, we are stranded at the figurative Tower of Babel. I have no problem taking those assumptions blindly, because without them no interesting conversation can take place :)

  27. #27 Joseph
    October 1, 2009

    There are at a basic level assumptions about what you mean by a “natural number”

    If you go back far enough, you encounter axioms, which are self-evident truths which are unprovable. But Math is not like empirical science. It’s all based on exact logical proofs, theorems, which all go back to other theorems, and ultimately simple axioms.

  28. #28 speedweasel
    October 1, 2009

    I had to do a doubletake on reading this thread. I thought I had landed at Pharyngula.

    Enlightenment values do seem to pave the road to atheism though, dont they?

  29. #29 hitchhiker'sguide
    October 1, 2009

    Enlightenment values do seem to pave the road to atheism though, dont they?

    Sure except for a few bumps in the road like the Cult of Reason and the fact that a few enlightenment Philosophers, like Kant, tried to prove God’s existance using reason — straight to atheism.

  30. #30 Cantor
    October 1, 2009

    @Coriolis: I agree with your first comment completely regarding the limitations of pure logic. I personally feel that logic cannot prove the Aetheist standpoint for the same reason it can’t prove God. The best it can do is to provide a firm agnostic footing from which to explore.

  31. #31 sksfreund
    October 2, 2009

    @Cantor #8: In your “magic book” example, could one of the characters choose to do something that wasn’t written on the next page? Your attempt to place the “reader” outside of the temporal framework does nothing to change the incompatibility of an omnipotent being capable of choice. Use my example of reading a book. If ANYONE knows for a fact that I am going to read a book in an hour, it is impossible for me to do otherwise, or else either they would not have known it as a fact or I would not have the ability to make any choices. It also doesn’t matter if the characters feel as though they have free will, because if only one possible sequence of events is allowable then they don’t actually have free will. I’ll try one more way to think about this. Let us say that an omniscient being actually came and told you what you are going to be doing in ten minutes. Let’s say that he told you that you are going to be eating a bowl of cereal. If you have the ability to choose, then you could choose not to eat a bowl of cereal, but then the being we previously believed to be omniscient would cease to be omniscient because he was wrong about you eating a bowl of cereal. If the omniscient being is correct, however, then that means that since he knows everything (omniscient), everything is preordained.

  32. #32 Coriolis
    October 2, 2009

    I wonder if anyone actually reads blog comments entirely heh.

    James Sweet and Joseph, that’s exactly what I was trying to point out in my original comment heh.

    And Cantor, it only doesn’t allow disproving of the religious position in the sense that it does not allow disproving of astrology, magic unicorns, witchcraft, or D&D style magic. In practice there’s an unlimited number of ludicrous ideas about the world and hence we make the assumption that everything that doesn’t have some evidence for it’s existence, doesn’t exist. Hence atheism.

    Of course in a better world we wouldn’t need to have atheism any more then we need to have anti-witchcraftism (anymore), but so long as theism is as powerful as it is in practice it’s necessary. Maybe one day atheism will be as pointless of a term as abolitionism is today with respect to slavery. I won’t be holding my breath just yet though.

  33. #33 Calli Arcale
    October 2, 2009

    That’s a rather disturbing statement, Coriolis. Are you suggesting that intolerance of those who believe in a God is a noble thing? That the whole raison d’etre of atheism is to oppose theism, rather than being the philosophical certainty that there is no God?

    If so, I know a number of atheists who would disagree with you; they are those who appreciate diversity of thought. And frankly, it reminds me a great deal of some Christian fundamentalists I know.

    Good lord, I never thought I’d be making the atheism is like a religion argument. But then, I never saw someone say that before, that the purpose of atheism is to combat theism. I sincerely hope I have misconstrued you.

  34. #34 Cantor
    October 3, 2009

    @sksfreund: You’ve bent my metaphor somewhat. In all your counter-examples, you’ve created paradoxes by placing all the players in the same temporal framework (example: “if ANYONE knows…”) I agree that if the players reside in the same temporal framework, my argument crumbles into paradoxes (Classic example: What if I went back in time and killed my own father?) Your question: “could one of the characters choose to do something that wasn’t written on the next page”. My answer: No. But there is no paradox. Whatever they chose to do is writ in the annals of time, and thus the next page is what it is and can be nothing else. But note: the “next page” is completely opaque to the characters, so there is no possibility of reflexive paradoxes. As such, this does not in any way invalidate free choice in my example. The next page is the unknowne future to them. On the other hand, to the “reader” (which exists in a higher dimensional time-framework) is free to flip page to page, even read “backwards” in time if they so choose. Obviously the characters have no such luxury.

  35. #35 Cantor
    October 3, 2009

    @sksfreund: Re-reading, it occurs to me I may have missed your main point regarding “omnipotent being capable of choice”. I think this phrase is nonsensical (and I’m not being glib when I say that). Time as we know it is a function of our universal fabric. Any omnipotent being by definition must exist “outside” this framework or they are not omnipotent. Choice implies a cause-effect type relationship which implies time. So concepts like “changable/unchanging” have no relevance when talking about an omnipotent being. Neither does choice. If the concept of being existing in a state where cause-and-effect has no meaning makes your head hurt… me too. Nevertheless, if God is bound by time, then he is not omnipotent.

  36. #36 Platypus
    October 3, 2009

    The argument given in QualiaSoup’s “Putting faith in its place” is
    rather strong but there is a meta-logical flaw in it. In the first
    half the example of a cube is given and the asymmetry between “What is
    in the box” and “What is not in the box”. As the video correctly
    points out we know that the box doesn’t contain things that are
    physically impossable to be in the box (like objects larger
    then the box) and things that are logically impossable (like nonred
    red ball). That part I have no conflict with.

    But the next part of the argument I’m not, the anology is extended to
    speculating about other realms of existance and the claim is made that
    it is impossable for that domain to contain logical impossablities.
    That claim doesn’t necessarily follow and I shall show why.

    The rules of logic we use are just one of an infinite number of
    possable logics. We have decided on this system of logic because it
    reflects our intuition on how logic should work and because it models
    the pysical macroscopic world we live in successfully.

    However it does not follow that tool we use to model truth in this
    world will tell us anything about anouther realm of existance which
    might be better modeled with a diffrent system of logic.

  37. #37 Ender
    October 3, 2009

    Yep, that’s exactly right.

  38. #38 Cantor
    October 5, 2009

    @Platypus #36: Very well put. A generalized and succint summary. This it seems is where a lot of Atheists weilding the sword of logic must tread carefully. If God is unprovable via logic, He is also immune to its barbs. (Which is not to say that people purporting to represent Him are shielded in any such way.)

  39. #39 Coriolis
    October 6, 2009

    Calli, if I had a penny for everytime me (or any other “militant” atheist) has been accused of being “just like the fundamentalist”.. well I’d surely be alot richer. My position is quite simple – I will defend the right of any religious person (or fundamentalist, or white supremacist, or what have you) to express his/her views, and I will defend my right to speak out against them. Many philosophical points of view have been eliminated (or morphed beyond recognition), so I don’t see anything “disturbing” about that. The notion that slavery can be justified is one easy example. The notion that without religion a orderly sane society cannot exist is hopefully dying out. Many religions themselves have changed significantly over time.

    But yes, atheists are opposed to theism, it’s not simply a matter of some belief in the disbelief of god. We also don’t believe in pink unicorns or UFOs or astrology, but we don’t label ourselves anti-UFOcists or what have you – although some people try and call themselves “rationalists” or something along those lines to make a more general point. And any intelligent atheist realizes that there is no way to ever “prove” that god exists. Even someone like Richard Dawkins when asked this question point blank replied that of course it’s possible for god to exist, in the sense that it’s possible for anything to exist.

    Nobody goes around shouting about how they don’t believe in something that no one believes in anyways – that seems pretty obvious to me.

The site is currently under maintenance and will be back shortly. New comments have been disabled during this time, please check back soon.