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the "New Atheism"
Posted: 01 November 2006 02:51 AM   [ Ignore ]
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A Chrisitan posted this link on another forum I spend time at, claiming that it was an insight into the "mind of the atheist".  I wondered what everyone here would make of it.  http://www.wired.com/news/wiredmag/0,71985-0.html?tw=wn_story_page_prev2

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Posted: 01 November 2006 03:46 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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It’s a typical silly article by a journalist who basically takes himself to be looking at the strange creatures in the jungle. He doesn’t ever really grapple with or understand the arguments people are making. It’s rather like the superficial travel writer who talks about how odd the people dress in India without actually taking the time to understand anything about the culture.

The last sentence is sublimely silly, since it’s precisely the argument all of those atheists are making against fundamentalist religion. The fact that he would trumpet such a finding as argument against their position shows how he simply failed to understand a single thing they were saying.

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Posted: 01 November 2006 04:03 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Is this what you meant Doug?

It simply reflects our deepest, democratic values. Or, you might say, our bedrock faith: the faith that no matter how confident we are in our beliefs, there’s always a chance we could turn out to be wrong.

I don’t understand?

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Jimmie Keyes
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Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. (MLK Jr.)

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Posted: 01 November 2006 04:38 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Right, Jim. He was rejecting the atheist argument because “we might be wrong”. But, just to start off, he claims this is an argument “from faith”! In what sense is it “faith” that we might be wrong? This is a rational belief, not faith at all. So it’s not clear he even knows the distinction between faith and rational belief.

And (throwing away the ‘faith’ stuff) he’s using the same argument that atheists use against theists all the time: they have no positive evidence for theism, and certainty in revelation or texts is unjustified because we might be wrong about them. Indeed, not only might we be wrong about them, but there is positive evidence that we are wrong about them.

The point is that none of the atheists he quotes would disagree with the claim that “there’s always a chance we could turn out to be wrong.” Dawkins explicitly states this in his book and lectures, as does Dennett. No careful atheist makes the straw-man argument that he is certain that god doesn’t exist, to the extent that “there’s no chance we could turn out to be wrong” about it. What they are saying (and, again, Dawkins says this explicitly) is that they are making a probabilistic argument that the existence of god is very, very unlikely given the evidence.

The guy who wrote this article simply didn’t understand their argument.

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Posted: 01 November 2006 05:02 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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I would say that there is no chance that “god” exists.

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Posted: 01 November 2006 07:40 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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We’ve visited that god exists business before Geoff and it was fun.

I am in full agreement with you as are Dennett and Dawkins and for sure Harris so long as we are all talking about the God of Abraham,

AND WE ALL ARE.

It is utterly irrational to contend there is any chance he exists: the fellow who told Abraham to kill his son, the guy who told Noah by cubit exactly how to build the ark, the one who helped Joshua fight the battle of Jericho (boy that last has a nice lilt to it doesn’t it, you’d think it might be a good song lyric? Oh well probably’s been done before Huh?

Anyway that god the one who: fought the battle of Jericho Jericho Jericho, is just a figment of Jewish imagination.

Jim

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Jimmie Keyes
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http://secularhumanism.meetup.com/1/
Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. (MLK Jr.)

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Posted: 01 November 2006 08:09 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Hmmm ... well, this raises some issues.

(1) Re. the god of Abraham: yes, it’s totally irrational to believe he exists. (Where that means he has much greater than 50% probability of existing). But we can’t say that there’s literally 0% chance of his existing so long as his existence is logically possible, that is, so long as there is no contradiction involved in it.

Anything non-contradictory is possible, and anything possible has a greater than 0% chance of being true. Now, it may have a vanishingly small percentage chance, but that’s not zero.

(2) Re. the god that Dawkins is discussing (less true of Harris): it’s not necessarily the god of Abraham the whole time. Dawkins at least is taking issue with more sophisticated forms of theology (argument from design, ontological argument, etc.) which don’t depend on any part of the Bible being true other than god existing. They don’t depend on Abraham, they don’t depend on Noah’s Ark or Joshua at Jericho or any of that. The Bible could be falsehood from stem to stern and still these arguments might be true ... i.e. god could be shown to exist based on the ontological argument, argument from design, etc.

So the way that people like Dawkins, Dennett, JL Mackie and others argue against these more sophisticated arguments is through scientific and philosophical means, not by simply showing that the Bible is false. (They may do that too, but it isn’t sufficient).

So once again, if the probability of the god of Abraham existing is very, very small, the probability of one of these more ‘sophisticated’ non-Abrahamic personal gods existing is somewhat larger: at least we don’t have to square his perfect goodness with all the horror of the Old Testament.

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Posted: 01 November 2006 10:48 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Off the OP a bit, but here is my treatment of the “god” issue.

The very concept of “god” is a human invention, originating, I believe in the early worship of powerful human leaders.

The typical “god concept” is a part of semi-civilized tribalism, which to say that many very privative people’s didn’t conceive of a god, but “god” seems to come from those early civilized people’s, who had powerful rulers, and large nation states to control. Small privative tribes in Africa and the Americas were often without any concept of god at all, and, of course, no use for such a god either.

Organized religion as we know it, is a combination superstition, behavior modification, and leadership imposed on the semi-abstract concept of a “god”, or non-tangible authority figure, whose construct serves the purpose of holing the system together and removing criticism from earthly leaders.

Every concept of god that exists on this planet, or has existed, is the product of some other cultural need, they are concepts that evolved to fill certain social roles.

The chance that this obvious product of social evolution has happened upon any tangible reality is, IMO, ZERO, not 0.001%, but straight 0.0000000000.

That would be like saying that the invention of Superman happened to describe a real figure on a real planet called Krypton that really is like the way the comic book author describes it.

So, what does this leave?

Philosophical concepts of god, such as those derived by Plato and Paine?

These concepts are obviously preceded by the more privative constructs, and based on them, but in an attempt to come up with a more “reasonable” imagining of something that is unreasonable.

Here there is an emotional attachment to the god concept as a personal and social construct, but its clear that the attributes ascribed to traditional gods are crude, so they are re-imagined in more lofty terms that are harder to define and thereby refute, but this is like taking the story of Superman and then removing some of the unreasonable elements, perhaps making him “Super-it” to remove gender, perhaps removing it weakness of kryptonite, perhaps making it so it doesn’t change into Clark Kent, and then, after giving the unreasonable superhero a makeover, claiming that its more likely that it is real.

Of course, starting from a false construct and giving it a makeover doesn’t make it more likely. If I start with the story of Little Red Riding Hood and then take out the talking wolf part, that doesn’t make the story real, or make it history.

So what about a purely reasoned concept of god, starting with nothing and then just arriving philosophically at the idea that something had to create the universe, so whatever that is, is god.

Ok, but to call this “god” is a misnomer, now we are simply talking some potentially unconscious phenomenon that occurred and no longer even exists, so this isn’t really a god, this is a use of “god” by people like Spinoza to simply get around having been killed.

So, I see nothing that people can conceive of and call a “god” that can possibly exist. To say that god exists, but is beyond our conception, is completely useless. If you can’t define a word then you can have the word.

Some try to take it to this level, that “god” is simply undefinable, but if this is the case then it isn’t “god”, its just an open ended question mark which we know nothing about at all.

God as undefined “cause” of existence is a cop-out. Yes, there had to be some cause to existence, but to think that this cause of existence has anything at all to do with the human evolved social construct that we call “god” is nonsense.

The universe shows no signs of design or providence whatever. From what we can see, the vast majority of existence is lifeless and we can expect goes about its business regardless of our existence. The system of life that does exist on earth is fundamentally founded on amoral, lawless, pitilessness. The system of life is really fundamentally immoral in is nature, and amoral in its existence, meaning that if it were designed, the designer would have to be immoral by our standards of morality, for I think that one would have to be immoral to create such an amoral and indifferent system.

What little life does exist in the universe is pitiless, mostly incapable of knowing much of anything, and essentially just a self perpetuating chemical chain reaction.

Evolution is a horrible system from a moral perspective, yet it is reality. The religionists see that its an amoral/immoral system, thus they claim its not true, because they know that if the universe really works in such a way, surely no god could exist to design such a heartless system, but indeed the system exists, therefor its not the explanation of the system that is wrong, but the god that supposedly wouldn’t create such a system.

Now, as the religionists say, “surely this can’t be it, therefore there must be a god”, but if there was a god, why would the god make the universe like this in the first place? “We can’t know”. Nonsense, we do know, there is no god.

So, I can say that I am 100% confident that any meaningful definition of god does not exist.

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Posted: 02 November 2006 04:27 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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My concern with this response, as with the issue of Jesus’s nonexistence, is that it goes beyond what can be established on the basis of the evidence.

Empirical evidence is always fallible; it can never establish something with 100% certainty. (Maybe asymptotically close to 100%). The only way to get to 100% is through logic or mathematics.

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Posted: 02 November 2006 06:20 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Can you say with 100% certainty that The Green Lantern doesn’t exist?

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Posted: 02 November 2006 07:08 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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If what you mean by “The Green Lantern” is some entity that behaves like the green lantern of the comic strip, then indeed, it is logically possible that such a creature exist, so one can’t say with absolute certainty that he does not.

I believe he doesn’t exist, with almost complete certainty, but I leave open the possibility that I am wrong.

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Posted: 02 November 2006 08:07 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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When you get to the level of saying “I can’t rule out the possibility that The Green Lantern is real”, we are just playing semantics now.

We have not one single piece of evidence for any “god” of any kind, assuming that we use standard definitions for “god”, so at best someone can claim that they think some intelligent being created the universe, but we don’t even have any evidence for that.

All we have are people’s imaginations running wild.

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Posted: 02 November 2006 08:42 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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[quote author=“rationalrevolution”]When you get to the level of saying “I can’t rule out the possibility that The Green Lantern is real”, we are just playing semantics now.

We have not one single piece of evidence for any “god” of any kind, assuming that we use standard definitions for “god”, so at best someone can claim that they think some intelligent being created the universe, but we don’t even have any evidence for that.

All we have are people’s imaginations running wild.

Agreed. I never claimed we had any evidence for god, or for the Green Lantern for that matter. We have no reason whatever to believe that they are real. But that is different from saying that it’s impossible that they are real.

:wink:

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Posted: 03 November 2006 03:09 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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Most of the Christians on our forum latched onto this statement, on page one— “The New Atheists will not let us off the hook simply because we are not doctrinaire believers. They condemn not just belief in God but respect for belief in God. Religion is not only wrong; it’s evil. Now that the battle has been joined, there’s no excuse for shirking.”

Their response seemed to be—“See?  You atheists have been complaining about Christians taking over America—this shows you what atheists would do if they ever took over!”  I could only shake my head and try one more time to explain to them that they were making a mountain out of a molehill.

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Posted: 03 November 2006 03:44 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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Firstly, all of the relevant people (Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, et al.) explicitly state that they believe in the freedom to practice whatever religion you want ... I’m sure you know this.

And I don’t think they believe moderate religious practitioners are “evil”. They just think they are deluded. The problem with the moderates is that by supporting notions such as ‘faith’ they give cover to the truly evil folks who are the fundamentalists or radicals.

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Posted: 03 November 2006 03:52 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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Geoff’s beautifully done long reply should be preserved, carved in stone and put next to the ten commandments in the lobby of every courtroom in Georgia.
I can’t be effusive enough about, nor can I find anything wrong with, the arguments presented. I fully agree with them.

I am not one for philosophical debates that seem to be the joy of many. For example to say the concept of god as in “the god of Abraham” is not logically disprovable is to move to that area of logic that goes deeply into the number of angels that could fit on the head of an angel -(i can see a wonderful opportunity to discuss the question here: do angels have heads?) standing on the head of an angel- (AHA another chance to get into do angels have feet?) standing in the middle of a thousand angels (more or less?) on the head of a pin.

The proof of a negative is normally impossible so to construct a proof that god doesn’t exist is not easy. I think Geoff has done it.
Congratulations!
Jim

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Jimmie Keyes
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http://secularhumanism.meetup.com/1/
Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. (MLK Jr.)

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