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orbiting chocolate teapots

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I have Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion here at the moment; I’ve been stuck at 1/3 of the way through for some time, with work and other reading taking priority. My position on atheism is quite simple: I’ve been calling myself a “theoretical agnostic, practical atheist”. This is summarised in this apposite quote from Isaac Asimov, Free Inquiry, Vol. 2, Spring 1982:

I am an atheist, out and out. It took me a long time to say it. I’ve been an atheist for years and years, but somehow I felt it was intellectually unrespectable to say one was an atheist, because it assumed knowledge that one didn’t have. Somehow, it was better to say one was a humanist or an agnostic. I finally decided that I’m a creature of emotion as well as of reason. Emotionally, I am an atheist. I don’t have the evidence to prove that God doesn’t exist, but I so strongly suspect he doesn’t that I don’t want to waste my time.

Recently I figured out another way to put it: the Abrahamic god (of Judaism, Christianity & Islam) is supposedly omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. So, the idea of there being such a god “somewhere else” is a non-starter, since “omnipresence” means there is no such thing as “somewhere else”, or “some other time”.

If he is Omnipresent, he is here now – but do we see him, today?
If he is Omnipotent, he can do anything – but do we see him doing anything, today?
If he is Omniscient, he knows everything – so why is there so much stupidity and ignorance in the world, today?

If there is useful information in scriptures, it is a product of its time, containing some universal truth, but also much that used to make sense but no longer does. (Example: there was a time when pork was unsafe, but we’ve learned how to cure it.) But this kind of change is too complicated for mere people to handle – not out of stupidity, but out of laziness – so I’m not surprised to see a fundamentalist push to regress society to match the scriptures. (Hey, life was simpler 2000 years ago, let’s go back!)

A god that might exist, but can not be perceived; who sees this screwed-up world and does nothing to fix it; who knows everything but lets his people wallow in ignorance; is a god who is absolutely no use to me. Leave that idea behind, the sun keeps shining and the Earth keeps turning. If there is a teapot in orbit around the Sun, it’s made of chocolate.

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Written by brian t

October 22, 2006 at 1:35 pm

13 Responses

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  1. As for myself, I can capsulize my reasons for being an atheist with two simple words: Bertrand Russell. I’ll never forget his teapot analogy.

    Recently, I determined that it is not merely reasonable to be an atheist, but a damn good idea for us all. Why? Again, two words: Richard Dawkins.

    Ervin

    October 23, 2006 at 5:57 am

  2. Brian, my response to your last paragraph:

    > Thank you for your comments – I’m going to reply to them like this, in italics

    “A god that might exist, but can not be perceived”
    The fact you haven’t perceived God doesn’t mean God “can not be perceived”. Perception is a bad test since I’d say I have ‘perceived’ God’s existence. It’s the Mormon sorta test, the “burning in the bosom” which doesn’t really prove anything.
    > By “perception” I didn’t mean simply what I see or not. Imagine a trial, and how a judge would react to a statement like that regarding evidence. “Your honour, there is evidence, we just can’t see it ir use it in any way!” Besides, I would expect a deity worthy of belief to get results!

    “who sees this screwed-up world and does nothing to fix it”
    I’d say that the Muslim’s Allah did nothing to fix it, but the Christian God did, acting in the world to redeem it.
    > No argument with the first point, but the second is an article of your faith, something not backed by facts. I’m not interested in comparing religions.

    “who knows everything but lets his people wallow in ignorance”
    Certainly if God exists, we would know less than God does. We would necessarily be lesser than God in every way. Because we only know in part doesn’t invalidate God’s knowledge in full.
    > Another article of faith: even if you’re right, what is the point of a deity who doesn’t do anything?

    “Leave that idea behind, the sun keeps shining and the Earth keeps turning”
    To what end?
    > Who says there has to be an end? Could you find your own purpose in life, or do you need faith to hand a purpose down to you?

    IMHO the teapot analogy is flawed because in that example there is absolutely no evidence for the teapot’s existence, whereas I think that even the most ardent atheist would say that the evidence for God is lacking, not non-existent.
    > “the evidence for God is lacking, not non-existent”: and your point is? Remember, atheists question the very concept of God, while you’re assuming He exists, it’s just that the evidence is lacking! Can you see imagine how an atheist might respond to such hair-splitting? (On the Internet, you’ll see such acronyms as “LOL” and “ROTFLMAO”!)

    > Seriously: believing in something that there is no evidence for is the basic “signature” of faith, and it’s exactly what atheists do not accept as necessary. That was the point of my post. Can you show me any evidence for a god that is not in the form “someone saw… someone said… someone wrote” … in short, evidence that stands up independent of human observation, experience and interpretation?

    > Please don’t take this the wrong way, but you’re making the classic mistakes believers (of all faiths) make when responding to atheists:
    – assuming that we haven’t read the Bible / Talmud / Qu’ran before. (Or at least parts thereof – how could we avoid it, all these years, when it’s force-fed to us in schools?)

    – thinking “I just need to tell them where they’re going wrong”, forgetting the
    underlying assumptions that your audience doesn’t share. Several of your points only make sense if you have specific (i.e. Christian) beliefs, they have no meaning without the beliefs, so they’re not useful arguments here.
    – telling them how wonderful it is, when your experience, no matter how powerful, is not shared by your audience and not trusted as evidence;
    not understanding the nature of atheism: even if it starts as a reaction to bad experiences, once the “holy smoke” clears, it is simply a recognition that belief is gone, if it ever was there at all. That “silence” gives you an opportunity to clear our minds and get our priorities in order, and learn to live without the “crutch” of religion. It does not mean giving up morality, humanity, or even personal spirituality.

    Trust us, we really have thought about this stuff! Recommended reading: the lyrics to John Lennon’s song “Imagine”; have a go at Imagining what he did! 8)

    emmzee

    October 23, 2006 at 8:40 pm

  3. Just a couple notes re the above (and I do appreciate you taking the time to respond!) I don’t make any assuptions about other people’s worldviews, I was stating my own. I have thought about this stuff too; I’m not someone who grew up Christian after all. I do not, therefore, make any of the assumptions that you are listing, if I made it seem that way, it was merely because I was stating my opinion, not attempting to give a rigorous argument for each point.

    When I said “the evidence for God is lacking, not non-existent” I was not giving my own opinion, I was presenting what I thought the most reasonable atheistic position is, not my own. I don’t believe the evidence is lacking, as per my recent post on my own blog.

    Re “the second is an article of your faith, something not backed by facts” (regarding the resurrection), the point of the comment was not to dogmatically state an article of my faith as proof that it itself is true, but rather to demonstrate the difference between Christian faith and that of other religions; namely that IF Christianity were true, God would have acted in the world to “do something about it”. Regarding it not being backed by facts, since the resurrection is a historical event, it is backed up by historical data, which perhaps is not the kind that you are looking for … what kind of evidence is “independent of human observation, experience and interpretation”?

    If the argument is that since miracles (as least purported past miracles) are not testable outside of historical evidence, that no miracle should be believed regardless of whether or not they are technically possible or not … I disagree. Claiming that “believing in something that there is no evidence for” is a definition of faith is inaccurate, at least in my case. Regarding the resurrection, William Lane Craig’s recent debate with Bart Ehrman regarding the evidence for the resurrection is pretty revealing on this issue; the fact that Ehrman apparently does not want it to be published tells you something about how the debate went. Not that there isn’t evidence for and against, but it is (again, just IMHO!) reasonable enough.

    emmzee

    October 24, 2006 at 12:03 am

  4. Presumably the “resurrection” to which the xtian commentator refers to is that of the person he and his fellow believers refer to as ‘Jesus’. If so, will he now provide reputable evidence that this person called Jesus ever existed.

    Additionally, as the commentator continues by claiming that “…since the resurrection is a historical event, it is backed up by historical data…” will he please either provide that data or a specific detailed reference to where it may be found.

    Whilst he is looking for this information, he may also care to note that the Muslim ‘Allah’, the Jewish ‘Yaweh’ and the xtian ‘God’ are one and the same according to their respective, so-called, ‘holy books’.

    Incidentally, none of the adherents of any of these religions have ever been able to produce any valid evidence whatsoever that this god to whom they refer exists, nor have they ever produced any rational and valid logical arguments in support of their claims that it does.

    As for his statement, ‘Claiming that “believing in something that there is no evidence for” is a definition of faith is inaccurate, at least in [his] case’ sums up his whole confusion. If, as he goes on to say, his reason [for his faith] is the ‘resurrection’, then first he must be able to provide valid evidence proving that: there was someone called ‘Jesus’; that something called ‘God’ existed; this person called ‘Jesus’ was de facto ‘the Son of [this] God’; and that this ‘resurrection’ had actually taken place. Until and unless such evidence is provided it is correct to refer to his beliefs as an article of ‘faith’.

    Faith has been defined as ‘sacrificium intellectus’ or the sacrifice of the intellect, silencing the voice of reason in favour of blind faith. According to Ignatius Loyola, it is the duty of all those who believe in god to deny rationality and empiric evidence where these conflict with their beliefs.

    Though Loyola was a Jesuit, the followers of all religious cults and ideologies renounce reason with alacrity. These people are true misologists, haters of reason, a type excoriated by Plato and subsequently by Kant in his ‘Critique of Pure Reason’ and ‘Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals’, though he owes much to Bayle who argued in his ‘Historical and Critical Dictionary’ that religion is not preferable to atheism and that atheists can be morally upright members of society .

    Sadly Bayle’s views are still denied today by the soi disant god-fearing dupes, weirdos, sickos, psychos, liars, fraudsters and swindlers who would like you to believe that their beliefs are paramount, and that we should respect them for no other reason than they claim to believe the vile and irrational nonsense which they spout.

    If you want respect, stop reciting articles of faith as fact and produce real evidence to substantiate your claims.

    The Old Git

    October 24, 2006 at 8:30 am

  5. Old Git (?) – thanks for the response. You’ve probably gone a bit further than I would have! Talk of Bayle, Loyola and Jesuits… it touches on an issue that I will go in to in a future blog post: do atheists have to know a lot about religion to be able to dismiss it? As you say, it is up to theists to present evidence of their claims; my view is that if God existed and was as powerful as the claims imply, His presence would be OBVIOUS, the evidence would be IRREFUTABLE, and not dependent on personal observation and interpretation, or complicated epistemological arguments. It really is that simple, IMHO, I do not accept that it has to be any more complicated! 8)

    brian t

    October 24, 2006 at 9:59 am

  6. Thanks as always for your replies. Believe it or not, I do enjoy (amicable) discussion, and am always open to the possibility that I could be wrong.

    I was hesitant to start posting direct links to more resources (which are, necessarily, on Christian websties), since I’m not sure if Brian wants his comment section to include this kind of post. (If not, feel free to delete this post Brian.) But since it was asked for directly, the type of historical resurrection argument I’m referring to has been written about by several authors including Gary Habermas, but is best articulated (AFAIK) in William Lane Craig’s book “The Son Rises” (ISBN:1579104649). However, since that book is not likely to be available in your local library (unless your libraries are far superior to the ones around here!) here’s some relevant web links.

    William Craig summerizes his resurrection argument here …
    http://www.leaderu.com/truth/1truth22.html
    However if someone just wants the gist of it, a briefer account is available here:
    http://www.leaderu.com/offices/billcraig/docs/rediscover2.html
    (See point 4 of part 2 of the article)
    Michael Horner gives his own version of the same basic argument here:
    http://www.michaelhorner.com/articles/resurrection/index.html
    Note that Craig’s argument does not assume or require that the Bible is infallible or even mostly accurate (although for the sake of clarity I’m forced to state that I think it is), instead it relies only on facts that are generally agreed upon by scholars (Xn or not).

    Craig’s argument is, I think, the most reasonable of several approaches. CS Lewis’ approach (I’m not a huge fan of his “Mere Christianity” though there is some good stuff in there) is somewhat outdated, but Kreeft presents a more robust version of Lewis’ Liar/Lunatic/etc argument here:
    http://www.peterkreeft.com/topics-more/resurrection-evidence.htm

    One last comment 🙂 I don’t claim that there is any 100% totally absolutely persuasive evidence that proves without a shadow of any doubt that Jesus is who Christians believe He is. But does there need to be? My only claim is that there is reasonable evidence which warrants reasonable faith. Most of our decisions are made based on inference to the best explanation, not 100% proof; the opinion of the men above is that the resurrection is the best fit for the evidence available … your milage may vary of course, especially if the possibility of the resurrection occuring is discounted from the start due to a particular worldview.

    emmzee

    October 24, 2006 at 10:34 pm

  7. Your last reply has so many links it was flagged as Spam, not even queued for moderation. I don’t normally check the Spam filters, it would have gone away in 2 weeks.

    Re your last paragraph, you say “my only claim is that there is reasonable evidence which warrants reasonable faith”.

    That’s the problem:
    a) you believe that a dead person came back to life, and deliberately (not a mistake etc.). That is not “reasonable” faith, it’s a claim of a bona fide miracle.
    b) you cite “reasonable evidence”… really? Where is it? Remember what I said before about the need for evidence to be independent of the observer, i.e. you needn’t bother citing any “eye-witness” testimony about something that was supposed to have happened 2000 years ago. (The “official” Gospels can’t even agree on their stories of where Jesus was born, for example – never mind the “lost” Gospels e,g. Timothy’s.)

    No-one is pre-emptively discounting anything. If there is evidence that archaeologists (and other scientists) can get their teeth in to, they’ll be all over it a.s.a.p., without pre-judging the results. Thing is, evangelists love to claim atheists are blind to the “truth” – but it’s funny how religious “truth” never seems to stand up by itself, independent of the people who make the claims. Rocks are more reliable witnesses than people!

    brian t

    October 26, 2006 at 12:06 am

  8. Hey Brian, thanks for approving the post. I figured that’s what probably happened. FWIW, I just checked the gospels, they do not explicitly disagree on where Jesus was born. And also wonder about dismissing out of hand the available evidence (mainly because it’s too old?), but I think this comment thread has probably run its course. Thanks for providing the opportunity for discussion, I’ll continue reading your blog. 🙂

    emmzee

    October 26, 2006 at 4:04 am

  9. Thanks for responding emmzee, but I am disappointed that you have chosen to cease debating the issues and chosen to close your mind to facts and reason.

    I have followed up all your links – thanks for providing them – but I find nothing new there that I would consider merited being described as evidence. Basically all it consists of is rather clever suggestion and hypothesis on behalf of the presenters. Substantive evidence requires more than that, as Brian has already pointed out. In fact, I have lost legal cases I presented to ‘twelve just men and true’ with more real evidence going for my clients than any of your commentators have produced to support the existence of one called Jesus or of his having been raised from the dead.

    It seems to me that you recognise for yourself how weak this so-called evidence for the existenced of Jesus or his raising from the dead is, when you state, “I don’t claim that there is any 100% totally absolutely persuasive evidence that proves without a shadow of any doubt that Jesus is who Christians believe He is.” However, the killer comment comes nes, when you continue, “But does there need to be?”

    Yes there does, given the magnitude and import of the claims that Xtians make for this one they call Jesus, but over the millennia all of those who support these claims have failed abyssmally to provide substantive evidence for them – and that includes the sources you kindly quoted (and which you tacitly admit fail to discharge the burden of proof).

    However, you, and others get round this rather large inconvenience by claiming, “…that there is reasonable evidence which warrants reasonable faith”, but that is a logically invalid conclusion. Firstly, there is no ‘reasonable evidence’ only myth, supposition, suggestion and hypotheses. Secondly, evidence does not ‘warrant’ faith, evidence proves fact. Thirdly, ‘reasonable faith’ is an oxymoron, since faith has nothing to do with rational enquiry and rigorous intellectual proof.

    Neither you, nor the various commentators to whom you referred have discharged the onus which is on you: to prove the existence of your god, that he is superior to all other gods that mankind has worshipped throughout the millennia, that he had a son called jesus, that jesus actually existed, and that this person arose from the dead.

    I also find it rather condescending, if not downright offensive of you to state, “…the opinion of the men above is that the resurrection is the best fit for the evidence available … your milage may vary of course, especially if the possibility of the resurrection occuring is discounted from the start due to a particular worldview.”

    First, the opinion of those men to whom you refer is of no moment per se, since it is fact alone which matters, and none of you have gone even part way towards producing any valid evidence to substantiate the claims of Xtians. Second, it is simply wrong of you to dismiss valid objections by others to your claims on the grounds that they do so, “…from the start due to a particular worldview.” Third, the discomfitting fact that you have to deal with is that most of us probably began life by being fed all these unsubstantiated tales of god(s) and their power over us, but most of us matured and learned to think critically, applying the lessons of science and logic to the superstitious nonsense that had been drummed into us as children. Those who were unable to live up to that challenge are simply hiding from reality and are truly delusional psychopaths.

    There are worse things than being a delusional psychopath, however, and that is to be one of the manipulative sociopaths who profess religious belief in order to exploit the credulous and gullible for their own self-interest and gain. I suggest that most of the commentators you directed me to are of that sort.

    The Old Git

    October 27, 2006 at 9:54 pm

  10. I think one of my comments has been misinterpreted, so I wanted to post to hopefully clear that up. I meant no offense when I commented that particular worldviews might preclude the possibility of Christianity being true from the start, and I wasn’t suggesting you personally or anyone else in particular holds that view.

    What I was meaning was that if a person holds to a certain worldview the precludes the possibility of miracles, that there is no need to even consider the evidence for the resurrection, because since the resurrection would be a miracle its truthfulness would be precluded from the start. Really, -if- materialism is the correct worldview and -if- God does not exist, then it seems like it would be a logical conclusion to preclude the possibility of miracles.

    I said that I figured this thread had run its course, but what the heck …

    “I find nothing new there that I would consider merited being described as evidence. Basically all it consists of is rather clever suggestion and hypothesis on behalf of the presenters … there is no ‘reasonable evidence’ only myth, supposition, suggestion and hypotheses.”

    The evidence is historical and philosophical in nature, and conclusions are reached based on interpreting the material that we have. Many find the reasoning given persuasive. Apparently what I consider reasonable, you do not, so we are at an impasse on that subject. I look at it sort of like this: Based on what we know via the manuscripts and other historical evidence available, is there a reasonable basis for Christian belief? I’ve concluded that there is. (I know, I keep using the word ‘evidence’ which is probably irritating since we are using the word differently … but IMHO historical material and philosophical arguments, and the interpretation thereof, should be considered valid evidence.)

    “evidence does not ‘warrant’ faith, evidence proves fact.”

    Earlier in your post you mentioned presenting evidence at a trial. From that (and from your listed status as “polymath” on your site) I’ll conclude that you are a lawyer. I don’t have proof that you’re a lawyer, but it seems like a reasonable conclusion from the information that I have. If I were forced to make a choice, I’d say that you are a lawyer (or at least are properly accredited to practice law, even if not currently employed doing so). I’d consider this evidence, even if it doesn’t provide conclusive proof. This brings up the issue which seems to be at the root of our impasse, the standard of ‘proof’ required.

    “‘reasonable faith’ is an oxymoron, since faith has nothing to do with rational enquiry and rigorous intellectual proof.”

    Different people have different meanings for the word “faith”, but certainly there is a difference in blind faith (“I think it will rain this afternoon because I think it will”) and reasonable faith (“I think it will rain this afternoon because when I watched the weather report this morning they gave a 80% chance of rain, and there are now dark clouds in the sky.”) My conception of faith is the latter, not the former. To use McLaren’s definition, “faith is a state of relative certainty about matters of ultimate concern sufficient to promote action”. (Not the best definition but it’s a tricky word, no doubt.)

    “the discomfitting fact that you have to deal with is that most of us probably began life by being fed all these unsubstantiated tales of god(s) and their power over us, but most of us matured and learned to think critically”

    Certainly there are examples of many people who, growing up in religious homes, turn away from religion when they get older. There’s often good reasons for them to do so. There are probably an equal number who (like myself) did not grow up in religious homes who later on deliberately choose a different path.

    “Those who were unable to live up to that challenge are simply hiding from reality and are truly delusional psychopaths.”

    If you are using the term according to its clinical definition, then it is not being used correctly, since it generally seems to be used to refer to someone with Antisocial Personality Disorder: “A person with an antisocial personality disorder, manifested in aggressive, perverted, criminal, or amoral behavior without empathy or remorse.”, etc. I do not, as far as I know, have APD. Unless you are using the literal definition of the word, it could be misconstrued as an offensive insult. The pejorative “delusional” prefacing it also seems unnecessary, especially given that approximately 84% of humankind would based on this definition be included as “psychopaths”. (Using Adherents.com’s #s, anyways. That doesn’t prove that they are right of course, argumentum ad populum.)

    “manipulative sociopaths who profess religious belief in order to exploit the credulous and gullible”

    You seem to be suggesting that the authors linked above do not really believe what they are writing, and are only doing so for personal gain. Firstly, even if true, that proves nothing about whether what they are saying is correct or incorrect. Secondly, I see no reason to draw the conclusion that they do not really believe what they are writing based on the information linked to above. What if I suggested Richard Dawkins doesn’t really believe what he says and just writes in order to sell books? That would of course be insulting to him and wrong since I have no proof as to what he “really” believes and must discern that from his words. (For clarity I am certainly not suggesting that Dawkins is writing just to sell books.)

    As I was writing the above, and pondering the meaning of “evidence” I wonder … if God exists (at least, a monotheistic God of some sort) then God would necessarily be in a separate category from every created, materialistic thing we see and study around us. If so, God couldn’t be studied in the same way as we study rocks, or trees, or calculus. That doesn’t mean science and philosophy and critical enquiry have no place in the discussion of religion, but rather that rigidly applying the same methodology used for studying mundane things would be in some sense deficient for studying divine things.

    emmzee

    October 29, 2006 at 6:10 am

    • I too have presented evidence at trials and consider myself a polymath. Furthermore friends of mine have helped develop the Law School Admissions test and others the Multistate Bar exam. I have quite a few friends who are lawyers.

      Of course I am not a lawyer (or why would I be bothering to post this). I have, however, served as an expert witness.

      Strong claims require strong proof.

      Kensington

      February 3, 2010 at 5:30 am

  11. […] The heading on this post is my attempt to summarise my position on religion in to a pithy soundbite – a take on “Think Global – Act Local”. I found myself fully in agreement the Isaac Asimov quote that I used here before, which says what I have been saying for years, but more effectively. Prof. Dawkins touches on this in the GD book, under “The Poverty of Agnosticism”: the way I see it, Agnosticism is acceptable as a philosophical proposition, but it just doesn’t cut the mustard in today’s world, where taking a neutral position is seen as passivity, a sign of weakness, a chink in the armour to be exploited by those with strong theocratic agendas they can enact without opposition. […]

  12. As I was writing the above, and pondering the meaning of “evidence” I wonder … if God exists (at least, a monotheistic God of some sort) then God would necessarily be in a separate category from every created, materialistic thing we see and study around us. If so, God couldn’t be studied in the same way as we study rocks, or trees, or calculus. That doesn’t mean science and philosophy and critical enquiry have no place in the discussion of religion, but rather that rigidly applying the same methodology used for studying mundane things would be in some sense deficient for studying divine things.

    I’ll take this as an admission of defeat, as it sets a bar so low that any religion we can invent would suffice as a basis of faith. Such is the creed for a con artist, too.

    Until such time as it pleases a divine being to interact with us in an empirically observable and independently verifiable way, I shall reserve judgment in professing or acknowledging that a divine being exists. The burden of proof is on the divine being (especially one styling itself as omnipotent) to show itself, and not through dubious middlemen (i.e., writings or hagiographies or prophets or baby Jesuses crying).

    I won’t question your faith–if it gives meaning to your life, then who am I to be so cruel as to remove a source of comfort for you. But my own life has satisfactory meaning without recourse to a divine being. For my part, I require firm evidence of a divine being before I would even sacrifice a moment of my time for it, let alone 10% of my income.

    Mr. Flibble

    November 27, 2006 at 5:56 pm


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