Is Atheism a Rational Stance?

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Re: Is Atheism a Rational Stance?

Postby Koa » Sun Apr 01, 2012 5:37 am UTC

Conclusive in this case would be how much sufficient evidence you would require to believe that the Koran is true in the face of doubt. It will be different for everyone, and doubt always exists. You can't prove to me that you are real and not in my imagination, and that my imagination is or is not real. Still, it would be pointless for me to argue to you that you aren't real, but that is what I feel that pro-religious arguments often do. I am an atheist, and I reject the notion that something that is unprovable and unable to be argued against means that it must be true.
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Re: Is Atheism a Rational Stance?

Postby krogoth » Sun Apr 01, 2012 5:48 am UTC

ahammel wrote:
LaserGuy wrote:While it wouldn't be conclusive evidence, if a species of aliens visited us, and were Muslims who read the Koran (in Arabic, of course) and worshiped Allah, that would be pretty damn impressive evidence for Islam being the way to go.

Really, that isn't conclusive to you? I'd convert.


Depending on how they came apon the knowledge, what if they were the ones to gave the texts to us?

Editied:give to gave
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Re: Is Atheism a Rational Stance?

Postby Aaeriele » Sun Apr 01, 2012 6:49 am UTC

morriswalters wrote:I would accept evidence to the contrary position.


Given that I'm strongly agnostic, I also don't believe contrary evidence exists. (The absence of evidence is not evidence to the contrary.)
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Re: Is Atheism a Rational Stance?

Postby Technical Ben » Sun Apr 01, 2012 8:14 am UTC

induction wrote:
Technical Ben wrote:The "magical thinking" comes from thinking "all food is apple pie" not "this particular food is apple pie", right?


Not quite. To review: Magical thinking is expecting superstitious ritual to affect reality without any causal mechanism. Like closing your eyes and holding an image of an apple pie in your mind, and believing that this will cause someone to deliver you an apple pie.


Yes, I was trying to show that. That thinking "all prayer is miraculous" or "all dream are miraculous", is magical thinking. But is asking "is this prayer miraculous" or "is this dream miraculous" actually asking an objective question? It's not a ritual in this case, it's a "I want to look at the evidence" question. It's asking "what is the causal mechanism". To deny questioning a subject, is to deny someone being allowed to apply scientific, objective or evidence based learning to it. Can we allow that? If you want to stop magical thinking, you need to stop it without invoking magical thinking. If we say "there is no God because science says so", are we not asking people to trust without "causal mechanisms"?

I was trying to steer the conversation to evidence we can look at. Like things in the universe, objects, laws, processes. I find it strange how religious people and non-religious people in this discussion are both trying to use subjective examples (dreams/visions) as proofs! Why is neither using a better proof?
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Re: Is Atheism a Rational Stance?

Postby Copper Bezel » Sun Apr 01, 2012 8:40 am UTC

Magical thinking, simply put, is thinking that if things are interrelated in one way, they're very likely to be interrelated in other ways, even if there is no evidence that this is the case. Your TV reception is bad, so you change the batteries in the remote. You know that people can be swayed when you give them gifts, so you try the same thing with the sky when you want it to rain, and you think it's just a trick you haven't quite sorted yet of giving the sky the right kind of dead animal. It's finicky, the sky. That sort of thing.

Dreams and visions are sort of a good example, because they're something that resembles reality. We can read meanings into them and expect those meanings to have a bearing on unrelated things in reality. But they're not special. We might as well be talking about the fact that not all television programs are broadcasted by God, because we know how television broadcasting works, but some might if we just keep watching. So I'm not really sure where you're going with this.
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Re: Is Atheism a Rational Stance?

Postby Koa » Sun Apr 01, 2012 11:31 am UTC

Technical Ben wrote:If we say "there is no God because science says so", are we not asking people to trust without "causal mechanisms"?

Science cannot prove explicitly that a god does not exist. It can only provide compelling objective reasons. Great claims require great evidence (similar occurrences of things we believe to be true). When you suggest that a man had walked on water at some point, I need a compelling reason to believe that it is at all possible for a man to do so. When you suggest that it was because he was powerful, I need compelling evidence to suggest that such a power is even possible, and what mechanisms were involved. I have none of this, therefore I am inclined to disbelieve in such claims just as I am inclined to disbelieve in Russel's teapot or whatever else. The amount of such claims that the average religion makes requires an astounding amount of evidence that is never presented.

The only evidence that exists is (A) a few millenia old text (depending on the religion), (B) emotions, and experiences that incite emotions, and (C) social pressures.
(A) is subject to fallibility, and even some theists would make the argument that it is indeed wrong. Even if all the things that happened in the text did happen, a book on them is not compelling evidence. It is only a very minor and insignificant evidence for all of the supernatural claims that it makes. An ancient scroll describing someone's life is much stronger evidence if it does not make great claims, and becomes increasingly less evident the more extravagant the claims. Ex. If it said some random dude vanished into thin air, you would be inclined not to believe it. If it said some random dude died, well, people die all the time, therefore it's very likely to be true.
(B) is... complicated. Atheists and theists alike know the emotions of awe, rapture, experiencing of miracles, and so on... Theists say that these emotions are god. I say they're weird emotions. If you condition someone to believe in something by telling them that an emotion they feel is evidence that your something is true, they will have an endless reason to believe it is true for as long as they are capable of feeling the emotion. This is not evidence that the something exists. Religion has claimed a monopoly on emotions that have been incredibly difficult to explain throughout civilization's development.
As for (C), does anyone here even know why "fuck" is an insulting word? Does anyone here remember how it started, or why? I believe the generation that has made it an offensive word is long since dead, and yet here we are, still afraid to say it on television or the like. Same with religion. Social pressure is not evidence either. With conditioning, you can make anyone believe anything. We are all conditioned to some degree over several different subjects just by being a part of society.

What other evidence is there apart from those three? I can't provide compelling reasons for why a god does not exist, but I can provide fairly satisfactory answers to the reasons for why a god does not. It's up to the person to decide if it's true, as it always is, in matters of science or otherwise. All I'd ask is for critical thought on the matter. It certainly feels good to think that we have a reason to exist, but that is also not evidence that it does. It feels good to think that there is someone on this planet who loves you, but that does not mean that they exist until you have clear evidence of it (they tell you, they show you). You would still have to believe it to be true, but it's the evidence part that is important.
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Re: Is Atheism a Rational Stance?

Postby Technical Ben » Sun Apr 01, 2012 11:48 am UTC

Thanks. That is it, reasoning (in this case through critical thought) is the key. But it was still dependant on the evidence you have or can continue to find.

This is why I don't see why science should be scared of anyone who has a theist belief. Why call them "non scientific" or "non rational"? Science it's self allows for out liners and changes in it's understanding. Will it allow for them only when there is no discussion of a first cause?

I have heard it said that "As the clay in the hand of the potter, so you are in my hand". Is a clay pot ordered or chaotic? Random or caused? Can a layman tell the difference between a pot (ordered from a mechanical cause, a personal one) and a rock (disordered from random interaction, an impersonal one)?

A mere layman can tell from a rock, horse or pot. Why judge him for doing so? Now if our minds are well established for recognising these things, why say "it's irrational to see a clay pot as needing an originator"? Is it rational to conclude an ordered system has an ordered source?
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Re: Is Atheism a Rational Stance?

Postby Koa » Sun Apr 01, 2012 12:28 pm UTC

Religion is not a threat to science in any way other than its development. People can believe whatever they want, whether it coincides with current scientific belief or not (yes it is a belief, but over compelling mathematical reasons that are hard and maybe impossible to object). However, the concept of religion is a threat to civilisation. If you condition someone to feel hatred toward someone, and that they should act upon it, they will. This is most apparent with Islam. People who have abandoned critical thought, or indeed, have had it stripped away from them through conditioning, are a potential threat to all people.

Now, I'm not saying that some Christian reading this is going to go berserk one day and murder their neighbor. I'm saying that the same functionality that makes them believe in their religion is the same functionality for things such as the incident of 9/11*. Should every religion be abolished because of such examples? Absolutely not. I think that awareness of the functionality involved needs to be spread to everyone. That while emotions are very important to our being, they do not give credence to reality. And that deciding when and when not to act upon our emotions is the most important understanding of our generation.

How to do this, I have no idea... I'm attempting to write a book on some of it but it's a very daunting exercise.

*Also a lot of the same functionality for racism, sexism, etc etc. I should make it clear I'm not just picking on religion when I'm making the argument, but it is the subject matter...
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Re: Is Atheism a Rational Stance?

Postby Technical Ben » Sun Apr 01, 2012 1:11 pm UTC

Sorry Koa, is that a reply to me? I'm not asking about religion.

I'm asking, why is belief in a God or first cause a problem to science? Why is belief in a first cause a problem? Why is seeing evidence (order, complexity) a problem? In my view it is not, yet what is the reaction currently? Repeatedly I see scientists who air such beliefs (based on he evidence of order or complexity or whatever) are shunned. Why is this?
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Re: Is Atheism a Rational Stance?

Postby yurell » Sun Apr 01, 2012 1:39 pm UTC

Hang on, are you saying "the Universe appears ordered on our scale and is incredibly complex, ergo God", and wondering why this isn't taken as a convincing argument?
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Re: Is Atheism a Rational Stance?

Postby Koa » Sun Apr 01, 2012 1:42 pm UTC

Well I think I answered those questions, just maybe not explicitly. It's not a problem other than the stifled development of science and our understanding of the universe. It's otherwise social pressures to ridicule, which may or may not be necessary to keeping people humble about their scientific (or unscientific, specifically common in this case) claims. I'd have to think about it.
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Re: Is Atheism a Rational Stance?

Postby morriswalters » Sun Apr 01, 2012 2:57 pm UTC

Koa wrote:However, the concept of religion is a threat to civilisation. If you condition someone to feel hatred toward someone, and that they should act upon it, they will. This is most apparent with Islam. People who have abandoned critical thought, or indeed, have had it stripped away from them through conditioning, are a potential threat to all people.


I would like you to provide a citation that Religion rather than humanity is responsible for this behavior. The argument would work like this. If Religion is responsible and there is no God, then humans must be the first cause for this behavior, because they invented it. For your statement to be plausible you would have to show that in the absence of Religion this would not occur.

Aaeriele wrote:Given that I'm strongly agnostic, I also don't believe contrary evidence exists. (The absence of evidence is not evidence to the contrary.)


Your two responses have covered the bases. Given that you don't believe that evidence exists to either support or deny, then you have nothing effective to say. Any statements to the matter can only be opinions. That takes science out of the picture, since if it can't be tested it's not worthwhile pursing as a line of investigation.
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Re: Is Atheism a Rational Stance?

Postby Koa » Sun Apr 01, 2012 3:28 pm UTC

morriswalters wrote:I would like you to provide a citation that Religion rather than humanity is responsible for this behavior. The argument would work like this. If Religion is responsible and there is no God, then humans must be the first cause for this behavior, because they invented it. For your statement to be plausible you would have to show that in the absence of Religion this would not occur.

I don't think I need a citation. Quite simply it's that their motives are religious ones that proves that religion is responsible. Is it possible that such a person would do other immoral crimes without the religious presence? Well, sure... But I think the lack of cases where someone did something immoral because they had no god says something. Who knows, though? Maybe religion is important to keeping people sane in some sense. Maybe without religion the majority of the population would commit nihilistic terrorism towards... stuff. Whatever.
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Re: Is Atheism a Rational Stance?

Postby morriswalters » Sun Apr 01, 2012 5:08 pm UTC

Koa wrote:
morriswalters wrote:I would like you to provide a citation that Religion rather than humanity is responsible for this behavior. The argument would work like this. If Religion is responsible and there is no God, then humans must be the first cause for this behavior, because they invented it. For your statement to be plausible you would have to show that in the absence of Religion this would not occur.

I don't think I need a citation. Quite simply it's that their motives are religious ones that proves that religion is responsible. Is it possible that such a person would do other immoral crimes without the religious presence? Well, sure... But I think the lack of cases where someone did something immoral because they had no god says something. Who knows, though? Maybe religion is important to keeping people sane in some sense. Maybe without religion the majority of the population would commit nihilistic terrorism towards... stuff. Whatever.


I would point out that Stalin and Mao managed to commit acts that would make a Saint puke. I suppose I could also mention the Khmer Rouge. None of whom were motivated by Religious conviction. In a practical sense Religion is a social structure. You can question the existence of a Deity, I do. However if you accept that it is not rational to believe in God then you are left with the fact that God, and the Religion which represents him, can't be responsible for those things for which it is accused, and as such the only other rational actor in this farce is the human race. This is what we do, organize into groups. Creating members and non members and finding reasons not to trust those who do belong to our group.
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Re: Is Atheism a Rational Stance?

Postby induction » Sun Apr 01, 2012 5:37 pm UTC

Technical Ben wrote:Is a clay pot ordered or chaotic? Random or caused? Can a layman tell the difference between a pot (ordered from a mechanical cause, a personal one) and a rock (disordered from random interaction, an impersonal one)?

A mere layman can tell from a rock, horse or pot. Why judge him for doing so? Now if our minds are well established for recognising these things, why say "it's irrational to see a clay pot as needing an originator"? Is it rational to conclude an ordered system has an ordered source?
...
I'm asking, why is belief in a God or first cause a problem to science? Why is belief in a first cause a problem? Why is seeing evidence (order, complexity) a problem? In my view it is not, yet what is the reaction currently? Repeatedly I see scientists who air such beliefs (based on he evidence of order or complexity or whatever) are shunned. Why is this?


Rocks are not 'disordered from random interaction', they are highly ordered from non-random laws of physics (ask a geologist). So are horses. The difference between these things and clay pots, is that clay pots were designed to fulfill a particular purpose, not that they are not random. Concluding that an ordered system has an ordered source is not the problem. The problem is concluding that the ordered source has certain characteristics (like that it loves me and punishes non-believers, for example) that are not evident from the design of the object.

The laws of physics are not likely to make clay pots without intelligent intervention, and we might decide that anything that appears to have a specific purpose must have been designed (like eyeballs). But even evidence of purpose is not evidence of a designer if you have a large complex system with feedback loops, because purely non-supernatural processes can make this happen without any need for a designer. This is the problem with the intelligent design argument. Given the laws of physics, a lot of material, and many billion years, lots of highly ordered stuff can arise without any need to imagine a designer. Some of this ordered stuff will appear to serve a particular purpose within the system.

To have evidence of a designer, we would need to find something complex, that fulfills a particular purpose, and could not have arisen from non-supernatural interactions. Humans are very complex, but many billions of years is a really long time, and we can retrace most of the steps that would result in our coming to exist without supernatural intervention.

I'm arguing about 'design' since you brought it up, but the argument for an intelligent first cause fails more quickly. What is the purpose of the universe? We can speculate, sure. But we have no reason to suppose it even has one. If we don't know what it's for, then the argument falls back to complexity, which is not evidence for a designer. We can't prove that it doesn't have a purpose, but without knowing what that purpose is, we can't use the assumption that it has one as evidence for anything.

A layperson can be forgiven for not reasoning all of this out on their own, especially in the face of strong emotional/peer pressure reasons not to question their religions. But scientists are supposed to have the intellectual tools for this, and are not supposed to be heavily influenced by emotion in the face of an empirical argument. When a scientist openly claims to believe in something for which there is no good empirical argument, we might start to question their ability to do their jobs correctly. I personally don't have a problem with this, because scientists are not rationality machines, we have outside lives and personalities. But if their religious belief starts to influence their scientific results, then I will no longer consider them to be a credible source.
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Re: Is Atheism a Rational Stance?

Postby Griffin » Sun Apr 01, 2012 6:24 pm UTC

zmic wrote:"... so I'll just ignore the most amazing experience I've ever had, and get on with my life as if it never happened. In fact, I'll think I'll have a piece of apple pie."


No, you acknowledge the amazing experience, appreciate it, but do not use it as an excuse to believe things you want to believe without evidence. You know you had an experience, you know it was amazing - know, take a minute, and realize there are large parts about it you don't know.

Perhaps you could try to replicate it. Perhaps you could use it in conversation. Think back to it at night to calm your mind. Try to share the experience with others. Analyze it and break it down, and see what, if anything, you can learn about yourself from it.

All of these are rational actions. None of them require ignoring the most amazing experience you've ever had.

But none of them require you to believe it was representative of external reality. None of them require you to believe it was a message from some specific deity. None of them require you to make multiple unjustified leaps, to ignore all contrary evidence, to believe things simply because you /want/ to, because something /important/ happened, because the sort of attitude you're presenting here - "It was amazing therefore is must be externally significant."

That sort of... arrogance, that pretentiousness, that willingness to disregard contrary evidence in favour of what you WANT to believe is, in my mind... it's just horrible.

If it was really such an amazing experience, you wouldn't /need/ any more than that, now would you?
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Re: Is Atheism a Rational Stance?

Postby Technical Ben » Sun Apr 01, 2012 6:36 pm UTC

Koa wrote:I don't think I need a citation.
Spoiler:
Quite simply it's that their motives are religious ones that proves that religion is responsible. Is it possible that such a person would do other immoral crimes without the religious presence? Well, sure... But I think the lack of cases where someone did something immoral because they had no god says something. Who knows, though? Maybe religion is important to keeping people sane in some sense. Maybe without religion the majority of the population would commit nihilistic terrorism towards... stuff. Whatever.


This is where I am exasperated. I am fine with this, but you must allow the opposition to post their theories "without citation" if that is considered rational thinking. To avoid people coming to the wrong conclusion, we have to work checking the evidence, not skipping it. [Edit. at least we do know of a counter example of the evidence now. As both sides see crime etc, can we agree crime is not an effect caused by either?]

Further, can I ask, does religion or belief in a God stifle science? Is one not a scientific conclusion ("there is/is not a piece of evidence") and one a system of control ("you do what we say")?

Is it rational to throw out the baby with the bathwater?

Thanks Induction. I've pondered over those thoughts many times. I ask though, can we distinguish between a car and a rock? What is the distinguishing factor? How can we say "we know rocks are natural, but cars made by personages"? Could I not argue that cars are natural?
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Re: Is Atheism a Rational Stance?

Postby qetzal » Sun Apr 01, 2012 7:04 pm UTC

Technical Ben wrote:I ask though, can we distinguish between a car and a rock? What is the distinguishing factor? How can we say "we know rocks are natural, but cars made by personages"? Could I not argue that cars are natural?


The distinguishing factor is that we have independent knowledge of cars' designers.

(edited to fix quote tags)
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Re: Is Atheism a Rational Stance?

Postby induction » Sun Apr 01, 2012 7:30 pm UTC

Technical Ben wrote:Thanks Induction. I've pondered over those thoughts many times. I ask though, can we distinguish between a car and a rock? What is the distinguishing factor? How can we say "we know rocks are natural, but cars made by personages"? Could I not argue that cars are natural?


Yes, I think you can say that cars are natural, at least by one definition. 'Natural' sometimes means 'not made by humans' or something similar, and other times it means 'not supernatural' meaning does not violate the laws of physics. Cars are natural by the second definition, but not by the first. I try to avoid using this word in the context of any argument because it has too many definitions, some of which are unclear. For example, it means something else (not sure what, exactly) when it gets used for homophobic, racist, or sexist purposes (ie 'That behavior is not natural').

Of course cars are designed for a particular purpose by people we can talk to, so we have plenty of evidence for an intelligent designer, in this case.
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Re: Is Atheism a Rational Stance?

Postby Griffin » Sun Apr 01, 2012 7:40 pm UTC

We believe cars are artificial, (designed, built with intent) because we have evidence of people building them, no evidence of nature managing it without human intervention (And remember: Absence of Evidence is Evidence of Absence), and even less of nature developing things that work, look, and function the way we consider cars to function because, barring intermediaries such as ourselves or some other intelligent species, it lacks the ability to do so.

Cars ARE natural, really, it's just that humans are the tools Nature uses to create them. It depends on what sort of "natural" you're using here. Edit: Like mentioned by Induction.

Rocks are usually 'natural', but can also be artificial. These things are all definitional - we observe certain properties, and stick things in those categories. Most of it isn't based on any real truth but rather on categorical usefulness.

People generally use natural and artificial only when referring to items or classes of items that need to be compared to some other class of items, when there's a strong correlation between "naturalness" or "artificialness" and some other property.

I don't really see where this is going though.

Further, can I ask, does religion or belief in a God stifle science?

Historically? Yes. In many ways - both institutional and individual. It's not inherent - Non-denominational Deist beliefs are pretty unlikely to influence scientific research, for example. But belief in god is only, exceptionally rarely, /just/ a belief in god, because its common causes are not the sort of things that are exclusively limited to "god exists".

And most of the routes people find to god, yes, are least somewhat damaging to science (and rational thought) through their actions on their members and those outside their group, or overtly hostile to science.

The real problem tends not to be a belief in god, which while rarely rational can often be somewhat reasonable, (as in, the action of choosing to believe can be rational even if the belief is not). The problem tends to come more in the form of believing in one particular set of god-granted moral scriptures, which are far far FAR more irrational to believe in than simply the existence of a god, and almost always hostile to science in part or in whole.
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Re: Is Atheism a Rational Stance?

Postby morriswalters » Sun Apr 01, 2012 8:01 pm UTC

LaserGuy wrote:
morriswalters wrote:What would be acceptable evidence?


Strictly speaking, none of these pieces of data are, in fact, sufficient to establish that there is a God as described by most religious. None of these would rule the possibility, for example, that the event is caused by an extremely advanced alien civilization that just wants to mess with us.


So their is no evidence either pro or con that would settle it. OK so we've ruled out science to answer the question. Yet the question exists. So we turn to Philosophy and Logic to help us. The principle of rationality as described in the posts here demands evidence to support the process of deciding the answer.

I pose a question. How would that principal serve us in deciding if it is rational to allow Iran to develop a nuclear device? The US, for instance, would accept no limits on their ability to access any technology no matter how destabilizing. Since in theory Iran is no different than the US what does skepticism and the principle of rational decision making suggest? What evidence supports it and how should we interpret it? The outcome requires data that is not, and will not be available until after the decision must be made. That is, real intentions would only be known when and if the device existed and was used. While not strictly analogous to the question at hand it is fairly close.
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Re: Is Atheism a Rational Stance?

Postby Technical Ben » Sun Apr 01, 2012 8:27 pm UTC

qetzal wrote:
Spoiler:
Technical Ben wrote:I ask though, can we distinguish between a car and a rock? What is the distinguishing factor? How can we say "we know rocks are natural, but cars made by personages"? Could I not argue that cars are natural?


The distinguishing factor is that we have independent knowledge of cars' designers.

(edited to fix quote tags)


Thanks qetzal. Is the opinion then that evidence does not infer any relations? Is that practised in all walks of reasoning and science?

Is the answer "we see people making cars"? In that case "people" is just a definition of "car maker". Hence a first cause or God not being problematic to me. Nor to science or rational thinking. "I see order/laws/mechanical processes making the universe".

Thanks Induction for your reply. I have a problem for you though. It's not helpful for your argument to define cars as produced by a "natural process". Why? If we do so, we are defining "humans" as a natural process. What quality do humans have? They are "persons". So, we have just defined persons as a natural process. Then why argue that God (a personal god in this case) is "not a natural process"? Have we not just allowed personages to exist as natural processes?

So would you agree Induction, we can only check the evidence? We cannot say "this evidence is natural/not natural"? We can only say "this is the evidence". I ask, is the evidence an example of order or disorder?
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Re: Is Atheism a Rational Stance?

Postby qetzal » Sun Apr 01, 2012 8:45 pm UTC

@Technical Ben

It's not that we can't or shouldn't try to infer relatiohships. It's that it's easier to make such inferences when you already know both members (cars and human car designers) exist.

Furthermore, it's one thing to see (apparent) order and causality in the universe and infer from that some 'first cause' as a source of that order. It's quite another to infer an omnipotent personal god that knows and cares about you specifically. The former is at least arguably rational (supposing it's not contradicted by other evidence), but very few people make that argument. Mostly I see people trying to argue the latter, but that's not rational. The evidence (possible first cause) doesn't support the conclusion (personal god).
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Re: Is Atheism a Rational Stance?

Postby induction » Sun Apr 01, 2012 9:02 pm UTC

Technical Ben wrote:It's not helpful for your argument to define cars as produced by a "natural process". Why? If we do so, we are defining "humans" as a natural process. What quality do humans have? They are "persons". So, we have just defined persons as a natural process. Then why argue that God (a personal god in this case) is "not a natural process"? Have we not just allowed personages to exist as natural processes?

So would you agree Induction, we can only check the evidence? We cannot say "this evidence is natural/not natural"? We can only say "this is the evidence". I ask, is the evidence an example of order or disorder?


This is exactly why I don't use the word 'natural' in these kinds of arguments. I'm not sure what the claim that 'God is not a natural process' means here. One way to not be a natural process is to not exist. Another way is to violate the laws of physics. If such a violation is done in a systematic way, it's not necessarily a 'violation' as much as a counterexample, which means that our known laws of physics are incomplete or incorrect, and should be adjusted. This would mean God is not supernatural, and would make God subject to empirical observations, and would make a scientific study of God possible. If, on the other hand, we have evidence for violations of physical law that are not systematic, then we have evidence for the supernatural. As far as I know, we have no evidence for either of these cases. Defining God as natural or not natural does not by itself influence our belief in his existence. Unicorns (or gnomes, the loch ness monster, whatever) could be defined as natural, but that doesn't mean they exist.

I'm not sure what you mean by the order or disorder part. Neither of those things would be evidence of God.

I'm not sure if I answered your question. If not, could you rephrase it without using the word 'natural'?
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Re: Is Atheism a Rational Stance?

Postby Technical Ben » Sun Apr 01, 2012 10:19 pm UTC

Thanks. Your giving me a much better explanation for me to look at.

I still don't see where the "but God (a first cause) is not allowed to be personal" argument comes from science. Science recognises people are "personages". This works for what ever type of rational thought or scientific definition we can use. We can define "people", then compare other things to see if they are the same. If we recognise one type people, can we forbid the existence of another? We can look at the evidence though. Basically, I'm saying "the evidence shows order (or specific examples I see only people able to make), why force me to accept a disordered source (like random interactions) as the production of the evidence?" What evidence? Life, information, thought, the things only persons can express and examine. What is the source of these things?

Thanks for bearing with me while I take it a step at a time. To know what type of first cause we would have, we can look at the evidence. What types of causes do we see, how do they differ? Can we infer anything from evidence as to the things that produce them? I hope it shows so far that at least a "first cause" is rational. If that is the case, should we not accept the evidence, and then compare our concept of God to it? Then only accept concepts that fit the evidence.

We see something through scientific evidence, then we get more data, examine it closer and get a better picture or understanding. We can do this for things that we cannot see, or no longer "exist" (say historical events). So, why say we cannot do the same to a first cause or God? Is it rational to allow people to look for evidence and see if it points to an ordered or intelligent cause?

The most rational thing we can do is look at the evidence. Right?
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Re: Is Atheism a Rational Stance?

Postby Greyarcher » Mon Apr 02, 2012 12:12 am UTC

A problem, Technical Ben. The evidence for a god seems to be primarily in the areas where we are ignorant and we can use that god as an explanation. Compare and contrast to the gods that moved the sun across the sky, influenced the harvest, or created the planet like this and that. It seems like there's a dubious underlying method there.

I'd say the ability of a concept to explain some phenomenon does not mean we should take the phenomenon as evidence for that concept. I see this as similar to the correlation/causation distinction (e.g. Explanation is not evidence). We need another way to pin the hypothetical concept down (which is why some people bring up science or falsifiability in discussions like these). Otherwise the concept is just an exercise of our imagination in areas that we're still ignorant.

I'd say it's a rather old and discredited concept too when we consider all the gods that people have thought up to explain natural phenomena.
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Re: Is Atheism a Rational Stance?

Postby qetzal » Mon Apr 02, 2012 2:23 am UTC

The argument is not that a first cause can't be personal. The argument is that even if there is/was a first cause, which is far from a given, there's no evidence to suggest that a first cause implies or is equivalent to a personal god.
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Re: Is Atheism a Rational Stance?

Postby LaserGuy » Mon Apr 02, 2012 3:07 am UTC

morriswalters wrote:
LaserGuy wrote:
morriswalters wrote:What would be acceptable evidence?


Strictly speaking, none of these pieces of data are, in fact, sufficient to establish that there is a God as described by most religious. None of these would rule the possibility, for example, that the event is caused by an extremely advanced alien civilization that just wants to mess with us.


So their is no evidence either pro or con that would settle it. OK so we've ruled out science to answer the question. Yet the question exists. So we turn to Philosophy and Logic to help us. The principle of rationality as described in the posts here demands evidence to support the process of deciding the answer.


Settle it? Probably not decisively, simply because we don't have a good understanding of what the properties of a supernatural being should look like. The "intelligent alien" problem essentially boils down to the problem that, to quote to the old adage: Sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. I would add to this that sufficiently advanced technology therefore indistinguishable from God. But again, the examples that I listed would at least be good evidence toward something. I mean seriously, you can't prove conclusively that you exist, or that anything else does. Saying that, well, science is out because it can't settle the question conclusively is silly. Science always deals in probabilities and models; we aren't absolutely certain of anything in science. But that standard of evidence isn't necessary for science to function. If we're 99% confident that something is true, that's probably good enough to tentatively assume it is true and see where it goes (and many experiments have much, much higher confidence levels than this, I would add). If it turns out that we're wrong, fine, then we refine our assumptions and try again. Science is never settled. We are continually refining our understanding to try to get closer to the truth as we are able to understand. It may not be as desirable to have to say "We don't know" or "We're not sure, but our best guess is this...", as it is to say "The answer is God" but making shit up isn't going to get you any closer to what's really going on.

morriswalters wrote:I pose a question. How would that principal serve us in deciding if it is rational to allow Iran to develop a nuclear device? The US, for instance, would accept no limits on their ability to access any technology no matter how destabilizing. Since in theory Iran is no different than the US what does skepticism and the principle of rational decision making suggest? What evidence supports it and how should we interpret it? The outcome requires data that is not, and will not be available until after the decision must be made. That is, real intentions would only be known when and if the device existed and was used. While not strictly analogous to the question at hand it is fairly close.


Without going into this in too much detail, this is basically a cost-benefit problem. You look at what evidence you have that Iran is building a nuclear weapon. You look at what evidence you have that Iran is planning on using it. You try to figure out if they're willing to risk a nuclear retaliation from the United States or Israel were they to use it. You look at what options might be on the table, and try to figure out how much each one is likely to cost, and how likely they are to succeed, both in the short term and in the long term. You balance the probabilities and choose a course of action that attempts to maximize the probability of the most desirable outcome, and minimize the probability of the least desirable outcome. You then make a few contingency plans in case things go to hell. I don't think there is a right answer. I don't know if there is necessarily a wrong answer either, although I think some answers are probably more wrong than others. You don't have complete or perfect information, so you do the best with what you have.
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Re: Is Atheism a Rational Stance?

Postby Griffin » Mon Apr 02, 2012 4:39 am UTC

Ben, its not irrational to think a first cause is likely (though considering the evidence, I don't think it would be safe to argue it that strong). It's not even irrational, really, to call it god (though its a bit obfuscating in general conversation, if thats all god is, so you might want to avoid calling it that around others for eminently practical reasons. And also because the term comes with a LOT of additional psychological and sociolinguistic baggae). As I said, Deists, while not, perhaps, firmly in the realm of the rational, don't really stray much further than your average person.

The problems only really start when you start saying one of the various mythological gods are that first cause, or when they start assigning it all sorts of humanlike quality, or start assuming the know or understand some part of its nature. That's the leap of faith, the irrational step, that many "first cause" people tend to take sooner or later (usually before they start arguing about first causes, truth be told). If you can avoid that bit, your belief in a creator/first cause is only really irrational if you go to the extremes, or when you start prescribing atributes you want this creator to have.

This also isn't really the sort of God that atheists are generally busy rejecting, mind you.
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Re: Is Atheism a Rational Stance?

Postby Technical Ben » Mon Apr 02, 2012 8:26 am UTC

I agree that mythical gods are irrational concepts. But what if those same people were told that the moon "is there because of the processes of gravity"? They could just as easily say to learning Newtonian mechanics "I don't want to learn any further, I know gravity put it there". If they say "I don't want to learn any further, God put it there", what is the cause of irrational thought there? Then who is at fault, the natural process or the person? Which one do we blame for irrational thought?

I've heard the expression "magnets did it" in replace to "magic did it". Is it the fault of magnets? Are magnets an excuse for natural processes now? A "magnet of the gaps"? Should we now avoid looking at anything that proves magnets exist? No, it's not the fault of magnetism but of people looking for excuses! Why allow them to redefine magnets to mean magic? Why allow the same to happen to God or a first cause?
(This can be done for any object, the "magical thinking" can be applied to apple pies, magnets or anything. It proves the magical thinking wrong, not the observed objects or processes.)

I thought one of the names of a God was "I am that I am". Or other translations are similar to "He Causes to Become". Is that not asking for just one assumption (a first cause, or observed cause)? The rest would be open to the evidence.

Why is it considered irrational to think we can infer the "nature" of a first cause? If we can look at the planets, and consider the "nature" of their construction (via supernova, condensation of matter into rocks etc), why can we not consider the process that made all observable things?

I hope this is not off topic, in asking "is atheism a rational stance" I see just as strong a question to "is theism a rational stance". Thanks.
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Re: Is Atheism a Rational Stance?

Postby morriswalters » Mon Apr 02, 2012 9:32 am UTC

@LaserGuy

Thanks for the answer. I think I drove off a cliff over reaching to make a point. However you at least got a whiff of the point I was trying to convey.
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Re: Is Atheism a Rational Stance?

Postby DSenette » Mon Apr 02, 2012 12:27 pm UTC

Technical Ben wrote:
setzer777 wrote:Unlike the telephone there's not even a theoretical mechanism for prayer to serve as communication (let alone one that makes falsifiable predictions). Typically if you ask what the mechanism is for God to read thoughts, the answer is "God can do anything" - that's magic.


Thanks, but that's not the definition I was just given (and argued previously) for "magical thinking". Keeping it on topic, as it's an opposite of rational thinking, can I have help understanding the term?

"Magical thinking is causal reasoning that looks for correlation between acts or utterances and certain events."

Note, it's not "magic" that this phrase relates to, but "looking for correlation between acts" etc. I'm still a bit lost on what the implications of that are. Do we throw out causality? Or just poor attempts at finding causality? I'm especially confused at Setzer's comment, as I though their definition is the one I agreed with earlier.

Oh, also Dsenette, I have not asked about religion. The questions I ask have always been about first causes or a personified God. I will say again, I do not agree with religion. :) But that does not mean I will get to that conclusion irrationally. So, why does consideration of a first cause require "magical thinking"? Then I can be happy to look at any rational aspects or implications of a first cause.

Technical Ben wrote:Ok. Thanks Griffin. I totally agree with and try to follow to my best, that advice. It's the reason I am so hard on science, to make sure it does not do those things, the things religion, does. :)

To clarify to DSenette what I classify as a first cause. It would be, "what the evidence points to as being the cause". I'm not saying that as some sort of tautology. I'm looking at evidence, seeing it requires a cause or points to a requirement or past event. Then, when finding that requirement or event, having no further requirements required or needed.

Like saying "I am looking for my first ancestor". When I have no further ancestors, I have the first one. I am not deciding ahead of time who (or what in the other case) the ancestor is. I accept whomever (or whatever) they turn out to be when I find the evidence on them.

In this case we have a cause. Perhaps my existence, or that of the universe. When I say "cause" I mean it in the most objective sense. A mechanism, an event we consider progressive. A logical step.

you're still talking about a personified first cause as far as i can tell.

something that made a decision to put some things into action. there is absolutely no evidence for that.

the only possible evidence for "first cause" of any kind that actually does exist, is that we can observe that things that happen typically have a preceding thing that relates to the next thing. those things that happen are never actually sentient or complicite in the next thing though. it can even be argued about ANY of our physical actions. if you pick up a thing off a table, technically you're asking your arm to pick up the thing, but in reality you're not lifting the item with your brain or by your will.

so suggesting that there's any evidence for a sentient, conscious, intentional first cause is silly. there are VERY VERY few things that actually are caused by sentience, consciousness, or intention.

morriswalters wrote:
DSenette wrote:
Spoiler:
morriswalters wrote:
Griffin wrote:Religion, in general, and you (in particular), seem to be espousing it as a reasonable approach to interacting with the world, in many ways as a primary approach. And that is not, ever, rational.


Yup, at least for those who desire it. Of course there are undesirable side effects, but that is in the nature of humans and would exist in spite of Religion. I point out that a substantial majority of people describe themselves as Religious and the world totters right along. Experiments in societies to stamp out Religion have been less than successful. Demographics and studies tend to show Atheists as more moderate and less closed minded, and it also closely follows education and intelligence. Unfortunately they also have no unifying social structure so there is no value in identifying oneself as such. And as such the social power they have is diffuse. And it shows in peoples opinions about them.

the unifying structure is that we're humans. and we all try our damnedest to remember that.

there may be no value to YOU, or other christians (except that it throws up some "evangelize" or "hate the shit out of that guy" flags in their brains so they don't have to assume i'm drinking their koolade.) but saying there's no value to identifying yourself as an atheist is like saying there's no value to identifying yourself as a member of any other group.


I would certainly like to. However I have no openly Atheistic politicians in my corner, either local or national. No web of business relationships of like minded people. In point of fact outside of academia they are pretty much a non force. Which doesn't keep me from being an Atheist but reminds me in a very pointed fashion that I stand by myself and always have. Christians "magical thinking" does them no harm and garners them lots of benefits. If I were the type who worried too much about what pricks think I would have become a surface Christian, you know the type who goes to church to reap the significant rewards of being part of that culture but sleeps during the sermons and only pays lip service to the finer points. Pfui!!!!.

ah yes, the "stuff isn't the way i'd like it to be so i'm not going to even attempt to be part of the solution to that problem" argument. i really love how useless you are for everyone else.

if you think you stand by yourself then you'll always do so. which is fine for you, but don't try to use it as an argument against a way of life that you claim to embrace already. it's silly.

also, if you think christian's magical thinking does no harm to anyone, then you're living in a dream world.
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Re: Is Atheism a Rational Stance?

Postby Technical Ben » Mon Apr 02, 2012 2:03 pm UTC

DSenette, can you clarify, are you saying it is, or is not a natural process for a person to lift their arm?
I can say "people make cars", this does not refer to a person being natural or special. My reference to people is just to people as they are observed. I could say "a robot manufactured the car". In which case I'm relating to an observed automated process. What about "random events caused the car to crash"? Can I state "random events created the car?" I could, if I can observe them to be random, right? But what if I observe them to be ordered?

Would it be rational for me to conclude cars are made by random events? They could have leading events that are random, but the point between "no car -> car" involves a person (where the arrow is, I guess). The "no universe -> universe" involves a first cause. What differences can we see between the wider universe, and the "car/human" system?
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Re: Is Atheism a Rational Stance?

Postby qetzal » Mon Apr 02, 2012 2:16 pm UTC

Technical Ben wrote:Why is it considered irrational to think we can infer the "nature" of a first cause? If we can look at the planets, and consider the "nature" of their construction (via supernova, condensation of matter into rocks etc), why can we not consider the process that made all observable things?


You're still missing the point. It's NOT irrational to consider a possible first cause. It's NOT irrational to try to infer the likely nature of such a first cause. It IS irrational to say that a personal god must have been the first cause.

I'll try an analogy. If my car disappears from its parking space, it's rational for me to infer that something caused it to disappear. It's not rational for me to infer that my car was stolen by a transport helicopter and given to the Princess of Madagascar as a St. Patrick's day present.
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Re: Is Atheism a Rational Stance?

Postby DSenette » Mon Apr 02, 2012 2:32 pm UTC

Technical Ben wrote:DSenette, can you clarify, are you saying it is, or is not a natural process for a person to lift their arm?
I can say "people make cars", this does not refer to a person being natural or special. My reference to people is just to people as they are observed. I could say "a robot manufactured the car". In which case I'm relating to an observed automated process. What about "random events caused the car to crash"? Can I state "random events created the car?" I could, if I can observe them to be random, right? But what if I observe them to be ordered?

Would it be rational for me to conclude cars are made by random events? They could have leading events that are random, but the point between "no car -> car" involves a person (where the arrow is, I guess). The "no universe -> universe" involves a first cause. What differences can we see between the wider universe, and the "car/human" system?

qetzal wrote:
Technical Ben wrote:Why is it considered irrational to think we can infer the "nature" of a first cause? If we can look at the planets, and consider the "nature" of their construction (via supernova, condensation of matter into rocks etc), why can we not consider the process that made all observable things?


You're still missing the point. It's NOT irrational to consider a possible first cause. It's NOT irrational to try to infer the likely nature of such a first cause. It IS irrational to say that a personal god must have been the first cause.

I'll try an analogy. If my car disappears from its parking space, it's rational for me to infer that something caused it to disappear. It's not rational for me to infer that my car was stolen by a transport helicopter and given to the Princess of Madagascar as a St. Patrick's day present.
^this

the difference between no car > car and no universe > universe is that it's illogical and irrational to assume that whatever the first cause of the universe is had a mind, was conscious or sentient, and made an active decision to make the universe.

it's perfectly rational to try to come up with some kind of first cause for nature, as long as that first cause is actually based on observable evidence and not conjecture (the big bang is currently the best idea that has any measurable evidence to my knowledge. speculating about anything before the big bang, that has no evidence is irrational. even the idea of suggesting that god maybe, might have, possibly lit the fuse. that's irrational because there's no evidence, anywhere for god existing to light the fuse to begin with {besides the facts that all definitions of the type of god that would be suggested in this scenario require you to assume that this god has no first cause, since he is the first cause, and you're already suggesting that everything has a first cause, so this is the only one thing that doesn't have a first cause, unless god does have a first cause, then that first cause must have a first cause})
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Re: Is Atheism a Rational Stance?

Postby Technical Ben » Mon Apr 02, 2012 2:34 pm UTC

I'd be irrational to claim that too! :D Would it be equally as irrational to say the same was the cause of it appearing in my parking space, right?

Any example of a rational reason would depend on evidence. If I saw that there was evidence to suggest A, B or C, then what? If there are tire treads, or foot prints? So, I am not arguing for a theory but asking about the evidence, "What does the evidence is the manufacturer of my car?" Currently I see order and complexity in the universe. I also see order and complexity in humans, cars, etc. I don't see the same level of complexity or order in all things though. I can point to the order and complexity of things that humans are involved in, verses say the things stars, planets or clay is involved in.

We know what personages look like, what they do and create, because we can point to a person and go "that is one". If people make complex things, why is it so irrational to say "complex things can be made by either people, or something else"? (note there is no transport helicopter in this line of thought, no Princess of Madagascar, or St. Patrick's day present. Have I made one of those irrational claims?)

[edit]
Just to confirm Dsenette I am not claiming anything has a cause. In fact, I'm assuming nothing has a cause. So, the rational line of thought from that is "assume nothing has a cause (causality), look at the evidence, does it show causality?"
Then from the evidence, we can see that the observable universe has a "A -> B" or caused state. We can currently look as far back as the big bang or the most densest part of it. So until I see a claim that this is an uncaused event, I can only assume the event before it was uncaused (my assumption is nothing is caused, unless the evidence says so). It would be fine in this system for a first cause to require nothing. Only things after that would require anything (specifically either mechanical action, natural processes or a "cause" to exist).
Last edited by Technical Ben on Mon Apr 02, 2012 2:38 pm UTC, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Is Atheism a Rational Stance?

Postby DSenette » Mon Apr 02, 2012 2:38 pm UTC

also, clarification (possibly, the whole idea is solopistic and shitty, but still) on the "moving arms" and crap.

with regards to the idea of first cause (as far as i can understand it), you deciding to lift an object can't really be the item that's first cause of the item being lifted because your mind isn't lifting anything. your hand is lifting it, the motion of your arm moving upwards is the first cause of the object being lifted from the perspective of the item being lifted.
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Re: Is Atheism a Rational Stance?

Postby LaserGuy » Mon Apr 02, 2012 2:46 pm UTC

Technical Ben wrote:Then from the evidence, we can see that the observable universe has a "A -> B" or caused state. We can currently look as far back as the big bang or the most densest part of it. So until I see a claim that this is an uncaused event, I can only assume the event before it was uncaused (my assumption is nothing is caused, unless the evidence says so). It would be fine in this system for a first cause to require nothing. Only things after that would require anything (specifically either mechanical action, natural processes or a "cause" to exist).


If you are assuming that nothing is caused without the evidence of something causing it, then why would you assume that the universe has a cause? And of course, this argument always begs the question: if you assume that the universe was caused by something, on what grounds can you assume that the thing that caused the universe was not?

There is also the complicating factor that there are known events in the universe that don't have a cause.
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Re: Is Atheism a Rational Stance?

Postby Technical Ben » Mon Apr 02, 2012 3:09 pm UTC

Thanks for some addition to the arm example you gave. I'm not saying people are the first cause to lifting their arms. But that they are a subset of "causes". Just like natural processes are causes (in fact, people are classed as natural processes by some definitions and lines of reasoning).

Do my arms raise via ordered constructs? Or by random interactions? If they are ordered, what name do we give to the order? I would say "person" or perhaps "brain" or "human". What do we call ordered interactions?

Is it rational to give a set of ordered interactions that are similar, similar names?

LaserGuy. I would only then state the universe is caused if the evidence says so. I currently see the universe as having a mechanical (or natural) action required to get it to the state it is today. Without going into detail, this is what things like expansion, the big bang, atomic decay etc suggest. They say "A then A+B then A+B+C" etc. Everything I view requires a cause, but the only thing left is that which I cannot view. So as I have assumed "nothing has a cause unless I observe it to be" I am left with the unobserved as qualifying for an uncaused state. This is only my reasoning on the evidence mind, that I see the need for another descriptor that is not available in description of "universe".

So, do I need to describe a state "no universe then universe" or "universe then universe"? I'd have trouble with the second, because it does not describe an active universe. This universe has action in it, right? Would it be reasonable to accept a first cause on this?
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Re: Is Atheism a Rational Stance?

Postby induction » Mon Apr 02, 2012 3:11 pm UTC

Technical Ben wrote:I thought one of the names of a God was "I am that I am". Or other translations are similar to "He Causes to Become". Is that not asking for just one assumption (a first cause, or observed cause)? The rest would be open to the evidence.

That's not just one assumption, that's quite a lot of assumptions: 1. There is a first cause, 2. This first cause cares about me, 3-n. This first cause has all of the other n-2 attributes that are associated with the Christian (or whatever) God.

And these are huge assumptions that we can't test or verify in any way. They make no particular predictions, so there's no way we can ever tell if they're wrong. We try to limit our assumptions to things that are not controversial, unless those controversial assumptions imply definite, testable predictions that are not also implied by other, non-controversial assumptions, that we can then measure. (See special relativity for a good example, or magnetism for that matter.) If you can't provide any evidence that this assumption is true, then you are simply assuming what you are trying to prove.

If people make complex things, why is it so irrational to say "complex things can be made by either people, or something else"? (note there is no transport helicopter in this line of thought, no Princess of Madagascar, or St. Patrick's day present. Have I made one of those irrational claims?)


It's not irrational to say that complex things can be made by either people or something else. We say that all the time. But the 'something else' we invoke is the laws of physics, and great amounts of time, both of which we have independent evidence for. We have lots of reasons to believe these things exist, but no reason to believe that this 'something else' is the God of Abraham (or whoever, your argument could apply just as easily to Zeus, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster). So asserting that God did anything is much less reasonable that invoking transport helicopters, princesses, and St. Patrick's day presents, all of which are known to exist.

Edit:
So, do I need to describe a state "no universe then universe" or "universe then universe"? I'd have trouble with the second, because it does not describe an active universe. This universe has action in it, right? Would it be reasonable to accept a first cause on this?


A time-infinite, dynamic universe is no less logical a possibility than one that begins at some point. In other words, "universe then universe ... does not describe an active universe," is not necessarily true. Anyway, it is reasonable to posit a possible first cause, but accepting it as true is no more than assumption at this point.
Last edited by induction on Mon Apr 02, 2012 3:21 pm UTC, edited 1 time in total.
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