Tuesday, March 6, 2012

It doesn't work that way? Oh, really?

In discussions with christian believers, a huge sticking point for me is the absence of credible evidence for the "god hypothesis" (GH).  Atheism is not necessarily a belief system, it's the absence of belief.  This point is one that many religious believers have considerable difficulty understanding - it takes no belief to be an atheist - only the absence of belief in a supernatural deity.

When atheists challenge the beliefs of believers, the believers often respond with something along the lines of "We may not be able to prove to you that god exists, but you can't prove that he doesn't exist!"  This is a classic misunderstanding of atheism:  that we can offer no absolute proof of the nonexistence of god doesn't require us logically to believe in that deity's existence.  Many atheists acknowledge that we can't produce such a proof.  We accept that since we can't do so, others logically can choose to believe their god exists.  Most atheists are not out to convert believers to non-believers, since experience suggests that, for the most part, such efforts are fruitless.  Rather, we simply want to point out the irrationality of most religious beliefs and to explain why we choose not to buy into them.  Moreover, we consider the burden of proof logically is on the believer, not the disbeliever! 

And we expect that believers shouldn't push their beliefs into the lives of those who don't accept those beliefs.  I'll stop posting my opinions when believers stop posting theirs.

There are two aspects to freethinking that are characteristic of atheists: 

1.  Arguments on behalf of some idea should be rational.  They need to follow the rules of logic.  They need to make sense.  They need to be as free as possible of unfounded speculation.  They should encompass no contradictions.
2.  Arguments should be supported by evidence, if possible.  When considering an idea, a rational analysis of any idea based on a rational argument often leads to logical expectations that can be tested by collecting evidence and comparing that evidence to those expectations.  If that evidence is consistent with some hypothesis, then it's plausible to accept that hypothesis provisionally, until new evidence is found that contradicts the hypothesis.  This is, in a nutshell, the scientific method.

One aspect of the GH is that it usually involves such things as infinite knowledge, infinite power, and infinite benevolence.  When considering such infinities, many believers fail to appreciate the potential for logical traps and pitfalls when dealing with infinities, such as the classic question "Can god create an object he can't move?"  These sorts of problems are brushed aside as sophistry by believer apologists, but I find them a challenge to the logic of most believers.  It's the infinite nature of these attributes that's troublesome for non-believers, whereas believers seem all too willing to accept these assumptions with little more than perhaps a twinge of doubt.  Those infinities lead necessarily to contradictions that demonstrate the irrational (and, therefore, implausible) nature of the GH as expressed by christian believers.

The "evidence" that atheists can marshal to bolster their disbelief is, not coincidentally, an absence of evidence on behalf of the GH.  An absence of evidence makes it logically consistent to declare an absence of belief!  If the putative deity were demonstrating its existence by its actions every day so that everyone on Earth could see the evidence for themselves, then we'd have no need for the tens of thousands of religious denominations that exist today.  That hypothetical deity would be making its needs and concerns known directly to all of us on a daily basis.  Belief would not require faith at all - rather, it would be a demonstrable reality.  Belief would be rational, and based on routine experience.  The absence of that everyday evidence is a strong argument in favor of disbelief.  Why would an omnibenevolent, omniscient, and omnipotent being, creator of the universe and all within it, choose to make it so difficult to believe in that being?  What would be the point, anyway?  Why, in its infinite benevolence, would it create humans only to subject them to eternal torment?  Such a deity would be considered criminally psychotic if it were human!

Instead, we're told "It doesn't work that way.  Our deity has no wish to make it easy to believe in him!  He wants us simply to accept the idea of his existence on faith alone!  Faith is the test we have to pass!"  Fine - if that's what you believe, it conveniently allows you to "apologize" for the utter lack of evidence supporting your beliefs.  The humans who created your belief system made it possible - no, mandatory! - to explain away any absence of compelling evidence; to rationalize it by making belief in the absence of evidence a virtue, instead of an unfulfilled requirement for acceptance.  Actual controlled, scientific tests of the efficacy of intercessory prayer, for example, have failed to show any beneficial effect (and, in some cases, have shown some tendency toward negative effects!).  These tests are dismissed by apologists, saying something like "Our god doesn't work that way!  If he actually answered all prayers (as promised in the bible, by the way), there would be clear evidence of his existence!"  So I'm supposed to accept that kind of nonsense?  If your god 'doesn't work that way' so as to provide unambiguous reasons to believe in him, then the GH doesn't work for me!  The complete and utter absence of any credible evidence on behalf of the GH is enough for me to choose disbelief in the GH.  I haven't "proven" the non-existence of your deity, but I've challenged you to accept the burden of proof to convince me otherwise.  You offer no credible evidence to convince me and seem to be arguing that this actually makes logical sense!  No - it fails utterly to make any sense.   I've stated what evidence it would require to convince me of validity of the GH and it's not forthcoming.  What evidence would it take for you to disbelieve, as I do?  Are you willing to admit that no evidence would ever convince you to disbelieve, thereby confirming the irrationality of your position?  Then we could agree to disagree.

1 comment:

Al Stefanelli said...

Very well done, Doc! The only frustration I have is the casting if pearls before swine, such as it is. Thanks for a great read today!