Philosophy of Religion 101: "You can't disprove the existence of a god"

  • Delivis

    Posts: 2332

    Mar 22, 2010 2:44 PM GMT
    Since it seems we have yet another wave of threads on the topic of religion, and since this is a phenomenon I think we are not soon to be rid of on here, I think I would make an attempt to elevate the discussion a bit. Some of these threads merely consist of personal attacks. But a lot of people are actually interested in the arguments, what other people think, and what their reasons are. However a lot of the attempts at constructive discussion or argumentation involve people talking past one another, not understanding what the arguments are, or using highly varied definitions of terms. So here is an attempt to try and explain some of the positions on both sides.

    I am an atheist myself so my posts will be from that perspective, but I'll be as fair as I can be in representing the arguments and views of theists in what may turn out to be a series of posts. Future posts, should I decide to continue them, will also include discussions of common theistic arguments like the fine tuning argument, cosmological arguments, and so on, and I'll present both sides are accurately and fairly as I can. But for my first post in these series I want to address a specific meme which pops up all the time and causes much eye rolling among atheists and most sophisticated theistic philosophers too.

    "You can not disprove the existence of god"

    The suggestion invariably made by stating this is that somehow the immunity from disproof that the notion of god has gives the belief in god some legitimacy or justification. The following is my attempt to explain why this causes so much eye rolling for non-believers as well as sophisticated believers. The summary would go something like this: The statement is true in a very trivial sense in most cases, untrue in some rarefied cases, and the credence that it is meant to give to belief in a god seems utterly fallacious and useless since an infinite amount of logically possible things are immune to disproof.

    Here is the root of the problem; you can't prove a negative. You've likely heard the phrase before if you're familiar with religious arguments or if you've studied philosophy in general. And the statement is true for all negative claims except for those of one very specific type which I will get to later.

    It is, in principle, impossible to prove the non-existence of anything as it requires total knowledge of everything that exists, everywhere, at all times. Positive claims are not all like this. In other words there is an asymmetry between positive and negative claims. Betty the Cow in farmer Bob's field exists; this is easy to prove and requires only some highly localised knowledge. Unicorns do not exist is impossible to prove as it requires universal knowledge.

    So to put god into the category of things that are incapable of disproof is to lump god in with every other god, superhero, mystical or mythical figure, and the infinite number of things we could conceive which might, somewhere, exist. In other words, to say that god is impossible to disprove is to say almost nothing useful or meaningful at all.

    Before I go on, there is a very important side point that I think must be made about the use of the word proof. Formally, proofs are only used in mathematics and logic. The conclusions of such proofs are inescapable if their premises are true and their form is valid. Colloquially when we use the word proof we usually do not mean anything like absolute certainty or proof in the mathematical or logical sense. When we say something is proven or that we know something, we mean that there is such a high degree of evidence that we can have a high degree of certainty that it is true. I plan to write more on the distinction of absolute certainty and a preponderance of evidence later, but I think I can make the main point of this post without it.

    I said there was one way in which you could disprove the existence of something. That way is to show that the thing is logically incoherent. Unmarried bachelors do not exist, anywhere, in any universe. Nor do triangles with four sides. That is because it is impossible for these things to exist by the very nature of their definition.

    Disproofs of gods in philosophy take the same form. It is possible to argue that some definitions of a god are logically incoherent. If true, it would mean that they do not exist and, more importantly, could not possibly exist. Such disproofs are usually based on classical monotheistic definitions of a god which include omnipotence, omniscience, omnibenevolence, etc. The problem of evil which states that a god who can stop evil, knows about the evil, but chooses not to is either impotent, ignorant, or uncaring, or one such attempt. There are many.

    But apart from this rarefied intellectual kind of argument, the phrase that one can not prove a negative holds. It just doesn't get you anywhere to say that the existence of god can not be disproven. And no sophisticated philosopher or scientist or thinker generally would claim that anything in the category of things not amenable to being disproven are legitimate things to hold belief in.

    P.S. Doesnt seem to be a specific forum to put this in so I am posting it here. I can't bring myself to put this under the heading of what i consider to be the very tainted, wishy washy word of "spirituality". That may just be me though.
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    Mar 22, 2010 2:51 PM GMT
    i personally think there is a "god," that is, a common thing from and through which all other things flow and "exist."

    but just because i believe there is a "god," doesn't mean it is the god of abraham, isaac, and jacob. just because i might believe in intelligent design, doesn't automatically mean it is the god of the bible and the southern baptists.

    i personally believe that the god we've all come to know (and love, for some of us), is laying on a cloud somewhere, on a white bed with a white duvet, being attended by nurse angels in white, he is semi-conscious and on his white beard there is a little drool coming out of his mouth. this is a mono-theistic god on his last legs. he has served his purpose and now, as with all of human ideas and beliefs, he now will give way to a new way of thinking/believing...just as he once supplanted that which came before him.

    we have such selective brains. we only account for about 30% of what we see at any given time. we are tormented by recurring thoughts of which we seem to have no control. for these limited brains to not only conceive of a god but to crown him (yes, him in this case) the god of all, is kinda silly.
  • shutoman

    Posts: 505

    Mar 22, 2010 6:29 PM GMT
    Hi Delivis, Thanks for this post. As a non-believer with a degree in theology I appreciate the lengths you are going to with this.

    However, there's one thing with which I have a problem. Use of the word 'meme'. I have real difficulty understanding why Dawkins thought this was a good idea. There is no meaning of meme, as far as I can see, which is not already covered by the existing words idea or ideology.
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    Mar 22, 2010 7:26 PM GMT
    I am a Christian, so allow me to represent what we Chritians believe. No disrespect, but I frankly don’t see how, not only you, but any atheist could ever do this correctly or properly. Being a Christian- I will tailor my response from a Christian world view.
    Firstly, Christians and Atheists look at the same set of data and reach quite different conclusions. Why this is the case – is anybody’s guess. I’ll share my thoughts on this later.
    I do not consider myself a sophisticated believer nor an un-believer – have to say that I did the eye roll thing when I saw your comment "You cannot disprove the existence of god." And the reason for my eye roll is because this is just a mirror of the argument that atheists use about “proving a negative.” It’s just dressed differently is all. So yeah – I think an eye roll is what is mandated for this statement. To make this the basic of your argument is to beg the question and there is nothing added to discourse. Hence the necesissity for the eye roll. If you are truly interested in a discourse then that statement that atheists fall back on when all their other arguments are proved untenable if not downright illogical must be put aside.

    Aristotle eons ago, established the difference between valid and invalid reasoning. He did this by establishing that knowledge begins with certain obvious truths or as he called em – first principles. These first principles are self evident and are seen as the basic principles – the very foundations upon which any worldview rests.
    One of the basic laws upon which knowledge rests is the law of noncontradiction. Opposite truth claims cannot both be true. Opposite conclusions about reality cannot both be true. If one is true one must be false. And herein lies the crux of Christianity v Atheism.
    Christians believe:
    That God is one. He is personal, moral and infinite in all of His attributes
    That the universe is finite, created by God and infinite being
    That Humans were created by and sustained by God
    That we humans will either live eternally with God or be eternally separated from Him
    That Evil is caused by choices that we humans make
    That Ethics are grounded in the nature/attributes of God
    That Ethics are absolute and objective.

    Atheists believe:
    God does not exist, only the universe exists
    That the Universe is eternal or that it came into being by pure chance
    That Humans evolved
    That Humans have no eternal destinity
    That evil is real caused by human ignorance
    That Evil can be defeated thru learning
    That Ethics are created by and grounded in humanity
    That Ethics are relative and determined by the situation in which you find yourself.

    Your definition of proof is limited. How can you define what is acceptable proof for the infinite by using finite definitions? It seems to me that this would be self defeating even before you begin.
    Sufficient evidence is infinitely elastic. It is all contextual. Evidence in the court of public opinion is not evidence in a court of law. What a physicists counts as evidence is not generally what a mathematician accepts as evidence. Proof in engineering has little to do with that of proof of art. The claim that proof of God should be treated the same as any scientific proof is problematical. We cannot treat this claim this way since our ability to grasp and capture the evidence has not developed to such degrees of sophistication as yet.
    If on the other hand proof of God : we treat the question of His existence as we treat anything else. Then we have to accept that just as in life there are somethings that cannot be explained but are. So God will just have to be one of those unexplainable things. The evidence is fragmentary, partial inconclusive. We accept it and move on.

    Christians don’t need to prove the existence of God. We have faith that He exists and that is enough for us.
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    Mar 22, 2010 7:28 PM GMT
    "Firstly, Christians and Atheists look at the same set of data and reach quite different conclusions. "

    Data? What data?
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    Mar 22, 2010 7:30 PM GMT
    McGay said"Firstly, Christians and Atheists look at the same set of data and reach quite different conclusions. "

    Data? What data?


    Reality for one



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    Mar 22, 2010 7:35 PM GMT
    Deflection doesn't make for good data.
  • Delivis

    Posts: 2332

    Mar 22, 2010 7:38 PM GMT
    shutoman saidHi Delivis, Thanks for this post. As a non-believer with a degree in theology I appreciate the lengths you are going to with this.

    However, there's one thing with which I have a problem. Use of the word 'meme'. I have real difficulty understanding why Dawkins thought this was a good idea. There is no meaning of meme, as far as I can see, which is not already covered by the existing words idea or ideology.


    This is rather tangential with the discussion but what the heck..icon_smile.gif

    I am quite sympathetic with what you wrote. Every time I use the word meme i feel i should put a footnote about it with a long explanation and justification of its usage.

    That said I do like the idea of a meme quite a bit. And I do think it is quite different from the word idea. The idea of memes does come from The Selfish Gene and is meant to mean something like the word idea, but analogous to a gene. The analogy can go so far and it is an interesting way to apply evolutionary thinking to culture, at least I find it very interesting.

    An idea is just any thought you can have. A meme is something like a quanta of thought or a quanta of culture which competes against other bits of ideas or cultures in the intellectual environment or zeitgeist of the time. The idea of a meme seems to be a much richer idea of an idea and has very different connotations.

    That isn't to say that memes actually exist. Though wouldn't it be neat if, once we have the needed resolution on our brain scanning equipment, we could find and identify the pattern for the belief in gravity, or the belief in allah, or any belief really. Doubtful it works that way at all. But it is a neat way to think about the social transmission of ideas nonetheless, just as an intellectual framework. For instance, it certainly seems to be the case that you can see very persistent ideas, including religious ones, getting transmitted virally and mutating in ways such that the belief is more likely to survive.

    Take the idea of hell for instance. It was once very believable for Hell to be a real place. It was literally beneath us. Heaven was a very real place and it was literally above us. This made so much sense on many levels. After the scientific revolution and advancements in astronomy and geology in particular it became harder and harder to believe in a literal hell below us or a literal heaven above us. The changes in our moral makeup also made it much harder to believe that infinite torture was just for finite crimes. The memes of heaven and hell mutated gradually over the years and the alleles of hell and heaven which survived are the ones which were most compatible or palatable with the culture they evolved in.


    Pope John Paul encouraged Catholics not to think of heaven and hell as places at all. They are relationships with god. Hell is just the decision someone makes to reject a relationship with god. It is not a place or anything that someone is sent to, or anything imposed on someone. This is brilliant stuff! What a remarkable appeal to our recently developed sense of individualism. Hell is now a choice. It is hard to resist of thinking this as an enormously beneficial mutation to the meme of Hell. If the meme of Hell never changed it would eventually be eliminated from the memeplex of modern society.
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    Mar 22, 2010 7:43 PM GMT
    McGay said"Firstly, Christians and Atheists look at the same set of data and reach quite different conclusions. "

    Data? What data?


    exactly.

    i'm sure thomas merton, or any of the early christian mystics would say they were Xtian because of the "data." icon_rolleyes.gif

    if you're a newtonian physicist or a big decartes fan, then i can see where you would think that what you see is a giant footprint left by god and all you have to do is pick it apart and you can see "god."

    unfortunately, physics has moved waaaaaay beyond that. and, it turns out, just by looking at reality, you change it. in other words, if there is a god...it's you.
  • Delivis

    Posts: 2332

    Mar 22, 2010 7:44 PM GMT
    Blackguy4you said
    Christians believe:
    That God is one. He is personal, moral and infinite in all of His attributes
    That the universe is finite, created by God and infinite being
    That Humans were created by and sustained by God
    That we humans will either live eternally with God or be eternally separated from Him
    That Evil is caused by choices that we humans make
    That Ethics are grounded in the nature/attributes of God
    That Ethics are absolute and objective.

    Atheists believe:
    God does not exist, only the universe exists
    That the Universe is eternal or that it came into being by pure chance
    That Humans evolved
    That Humans have no eternal destinity
    That evil is real caused by human ignorance
    That Evil can be defeated thru learning
    That Ethics are created by and grounded in humanity
    That Ethics are relative and determined by the situation in which you find yourself.



    Ok you wrote a lot of stuff, some of which I intend to make individual posts about. But let me just take up this selected bit of your post for now and make two quick points.

    1. There are factions or individual of Christians that disagree with every point in your list of what Christians believe.

    2. An atheist, by definition, is someone that does not believe in a god. Nothing else. Atheism is not a belief system, it entails no positive beliefs whatsoever.

    In fact i believe my second post will be about point number 2.
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    Mar 22, 2010 7:55 PM GMT
    McGay saidDeflection doesn't make for good data.


    I didn't think I had to spell it out, but here goes

    Christians look at this reality that we all inhabit and state that intelligence has to be the cause of it's creation

    Atheists look at this reality that we all inhabit and state that it came about by pure random chance.

    Same data - different conclusions
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    Mar 22, 2010 7:57 PM GMT
    So, all christians share the same reality? Do non-christians not have a reality? Same data? Tell that to the kids in Haiti.
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    Mar 22, 2010 7:58 PM GMT
    "How can you define what is acceptable proof for the infinite by using finite definitions"

    Easily. The entire field of real analysis is based on finite axioms. You need recursion and/or mathematical induction to do some of it, but those are perfectly valid forms of argument.

    Delivis, am I the only person who feels the phrase "You can't prove a negative" is totally misleading? In physics we say "You can't prove the positive" (you can only disprove a conjecture by contradictory example), and in math we say "What?".
    There really needs to be a better way to say that. :-)
  • Delivis

    Posts: 2332

    Mar 22, 2010 8:04 PM GMT
    onethirtyseven said"How can you define what is acceptable proof for the infinite by using finite definitions"

    Easily. The entire field of real analysis is based on finite axioms. You need recursion and/or mathematical induction to do some of it, but those are perfectly valid forms of argument.

    Delivis, am I the only person who feels the phrase "You can't prove a negative" is totally misleading? In physics we say "You can't prove the positive" (you can only disprove a conjecture by contradictory example), and in math we say "What?".
    There really needs to be a better way to say that. :-)


    Oh not at all, my good man, i quite agree..icon_smile.gif

    In fact when i first wrote the article i followed up the `you cant prove a negative`section with one saying that technically, the same thing applies to positives as well, in the sense that we can never have absolute certainty of them. I had a lengthy discussion of this point but decided to save it for a later post. This post is already rather lengthy i think.
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    Mar 22, 2010 8:07 PM GMT
    From http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/theory.html by Richard Carrier regarding false negatives and theism:

    I know the myth of "you can't prove a negative" circulates throughout the nontheist community, and it is good to dispel myths whenever we can. As it happens, there really isn't such a thing as a "purely" negative statement, because every negative entails a positive, and vice versa. Thus, "there are no crows in this box" entails "this box contains something other than crows" (in the sense that even "no things" is something, e.g. a vacuum). "Something" is here a set restricted only by excluding crows, such that for every set S there is a set Not-S, and vice versa, so every negative entails a positive and vice versa. And to test the negative proposition one merely has to look in the box: since crows being in the box (p) entails that we would see crows when we look in the box (q), if we find q false, we know that p is false. Thus, we have proved a negative. Of course, we could be mistaken about what we saw, or about what a crow is, or things could have changed after we looked, but within the limits of our knowing anything at all, and given a full understanding of what a proposition means and thus entails, we can easily prove a negative in such a case. This is not "proof" in the same sense as a mathematical proof, which establishes that something is inherent in the meaning of something else (and that therefore the conclusion is necessarily true), but it is proof in the scientific sense and in the sense used in law courts and in everyday life. So the example holds because when p entails q, it means that q is included in the very meaning of p. Whenever you assert p, you are also asserting q (and perhaps also r and s and t). In other words, q is nothing more than an element of p. Thus, all else being as we expect, "there are big green Martians in my bathtub" means if you look in your bathtub you will see big green Martians, so not seeing them means the negative of "there are big green Martians in my bathtub."

    Negative statements often make claims that are hard to prove because they make predictions about things we are in practice unable to observe in a finite time. For instance, "there are no big green Martians" means "there are no big green Martians in this or any universe," and unlike your bathtub, it is not possible to look in every corner of every universe, thus we cannot completely test this proposition--we can just look around within the limits of our ability and our desire to expend time and resources on looking, and prove that, where we have looked so far, and within the limits of our knowing anything at all, there are no big green Martians. In such a case we have proved a negative, just not the negative of the sweeping proposition in question.

    The Unbelievability of Christian Theism

    Christian Theism in its most basic sense entails observations that would necessarily be made by everyone everywhere and at all times, and thus it is as easily disproven as the alien in the bathtub. For instance, God is theoretically omnipresent, and granted us the ability to know him (to feel his loving presence, etc.), yet I have absolutely no sensation of any God or anything that would be entailed by a God, even though by definition he is within me and around me wherever I go. Likewise, God is theoretically the epitome of compassion, and also all-knowing and all-powerful and beyond all injury, yet I know that what demonstrates someone as compassionate is the alleviation of all suffering known to them and safely within their power to alleviate. All suffering in the world must be known and safely within the power of God to alleviate, yet it is still there, and since the Christian 'theory' entails the opposite observation, Christianity is false. Likewise, God theoretically designed the universe for a moral purpose, but the universe lacks moral features--animals thrive by survival of the fittest, not survival of the kindest, and the laws of physics are no respecter of persons, they treat the good man and the bad man equally. Moreover, the universe behaves like a mindless machine, and exhibits no intelligent action of its own accord, and there are no messages or features of a linguistic nature anywhere in its extra-human composition or behavior, such as we would expect if a thinking person had designed it and wanted to communicate with us.

    Christians attempt to preserve their proposed theory by moving it into the set of unprovables that lack all evidence. They do this arbitrarily, and for no other reason than to save the proposed theory, by creating impassable barriers to observation, just as requiring us to look in every corner of every universe creates an impassable barrier for one who is asked to decisively disprove the statement "there are big green Martians." For instance, the advanced theory holds that God alleviates suffering in heaven, which we conveniently cannot observe, and he has reasons for waiting and allowing suffering to persist on Earth, reasons which are also suitably unobservable to us, because God chooses not to explain them, just as he chooses, again for an unstated reason that is entirely inscrutable, to remain utterly invisible to all my senses, external and internal, despite being always around and inside me and otherwise capable of speaking to me plainly.

    The problem is not, as some theists think, that we can find no explanations to "rationalize" a god in this world of hurt. I can imagine numerous gods who would be morally justified and even admirable, and others who would be neither evil nor good, and still others who are evil, but none of these would be the Christian god. The fact is that Christianity is the proposal of a theory, and like all theories, it entails predictions--but these predictions are not being born out. So Christians invent excuses to save the theory--excuses which have absolutely no basis in any evidence or inference, except the sole fact that they rescue the theory. This is Ptolemy's epicycles all over again: the motions of the planets and sun refused to fit the theory that they all revolve around the Earth, so Ptolemy invented numerous complex patterns of motion that had no particular reason to happen other than the fact that they rescue the theory of geocentricity. It is simply far wiser to conclude that instead of this monstrously complex and bizarre architecture of groundless saving suppositions, it makes far more sense, and uses far fewer suppositions, to simply admit that the universe doesn't revolve around the Earth after all. As for all the other theories--all the other possible gods--there is no more evidence for them than for this incredibly complex deity with a dozen strange and mysterious reasons that only too conveniently explain why we never observe him or his actions in any clear way.

    Of course, even these groundless "solutions" to the Christian 'theory' do not really save the theory, because, to maintain it, at some point you must abandon belief in God's omnipotence--since at every turn, God is forced to do something (to remain hidden and to wait before alleviating suffering, etc.) by some unknown feature of reality, and this entails that some feature of reality is more powerful than God. And this feature cannot merely be God's moral nature, since if that were his only limitation, there would then be no barrier to his speaking to me or acting immediately to alleviate suffering or designing the universe to have overtly moral or linguistic features, since any truly moral nature would compel, not prevent, such behavior. Thus, the Christian hypothesis is either incoherent or unprovable, and in the one case it is necessarily false, while in the other it lacks justification, so we have no reason to believe it, any more than we have a r
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    Mar 22, 2010 8:07 PM GMT
    Delivis said
    Blackguy4you said
    Christians believe:
    That God is one. He is personal, moral and infinite in all of His attributes
    That the universe is finite, created by God and infinite being
    That Humans were created by and sustained by God
    That we humans will either live eternally with God or be eternally separated from Him
    That Evil is caused by choices that we humans make
    That Ethics are grounded in the nature/attributes of God
    That Ethics are absolute and objective.

    Atheists believe:
    God does not exist, only the universe exists
    That the Universe is eternal or that it came into being by pure chance
    That Humans evolved
    That Humans have no eternal destinity
    That evil is real caused by human ignorance
    That Evil can be defeated thru learning
    That Ethics are created by and grounded in humanity
    That Ethics are relative and determined by the situation in which you find yourself.



    Ok you wrote a lot of stuff, some of which I intend to make individual posts about. But let me just take up this selected bit of your post for now and make two quick points.

    1. There are factions or individual of Christians that disagree with every point in your list of what Christians believe.

    2. An atheist, by definition, is someone that does not believe in a god. Nothing else. Atheism is not a belief system, it entails no positive beliefs whatsoever.

    In fact i believe my second post will be about point number 2.


    What factions of Christians disagree with my points of what a Christian believe?

    Atheism is a belief system. How could it not be? It is a way of looking at the world. And if it is a way of looking at the world then to all intents and purposes it is a worldview and hence an ideology. I will also argue that perhaps the reason why many people state what you are stating is because it is an ideology that has the very fuzziest of centers.
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    Mar 22, 2010 8:09 PM GMT
    The last sentence:

    so we have no reason to believe it, any more than we have a reason to believe that there is a big green Martian on some planet in some corner of some universe. This is what it means to "prove a negative."
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    Mar 22, 2010 8:12 PM GMT
    onethirtyseven said"How can you define what is acceptable proof for the infinite by using finite definitions"

    Easily. The entire field of real analysis is based on finite axioms. You need recursion and/or mathematical induction to do some of it, but those are perfectly valid forms of argument.



    Which when applied leads to self contradictory answers. And in the final analysis you are not proving the infinite anyhow. You are doing nothing more than proving the potential to infinitude.
  • Delivis

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    Mar 22, 2010 8:15 PM GMT
    Yes, the Carrior article is quite good.
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    Mar 22, 2010 8:18 PM GMT
    icon_rolleyes.gif
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    Mar 22, 2010 8:19 PM GMT
    Blackguy4you said Which when applied leads to self contradictory answers.

    Would you care to give an example?

    Blackguy4you saidAnd in the final analysis you are not proving the infinite anyhow. You are doing nothing more than proving the potential to infinitude.


    Strictly speaking, Blackguy4you, a proof is a set of arguments from propositions to a conclusion, such that the truth of all the propositions necessarily entails the truth of the conclusion. Mathematics, and indeed all formal logic, rests on a set of fundamental axioms--basic statements which cannot be proved, but which determine the range of true statements in that system. The truth of the axioms is ultimately a matter of choice--there are many ways to choose, but their truth does not affect the correctness of the proofs. In fact, you can choose varying combinations of axioms to yield very different systems of mathematics; each one valid and internally consistent.

    With this in mind, Blackguy4you, it should be apparent that *any* proof only shows the potential of its conclusion. The conclusion's truth is dependent on the axioms chosen. Luckily, almost *any* set of axioms allows you to argue about infinite sets quite well; hence my statement.
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    Mar 22, 2010 8:20 PM GMT
    Atheism is not a way of looking at the world. It's a complete lack of using a stencil to look at the world. My lack of belief in a god does not color any other aspect of my life than not participating in rituals, ceremony, and the like.
  • Delivis

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    Mar 22, 2010 8:29 PM GMT
    Blackguy4you said

    Atheism is a belief system. How could it not be? It is a way of looking at the world. And if it is a way of looking at the world then to all intents and purposes it is a worldview and hence an ideology. I will also argue that perhaps the reason why many people state what you are stating is because it is an ideology that has the very fuzziest of centers.


    Atheism is not a belief system because it is a single belief. An atheist is only someone who is without the belief in a god. Everything you listed that atheists believe are actually things that atheists are free to differ in their beliefs on and still be atheists.
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    Mar 22, 2010 9:07 PM GMT
    Delivis said
    Atheism is not a belief system because it is a single belief. An atheist is only someone who is without the belief in a god. Everything you listed that atheists believe are actually things that atheists are free to differ in their beliefs on and still be atheists.


    buddhists are atheists but hold to a universal existence that all things participate in and emerge from.

    just because someone believes that there is a "holy other" doesn't make them monotheistic or even theistic.

    buddhists just see "god" as an intermediary...an unnecessary middle-god.

    interesting stuff fellas, but i gotta tell ya, spirituality and reason do not mix. the mind's end is duality...it takes what sensory perceptions it receives through the 5 senses and creates definitions, contrasts, separateness. then you have the clunky english language.

    there is no unified reality we all share, since our brains are just not wired to grasp but just a small cross section of what we experience. so, when you talk about "data" whether you be an atheist or a monotheist, you're talking about some severe "rounding up" and as such, just about everything you think you know is incomplete.

    stop fooling yourselves. you "know" nothing. you "believe" everything.
  • shutoman

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    Mar 22, 2010 9:50 PM GMT
    Delivis, Thank you for the disquisition on memes - which is informative.

    To quote you The idea of memes does come from The Selfish Gene and is meant to mean something like the word idea, but analogous to a gene. The analogy can go so far and it is an interesting way to apply evolutionary thinking to culture,

    The citation is helpful - but part of the reason I still take issue with Dawkins is precisely because he thinks in this way. Yes, one can describe a meme as an idea analogous to a gene. But why do that? To put it another way; to the extent to which it is interesting, I doubt it clarifies :-).

    The fact that ideas can be replicated is not a function of natural science. My problem with Dawkins is that he cannot get to grips with that. He seems to have, in short, a problem with an entire intellectual narrative of western philosophy which is not science and, in so doing, he betrays his Vienna School roots.

    Before I go any further, let me make something clear - I am not a post-modernist, do not apply its techniques and regards its constant 'critiquing' of natural science frankly tedious. But I see post-modernism and Dawkins as two sides of the same coin: PM's regard all science as merely interpretation of a reality all of which is 'within the text' . Dawkins has difficulty believing that there are any meaningful statements outside of natural science.

    Sigh - sounds like I got picky pretty quickly :-) But I am entitled to deny the strong scientistic thesis.

    A big epistemological 'Time Out' is called for :-)