Whose Line Is It, Anyway?: The Question of God and the Burden of Proof

muddle's picture

I don’t believe in Nessie. I’ve made a casual review of the alleged evidence and simply think there is no good reason to believe that there is a serpentine creature splashing about Loch Ness. If you believe in the Loch Ness Monster, then the burden of proof is on you to produce the evidence. In the absence of compelling evidence, the default position is disbelief. The same may be said of faeries, Bigfoot and the monster under the bed.

My atheist friends wish to say the same thing about my belief in God. “It is the theist that makes the positive assertion that there is a God. And so the burden of proof is upon him to put up or shut up.” In the absence of compelling evidence for the existence of God, the default position is disbelief—atheism.

And so, the average village atheist adopts the strategy of the moray eel: he backs into a corner, concealing all vulnerabilities and exposing only his fighting side, and thus waits for unsuspecting theists to venture by with their reasons for belief in God. Once our atheist is satisfied that he has sufficiently shredded any arguments his prey has to offer—and personally subjected him to merciless ridicule—he retires to his cranny to await the next victim. Witness, for instance, the vitriolic writings of a Christopher Hitchens. Or pay a visit to an internet forum where religion is discussed. The atheist is no more compelled, he thinks, to offer up any positive arguments of his own for a godless universe than I am obliged to account for a Nessie-less loch.

In this he is mistaken.

There is a disanalogy between the question of Nessie and the question of God, and it becomes evident once we imagine a crestfallen Nessie enthusiast confronting the hardnosed skeptic with the question, “If you don’t believe in Nessie, what DO you believe in?” One may reply flippantly: “Well, there are herrings and puffins, albatrosses and Scottish ales, and lots of other stuff, too.” Only flippant people offer flippancy in answer to the question of God.

Whether there is a prehistoric creature abiding in the depths of a lake raises interesting questions about what kinds of things there are in this world. Whether there is a God raises the question of what kind of world this is.

Deny Nessie and nearly all else remains fixed and unaltered. Deny God and either you have stood the world on its head or you have righted it. If Nessie does not exist, then there is one less item on the inventory. If God does not exist, then everything on that inventory has an entirely different reckoning.

Richard Dawkins has said somewhere, “We are all atheists about most of the gods that humanity has ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further.” This leaves the impression that the question of God is something like a census: Does the world include one more denizen than the Professor for the Public Understanding of Science is prepared to acknowledge? But whether Olympus is inhabited is more like the question of what is in the Loch. Chesterton was surely right in noting that the old myths may have provided men with a calendar—with annual festivities and formalities—but never a creed that forms the core of a comprehensive worldview and is even worth dying for if need be. “Thor may have been a great adventurer but to call him a god is like trying to compare Jehovah with Jack and the Beanstalk.” I would be astonished to learn that Superman is real. But even if so, it is not in him that we live and move and have our being.

If God does not exist—if theism is false—then some other comprehensive worldview must be true. Presumably, our atheist believes that worldview is naturalism—the view that reality is exhausted by the kinds of things that are the subject of study through the empirical sciences. But then, the atheist really is charged with the task of defending naturalism; not merely fending off would-be arguments for God. And the devil is in the details. With God’s departure we are left with little more than atoms in the void, and the job of explaining the world strictly in terms of them is to be told to make bricks with no straw.

For one thing, it is difficult to see how conscious and autonomous persons could be engineered from Big Bang debris—particularly when the would-be engineer is truant.
As philosopher and atheist Colin McGinn notes, it is difficult to see how our full “Technicolor” conscious experience could arise from “soggy gray matter.”

A part of the trouble is that the essentially first-person feature of our experience, such as what it feels like to be in pain, resists description in the essentially third-person language and perspective of science. No amount of language about tissue and nerve damage or the firing of C-fibers comes close to describing the conscious, painful experience itself. No amount of examination of the contents of a living person’s skull reveals her experiences as they are to her, and this is true even if we believe we have found strong correlations between certain forms of brain activity and certain conscious experiences as reported by her. Attempting consistency with this overall naturalist perspective, philosopher Susan Blackmore wrote, “I have become quite uncertain as to whether there really is anything it is like to be me.” This is the consistency of Chesterton’s mad man who, though relentlessly logical in following through with the implications of his initial assumptions, ought, in fact, to have rejected those assumptions.

It is common knowledge that atheists have no place for any sort of teleology or purposive decision at the cosmic level: “Man is the product of causes that had no prevision of the end they were achieving,” Bertrand Russell said. But, on naturalism, the same is true of my decision to order a beer. Naturalism banishes teleology from the universe from top to bottom, so that the seeming purposive behavior of common life is in fact the outworking of chains of micro-mechanisms that are utterly blind to their outcome. It is not just Dawkins’ Cosmic Watchmaker that is blind. The same is ultimately true of the guy who fixed my Timex.

If you do not think that naturalists are in a funk these days regarding the problem of consciousness, then you have not been reading. It is not merely that, given the relative infancy of the empirical sciences, we do not yet know how the feat could have been accomplished. This is the common refrain and, in many cases, it is suggestive of paying a debt with a bad check. It is the naturalistic equivalent to the religious believer’s “But God can do anything.” Rather, many of us think that we do know now why the feat can never have been accomplished. Perhaps the bricks and straw metaphor should be updated: it is rather like being contracted to craft a functioning stealth bomber from a ponderous slab of cream cheese. The project is not likely to get off the ground, but is very likely to ooze onto the tarmac.

Add to all of this the notorious difficulty of attempting to derive real value from an essentially valueless universe. After asserting that we are the product of blind forces and are but the outcome of “accidental collocations of atoms,” Russell asked, “How, in such an alien and inhuman world, can so powerless a creature as Man preserve his aspirations untarnished?” How, indeed? The young author of that essay went on to offer a rather optimistic account that assumed a sort of “heaven” of moral ideals. But the older Russell came to see, with the help of atheist philosopher George Santayana, that such ideals are incompatible with atheism. The choices, as presented by the latter philosopher, were to keep the heaven of ideals but acknowledge God as resident there, or to reject both God and heaven and thus reject the reality of moral values. Russell took the latter course.

In surveying these few potential problems for the naturalist, my point is not to argue that naturalism is false or that theism is true, though I do think that naturalism is false and theism is true. Rather, it is to make an observation regarding the true nature of the debate. To suggest that there is a “presumption of atheism” is, at the same time, to suggest a presumption of naturalism. And that is highly presumptuous. It is no good declaring neutrality. Glib and negative appraisals of theism are no substitute for offering a positive accounting of how the world might have acquired its texture from only the elements that are admissible on naturalism. And this requires the moray to emerge from his crevice and expose his own vulnerabilities.

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bad_ptc's picture
Submitted by bad_ptc on Fri, 02/20/2009 - 9:42pm.

“God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?”

Best T-shirt saying: “God is dead - Nietzsche” “Nietzsche is dead - God”

muddle's picture
Submitted by muddle on Fri, 02/20/2009 - 9:55pm.

Perhaps a variation on the "God is dead" theme, with a Monty Python twist, may be done for a different shirt:

"I'm not dead yet. I'm getting better." --God


"Puddleglum" by Weatherwax (one of the Muddlings).

Jeeves to the Rescue

Submitted by PTC Avenger on Fri, 02/20/2009 - 8:42pm.

Why do people prefer an eternal deity-granted salvation over a truncated, finite existence? The former is vastly more appealing, though, in all probability, merely a construct designed to allay our feelings of meaninglessness and ultimate insignificance. The former promises immortality, while the latter reduces us to nothing.

It is not terribly surprising that people still subscribe to some sort of religious belief, notably Christianity. What is the appeal? In a word, fear. In another word, meaning. The fear of being eternally vanquished to Hell underlies Christian faith. In fact, it is my belief that many Christians are not such in order to spread the word of god and worship Jesus Christ, but rather to “hedge their bets,” in a manner of speaking. Hell is complete judgment, a complete rejection by god. There is fire, torment, and torture, and it continues forever, offering no respite. It is the ultimate deterrent. Submitting to god also provides meaning. It is much easier to think of oneself as a unique creation with a destiny, a creature who can transcend the darkness and death of earth and live forever. Consider the alternative, that we are organic, sentient creatures who will one day disintegrate, leaving behind everyone and everything that we hold dear. Christians constantly give what is unreal precedence over what is real. And we know why. The real world is simply too terrible to admit, it tells man that he is a small trembling animal who will eventually decay and die. Illusion changes this, makes man seem important, vital to the universe, part of a divine plan, immortal in some way. The distinctive human problem from time immemorial has been the need to spiritualize human life, to lift it onto a special immortal plane, beyond the cycles of life and death which characterize all other organisms. Religion takes one’s very creatureliness, one’s insignificance, and makes it a condition of hope.

Why are we here? “I don’t know,” is an incredibly unsatisfying answer, but the only answer. The conclusion is beyond humbling. Theists look for patterns, a perfectly human trait, and assume there is a creative purpose behind the patterns they find, but many times patterns are coincidence and nothing more. But how can we come to exist without god? Theists demand a theory when they fully know that only limited guesswork now exists. The assumption is that because some things are currently unexplainable, the explanation is supernatural intelligence. That is a massive leap. Humans, as creative, social beings, try to impose our thinking on the universe. However, there is no objective evidence on which to base this leap. The unknown is not an excuse for god. At best, god is an eloquent metaphor for the human condition, it offers ownership in divinity, supreme purpose, and it cushions our primal repression, that one day we will die and all will be lost, forever. At worst, god is a business partner who doesn’t take a cut. Consider his sales pitch: a cosmic zombie who was his own father can make you live forever if you symbolically eat his flesh and telepathically tell him you accept him as your maker so he can remove an evil force from your soul that is present in humanity because a rib-woman was convinced by a talking snake to eat from a magical tree.

Submitted by baroombrawl on Sat, 02/21/2009 - 6:44am.

The very fact that humans, especially reverends and philosophers, constantly argue about whether and if so, what there is about one God, is information of itself as to the hopelessness of it all!

Of course there was a Creator. And, ever since poor stupid man has tried to understand such an entity--all useless thinking.

Every thousand years or so man writes a bunch more rules and thoughts as to what God wants, and usually they contradict the previous holy words entirely.

I understand organized religion however. It is a way for everyone to follow the same rules and actions and that way we will be OK. If we happen to be wrong we just change the rules as necessary.

It is a losing game. We aren't smart enough to write the actuality of it.

muddle's picture
Submitted by muddle on Fri, 02/20/2009 - 9:18pm.

The former is vastly more appealing, though, in all probability, merely a construct designed to allay our feelings of meaninglessness and ultimate insignificance.

Please offer an argument for this probability. Outside of assuming some variety of naturalism at the outset, I don't think it is in the least bit probable.

At best, god is an eloquent metaphor for the human condition, it offers ownership in divinity, supreme purpose, and it cushions our primal repression, that one day we will die and all will be lost, forever. At worst, god is a business partner who doesn’t take a cut.

Here, you offer a social science explanation for religious belief. I might return the favor and offer one for unbelief. Again, why should anyone suppose that this account is correct apart from assuming something like naturalism? It begs the question. After all, theists will maintain that it is no coincidence that the idea of God alone will satisfy the human condition: He hath set eternity in their hearts.

Beyond this, you take a position that renders it impossible apriori for one to offer evidence of a creator, since this will always appear to you to be an appeal to ignorance. I reject your terms.

Finally, you close by offering the worst possible interpretation of theistic belief and then ridiculing that. This, of course, doesn't disturb me. After all, it is the worst possible interpretation.

"Puddleglum" by Weatherwax (one of the Muddlings).

Jeeves to the Rescue

PhillyChief's picture
Submitted by PhillyChief on Mon, 02/16/2009 - 10:20am.

I find it remarkable that you could make a distinction between burden of proof for a claim for things other than gods and burden of proof for claims about gods, or more precisely, YOUR god. I think you've done a marvelous job at rationalizing making this distinction, but the distinction is nevertheless still a mistake.

The bulk of your rationalization is known as "god of the gaps". It boils down to 'if we can't explain it, then god did it'. The drive to know and understand is a remarkable characteristic of human nature, and as a result accepting that we can't know at all or can't know yet the answer to something is uncomfortable. For some, it's a severe source of anxiety, so severe that they'll accept almost any answer as a substitute for that lack of knowledge, that "gap".

The requirement to appease those anxieties is no justification for making a special distinction for burden of proof for god claims. That's a logical fallacy known as 'appeal to consequences of belief', where the consequences are your anxieties go unappeased if god claims are dismissed as unwarranted. The fact that the explanations for so many unexplainable things have been hung on a god claim has no bearing on whether the claim is warranted. Would the burden of proof concerning Nessie be shifted to those who don't believe if believers also claimed she was responsible for the dinosaur extinction, human consciousness or the otherwise unexplainable fascination with reality tv? Should the non-believers have to first explain those things before being permitted to weigh in on the claim of Nessie's existence?

Your rationalization is also based on other fallacies. It employs 'begging the question' since it presumes your god is responsible for the unexplained and circularly, that the unexplained can only be explained by your god. It also tries to employ a 'false dilemma', by suggesting that either naturalism has the answers or god belief does and if at any time naturalism has no answer, then god belief is correct or warranted.

All of this results in a fallacy of 'special pleading'. Rationalization skills notwithstanding, that's all you've done here is plead for special consideration for the burden of proof for your claim opposite from the burden of proof for all other claims.

Visit YouMadeMeSayIt.blogspot.com

muddle's picture
Submitted by muddle on Tue, 02/17/2009 - 8:53am.

Thanks, Chief, for that sorely needed lesson in informal logic.

Speaking of false dilemmas, here's one for you: Either one insists upon holding out for naturalistic explanations or one is guilty of appealing to the god-of-the-gaps.

That ready retort provides village atheists with a handy apriori argument in a context where it is out of place. It is the flip side of "but science is still in its infancy, relatively speaking," which issues an IOU for absolutely anything and everything otherwise suggestive of causes that do not fit comfortably within the confines of naturalism. You needn't think through any arguments. You can just hang a sign around your neck, and if any philosopher arrives bearing arguments from design or the like, you have but to turn his way.

Let's not beg any questions here. Let's agree that we co-inhabit a universe bereft of any sort of intelligent designer. Our story begins with Carl Sagan's opening line: "The cosmos is all that is, was, or ever will be."

But now that we have that settled, consider a possible world unlike ours that is the product of intelligent design. And suppose that people there tend to notice that things look as though they have been designed. They also find that, on the hypothesis that there is some sort of designer, observed phenomena are given a coherent and plausible account. Ah, but they have come to be convinced that an appeal to a designer is but a fallacious invocation of the god-of-the-gaps. And so, neither their science nor their philosophy can ever arrive at the truth regarding origins. It's a good thing we don't inhabit that world, right Chief?

My point, of course, is that one may be quite alive to the concern regarding g-o-t-g appeals, but nevertheless think that it is in principle possible that an appeal to some sort if intelligent design just is the best explanation. I mean, suppose that one evening everyone everywhere is alerted to a striking change in the heavens. Otherwise fixed stars have come to be aligned to form a sentence: "This is God and I am watching you. Don't make me come down there!" Shall we continue to reassure each other that science is still in its infancy and thus hold out for a natural explanation?

Now you might say that the evidence isn't like that. Fair enough. But then, the situation is like the guy who asked a woman, "Would you go to bed with me for a million dollars?" "Of course! Who could pass up a million dollars?" "Would you go to bed with me for one dollar?" "One dollar? What do you take me for?" "We've already settled that. Now we just have to negotiate a price."

Really, your post, with its various suggestions of informal fallacies that you have detected, reads as though it were written by a sophomore fresh from his first course in Critical Thinking. Did well on your exam, did you?

You suggest that I beg the question. I beg to differ. For one thing, I am not, in that piece, attempting to shift the burden of proof onto the atheist, as though I suppose that theism should be accepted by default unless there are splendid atheistic arguments. Rather, my point is that Village Atheists such as yourself typically assume that their sole task is to turn away any putative evidence for theism, and this automatically resets everything to atheism. To the contrary, atheism carries naturalism in its trunk. Not to open that trunk for examination amounts to a sort of intellectual smuggling.

And Village Atheists such as yourself tend to be totally in the dark about the philosophical problems that confront an all-out naturalistic accounting of things. Read the essays in Jaegwon Kim's Physicalism or Something Near Enough to get just a smattering of an idea.

Kim candidly observes that the programme that involves viewing mental properties as supervening upon physical properties is "a piece of wishful thinking." Mental properties may be preserved only if they are reducible to physical properties, "and reductionism may not be true." His best shot is to offer a "functional reduction" of mental properties to physical, but then so-called qualia fail to make that cut. The result of his project is that "“To be in pain, by definition, is to be in a state which is caused by tissue damage and which in turn causes winces and groans.” One wonders. Isn't there more to pain than this? Isn't there something that it is like to be in pain, over and above a system of inputs and outputs?

But I digress. My point (once again) at this stage is not to advance the arguments that arise out of those problems. Rather, it is to draw attention to their existence. And, should it turn out that there are sound philosophical arguments that preclude a naturalistic accounting of consciousness, then we are forced with a choice between denying consciousness--an odd thing to do, since we must be conscious in order to do it--or allow that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy, Horatio.

I'll ignore your suggestion of an "appeal to consequences of belief" as either you seem not to understand what that amounts to or you are fishing for objections to my piece.

Finally, the difference that I point out, with the help of Chesterton, between "God" and the "gods" is one that could be made by an atheist, though not one of your ilk. Perhaps the point is mistaken. (I think it is not.) But it is an observation regarding the kind of belief system that is involved, and it is an observation that could be made by someone uncommitted to either of the beliefs in comparison. Here's the point: classical theists believe that the Being they call God is both metaphysically and axiologically ultimate. Everything about human existence and our place in the grand scheme of things takes its cue from this belief. As such, it provides a comprehensive worldview such that its denial calls for a grand replacement. Such simply is not true of the various mythologies of history. Zeus, who was once portrayed inebriated and urinating, might, on a good day, be the sort of chap for whom you might buy a beer at the pub. But his function in any comprehensive worldview is not at all like the function of God on theism.


"Puddleglum" by Weatherwax (one of the Muddlings).

Jeeves to the Rescue

sniffles5's picture
Submitted by sniffles5 on Tue, 02/17/2009 - 10:25am.

Muddle, my friend, you're being patronizing here, and it's not advancing your argument.

PhillyChief took you to task for what appears to be a series of logical fallacies on your part in your initial post.

From my standpoint, you do appear to invoke the fallacy of special pleading, attempting to put the onus of disproving God's existence on the "village atheist", rather than accepting the time-honored method of proving your own case.

And yes, you do appear to skate perilously close to the fallacy of appealing to the consequences of belief, at least to my layman's eyes. Your arbitrarily dismissal of PhillyChief's claim does not invalidate his claim. To the contrary, I think it strengthens HIS argument.

I particularly take issue with your claim that PhillyChief's response was "written by a sophomore fresh from his first course". To the contrary, I found PhillyChief's writing to be clear, persuasive, and most importantly, to the point. Your response, on the other hand, was defensive, dismissive, meandering and quite frankly rude and patronizing.

You've given us some good thoughtful pieces in the past. This post, and subsequent response, however, imho haven't met your usual standard.

muddle's picture
Submitted by muddle on Tue, 02/17/2009 - 12:32pm.

From my standpoint, you do appear to invoke the fallacy of special pleading, attempting to put the onus of disproving God's existence on the "village atheist", rather than accepting the time-honored method of proving your own case.

Evidently you didn't read me closely enough.

My aim in that original piece was limited, and I said so very plainly. I do not wish to take the burden off of the theist. In fact, I've taken on that burden and am a part of a major project coming out in May that advances 11 substantial essays defending theistic arguments.

My central point, which I will here repeat almost verbatim, is that atheism carries naturalism in its trunk, and, therefore, naturalism requires a defense. Village Atheists like the Chief here tend to be smug in their assumption that naturalism has reality taped. And, more often than not, they are ignorant of the literature in which more careful philosophical naturalists are attempting to work out a positive naturalistic account.

I observe along the way in the original essay that things are not particularly promising in several key areas. For instance, naturalist philosopher Michael Lockwood recently confessed that the various attempts at reducing the mental to the physical have been so unsuccessful, that it is tempting to suppose that the only reason for holding out for something along those lines is a prior commitment to naturalism. And Colin McGinn observed that the options are (a) eliminativism, (b) "wallowing" in the supernatural (i.e., admitting the possibility of non-natural realities) or (c) appealing to "hidden structure." (a) is clearly false, as it requires people consciously to reject the existence of consciousness. (b) must be rejected because, well, as Richard Lewontin has put it, "we cannot allow a divine foot in the door." So McGinn holds out for saying that we know that there is consciousness, and we know that nothing exists that is not natural, but we haven't the slightest idea of how any of this is possible.

So the point is simply that the dials do not automatically reset them selves to atheism in the event that this or that attempt at establishing theism has not succeeded.

Further, as I note in my reply, the canned "god-of-the-gaps" retort breeds intellectual laziness on the part of atheists who use it. If held in absolute fashion, it has implications that strike me as implausible, namely, that one must not appeal to anything like a creator or designer regardless of the nature of the evidence.

As for charges of being "patronizing" and "dismissive," I reserve the right, upon occasion, to reply in kind. Have a look at the bit that Main pasted in from the other site, not to mention the smarter-than-thou tone that pervades the reply here.

I'm about to post a new blog thread that consists of a book review that I recently wrote for a journal. It covers some of these issues more thoroughly.


"Puddleglum" by Weatherwax (one of the Muddlings).

Jeeves to the Rescue

PhillyChief's picture
Submitted by PhillyChief on Fri, 02/20/2009 - 7:01pm.

It's all fine and cute to posit the idea of a god for things which of yet are unexplained, but to do so is mere fancy and imagineering. There's no redeeming value to that other than what I first said, to appease an anxiety from a missing answer.

Be that as it may, such imagineering yields nothing of value. It can't be tested, nor can it yield knowledge which can be a foundation for future knowledge. So what's the point? Oh right, so called "philosophical problems", as if truths of reality hinged upon whether they upset someone's delicate sensibilities or ponderings of their navels. Please.

That's really what you're arguing, isn't it, that because the Village Theists have so much imagineering invested in god belief, from consciousness to how we got here, that we can't be so quick to dismiss their pacifier? Well sir, that's simply ridiculous, as ridiculous as claiming that you weren't arguing burden of proof in an article with "burden of proof" in the title!

You accuse me of smuggling in naturalism. I admit I trust naturalism because it's got a great track record as a tool so it's reasonable to assume it'll suffice for solving yet to be solved problems. IF another tool were available and appeared to work better, then it would be warranted for use but there really is nothing else at this time, save your imagineering, which I've already shown is valueless beyond mere amusement, and preserving the hopes and dreams of Village Theists.

I do wish to acknowledge your cleverness for attempting to turn the intellectual laziness of g-o-t-g on its head, making atheists the guilty party. So clever. I especially like your excuse that it's wrong to retort with g-o-t-g because it implies "that one must not appeal to anything like a creator or designer regardless of the nature of the evidence." Evidence for what, that which your imagination can fabricate? How about Nessie? Does your objection hold against another's claim that such "evidence" suggests the workings of Nessie? Oh right, you already said it didn't since Nessie believers don't have all that baggage associated with their belief as Village Theists have with theirs. Can you explain to me again how you're not guilty of special pleading?

You can be as personally dismissive and condescending as you please. In fact, I welcome it, for it belies both your emotional involvement clouding your judgement and the failings of your arguments. Have at it then, but please, you can do better than sophomoric, can't you? Even Plantinga can manage "jejune".

Visit YouMadeMeSayIt.blogspot.com

Main Stream's picture
Submitted by Main Stream on Tue, 02/17/2009 - 8:05pm.

My middle-schooler has been learning about Darwin and evolution for the past 3 weeks in science class and has become well versed in explaining the definition of "punctuated equilibrium" to us. Science wins out, even here in the south (bible belt) and until the theist's can offer an alternative to science (won't happen), our children will continue to learn the theory of evolution, as they should. There is no argument, really, and the schools know this, therefore, public schools continue to teach science instead of religion to our children. Until this changes, the theist's and religious philosopher's are only throwing punches in the dark.

muddle's picture
Submitted by muddle on Tue, 02/17/2009 - 10:36pm.

Who was arguing evolution? Do you have Shermer on the bwain?

My argument is with naturalism--the view that reality is exhausted by the sorts of things that may, in principle, be the subject of the physical sciences. Naturalism is not itself a scientific theory nor is it entailed in any non-question-begging way by any of the findings of science. It is a metaphysical view about the ultimate nature of reality, and it stands or falls on its philosophical merits or flaws.

Further, naturalism doesn't entail the theory of evolution, though, as they say, for the naturalist evolution is the only game in town.

And, of course, one might embrace evolution without being a naturalist--theistic evolution, for instance.

And then there is an exaggerated view of the purview of science--call it scientism--which maintains that all valid knowledge is "scientific," i.e., acquired by means of the scientific method. So far as I can tell, the thesis of scientism is not scientific. After all, how could it be either confirmed or falsified by means of a strictly scientific method? It is a piece of philosophy. But it suffers the same fate as "All English sentences are false." That is, it cannot qualify as knowledge on its own showing. But then it is a bad piece of philosophy given the fact that it is thus incoherent.

So, anyway, you're right: "there is no argument." At least not from this direction.


"Puddleglum" by Weatherwax (one of the Muddlings).

Jeeves to the Rescue

Main Stream's picture
Submitted by Main Stream on Mon, 02/16/2009 - 7:51pm.

"Someone appropriately named "Muddle" has attempted to muddle the idea of burden of proof when it comes to her god claim by building a series of hoops one must jump through, based on numerous logical fallacies, before earning the right to weigh in on her claim."

This is from PhillyChief's blog (address above). (btw, Philly, nice blog! I bookmarked it.)

Just to be fair, muddle usually speaks kindly to us agnostic/atheist types when he's in the mood. My eyes usually start glazing over, however, after the first few sentences of his posts, since I'm not up-to-speed on his use of philosophy lingo. Muddle's cool...he's a micro brew drinkin' kayaker, Philly man! Instead of the Village Idiot, like some on here, he is our Village Philosopher.

btw muddle, I'm enjoying the Florida sun and sand this week with la familia, reading "Why Darwin Matters" by Michael Shermer. I'm getting some dirty looks though from the "churchy" crowd. Shocked

Submitted by dollaradayandno... on Tue, 02/17/2009 - 6:36am.

Is to muddle the waters such that several answers are covered within a page or two. That can go on for scores of pages depending upon what the publisher wants.
Quoting old dudes of old (wow) is the philosopher's power, however some of those old dudes were very fallible.

Philosophizing is somewhat like bone hunters or hunter's of dinosaur DNA in tree sap. They baffle with BS. Go to school and read for years to learn how to do so.

But, I must say, we need them.
Without them to compare with politicians, businessmen, and bankers we would soon be overtaken by skulduggery! And vice-versa.

PhillyChief's picture
Submitted by PhillyChief on Tue, 02/17/2009 - 12:00am.

Even Nazis played with kittens sometimes, when they were in the mood. Smiling

Visit YouMadeMeSayIt.blogspot.com

Submitted by USArmybrat on Mon, 02/16/2009 - 9:42pm.

It's probably not the Darwin book that is getting those "churchy dirty looks" but those pentagram tattoos you probably have! You wicked Wiccan! LOL! Have a nice vacation and ignore the "churchy" crowd!Eye-wink

Submitted by jeeprs on Mon, 02/16/2009 - 12:17am.

I posted a few arguments against atheism on a forum over Christmas. Many of these were based, not on intelligent design or creation theology, which I don't subscribe to, but traditional metaphysics and philosophy, of the type any traditionally-educated person would be familiar with. To my surprise, I realised after not too long that the main atheist objections to all variety of metaphysical or philosophical argument is basically: 'Tosh'. 'So you think that Natural Selection is not a complete philosophical explanation of everything? Tosh.' 'So you think that Plato's forms might actually represent something real? Tosh.' 'So you think that traditional philosophy has grounds for calling into question the evidence of the senses? Tosh'. This, when you really analyse it, is about the level of argument employed by the so-called 'new atheists'. I have moved on. It is not productive to engage on this level.

muddle's picture
Submitted by muddle on Mon, 02/16/2009 - 7:45am.

'So you think it's not productive to engage at this level? Tosh.'

That reminds me of the "Argument Clinic." John Cleese "argues" by simple contradiction: "No, no, no. Nonsense!"

You're right. There is a widespread assumption of some sort of radical (and dubiously coherent) empiricism among such types. Interestingly, though, they'll employ a bit of philosophical argument if it serves their interests, but then run back to something like positivism if the philosophical argument seems to go against them. I had this experience on this site a few months ago. Someone urged a Euthyphro-like objection to any and all theistic conceptions of morality. I replied by suggesting a model that appeals to God's nature rather than his arbitrary will as the possible grounds for moral values. Such a model, I argued, avoids the arbitrariness urged by the Euthyphro objection. The reply? "That sort of philosophy is nonsense!"

So, you're right again: There are much better venues.

But even much of the published work from people like Hitchens does not rise far above the level of 'Tosh.' Hitchens is just particularly good at saying it.

This is why I distinguish between Village Atheists--of the sort who frequent such sites, form groups with names like "The Freedom From Religion Foundation," or write books with titles like "God is Not Great"--from philosophical naturalists who are in the business of offering positive naturalistic accounts of things. Dan Dennett is usually thought of in the "New Atheism" genre, but his "Darwin's Dangerous Idea" is, I think, an example of an attempt to offer sweeping naturalistic explanations. And there are people working in various disciplines--e.g., Jaegwon Kim in philosophy of mind, or Nick Sturgeon in moral philosophy, to name only a couple--whose approach is thoroughly atheistic/naturalistic, but who say a whole lot more than 'Tosh.' These are the people whose views are worthy of engagement.


"Puddleglum" by Weatherwax (one of the Muddlings).

Jeeves to the Rescue

Submitted by Davids mom on Sun, 02/15/2009 - 10:53pm.

There you go again - making us think!! I'll be back!

Submitted by Nitpickers on Sun, 02/15/2009 - 9:35pm.

Whether the Creator was only active in the creation of this universe and possibly others, and whether the Creator is still active in running the thing--on a daily or second basis, is not what baffles me.

I don't see that difference as too important once it is accepted that we were created at one time or another.

What does baffle me is the multitude of "understandings" that at least people, if not animals, have as to the details of daily life.

Just how a human can be so vindictive, mean, brutal, and selfish human one minute, and then go into a church and pray, apparently sincerely, to a God still in existence for forgiveness---knowing that tomorrow the same occurrences will probably occur again is baffling to me.

I would not expect us to all live like a silent Monk who doesn't even want to see others, but fights daily to remain the same, but why do we become as two entities, one somewhat evil, while we struggle to live?

If so, then it must be a test for us just to see which way we finally end up! Or, are we just afraid not to pretend to worship a
personally unknown entity? Because if we did personally know such an entity, certainly we wouldn't have the courage to be evil, anytime!

yardman5508's picture
Submitted by yardman5508 on Sat, 02/21/2009 - 8:22am.

I have never completely understood how life was supposed to have developed in the primordial ooze. That sounds vaguely like "spontaneous generation" to me. Keep the faith.

Democracy is NOT a spectator sport

aliquando's picture
Submitted by aliquando on Sat, 02/21/2009 - 8:26am.

If not us, then who?

Science does not answer this very well either. Best current explanation is something akin to self-replicating RNA, similar to a prion. But it always falls back on random mish-mash of molecules just getting lucky.

yardman5508's picture
Submitted by yardman5508 on Sat, 02/21/2009 - 8:55am.

that is certainly interesting...sort of the "Infinite number of monkeys, infinite number of typewriters, and infinite amount of paper" approach to creation of life. Keep the faith.

Democracy is NOT a spectator sport.

Submitted by Bonkers on Sat, 02/21/2009 - 4:17pm.

It is so much easier to explain our creation by saying instant creation with rule books!
All of that chemical stuff and accidents is too hard to believe.

aliquando's picture
Submitted by aliquando on Sat, 02/21/2009 - 10:29am.

If not us, then who?

They will complicate the issue, but here is the real question. DNA/RNA code for the assembly of proteins, yet they can not be created without said proteins. It is the chicken or egg question. Have a great weekend.

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