Thursday, December 13, 2007

Atheists don't have to prove anything

John Morales says:
For the umpteenth (plus one) time, atheists do not share any beliefs/opinions/traits other than a disbelief in gods.

There is no such thing as a communal "atheist worldview".

Different atheists will give different answers, because there is no such thing as atheist dogma.

Dr. Robert Morey writes:

My... problem with (George) Smith's definition (of atheism, in his book Atheism: The Case Against God [Buffalo: Prometheus Books, 1979]) is how he can attempt to disprove the theistic proofs if he cannot make any assertion about anything. By what standards does he judge these proofs as invalid? On what basis and by what methods can he criticize the theistic proofs if he does not have his own belief system? Why does he have to appeal to such things as "logic" on page 61, and to "reason" on page 110? By doing this he is implying as his confession of faith, "I believe in logic. I believe in reason." He evidently asserts his belief in such things. When he says that every "advocate of reason must begin with an unequivocal condemnation of Christianity's brutal past" (p. 114), to make such moral judgments requires a prior commitment to ethical standards by which he can judge something. If he does not assert anything, however, he then cannot condemn anything.

-The New Atheism and the Erosion of Freedom (Minnesota: Bethany House Publishers, 1986, p. 47-48)

27 comments:

Rintintin said...

Interestingly I was reading about a study done on morality

(http://www.wjh.harvard.edu/
~mnkylab/publications/recent/
HauserSingerMoralRelig05.pdf)

whereby 2 groups (1 religious, 1 non-religious) were asked a series of questions, and to justify their responses to said questions.

have a read and see what you think on the results of this

http://www.americanscientist.org/
template/InterviewTypeDetail/
assetid/52880

http://www.news.harvard.edu/
gazette/2007/05.03/15-hauser.html

there's also an interview on these 2 sites with one of the researchers

The point (I think) you are trying to make is that because Christians have a 'divine command' and therefore a completely defined base for morality, this means non-Christians (or at least atheists and possibly agnostics) cannot be critical of Christian morals.

But as the researchers point out, there should be consistency between the group of religiously motivated moral judgments, but not between the group of atheistic moral judgments, as atheists have no objective 'base' from which to define their morality. They should also be expected to differ in their explanations as to why they picked the course of action they did. This doesn't appear to be the case according to their results.

You then also have to ask about God's moral rules - is God bound by morality, or does God create morality? If the latter, then it's still a subjective morality and in that way just as arbitrary as you perceive atheistic morality to be. If the former, how can God be omnipotent if he is bound by rules that apply to human conduct, and where is the source or external reference for these rules? Or a third option, as the researchers pointed out it's something of a tautology to say that if morality comes from God and god is (apparently) good, therefore God's instructions are also good. Again you have to ask why is God considered good - against what external reference point is this being considered, without resorting to stating that God is good because God is good? I can say the same for my personal preferences of morality - I consider them good, because I think they are good.

Then you have the option that God sees an action, and considers it good then commands it - but this means that it is possible to find good/moral actions without God.

Rhology said...

Rintintin,

Haha, you're just a little late on this! No problem, let me direct you to where the action is on these questions.

Started here.
Continued here.
Continued here.

It's been kind of a running dialogue with Martin Wagner at the Atheist Experience.
I might take a look at that article. I think it's a little beside the point I'm trying to make, though.

This post by a like-minded blogger is worth looking at too.

Thanks.
Rhology

NAL said...

So atheists need a dogma before they can make judgments about someone else's dogma?

Rhology said...

They ASSUME at least basic dogmatic framework in critiquing other worldviews, to say nothing of in real life. (It's either you or the bus hurtling towards you, it can't be both.)

John Morales said...

Rhology,

I fail to see the connection between this post's title and the topic.

Perhaps you could explain.

merkur said...

I second Morales' comment. I also fail to see how the two quotes are related to each other in any way. They don't seem to form a coherent point. Perhaps you could explain.

Rhology said...

Sorry if I didn't explain it well.

John said that atheists "do not share any beliefs/opinions/traits other than a disbelief in gods."

The quote is pointing out that they DO. Capische?

John Morales said...

Capische?

So, you think that because Robert Morey has a problem with George Smith's definition of atheism (inasmuch as he uses reason), that shows all atheists share a communal worldview?

Funny. Weird, but funny.

More to the point, how does me saying that there is no atheist dogma imply that atheists don't have to prove anything?

Oh, and a quick internet search yields, amongst others:
I am an atheist but believe that religions have taught people to get along with each other.
ie. you can be an atheist but believe that you can't prove God's non-existance.
I am an atheist but believe "holy" in the ten commandments. These arn't biblical messages... they are common sense
I'm an atheist, but believe in personal spiritual evolution
I am an atheist, but believe people possess an innate goodness that only needs to be let free
I am an atheist but believe that I learned a great deal from reading the Bible when I was younger
I am an Atheist but believe that that the pope made some wise comments
I am an atheist, but believe that as everything has its own particular "frequency", which therefore includes humanity
Though FYI I am actually an atheist, but believe in the 'man' Jesus and what his message was.
I am an atheist but believe in some of the teachings of the Buddha. I believe that all that is in the earth and the universe are connected...

merkur said...

"John said that atheists "do not share any beliefs/opinions/traits other than a disbelief in gods.""

I tend to think that he was referring to religious beliefs, e.g. dogma. Morey glosses Smith's words, a) pretending that his implied statement is "I believe in logic", when Smith has implied no such thing,; b) pretending that talking about one's "belief" in logic is the same thing as "belief" in God, when they are clearly different things; and c) presenting an argument which just doesn't make any sense unless you accept the presuppositional position, which I don't.

Rhology said...

John,

If you have a belief in something then you have a worldview. Are you trying to say you don't have a worldview?
Atheism assumes belief in something. Logic, for example. The idea that one can know that the evidence for the existence of a god is insufficient.


Merkur,

So you don't think Smith is implying that he believes in logic. Do you think Smith DOES believe in logic?

What is the diff in your mind between belief in logic and belief in God? For the record, I believe they're slightly different too but I'd like your take on it.

merkur said...

"What is the diff in your mind between belief in logic and belief in God?"

It depends on how we define belief. If we define belief in the broadest possible way, then belief in logic and belief in God are simply matters of degree. However I believe* that you - and many other theists - use belief in two different senses, switching between them to suit your argument. I am not accusing you of doing this deliberately - it's a trick that the language plays on you - although I am sure that some do it deliberately.

I think that you would agree that there is a difference between me saying that I believe that this table exists and that I believe that God exists. The two claims are about beings on a completely different order from each other, and are based on different criteria.

However I assert that a "belief" in logic is comparable to neither of these. People would be unlikely to say "I believe in logic" since the thing being referred to is not clearly defined enough to be meaningful. If one were to say "I believe in logic", it would not be meant in the sense that one believes in a table or God, i.e. as a physical object which can be experienced. One would simply mean that logic appears to work and I am prepared to use it as a tool.

* You will notice that I use the word "believe" here, deliberately.

John Morales said...

Rhology,

The genesis of this particular discussion began when you wrote a post contrasting "the" atheist viewpoint with the Christian viewpoint.

In short, because there is no single worldview regarding morality that all atheists share, to speak of "the" atheist viewpoint (in that context) is to speak of that which does not exist, i.e. something you made up*.

Specifically, you have assumed there exists a common atheist morality, despite all evidence to the contrary. That is the problem I have with your (implicit) contention*.

Here is an example of the invalidity of your argument, without using symmbolic notation:
Def: Call someone who believes in and worships Zeus a Zeuist, and someone who does not an a-Zeuist.
P1: By your claim, all a-Zeuists share a worldview, since they share a disbelief.
P2: Atheists are a-Zeuists, and Christians are also a-Zeuists.
C: By your logic, therefore, atheists and Christians share a worldview.

Note that, when you put different true premises into your argument, you get a false conclusion. This is an indication that the argument is invalid.

*There's a name for that.

G-man said...

Well said, Morales!

Rhology said...

hi all,

G-man certainly seems to think it's OK to use the term "atheism" to denote a system of belief.
Anyway...

merkur said:
If we define belief in the broadest possible way, then belief in logic and belief in God are simply matters of degree.

1) I might be willing to grant that.
2) You concede my point. Duly noted.

However I believe* that you - and many other theists - use belief in two different senses

Well, I define "belief" differently than many, and as you said, it is a matter of degree.
But in this case, we're talking about faith in 1st principles. 1st principles are unprovable as such, aren't they?

I think that you would agree that there is a difference between me saying that I believe that this table exists and that I believe that God exists.

Yes, I would.
Believing at least implicitly in God is necessary to believe that anything exists at all, unlike belief in the table.
A decent analogy is the sun - you can't look directly at it w/o blinding yourself, but you can't look at anythg else w/o the sun's presence.

One would simply mean that logic appears to work and I am prepared to use it as a tool.

Yes, you have faith in it.
Go ahead, use logic to prove logic.
Uh oh - you're going to beg the question, aren't you?
Believing in logic is part of your worldview, your belief system. Same as believing in the God of the Bible, which is my point in this post.


John Morales said:
"the" atheist viewpoint with the Christian viewpoint.

So there are some atheists who don't hold to the presupposition that logic is a valid form of reasoning?
There are some atheists who don't believe that it is possible to communicate?
There are some atheists who don't believe that all this is possible despite not believing in a god?
There are some atheists who don't believe that there is insufficient evidence to believe in a god?

because there is no single worldview regarding morality that all atheists share

Well, I'm aware of that. I'm using "the atheist worldview" as shorthand, a catch-all, since I'm not aware of any of these varied systems to which you allude that have an objective basis for morality.
If one exists, you have but to let me know.

you have assumed there exists a common atheist morality, despite all evidence to the contrary.

By no means! If you think that, you're not even following me from step 1.
My point is that the atheistic position (should I say positionS? would that make you feel better?) cannot justify morality, has no objective basis for it. It is simply personal preference or at most societal preference, when you dig deep enough.

P1: By your claim, all a-Zeuists share a worldview, since they share a disbelief.

The problem with your example is there, in P1.
The point of this post is to demonstrate that atheists POSITIVELY ASSERT some things they hold to. Holding to something = a worldview.
Why not deal with Morey's quote instead of dealing with what we DON'T hold to? Call me an a-Zeuist if you want, fine. I don't see why it makes a difference here.

Peace,
Rhology

NAL said...

Morey:
... to make such moral judgments requires a prior commitment to ethical standards by which he can judge something.

Well, DUH!

Morey:
If he does not assert anything, however, he then cannot condemn anything.

This sounds like a cop-out. Morey already determined that the atheist has "ethical standards". Someone with "ethical standards" can't condemn unethical behavior because he didn't "assert" his ethical standards? Baloney!

merkur said...

1. I said that if we define belief in the broadest way possible, belief in logic and belief in God are simply matters of degree. I do not define belief in this broad sense, as indicated by my use of the word "however" later in the post.

2. Your "point" is that "believing in logic" is part of my worldview, and I do not concede this point on two grounds. Firstly, I do not accept your idea of "worldviews", and secondly, I developed my worldview before I understood logic.

3. By "matters of degree", I mean that a "belief" in logic can be based entirely on common sense evidence that logic works, whereas a "belief" in God requires faith.

4. I do not believe that logic is absolute or universal, and I am prepared to accept that our form of logic outside that portion of existence which is known (and knowable) to us.

5. You point out that you define "belief" differently than many. That's your prerogative, but you should make that clear when engaging in discussions - otherwise you are acting in an entirely dishonest manner.

6. God is not your first principle; you are your own first principle. Without accepting that you exist, you cannot account for an entity that then accepts God.

7. Belief in your version of God is not necessary to believe that anything exists. I do not believe in God, yet I believe that other things exist.

8. I do not have "faith" in logic, any more than I have "faith" in language. They are simply tools which I use to navigate my life; sometimes they're useful, sometimes they're not.

9. In a religious context, faith is defined as belief without proof. A logical system cannot contain its own proof; the proof of logic (by which I mean, proof of the efficacy of logic) is merely that it works.

10. When you say "use logic to prove logic", you seem to think that you're being very clever; but although a logical proof may be self-evident, that doesn't mean the same thing as circular.

11. Finally; you're using words wrongly - for example, mixing two different definitions of "belief" - in order to try and win arguments. I'm sure God smiles on you, but don't expect me to play along.

G-man said...

Not sure what you mean by "system of belief," so I'm not sure how you gathered that from what I wrote. However, I get the sinking feeling from the glee in your response that you've misinterpreted me.

"Go ahead, use logic to prove logic.
Uh oh - you're going to beg the question, aren't you?"

It does end up being question-begging, yes, but I think a belief in logic follows from an observation of reality. Those who don't believe in reality (particularly objective reality) probably can't make much of a case for the working of logical relationships.

Rhology said...

Hi NAL,

Well, DUH!

Translation: I concede Morey's (and by extension, Rhology's) point.
Cool.

Morey already determined that the atheist has "ethical standards". Someone with "ethical standards" can't condemn unethical behavior because he didn't "assert" his ethical standards?

1) You deny then that you have any ethical standards?
2) To what then will you compare a behavior in order to call it "ethical" or "unethical"?


Merkur said:
Firstly, I do not accept your idea of "worldviews", and secondly, I developed my worldview before I understood logic.

I'm not saying you had to understand logic or that you do now, one way or the other.
You PRESUPPOSE it in forming a worldview. At the bare minimum you presuppose the law of identity - "This worldview is mine and another one that differs from it is not exactly like mine."

By "matters of degree", I mean that a "belief" in logic can be based entirely on common sense evidence that logic works, whereas a "belief" in God requires faith.

1) Things aren't true b/c they "work". Some things work b/c they are true.
2) Atheism believes that humanity arose -somehow- out of inanimate material. Inanimate material doesn't think, doesn't use logic. It's up to you to justify then the existence of logical laws.
3) The faith you have in logic and the faith I have in God are similar in that they are the 1st principles of our reasoning. You can't use logic to prove logic is without being circular. Same with God.

I do not believe that logic is absolute or universal

Then jello has no bones and the 4 they fly the much.
I'm just using a different kind of logic. 4 fdnaldkuwnd eat dnsikldl hjosisnmasu.

That's your prerogative, but you should make that clear when engaging in discussions - otherwise you are acting in an entirely dishonest manner.

I've been doing so.

God is not your first principle; you are your own first principle.

Oh, now you're the expert on my own worldview?
What's your argument for that?

Without accepting that you exist, you cannot account for an entity that then accepts God.

This is a non sequitur.
God is Necessary, for one thing.
But if I didn't exist, there are plenty of other beings to accept God. My wife, for example.

Belief in your version of God is not necessary to believe that anything exists.

It is to JUSTIFY the knowledge that anythg exists.
And it is to justify knowledge, period.

I do not believe in God, yet I believe that other things exist.

As far as you do so, you borrow from my worldview.
Let me illustrate - what do you think is the nature of the origin of time, matter, and energy? Whence did it come?

I do not have "faith" in logic, any more than I have "faith" in language. They are simply tools which I use to navigate my life; sometimes they're useful, sometimes they're not.

So sometimes you don't use logic? How do you know when you're not? Clearly you couldn't be using logic to know!
How can anyone be sure that you're using logic when you cogitate and come to the conclusion that God doesn't exist?

In a religious context, faith is defined as belief without proof.

I don't accept that definition, so there you go.
Faith is defined biblically as "being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see" (Hebrews 11:1).
All humanity knows that God exists but suppress the truth in wickedness. I know that God exists, as do you, but I am relying on Him for salvation and forgiveness and submit to His will. Faith is believing in all that God has said even though I don't see all of it, though I don't see the future. It is based on evidence I have acknowledged.
Hopefully that helps.

the proof of logic (by which I mean, proof of the efficacy of logic) is merely that it works.

This is just pragmatism and is self-refuting.

although a logical proof may be self-evident, that doesn't mean the same thing as circular.

Haha, OK, prove the logical proof as self-evident and don't use logic.

G-man said:
Not sure what you mean by "system of belief"

I mean "those things which you believe."

but I think a belief in logic follows from an observation of reality.

As does belief in God.

Those who don't believe in reality (particularly objective reality) probably can't make much of a case for the working of logical relationships.

I wholeheartedly agree with that, at least!

Peace,
Rhology

Rhology said...

Add NAL to those who use the term "atheist worldview".
Make sure to direct objections over this to him/her as well.

NAL said...

Morey already determined that the atheist has "ethical standards". Someone with "ethical standards" can't condemn unethical behavior because he didn't "assert" his ethical standards?

1) You deny then that you have any ethical standards?
2) To what then will you compare a behavior in order to call it "ethical" or "unethical"?


What?

non sequitur
a statement (as a response) that does not follow logically from or is not clearly related to anything previously said

Obviously I didn't make my point clearly.

John Morales said...

I note Rhology has still not even attempted to justify why, even under the false proposition that atheists share a dogma, that it follows that "Atheists don't have to prove anything". I presume he considers a catchy title better than a relevant one.

I note Rhology still writes as if I'm arguing that atheists have no worldview or opinions (beliefs), though I've made it explicit they do - rather, my claim is that many have mutually exclusive beliefs.

I note Rhology still hasn't addressed my contention (that there is no atheist dogma*) other than to claim that to have beliefs amounts to dogma.

I note Rhology has still not addressed why I can with a short search string come up with multiple different beliefs by atheists, thus providing evidence; he ignores this and continues to maintain we share beliefs and a worldview.

I expected no more.

I note Rhology's response to my example of his argument was to point to P1, totally misunderstanding the thrust of the argument.
First, P1 is his claim from the parent post, so it's rich to argue with it. He is the one who claims it's true, so if it problematic he should accept his claim is problematic.
Second, he has shifted context; the point is not that all have worldviews, but that the worldviews are not all the same.
Third, he has avoided either defending his argument as valid or acknowledging it as invalid.

As always, disingenuousness and obfuscation are his tools.

On a positive note, I acknowledge Rhology has neither deleted posts nor banned anyone who points out Rhology's speciousness, so far as I know. That's creditable and better than at least one Objectivist I shan't name.

*Some atheists do have a dogma. They are in a minority.

Were Rhology to have said, in the first instance (or even now) that "Some atheists believe [blah]", I would not have a problem if he provided evidence for it.
My problem is with his false imputation of a common belief-system to atheists in general.

Finally, I believe he is also mistaken in his view that all Christians share a worldview.

John Morales said...

Rhology, this is a separate comment to a separate topic.

J: you have assumed there exists a common atheist morality, despite all evidence to the contrary.

R: By no means! If you think that, you're not even following me from step 1.
My point is that the atheistic position (should I say positionS? would that make you feel better?) cannot justify morality, has no objective basis for it. It is simply personal preference or at most societal preference, when you dig deep enough.

===

Atheistic positions is more appropriate.

I've already said some atheists consider there exists an objective morality, and some don't. I have provided examples and links.
Here is one more link for each position:
http://www.strongatheism.net/library/philosophy/case_for_objective_morality/
http://lettersfromlevrai.blogspot.com/2007/09/is-there-moral-law.html

Personally, I think there is no such thing as an objective morality.

This may surprise you, but I (and many others) do not need an objective morality. I do seek a consistent morality, but that is different.

Responding to Merkur, you wrote
Believing in logic is part of your worldview, your belief system. Same as believing in the God of the Bible, which is my point in this post.

If you stand by that, then his basis for morality is "the same" as your basis for morality.
Or, in other words, you claim your morality follows from your belief in God and is therefore valid and objective, whereas others' morality follows from their belief in logic and is therefore invalid and subjective.
In other words (I'm finding three repetitions in different phrasing seem to aid your comprehension) your morality is based on your beliefs, his morality is based on his beliefs, yet somehow yours is objective and his is not.

Tsk. If you stand by that, then you are being hypocritical.

Rhology said...

Hi John,

OK, I'll break my comments into 2 for better flow.

even under the false proposition that atheists share a dogma, that it follows that "Atheists don't have to prove anything". I presume he considers a catchy title better than a relevant one.

You may have a point there. It did make a catchy title... I'll have to think about that.

my claim is that many have mutually exclusive beliefs.

OK, that's fine.
But I'm arguing that the varied stripes of moral theory within atheism all reduce to the same basic problem.

other than to claim that to have beliefs amounts to dogma.

We might be using the word "dogma" differently.
What do you think is the difference between "beliefs" and "dogma"?

he ignores this and continues to maintain we share beliefs and a worldview.

Wow, you believe sthg different than someone else! Stop the press!
It does not therefore follow that you don't share a basic worldview.

the point is not that all have worldviews, but that the worldviews are not all the same.

How at the base are all these atheistic moral positions not the same in lacking a transcendent, objective moral basis?

I acknowledge Rhology has neither deleted posts nor banned anyone who points out Rhology's speciousness, so far as I know. That's creditable and better than at least one Objectivist I shan't name.

Noted and appreciated, John.
Yeah, I don't delete posts, except for pr0|\| spam.



I believe he is also mistaken in his view that all Christians share a worldview.

Certainly more definition of what constitutes a "Christian" is in order.
You know, I try to do this faithfully but sometimes get clumsy and forget to make the distinction: when dealing with a POSITION, it is usually essential to keep the discussion centered on the position rather than on the people who hold it, since people are inconsistent as a rule.
I might have done that here, but I don't see where...
So I'd remake your sentence into "I believe he is also mistaken in his view that the Bible delineates a single worldview."
Would you disagree with that? If so, why?

Peace,
Rhology

Rhology said...

Ok, separate comment for the 2nd of John's.

This may surprise you, but I (and many others) do not need an objective morality. I do seek a consistent morality, but that is different.

No, I gathered that from interaction with you.

then his basis for morality is "the same" as your basis for morality.

Why? How does logic provide an objective basis for morality? Does logic deal in questions of OUGHT?
Logic is impersonal, the God of the Bible is personal.

his morality is based on his beliefs, yet somehow yours is objective and his is not.

What I'm trying to express is not that each isn't based on his beliefs, but the OBJECT of those beliefs and that object's ability to justify moral claims with an objective basis.

Peace,
Rhology

John Morales said...

Rhology,

1.
Mutually exclusive beliefs means (by definition) if you hold one you cannot hold the other.

Further, I refer you to the definition of "dogma" in Wikipedia or any dictionary. That's the sense in which I use the word.

1&2.
Your questions hinge on what an "objective" basis for something is.
On what basis do you claim "Biblical law" is objective?

Here is my take on the difference between atheist and a Christian morality:

A Christian cannot choose what morality must be followed; they must adopt whatever is held by their denomination. They must not ever change from this decreed moral code, regardless of their own belief.

An atheist may choose whatever moral code they are comfortable with. And they can change that code over time as they gain wisdom, knowledge and experience.

Rhology said...

Hi John,

Mutually exclusive beliefs means (by definition) if you hold one you cannot hold the other.

Well, true, but they share others.
People believe many diff kinds of things.

On what basis do you claim "Biblical law" is objective?

That's been discussed recently.

A Christian cannot choose what morality must be followed; they must adopt whatever is held by their denomination.

Well, kind of.
I am INFLUENCED by my denomination, true, but any and all of what my denom says is subject to revision and annulment by God's revelation.

An atheist may choose whatever moral code they are comfortable with.

Which is precisely part of my point.

And they can change that code over time as they gain wisdom, knowledge and experience.

Except the basis doesn't ever become objective.
And they can never answer the questions you haven't been able to answer here. Gaining wisdom and knowledge about an aimless whatever-morality is not really all that impressive to me. I don't know why it is to you.

Peace,
Rhology

Rhology said...

Let me also point out that my friend Vox Veritatis has posted a nice smushing of the idea of a-Zeusism or whatever.

Quite a red herring, but it's one of the only things an atheist has to go on. Might as well ride that mule!