Thursday, June 8, 2017

It's Not A Matter Of Proof It's A Matter Of What Will Get You Looked Askance At And Whispered About In The Faculty Lounge

I am not really big on the "proving the existence of God" stuff because I've never been convinced that proof was relevant to the issue.  Over the course of my adulthood I've been mildly interested in the question but early figured out that any way you handled it, for or against, you had to rely on premises you had to take on faith so you might as well just admit that it was a matter of belief.

Through looking at the pursuit of the debate in a more rigorous manner in the fifteen years or so since the beginning of the new atheism fad, considering just that issue of the argument being based on belief at the beginning (and so at the end)  the conclusion isn't one that supports the belief that human beings are capable of anything but reliance on belief for anything, including science, mathematics and, in the ultimate impeachment of the concept of absolute knowledge, logic, itself.

You have to have accepted the truth of foundations of all of it, you might have accepted those foundational truths in your earliest childhood based on the experience of things reliably occurring or existing and on the basis of commonly shared common sense arising out of common experiences.

But those are probably some of the least rigorously examined of all beliefs because on their primitive acceptance everything else taken as to constitute rational experience and thought are based.  Don't mistake that observation the way some of the jerks who troll me do, as the rinky-dink, Frosh class philosophical kind of debunkery of that experience as an exercise, that stuff is banal, frequently stupid and generally over done by uninspired teachers of such intro level classes.  If someone is too stupid to, need more than the statement of the fact that their everyday experience of reality and rational thought are founded on faith, they don't belong in a Frosh philosophy class to start with.  I've gone over the famous story told of D. T. Suzuki, the great scholar of Zen when asked by a famous Western philosopher if a table was real he. as it was told to me, answered rather impatiently (for a Zen scholar) "Yes".  And when the Western philosopher pursued the matter, "In what sense is it real,  Dr. Suzuki" the story goes he said,  "In every sense".

This is a long way to saying someone encouraged me to watch a William Lane Craig video,  Arguments for God's Existence | Worldview Apologetics Conference 2017,  that was put up yesterday or the day before.   Figuring I needed something to get me away from politics for a few minutes, I watched it. expecting I'd find it a little irritating in the "Is this table real" way.

I have watched a number of Craig's debates with famous atheists such as Lawrence Krauss and Sean Carroll and was impressed a lot more with his grasp of the cosmological issues and his handling of arguments for the existence of God than those of his opponents.  Larry Krauss embarrassed himself and unintentionally exposed some of the most threadbare and dishonest of atheist tactics that I used to think he was above.   Sean Carroll did better but only managed to keep Craig from mopping the floor with him.   I find Craig somewhat less impressive when it comes to dealing with such matters as the question of evil and on matters where I think his reliance on, not a fundamentalist reading of the scriptures but a far more literalist one than I accept, is unpersuasive.   Though many do find him as impressive on that, he's wildly popular with a lot of people, he's respected by many atheist philosophers.  I respect him, especially as a philosopher and a debater, but I find my inspiration elsewhere.

Anyway, I watched the video which you can here.  It lasts 49 minutes.  I'm not going to cue any particular part of it.  There are one or two places where I lost the thread of his thought but I think that's because I hadn't done much reading on those issues, the ones I had read on seemed soundly argued, to me.

As I mentioned, I expected to find the video irritating but it wasn't too bad in that way.  As I listened to it, as I thought about the ways in which his arguments would be attacked by atheists (they tend to be as predictable in their attacks on arguments as they are in their arguments) and something else happened.

I started asking myself other questions that have been occurring to me more lately.  Questions of the levels of evidence that are considered respectable in academia and in the common received secular wisdom, in the media and other lower mid-brow venues of attitude transmission, the kind of thinking accorded respectability and the violation of which will get someone looked askance at, smiled condescendingly to or be used to attack someone's standing, something which is understood to be unacceptable.   The kind that marks them as a cooties carrier, which is what it boils down to.

The Kalam argument that one of the two short films deal with is handled well by Craig, it is an argument he has thought about deeply, I believe he's written on it. It is, though, the one I find less persuasive.  At least that's how I caught my self thinking about it as I listened.

Then I thought,  really, what other things in the list of the things one is required to believe have better arguments to support them?

How many of the things which we accept every day on the authoritative statements of scientists have we ever thought of with the same level of rigor as Craig presents that argument with on even a popular level?  And a lot of the things we are expected to believe as a matter of faith, on the declaration of scientists or other experts, are far more contrary to our everyday experience.  And that's the real science, not the frequently baseless claims of behavioral scientists which, when you look at the published science, is obvious garbage, sometimes blatant nonsense.

His presentation of the fine tuning of the constants of nature led to me asking how many people who accept the values of those constants as a matter of secular fact understand them at all.  Even the ones who actually know what they mean, so a minority of the audience, do so as a matter of fact instead of on the basis of having understood the arguments that support them.   I don't even understand what most of them are, but I am supposed to, as a member of the educated population, accept them on the say so of scientists, on faith.

Even taking as a given those constants are accurately measured, are real as defined and have the enormous range of merely physical consequences asserted as made for them, many people with degrees and careers in science believe in them on a faith surpassing the faith that one would have to accept the one for the existence of God based on them.

If you believe they are real and if you believe the statements about the fine tuning of them and the consequences made by the most eminent of cosmologists (many of them atheists) of the possible tiniest variations in those values as not permitting a life supporting universe, the belief that fine tuning inevitably implies the existence of God to well past the range of reasonable doubt is not an unrespectable conclusion.

Why is it respectable and accepted that science can define them and reveal an effective range of their properties and consequences on faith that must be based on mere authoritative acceptance of their word but a simpler logical argument based on that faith, as a given, is considered unrespectable?  The arguments for it are certainly stronger than the ones Craig discussed which assert the multiverse or the various schemes proposed to get by the other big problem of the origin of the universe in an absolute beginning.   I'll point out that Craig's claim that a multiverse and its mechanism of creation would almost certainly have to be fine-tuned itself makes a lot more sense to me than the atheist assertions that motivated cosmologists to make it up out of nothing.

Yet atheists will get upset with you when you express skepticism about these ultimate claims of would-be science for which there is absolutely no evidence at all except for the ideological motives of their creators.  And they didn't even think them out past where they wanted to stop.  An infinite God would be logically concluded to be capable of creating an infinite number of universes, so that got them nowhere, anyway.  Instead of creating a jillion universes while facing down the bad news that people would be led to believe in God due to the Big Bang theory, they grasped at intellectual straws.

In the end I don't think the issue is one of whether or not people find those arguments persuasive, I think the issue is whether or not they can admit that they do find them persuasive without suffering the kind of pressure to keep quiet about it or be shunned in respectable company.  I think that is mostly a question of fashion and social coercion to conform to the current intellectual fashions and the anxious feeling of insecure and ignorant people to want to seem in with that than it does anything to do with reason or knowledge.  I've come to the conclusion that many religious believers, even many I disagree with as I do Craig, are quite intelligent and are often entirely more prepared to argue their case than even the most eminent of atheist intellectuals.  For me one of the greatest consequences of the new atheist fad was that when I went back and looked at the arguments of atheists, even the best of them, they depended far more on coercive fashions, bullying and misrepresentations than their opponents.

I have handled that in the typical Irish manner that annoys Britatheists and those in the fashion capitols such as New York City so much, I just decided not to care about their disdain.

I do think that the use of science to support faith is no less respectable than the use of it to support atheism. That, I think is a truth that becomes more obvious with looking closely at this.   I think that if the range of things said by scientists about the fine-tuning of those constants persist over time that they make a far better argument that the physical universe exhibits features leading to conclusions of design than they do random chance producing the universe we experience and which human study has revealed.   Though I think that the argument from design will never really be treatable by science because science, by its rules, is unequipped to handle it,  it is an intellectually respectable claim.

It's not what I found persuaded me.  That was my experience of life and my reading of history.  Fact checking the common anti-religious claims of history and seeing how many of those are blatant lies didn't add much to the atheist side of the scales.   I think the thing that persuaded me most to go from unfocused and generalized faith to believing was the Gospel of Jesus, a closer reading of The Law and the Prophets and, in the end, a closer reading of the Pauline epistles taking into account that he was writing to specific groups of people living embedded in the pagan culture they had to deal with, with the range of habits and expectations their new faith would have to deal with and other such things.  The frequently cited advice to slaves was coupled with reminders to slave owners that The Gospel required them to treat slaves as they would want to be treated - as effective a means of ending slavery as any ever devised, of husbands who were considered by the pagan, Roman law to be absolute despots that their legal despotism had to, as well, acknowledge their wives' right to the same reciprocal treatment according to the words of Jesus.  In virtually every one of the passages in Paul used by those who wanted to violate equality, he provided the refutation of their claims.  He was not as radical as Jesus was but Jesus wasn't establishing a church, he was announcing something more radical than that, the Kingdom of God.  But that's a different and more complicated set of arguments. Compared to that, the existence of God stuff is Frosh level.


  1. "
    I am not really big on
    the "proving the existence of God" stuff because I've never been
    convinced that proof was relevant to the issue."

    Well, then probably you should shut your pie-hole on the whole issue instead of insulting people who think the issue is bullshit.

    1. As always, your grasp of logical consequences is lacking.

      As to your whine about me insulting atheists, that's rich, especially coming from you.

    2. Which issue is the "issue"? The existence of God? The non-existence of God? Arguments about either? The question of existence itself (which hardly ever gets addressed in the argument, although it's the bedrock presumption of the argument)?

      Aside from finding any insult in the discussion above (except to people who speak without knowing what they are talking about, in which case: if the shoe fits....).

      Maybe that's it. Maybe this is another case of the famous tweet John Cleese published recently, about stupid people, and a critical response to it made Cleese point out: his critic was the type of person he was talking about.

      So is it insulting? Or descriptive?

    3. It being who it is making the accusation, it's bound to be based on his own self-serving version of dyslexia. Maybe I should start calling it "eschatonia".

    4. The issue, schmuck, is that there is no issue.

      You're arguing the difference between three and soup.

    5. I'd challenge you to explain your use of the cliche but I'm afraid it would just lead you to spout another in your limited lexicon of cliches.

      You going to answer my question about William Flanagan? No, of course not. Your anachronism overtook your personal mythologizing.

  2. As you know, I'm not an atheist. I'm a lapsed agnostic who used to not know but now doesn't give a flying fuck.

    1. I know no such thing, I do know that you're an idiot and a pathological liar.