Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Atheist Experience: thinking logically

This is an excerpt from the Atheist Experience TV show, episode #439, hosted by Matt Dillahunty and Jeff Dee.

I'm still busy, so I'm posting this partly because it's quick. But I'm also posting it because the caller is such a typical theist. Brandon claims to think logically, but he refuse to follow logic during the discussion.

I mean, he starts out by claiming that God can't provide clear evidence he exists, because that would destroy free will. But when Matt and Jeff demonstrate that's not true, he just skips on to some other argument. He doesn't even listen, let alone acknowledge their point.

That's not thinking logically. It's not even thinking. It's just blindly defending your beliefs. When your argument proves to be indefensible, you just skip to some other argument. And when that one is countered, you ignore that, too, and move on.

Of course, in this case, it's no more "free will" than giving a mugger your wallet when he threatens to blow your head off if you don't. Supposedly, God is threatening you with eternal torture, right? So he's actually far worse than a mugger.

But that's not the point I wanted to make here, especially since some Christians have abandoned hell. Yet they still tend to argue this way, often enough. When you just ignore counter-arguments, instead of acknowledging them - either conceding that they're right or explaining why they're wrong - that's not thinking logically.

I enjoy rational debates, and I value the truth, so I generally want to hear what other people have to say. But this kind of thing just wastes my time. Now, I don't mean to imply that all believers do this, because that's not the case (and I appreciate that). But all too many of them do.

Please, think about this, next time you're trying to persuade me to your way of thinking. I will listen to what you're saying and reply to the point you're trying to make. Please do likewise.


Landis said...

I've been extremely busy. Starting a new internship in my major's field and working on three school "group" projects but apparently they're up to the smart kid.

I have read every one of your replies on my previous post (I do not believe in werewolves, and the grass thing was not serious; they were snarky jokes lol). I hope I can reply a little bit.

To begin, I would like to say that the biggest advancements in human history have always required a bit of faith at the beginning. Before there is any evidence, someone just needs to believe what can be and figure out how to get there. Maybe faith and belief in God is not the most logical, reasonable thing in the world but every human craves it. Every human craves a higher purpose or higher authority. Hell, I truly believe that you want someone like me to come along and wave evidence of God existing in your face just so you can believe.

Every piece of evidence for or against God can be disputed turned around proven disproven etc. God does take faith, but humans desire that.... all humans desire that.

Now, I know none of this is evidence of God and I truly don't think there is any evidence of God. Especially when you cannot define what would fulfill your term of god.

Now, I do respect your views. (though look at the dictionary terms for agnostic/atheism, when people can define their own words, even in reasonable constraints, the English language starts to lose its edge... I.e. define reason) I completely understand that you do not believe, my first two years in college were spent in this state. I had lost an 18 y/o friend, an 18 y/o teammate, slipped into areas I shouldn't had, and had a child at 19 y/o. I came to think that God did not exist.

After a few years, I realized the beauty in all that had happened to me. Everything had come together, but I did not feel this way until I had come to acknowledge God once again, I know you will not see this as evidence at all. During this time (believe if you want) my aunt was diagnosed w cancer. She is very very very religious, though they went in for some more scans after she had been diagnosed. This time, everything was gone, not a trace.

I really wish I had evidence of God being out there, but I don't. But I choose to believe in Him until someone can prove me wrong. It's faith, a drive most humans have. I don't want to believe that I am just an insignificant little speck and my family and this race has no higher meaning. I could cite miracle after miracle, and story after story, but there will always be a logical or reasonable explanation no matter how wild the circumstances.

WCG said...

Landis, if you're trying to tell me you believe in God because you want to believe in God, I know. You don't have to convince me of that. It's obvious.

Just as obviously, you want to believe in Christianity, basically - modified slightly to conform to what you most want to believe - because that's what you've been taught all your life. If you'd been raised Muslim or Hindu, your beliefs would be different, because what you wanted to believe would be different.

Yes, I agree with that completely. It's just that, if you expect me to believe that it's true, well, that's a different matter entirely. Wanting to believe is one thing. The truth of what you want to believe is something else.

If you don't care about the truth of it, fine. Believe whatever you want. But I do care that what I believe is true (and that's not just in religious matters, but in every part of my life). The truth of my beliefs does matter to me, very much so.

Therefore, for me, at least, the question comes down to the best way to determine the truth, and, in particular, to distinguish the truth from wishful-thinking. After all, it's always easy to believe what we want to believe. (That's not a new discovery. Julius Caesar, more than 2000 years ago, said, "Men willingly believe what they wish.")

So how do we do that? Well, anecdotes won't do it. As Sir Francis Bacon noted, centuries ago, "The general root of superstition is that men observe when things hit, and not when they miss, and commit to memory the one, and pass over the other."

Take your story, for example. Are you telling me that religious people don't get cancer as often as non-religious people, or that their cancer disappears when they pray over it? That would be evidence, if it were true. That kind of thing would be easy to demonstrate, if only it were true.

But it's not true, is it? Anecdotes are just anecdotes. Sometimes, there are spontaneous remissions of cancer. Sometimes, cancer is wrongly diagnosed. I don't know which was the case with your aunt. But I do know that none of it is correlated with religious belief, none of it.

If you really want to believe, you'll accept every "miracle after miracle, and story after story" that seems to back up your belief, while disregarding all those times when devout people die in agony - and disregarding all those times when non-believers also get such "miracle" cures. That's just how superstition works.

If you really care about the truth of what you believe, though, you'll need evidence. If prayer worked, you wouldn't need anecdotes, because there would be real evidence of that. If there were more "miracle cures" of Christians than of Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, or atheists, real evidence would be easy to get.

You have to ask yourself if you care about the truth of your beliefs. Sure, you want them to be true. We're not debating that. But are they true? That's the real question here. Since you haven't shown me any evidence that they are, I have to consider that your beliefs are all just wishful-thinking.

And you confirm that in your last paragraph, don't you? You want to believe. You feel comforted when you believe. You'd like your beliefs to be true, but the truth of them isn't the important thing. You'd rather keep your beliefs, whether they're true or not.

But I'm just not like that. To me, the truth matters.

PS. This seems to be the heart of your argument, so I'll reply to a couple of minor points separately.

Landis said...

Now, I am not validating a Christian God. I believe that the separate religions are simply different ways to worship. As I have stated before, many religions point to a supreme being and higher morals. I believe that is what is important in the religions of the world. There is no "right" way to worship.

About longevity of life and religious correlation, check this out.

Now, we can get into sample size, research methods, etc etc as I did not have time to look into that but this shows something significant.

I do not believe that there is one way to worship the creator of this universe or one way to describe, there are many, it is a personal choice to choose which one. But all the other religions should not be considered hell bound or wrong, simply different.

WCG said...

Just some minor points from your comment:

1) Don't worry about replying right away, especially when you're busy, Landis. I know how that is. I really do appreciate your comments, but I'll still be here whenever you find some time. :)

2) If you don't believe in werewolves, why not? I'm serious. I don't believe in werewolves for the same reason I don't believe in gods. But that's not the case for you, apparently.

3) "Faith" is one of those words which can mean different things. (Well, most words are like that, I suppose.) Even if advances required "faith," it wouldn't be religious faith, would it?

Besides, you're picking out the hits and not the misses, again. You're claiming that advances came from faith, but ignoring all those times when faith caused absolute disaster. This is rather typical. Believers often argue that everything good happens because of faith, while nothing bad can be blamed on it.

4) My term of god? It's not my term. It's you who believes in a god, not me. So it's up to you to tell me what you mean by that.

5) From Wikipedia: "Atheism is, in a broad sense, the rejection of belief in the existence of deities." That works for me. "Agnosticism" is fuzzier, with lots of different meanings, but since I don't normally use that label, the definition doesn't really matter much to me.

6) Are you going to believe in Russell's teapot until someone proves you wrong? Are you going to believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster until someone proves you wrong?

For that matter, you just said that you didn't believe in werewolves. So someone proved to you that werewolves don't exist? How did they do that?

Indeed, how would someone go about proving that an invisible, immaterial, imaginary god didn't exist? I know a guy who believes that God guided evolution. (He's not a Christian, either. But then, he wasn't raised Christian.)

I gave him multiple examples of things like the panda's thumb, examples of poor design that would not exist if evolution had been planned by an "intelligent designer."

"Oh, God doesn't care about animals," he replied, "only about human beings." (Note that I'm paraphrasing here, despite the quotes.)

So I gave him multiple examples from human anatomy. "Oh, but God didn't want people to be perfect," he replied.

You get the point? There is no possible evidence he'd accept to change his mind about God guiding evolution, because that's what he really, really wants to believe. He'll just keep changing the parameters, like Carl Sagan's The Dragon in My Garage.

Oh, well, as I said above, as long as your wish to believe outweighs your respect for the truth, there's nothing that will change your mind. You have to really care whether or not your beliefs are true. And I think you've made it very clear that your beliefs are more important to you than the truth. (You're not alone. That's the case with most people, I'm afraid.)

Landis said...

My desire to believe does not outweigh my desire for truth. Are you claiming to know the truth? My beliefs have helped shaped my character and they drive my quest for truth, maybe one day I will find it, but probably not. Why does religion instill fear in you? I agree that there are times when faith has driven people to the extremes... the crusades, the Holocaust, many many wars, but all of those were driven by a faith designed by man to control a population for personal benefits. This is a large reason why I believe that people believing one certain religion is an awful practice, it only leads to war and death (witch trials). But do you really believe that this would have happened without mankind's greed as the driving force of persecution?

Touché on your definition of atheism.

I get your point on werewolves and evolution etc. and yes, advancements require a different kind of faith, though that faith is only different once the hypothesis is theorized (think oxygen, there was no way to prove it existed until people found a way to prove it, but until that time there were people who believed it was there). At a time when many more things are becoming quantifiable and measurable with hypotheses with evidence already in place it is difficult to find modern examples of this.

Let me know if I missed any points, I am on my phone once again. And maybe we are beating a dead horse here being in two different completely mindsets, I'll continue though, I like debating because typically my only opponent is heavily religious. Maybe you can be the first convert to the religion of Landis lol

WCG said...

Note to my other readers: If you're interested, this conversation with Landis started in the comments here. That's what he means by his "previous post."

WCG said...

(Note that I'm replying to this comment. My previous reply was written before I got that one, so these are a little out of order.)

-- "I am not validating a Christian God."

Landis, this is why I don't want to define a believer's God for him. Everyone believes something different, so it's up to them to tell me what they believe, not the other way around.

I still think your beliefs would be profoundly different if you'd been raised Buddhist or Hindu (do you believe in Heaven?), but it really doesn't matter. My point is the same for any belief that's not based on good evidence.

In your previous comments, you told me a great deal about God, but nothing about how you know all that. How do you come by such detailed knowledge about an invisible, immaterial (although not omnipotent and omnipresent, apparently) entity? Have you asked yourself why you believe such things?

-- "About longevity of life and religious correlation..."

Note that the link leads to the "Institute for Creation Research - Biblical. Accurate. Certain." That's hardly a place to take science seriously, certainly not without hearing what independent scientists have to say about it first.

But let's assume that it's all accurate. What then? First, the study's participants were volunteers, which means that they weren't a random selection (and there doesn't seem to be a control group). They were also "self-reporting" their degree of religious involvement, which always tends to be exaggerated. (For example, far fewer Americans regularly attend church than what they tell pollsters.)

Second, people who were active in their religion lived longer, but people in poor health would be less active pretty much by definition, wouldn't they? The causation could go completely in the opposite direction.

Third, this article claims that the initial assumption, that religious faith relieves stress, was "proved to be false," but there's nothing in the article that explains how, exactly, that was "proved."

Fourth, this is just one study, not the scientific consensus. One study doesn't tell us anything. But even if it did, what does it tell us? Elderly women active in their church live 7.7 years longer, on average, than women who aren't as active? Is that how a god would work? Really?

The article doesn't mention cancer at all, but it specifically says that there was no difference in rates of heart disease. Why not? And where did the difference lie, then? Again, is this the way a god would work, giving believers heart disease, but defending them (somewhat) from other kinds of death?

-- "I do not believe that there is one way to worship the creator of this universe..."

But you believe that he wants to be worshiped? Why? And you believe that he should be worshiped? Again, why?

Furthermore, what leads you to believe that this supposed entity (which you haven't given me any reason to think exists at all) created the universe in the first place? Where's your evidence of that? I assume you mean that he deliberately created the universe, right? Not that he just farted it out by accident?

But how could you possibly know any of this? Landis, you seem to have an absolutely incredible knowledge of some entity you couldn't possibly know anything about. How do you know all this? How could you know any of it?

WCG said...

(OK, and this is in reply to this comment. Confused yet?)

-- "My desire to believe does not outweigh my desire for truth."

Then tell me why you believe what you do. Tell me how you know all that.

In your previous comment, you said that there wasn't any evidence of God, but that you chose to believe in him anyway, "until someone can prove me wrong." Sorry, but that doesn't sound like a person who values the truth over the comfort of just believing whatever you want to believe.

If I'm wrong about that, you'll have to explain why.

-- "I get your point on werewolves and evolution etc."

Do you? Then tell me who proved to you that werewolves don't exist.

I suspect that you don't believe in werewolves because there's no good evidence that they exist. So why is God different? Why, when it comes to God and only God, do you need someone to prove he doesn't exist?

If everything else had to be specifically disproved, you'd still believe in werewolves, as well as vampires, fairies, Bigfoot, unicorns, leprechauns, and pretty much everything else you or anyone could imagine.

-- "think oxygen, there was no way to prove it existed until people found a way to prove it..."

You mean like pinching someone's nostrils shut?

Again, why doesn't this apply to werewolves, then? Or Hogwarts?

-- "And maybe we are beating a dead horse here being in two different completely mindsets..."

We're very definitely beating a dead horse, Landis. I've known that since high school. I remember in youthful bull sessions how amazed I was at my best friend's religious mindset. I didn't change his mind, and I never expected to change yours.

But religious faith fascinates me because I just don't understand how you can believe in such stuff without evidence. I never have understood that. The religious mindset is completely foreign to me. And that's why I find it interesting.

Note that people do change their minds, sometimes. Many of the people on the Atheist Experience used to be believers. Matt Dillahunty, in the above clip, was even studying to become a clergyman. But it's rare.

At least, it's rare for adults. Young people, who've been raised in a religious environment without ever encountering dissent, have a slightly easier time of it, I think. But it's never actually easy. And I've never seen it happen, myself.