Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Quote of the Time Being #4

The idea that a being with immense power exists, but never tampers with the universe in a noticable way is an absurdly childish hypothetical scenario. It's "I'm not touching you!" on a cosmic scale.
(Via this thing, presented at the JREF forums.)

24 comments:

Infophile said...

Heh, a very good (and deliciously insulting) argument they've presented there. But look at the top, and the obvious theme:

"Poorly thought out comix presents:"

Irony sure can be ironic. A shame that when the woos do it, it's never on purpose.

Shygetz said...

Of course, one could also posit the following:

"The idea that an immense power with the entire universe at its fingertips would waste its time demonstrating its existence to minute creatures scurrying about on an insignificant planet in one corner of an uninteresting galaxy is arrogant to the extreme. It's "Look at me, I'm special!" on a cosmic scale."

I think that it is always essential for us skeptics to remember how small and biased a sample of knowledge we have about our universe. Otherwise, we risk falling into the same trap as strident religionists--pretending to knowledge that we do not posess.

Infophile said...

And yet, according tho Christians, he would send his only son (and extension of his being) to die for all our sins so we'd be saved - The bible makes no mention of Jesus also making a stop on Qo'noS to save all the Klingons.

bourgeois_rage said...

I'm so glad to see that Pokey is an atheist.

Shygetz said...

And yet, according tho Christians, he would send his only son (and extension of his being) to die for all our sins so we'd be saved - The bible makes no mention of Jesus also making a stop on Qo'noS to save all the Klingons.

However, the quote is clearly dealing with deism, not just Christianity.

Even so, your concern is easily answered by a Christian--why should the Bible talk about other races that we have not (and quite possible will never) encounter? The Bible never claims to be a complete encyclopedia of all creation.

Bronze Dog said...

I don't think it's quite so clear that it's dealing with deism: I think it's mostly targetting people who ad hoc God into lesser and lesser roles.

But, of course, only the author knows for sure.

As for "The idea that an immense power with the entire universe at its fingertips would waste its time demonstrating its existence to minute creatures scurrying about on an insignificant planet in one corner of an uninteresting galaxy is arrogant to the extreme. It's "Look at me, I'm special!" on a cosmic scale.":

I suspect that if a deity uses any power at all, it's likely that it doesn't care if we notice or not: I doubt it'd be concerned about covering up its tracks.

Doesn't *quite* cover the passive deistic model, but that still has some different problems to deal with.

Shygetz said...

Perhaps deism was too specific a word; what I meant was that the quote deals with theistic models of a non-intercessory god(s), which is consistent with deism, but may not be exclusive to deism.

I suspect that if a god(s) does exist, I would have absolutely no basis upon which to predict its actions or motivations. Perhaps it has revealed itself to another culture, and saw how that culture degraded over time because of the knowledge. Perhaps it veiws life as an experiment, and wants to watch the system develop with minimum interference. Who knows?

Bronze Dog said...

True, Shygetz. Such hypothetical deities could exist, but the problem of falsifiability is hard to overcome in such cases.

Just half-remembered something amusing: An IDiot claiming that the IDer didn't want to be found, yet he had proof of such an IDer via (a bogus version of) Information Theory. Wouldn't a perfect Intelligent Designer be counting on that? No comment on an imperfect IDer, yet.

Shygetz said...

Oh, I absolutely agree that it is currently unfalsifiable (which is why I am a weak agnostic), and therefore any belief in such a diety is irrational. However, as I have pointed out before in other forums, our current knowledge is not such that we can rule out the possibility with any acceptable margin of error. I just think it is important for skeptics to turn their harsh microscope inward from time to time, and realize how little we know about the universe.

Bronze Dog said...

I'll wait until they come up with a falsifiable hypothesis before I'll entertain the idea seriously. Until then, it's all arguments about the meaning of "flarschnikit" to me.

Not much point in arguing what's over the horizon if you can't cross the river in front of you, yet.

Infophile said...

I just think it is important for skeptics to turn their harsh microscope inward from time to time, and realize how little we know about the universe.

We do. The difference is that in the absense of any evidence for X, it's unreasonable to live life as if X might exist. We acknowledge the possibility, but we're not going to change our lives in the slightest around that until some hard evidence is found. X could just as easily be God, the Loch Ness Monster, telepathy, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster. It makes no difference.

Do you seriously consider every wacko claim you hear which is presented without a shred of evidence? We're just choosing to hold the Bible to the same standard as everything else: until evidence comes along, it's an anecdote at best.

It's "Look at me, I'm special!" on a cosmic scale.

But anyways, what religion doesn't claim that their god paid them special attention at some time in the past? Why has he/she/it stopped? In fact, this "Look at me, I'm special!" attitude is all over the place in religion. To use the Christian example again, they used to firmly believe that the entire universe quite literally revolved around them.

Even so, your concern is easily answered by a Christian--why should the Bible talk about other races that we have not (and quite possible will never) encounter? The Bible never claims to be a complete encyclopedia of all creation.

Of course, if you ask a different Christian, then they'll say that yes, the Bible is the encyclopedia of all creation.

Shygetz said...

Read the original quote again, infophile. It is an assertion of strong atheism based upon an argument from incredulity (I can't imagine a powerful being not interceeding in our lives in such a way as we could reliably measure and identify as an anomaly, so therefore it doesn't exist). As such, it is a logically fallacious argument.

Do you seriously consider every wacko claim you hear which is presented without a shred of evidence?

Nope, just as I do not seriously consider the wacko claim that there is no god(s) without sufficient evidence, which we do not have.

We're just choosing to hold the Bible to the same standard as everything else: until evidence comes along, it's an anecdote at best.

It is telling that, when the word god is spoken, you assume Christianity. A testament to their marketing department. The above paragraph is not impeaching the idea of one particular god, it is attempting to rule out the idea of any incarnation of a god(s).

But anyways, what religion doesn't claim that their god paid them special attention at some time in the past?

Deism, for one.

Why has he/she/it stopped?

Irrelevant. Just because we cannot imagine a reason for it to have stopped is not evidence that it did not exist. The mouse could ask "Why has that researcher stopped putting me in the maze everyday?"

In fact, this "Look at me, I'm special!" attitude is all over the place in religion. To use the Christian example again, they used to firmly believe that the entire universe quite literally revolved around them.

And yet, this quote was explicitly NOT dealing with that kind of theism. It was explicitly referring to non-intercessory deities.

Of course, if you ask a different Christian, then they'll say that yes, the Bible is the encyclopedia of all creation.

Seriously doubt it. The Bible never mentions North America, for example. And no one would claim that it named every person to live up until the time of its writing. It cannot be read as an encyclopedia of all creation by even the most hardcore literalist, even if we restrain "all creation" to mean the Earth.

Bronze Dog said...

Seriously doubt it. The Bible never mentions North America, for example. And no one would claim that it named every person to live up until the time of its writing. It cannot be read as an encyclopedia of all creation by even the most hardcore literalist, even if we restrain "all creation" to mean the Earth.

There's probably a handful out there, and if they exist, they unambiguously qualify as way^13 out there. I'm glad that most theists don't come close to that sort of nuttery.

As for the "strong" atheism: Yeah, it's a really bad negative claim. About all we can really say is that the deities that have internal contradictions in their definitions do not exist.

Still need to find a falsifiable deity to test, though, before we can really take the idea seriously.

Shygetz said...

Completely agreed, Bronze Dog; one cannot rationally take any particular assertion of the existence of a particular type of god seriously without a falsifiable test; otherwise, one is randomly selecting one particular outcome from an infinite set without any evidence. I simply wanted to point out that there is a large difference between saying that a particular god probably doesn't exist because there is no positive evidence for that formulation of god, and saying that no gods can exist because we do not have evidence for it.

By analogy, we do not currently have the technology to determine if we have identified all of the fundamental particles (or if, indeed, there are fundamental particles). Therefore, it would be irrational for me to say that there is a previously undetected fundamental particle with properties X, Y, and Z, without evidence of such a particle. However, it is also irrational for me to say that, since we cannot presently test for a fundamental particle, they do not exist, or even that they should be assumed not to exist. The rational response is to admit ignorance.

Infophile said...

Read the original quote again, infophile. It is an assertion of strong atheism based upon an argument from incredulity (I can't imagine a powerful being not interceeding in our lives in such a way as we could reliably measure and identify as an anomaly, so therefore it doesn't exist). As such, it is a logically fallacious argument.

Read the entire comic for, I'm guessing, the first time. It makes it quite obvious that it's dealing particularly with Christianity and similar religions. It also never says that strong atheism is the only answer; it instead says that religious belief is an idiotic choice.

Shygetz said...

It makes it quite obvious that it's dealing particularly with Christianity and similar religions.

Really? Let me check again...hmmm. Never mentions Christianity, or Jesus, or Christ, or any other particular religious figure; only god (sans capitalization). To be fair, it does mention Santa Claus, but just to point out how silly such a belief is.

Indeed, the author goes out of his (her?) way to emphasize the fact that this argument pertains particularly to those who claim that god has no measurable day-to-day role in life, with the statement "AND YET, SHOULDN'T THE FACT THAT GOD'S EXISTANCE HAS NO MAJOR CONSEQUENCES ITSELF RAISE A RED FLAG??" Followed by the passage quoted by Bronze Dog. The cartoon sums up with the statement "I refuse to respect religious beliefs, and I refuse to respect people who hold them." Note, he doesn't except more generic religious beliefs that are not contradicted by science (such as deism), and he doesn't point out any specific targets for his scorn. He makes a blanket statement against all theists.

Personally, I find deists' beliefs to be so generic as to be unassailable (and, consequently, unuseful); much like people who believe that there is a fundamental particle, but do not speculate on its properties. Both are insufficiently supported belief, but that is common even among rational humans.

Now, while the final statement could be read as either weak atheism or strong atheism, the arguments used are pure strong atheism (hell, they're almost textbook strong atheism, only missing the silly pink unicorn analogy). Moreover, the quote provided by Bronze Dog that we were discussing is purely supporting strong atheism (using a terrible yet familiar logical fallacy, as I pointed out). And since we were discussing the original "Quote of the Time Being", don't you think that you are moving the goalposts a bit to want to discuss other aspects of the cartoon, rather than the quote itself and its clear meaning (even when taken in context)?

Let me make this simple--are you a strong atheist (or a positive atheist, if you prefer that term)? If so, then address my arguments. If not, then we have no significant disagreement (there's only a hair of difference, if that, between weak atheism and weak agnosticism).

Anonymous said...

By analogy, we do not currently have the technology to determine if we have identified all of the fundamental particles (or if, indeed, there are fundamental particles). Therefore, it would be irrational for me to say that there is a previously undetected fundamental particle with properties X, Y, and Z, without evidence of such a particle. However, it is also irrational for me to say that, since we cannot presently test for a fundamental particle, they do not exist, or even that they should be assumed not to exist. The rational response is to admit ignorance.

I'm going to have to take issue with this. just because the "rational" response is to admit ignorance doesn't mean your average person should be a weak agnostic/atheist. There are literally an infinity of potential assertions that are quite unfalsifiable (the spaghetti monster and the invisible pink unicorn being the popular two at the moment), and to admit ignorance on the existance of either is ridiculous. it's stupid, and it borders on the clinically insane.

Infophile said...

Interesting how you could use the fact that it never mentions Christianity by name as evidence that it doesn't have Christianity (or near derivatives) in mind, yet at the same time you claim it advocates Strong Atheism even though it at best implies it. Contradictory, no?

Anyways, the reason I said it was clear they were talking about Christianity is the line, "Granted, we used to see a lot more evidence of god's tampering than we do today. Lightning, disease, floods, butterflies, the sun." To me, "disease" and "floods" sound like references to a lot of the Christian god's divine judgments. But the comic leaves which religion purposefully vague. I just think it had arguments used by Christians in mind given the evidence present.

Oh yeah, and capitalization is irrelevent. Not that they also didn't capitalize "santa claus."

Am I a strong atheist? Of course not. Practically no one is. Religious atheism - the faith that no god exists - is a strawman created by religiosos. Ask a Christian if they'd bet their life there's a God, and many would say that they would. Ask an atheist if they'd bet their life there's no God, and almost none would.

Shygetz said...

There are literally an infinity of potential assertions that are quite unfalsifiable (the spaghetti monster and the invisible pink unicorn being the popular two at the moment), and to admit ignorance on the existance of either is ridiculous.

Once again, I have been misinterpreted. As I stated before:

I simply wanted to point out that there is a large difference between saying that a particular god probably doesn't exist because there is no positive evidence for that formulation of god, and saying that no gods can exist because we do not have evidence for it.

If you posit the FSM, or a pink unicorn, you have just posited the existence of a creature with a well-defined set of properties, without any evidence. The liklihood of you being correct is infinitesimal; therefore, one can logically state you are incorrect within any reasonable error. The same logic applies if you state that a fundamental particle exists with currently unmeasurable properties X, Y, and Z.

On the other hand, if you merely posit the existence of "god(s)", where you take the term to mean any being that is not bound by the same natural laws as man, then you have not narrowed the search space appreciably; there are still an infinite number of beings that could be called "god" within this definition. The same logic applies if you state that there is a fundamental particle, but you are ignorant as to its properties. There is no evidence for or against the existence of such a being; therefore, ignorance is the rational position. Of course, if anyone does posit a god (or a fundamental particle) with a certain set of properties, the burden of proof is upon them.

it's stupid, and it borders on the clinically insane.

I've said it before elsewhere, and I'll say it again; we skeptics should be very careful throwing around the words "clinically insane" or "mentally ill". Clinical diagnoses of psychiatric conditions are all based upon the societal norm, not on your personal opinion.

Interesting how you could use the fact that it never mentions Christianity by name as evidence that it doesn't have Christianity (or near derivatives) in mind, yet at the same time you claim it advocates Strong Atheism even though it at best implies it. Contradictory, no?

Contradictory? In what fashion? You claimed that it was anti-Christianity and similar religions. I claim that it was against all theism, and pointed out several pieces of evidence, one of which was its failure to name either "Christianity or similar religions", but rather to simply rail against theism in general.
I might be partially swayed by your disease and flood arguments if they were not co-presented with butterflies. Additionally, LOTS of different religions used god(s) to explain floods, lightning, disease, etc. The earliest myths I have personally studied are the Greek ones, and I remember my prof saying that the same themes were repeated independently in myths from other cultures.
I mentioned capitalization because if the author had written "God", one could argue that the capitalized God referred to the Abrahamaic God, and not a generic god. Since he did not, such an inferrence would be unfounded.
I have personally met, both in real life and online, people who believe that there is no god(s). They would consider themselves strong atheists. While they would admit that their position is unprovable, they would contend that it is a rational position, based on largely the same arguments as used in the cartoon. I think that your characterization of strong atheism as a strawman erected by theists is unwarranted. I will agree that theists do seek to unfairly conflate strong atheism with weak atheism, but strong atheists (or hard atheists, or positive atheists, or gnostic atheists) have existed (and still exist) since at least the 1800's, when Huxley coined the term agnostic for the purpose of contrasting with strong atheism. The Secular Web (probably my favorite skpetics' website) doesn't treat gnostic atheism as a straw man; they treat it as an affirmative belief that is held by a sizable minority of atheists. Go look for yourself.
And as far as your "wager", I don't think that the willingness to bet your life is what separates the believers from non-believers. I think it's really very simple; do you believe there is a god(s)? Do you believe there isn't a god(s)? Do you believe that you don't have enough information to comfortably form an opinion? We seem to agree that we don't have enough information to comfortably form an opinion, putting us firmly into the weak atheist/agnostic camp. Fair enough.

Infophile said...

Well, I think we've drifted far enough from the original point that now all we're arguing is our own interpretations of each others' arguments. Don't see much point continuing in that vein, so I'll just leave you with the last word there.

Anonymous said...

From the comic: "Why is there evil?"

Sigh. Like so many others, the guy is too ignorant and plain short-sighted to consider evil being neccessary.

Bronze Dog said...

Tell me, then, why is evil necessary?

Akusai said...

Wait, wait, wait, let me guess.

Free will! That solves everything! Yay!

Anonymous said...

God is fake. Just an excuse to kill each other.