REPLY #99a TO
This is the first of a twenty-part reply. Select the "Go to next reply" link at the end of each part to read the next part of the reply.
To be "agnostic" does not mean that one has "no knowledge". It means that one understands that there is insufficient evidence or may never be sufficient evidence to support a definitive "Yes" or "No" answer to the question "Does God exist?". This means that the term "semi-agnostic" is, at best, a redundancy. I think that the proper term you are searching for is "fideist" -- which would be a person who says "The evidence is insufficient, but I choose to believe in God anyway."
(R) The only fact we need to be concerned with is that I am a THEIST. We'll proceed from there...
(MB) So, we can agree that this "semi-agnostic" stuff was just a smokescreen that was nothing truly meaningful?
What information can be known about God's existence and how is this determined? Then, what information *is* actually known about God's existence and what evidence supports this? Be very careful not to beg any questions in your answers.
(R) The information that can be known about God is deduced by considering numerous attributes of what has been created. This question is answered elsewhere in this email and will be continuously elucidated throughout this exchange.
(MB) OK, then I'll reserve any comment on this until later.
An existential position can neither be inferred nor be "the most logical position" without any supporting evidence (this is a major fallacy plaguing the standard opening arguments of William Lane Craig's debates). What supporting evidence is there which justifies your position? Remember that emotional appeals are not evidence.
(R) As I have already stated, the existence of all things IS the evidence of a Creator. Just like a meal is evidence of a cook, or a car is evidence of manufacturers, and a pot would be evidence of a potter; creation is evidence of a Creator.
(MB) The problem with this analogy is that there is conclusive evidence for the necessity of cooks, manufacturers and potters in our human experience while there is no such evidence for the necessity of a universal Creator. The only "evidence" that theists can invoke is nothing more than an Argument from Personal Incredulity combined with an overriding need to preserve a cherished belief.
(R) The question is not whether or not there is evidence.
(MB) And, concerning the question of the existence of evidence which supports the proposition of a Creator, the answer is clearly "No".
(R) The question is what *interpretation* of the evidence is the most coherent in light of the statistics of probability - a theistic or atheistic interpretation?
(MB) And, yet again, the clear answer is that a non-theistic interpretation is the only coherent one. There are no theistic explanations which don't eventually devolve into paradox under critical analysis.
For your further enlightenment on this subject, you may wish to read this article:
Theological Misinterpretations of Current Physical Cosmology
(R) Furthermore, your statement is soaked with hypocrisy considering you have not given the SUPPORTING evidence for your atheistic presumption that the entire universe as we know is merely the result of complete and total incidence, nor have you supported such a position with the relevant facts that prove purely blind, material cause/effect events have created or are even *capable* of creating of our universe, including life.
(MB) You were asked to provide the evidence which supports the proposition of a Creator. Launching into an irrational tirade about what you refuse to believe about science does not provide this evidence. Your case cannot survive without a positive presentation of the supporting evidence. I suggest that you get on with it.
In the previous response (especially in Reply #98b), we *both* described several areas of evidence in support of the scientific view. It was also detailed in the response how you are incorrectly lumping your own unrelated notions into that view and illogically demanding that I support the invalid combination. I see that you are continuing to do this.
You may also not be aware of a theory by Hawking, Vilenkin, and Linde known as the "Wave Function of the Universe". This theory produces a 95%-100% probability that the universe was uncaused. The predictions of this theory have been verified by COBE observations. You may also be interested in the following document which contains a synopsis of the current body of universal origins theories in outline form:
Origin of the Universe
Christian fundamentalism is a belief system which posits the literal truth of the Bible, the unquestioned existence and primacy (and even the exclusivity) of the God featured in that same Bible, and the divinity of Jesus. It holds that the Bible and its version of theism are to be considered accurate and authoritative in all disputes. No fundamentalist has any doubts whatsoever about the existence of the God which he worships. Thus, no fundamentalist can be an agnostic to any degree.
(R) Your line of reasoning is non sequitur. I did not in anyway imply that I questioned the EXISTENCE of God itself.
(MB) How do my statements constitute a non sequitur? You asked me to show how your claiming to be a "semi-agnostic theist" is incompatible with your stated position of being a fundamentalist Christian. I have done just that.
(R) The lack of knowledge I was referring to was regarding HOW that existence is held, and the details to how it relates to other existences. Also, the Bible is a limited book that only has a certain amount of information contained in it. It does not reveal MANY things about God, creation, mankind, history, and many other deeper theological questions. Therefore, in light of the fact that the knowledge revealed in the Bible is limited, there is plenty of room for lack of information about God, and thus, there is no internal problems with both holding fast to the revealed truths while also taking a position of agnosticism regarding the unanswered (or unanswerable) questions concerning God which are not addressed in the Bible.
(MB) The problem here is that this is not what a fundamentalist believes. Such a person believes that there *are* no unanswered questions concerning the Bible and God. He considers the Bible to be completely authoritative and all-inclusive. If you are not going to adopt this position, then you will have to repudiate your claim of being a fundamentalist Christian. Strong belief and fundamentalism are not the same thing.
Now, as to the Bible itself, if you agree that it is limited, how should one best handle those limits? Do the limits extend to the accuracy of what is contained within its pages or just to the range of actual words and subject matter on those pages? If one feels that the Bible does not address any given questions, how do you justify any given answers to them? For example, Christians seem to "know" an awful lot about God for which there is no explicit textual support. Yet, if such things are to remain open questions, doesn't much of your dogma end up on shaky rhetorical ground?
You are confusing "god-belief", as a general principle, with the more specific "God belief". I am without belief in the God which you choose to worship, but do not reject the possibility that some other form of deity might exist. The fact that I doubt their existence does not mean that I have flatly rejected the possibility. Having such a belief is not the same thing as being able to stand up and say "No deity of any kind exists" with no reservations.
(R) The question is simple- do you, or do you not possess a belief in god? You have claimed that you lack belief in any god. Consequently, you are an "a" - (without) theism - (belief in god(s)). You have affirmed that you do not possess any form of god-belief, therefore, you are an atheist by definition. To contend this is to contend the definition of atheism.
(MB) I fail to see how you could possibly not clearly understand what I said in the quoted paragraph. Therefore, it is clear that it is an essential part of your agenda to be able to label me as being an "atheist" and to attach all of your favorite negative connotations concerning that label to me, as well. How this is supposed to provide any support for the proposition of a Creator or how it is supposed to refute the scientific view of the universe is still up in the air.
How difficult is it for you to understand that I do not believe in certain specific versions of God while still acknowledging the possibility that some version might exist about which we have no knowledge at this time?
"Doubt" is an attribute of agnosticism. "Rejection" is an attribute of atheism. I am a doubter. A strong doubter, to be sure.
(R) Agnostic means "a" - (without) "gnosis" - (knowledge). "Doubt" has nothing to do with the definition of agnosticism. Agnosticism quite literally means "without knowledge."
(MB) You're not taking it far enough because you're forgetting to consider the effect of intellectual doubt. An atheist has no doubt that no deity exists. A theist has no doubt that some deity *does* exist. An agnostic *does* possess doubts on both sides of the question. He can lean more towards one side or the other, but the doubts still remain and they prevent him from adopting either positional extreme.
(R) Agnosticism in philosophical terms has traditionally been understood as a position which claims that there is "insufficient knowledge" to make any conclusions about a "god question."
(MB) That is correct. Just don't forget the difference between specific versions of "God" and the general concept of a "god".
Now, what is the point of quibbling over whether or not you can label me as an "atheist"?
(R) The "point" should be self-evident. The definitive positions of each person in a debate should be precisely determined at the outset.
(MB) The problem here is that there are three distinct positions (theist, agnostic, atheist) while you are only willing to consider the two extremes. Therefore, your whole "point" devolves into a false dichotomy. And, this is before consideration of your underlying motive for being so eager to label me as an "atheist". In any case, it should be clear that we have differing positions as to whether or not we believe in a Creator. It should also be clear that you are not going to propose any deity other than Yahweh as being that Creator. I've already said that I am atheistic concerning the existence of Yahweh while being agnostic as to the larger question of the existence of *any* form of deity. I'm sorry if I won't go where you want to put me.
Notice that "without belief in god" (i.e., "weak atheism") is not the same thing as "denying the existence of god" (i.e., "strong atheism"). For example, a person who had never heard of the concept of a "god" would have no belief in such a concept, but could not be considered to be *denying* its existence. Same goes for a fetus. A fetus is certainly "without belief in god", but would you label it as being an "atheist" in the same way that you wish to label *me*? The distinction here is very similar to the difference between "moral", "amoral", and "immoral" and needs to be clarified before you start blindly attaching vague labels to me in order to gain some connotational benefits from them.
(R) If you've noticed, I have not called you a "strong atheist" or even a "weak atheist" for that matter. These are particulars that you have just now introduced.
(MB) I will assume that you were previously unaware of the distinction even though it is generally well-known. Now, how about answering the question I asked? Would you consider a fetus to be an "atheist" in the same way you consider me to be one? Or, are you just trolling for labels which you can pin on me?
(R) The position you hold in regards to theism is quite simply "atheist."
(MB) Untrue. The correct term in this case would be "non-theist".
(R) It is quite clear that you are both a "strong" AND "weak" atheist in that you DENY the existence of all known deities (claiming that they are mere inventions of man) and are "without belief" in any other forms of god, like a fetus.
(MB) It is not possible to be both at the same time about the same set of beliefs. If you wish to apply a generic label to me, then you must go with the most general set of beliefs, i.e., that I am agnostic about the truth of all possible general claims of deities. This does not change even though I am certainly strongly atheistic about certain specific claims.
[RE: It makes me "feel better" to make accurate observations.]
Then, allow me to wish for you to greatly enjoy it when you make your first accurate observation about me. It hasn't happened yet.
(R) Anybody who is reading this and has at least a rudimentary knowledge of philosophical definitions can easily see that my observations of your position are quite accurate.
(MB) I'm sure that philosophers around the world are having a mighty laugh over that last statement. You're going to have to acquire that "rudimentary knowledge of philosophical definitions" before you start making grandiose claims about them.
Some of my writings refer to religious beliefs and some do not. It depends entirely on the matter under discussion. How does any statement in the form "Christians believe that...." finger me as being an atheist?
(R) I have not claimed that any particular statement regarding Christianity makes you an atheist. You quite clearly deny the existence of all known gods in you "Religion" essay, claiming that they are the inventions of man. Your evasion attempts of your own atheism is obvious for all to see.
(MB) Since you are still obviously unclear about the meanings of and differences between "agnosticism" and "atheism", your statements are meaningless and do nothing to support the case you need to be making. Since I am not one who has any problems speaking in a forthright manner, why, if I truly considered myself to be an atheist, should anybody believe that I would have any problems saying so? This is especially true in this particular debate since it makes absolutely no difference whatsoever whether or not I am an atheist or what my level of non-belief might be. You will still need to present a positive case in support of a proposed Creator and the existing scientific evidence will still be exactly the same.
Jews, Muslims, Hindus and others are not atheists, but could make the same statements truthfully. So could any Christian who was expressing an honest evaluation of that religion. Your disagreement with my writings does not lead to the conclusion that all other readers will also equate such statements with atheism. That is your particular logical failing.
(R) This is rhetoric based on the false assumption you made about what my basis for concluding you are an atheist is.
(MB) Translation: "Oops! You got me. I'd better just brush it off and continue to claim the high ground." By the way, what "false assumption" did I make?
You consider me to be an "atheist" simply because you can't conceive of any other term to describe somebody who doesn't share your theism and because you wish to associate various and sundry negative connotations with that term. Of course, by extension, those negative connotations will then implicitly apply to me, too, correct?
(R) Again, you are presuming to think for me and you are totally off target. So kindly remove your words from my mouth.
(MB) If I was to start putting words into your mouth, you might finally start making some sense...*Grin* If my statements are incorrect, then one truly has to wonder why you are expending so much effort and vitriol in trying to pin the "atheist" label on me. If there is no reason for doing so that will further your case in this debate, then you could just as well try to label me as being a "Vl'Herg". You're still going to have to get down to making your real case sooner or later. I won't hold my breath waiting on that to happen, though.
I'm providing rational philosophical argument to refute your narrow focus and insufficient understanding of atheism and agnosticism. My point is proven upon every instance of your equating things like "materialism" with atheism or limiting your focus to Yahvistic considerations.
(R) You have not referenced a single authoritative source to show how or why my understanding of atheism and agnosticism is "insufficient."
(MB) Since you're making all sorts of brave talk about "rudimentary understandings of philosophy", I figured that you already have numerous sources available. Of course, if you know them as "well" as you have claimed to know the scientific references you claim to have read, I can see why you're still confused.
In any case, if references are what impresses you, then it's references that you'll get. For starters, you can try these:
"Atheism: The Case Against God", George H. Smith
"Atheism: A Philosophical Justification", Michael Martin
The Encyclopedia of Philosophy
"Agnosticism and Christianity", Thomas H. Huxley
(R) So far, all you've managed to accomplish is committing an Argument from Assertion fallacy.
(MB) Of course, you want me to rectify that supposed fallacy by committing an Argument from Authority fallacy, right? *grin* It's not as though you're likely to suddenly do a 180-degree turn in your thinking and accept what I've been telling you if I start wasting time and bandwidth listing extensive bibliographies of basic philosophy texts, are you? Heck, you won't even bother to read or understand the ones I just listed in the previous paragraph!
(R) You make an empty assertion based on opinion and proceed to base argumentative statements upon it as if it didn't have value to anyone except you.
(MB) I'm only pointing out that it seems to be crucial to your case to be able to label me as an "atheist". Yet, not only is that wrong, it's also immaterial and completely irrelevant to the subject under debate. So, go ahead and call me anything you want if it makes you feel better to do so. It won't matter a bit. You still have to make your case. I submit that you have no case to make and this is why you continue to belabor the attempt to wrongly define atheism.
(R) Furthermore, you have yet to show how atheism could be true independent of materialism being true.
(MB) You're really trying to draw a parallel between atheism and naturalism (rather than materialism) here. Of course, you're not concerned with the distinctions since you're just using the words to spout meaningless catchphrases in lieu of any real arguments. What you're failing to consider here is that God could have been created by the universe instead of the other way around. If so, that would mean that naturalism is true, but atheism is not -- and neither is any Creator proposal.
Also, to understand how atheism can be true independent of materialism being true, you have to understand what "materialism" actually is. Simply stated, materialism says that everything is composed of matter. This could be equally true either in the presence or absence of any deity. It could also be equally true that there are things which are *not* composed of matter either in the presence or absence of any deity. Therefore, the questions of whether or not any deity exists and whether or not materialism is true do not necessarily have the same answers nor are the answers dependent on each other. As such, all of your bluster about "atheistic materialism" is just what I've said all along -- nothing but the employment of buzzwords for some emotional impact.
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