Up@dawn 2.0

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Loudmouths (Group 1) Arguments 1-6/Doubt Quiz

Ridiculously long title ftw!

The Doubt quiz told me that I'm either an agnostic or some hybrid atheist thing...I'm pretty sure I can decide for myself. We all agreed that the wording was tricky and that the quiz does not accurately determine what or how one doubts in entirety.
Factual Question about the Doubt Quiz: If you answered "no" to every question, what kind of a doubter are you?

Goldstein's 36 Arguments
I have the first two; The Cosmological Argument and The Ontological Argument.
Here are some questions to get discussion going!
How can it be said that everything needs a cause yet God seems to not have one?
Could we think of something OTHER than God that could have caused the universe? Perhaps another life form unknown to humans? Vulcans, maybe...
Why is it right or wrong to treat existence as a property?


  1. Hi Kat,

    I can't imagine how you guys came up with the moniker "The Loudmouths" with you on the team. :) Besides that, I'm anxious to dig into your "all no" question but would you care to further qualify your question so I can provide a categorically sufficient answer.

  2. I had argument number six, the "argument from the beauty of physical laws." It goes like this:

    1. Scientists use aesthetic principles (simplicity, symmetry, elegance) to discover the laws of nature.
    2. Scientists could only use aesthetic principles successfully if the laws of nature were intrinsically and objectively beautiful.
    3. The laws of nature are intrinsically and objectively beautiful (from 1 & 2).
    4. Only a mind-like being with an appreciation of beauty could have designed the laws of nature.
    5 . God is the only being with the power and purpose to design beautiful laws of nature.
    6. God exists.

    I'll be perfectly honest: I struggle to approach arguments of this sort in an impartial and serious manner. This argument gets it so completely and utterly backwards that I have a hard time taking it (or the person positing it) seriously. It always reminds me of the suddenly sentient puddle, amazed at how perfectly its hole has been "designed" to fit its shape.

    Physical laws are not "objectively" beautiful. I'm not even sure what such a description could mean, honestly. Our descriptions of reality (laws) can sometimes be expressed in ways that certain people may find "beautiful" by virtue of their simplicity or symmetry, but it doesn't follow that the underlying phenomenon are "beautiful" in some objective sense.

    This simply seems to be another way of saying "Look how awesome X is. If X were different, then things would be different. Therefore, God." I guess the most charitable thing I can say about this argument is that it shows a serious lack of imagination, and highlights our species' propensity to plug God into the gaps in our knowledge.

  3. I'd have to agree with Dean really, I'm not sure that something can be beautiful apart from a subject, it would be interesting to see someone put forward some kind of adequate explanation of what 'objectively beautiful' was supposed to mean.

    I had Argument 4: The Argument from the Big Bang. I thought this was especially interesting because Steven Hawking recently wrote a new book/article about the Big Bang and made a statement to the effect that We no longer need God in order to explain the origins of the universe. The physics has advanced enough to where we can be reasonably sure we have fully explained how the phenomenon might have progressed according to natural laws without any need for an outside force or interference.


    That link has the basic gist of what he said, but basically physics has discovered that spontaneous creation is not only possible, but given what we now know about physics and what is suspected about the conditions of the universe before the Big Bang, the universe can and will create itself out of nothing entirely on it's own.

    That's the physical scientific side, and pretty clearly defeats the argument I believe if Steven Hawking turns out to be right. I personally have a semantic problem with Argument #4 though. It assumes a definition of universe that includes only the sort of physical empirical /matter/ that we see and observe, a materialist point of view. If you define the universe as "all that there is" (and I don't see any other reasonable definition for it) then there is no outside the universe for God to inhabit. Of course, that's my personal bias playing in, since I feel that God /is/ the universe, is reality. And vice versa.

  4. Since our group had the Ontological Argument, I thought I would throw in an amusing take on it that I originally read from Dawkins:

    1. The creation of the world is the most marvelous achievement imaginable.

    2. The merit of an achievement is the product of (a) its intrinsic quality, and (b) the ability of its creator.

    3. The greater the disability (or handicap) of the creator, the more impressive the achievement.

    4. The most formidable handicap for a creator would be non-existence.

    5. Therefore if we suppose that the universe is the product of an existent creator we can conceive a greater being namely, one who created everything while not existing.

    6. An existing God therefore would not be a being greater than which a greater cannot be conceived because an even more formidable and incredible creator would be a God which did not exist.

    7. Therefore, God does not exist.

    I've always found it odd that those putting the ontological argument forward never seem to notice that it can be used to "prove" the existence of almost anything. Much better, it would seem, to stick to faith as evidence enough.

  5. That's clever. Right up there with Douglas Adams' Babel Fish proof- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fmpP73-SHPQ

  6. "A puff of logic." If only it were so easy as that ;-)

    1. That's one of the problems with logic though isn't it? As long as your logic is formally valid, you could use it to prove anything. That's one of the reasons that I do agree with the need for empirical evidence in many things (though not as far as many in class seem to take it), because logic ultimately only tells you that something is logical, not that something is true. It is possible to have a logically valid argument where the conclusion turns out to be false (which means one of your premises or inferences was wrong), or an illogical argument where the conclusion turns out to be correct (even a broken clock is right twice a day).

      Ultimately stating that an argument is logical means only IF the premises are all true THEN the conclusion will also be true (or at least likely be true, in the case of inductive)

    2. I understand. William Lane Craig is an excellent example, as he loves to tout logical proofs that rest on false premises.

  7. I had argument 3, the argument from design. It pretty much just says that the universe, as complex as it is, needs to have some sort of creator. It compares the universe to a watch saying that whenever things are created with a purpose or (like a watch) they usually have a creator that started the whole thing, something that set everything off. Like a watch maker.

    When i took the doubt quiz it told me I was agnostic, which i have no problem with at all. I've had agnostic views pretty much my whole life. Along with these views i also believe that the universe could have come from nothing like Steven Hawking said. Its kind of a hard concept to grasp at first but if you think about it the only way for reality to exist is for something to come from nothing, but i feel like this doesn't necessarily disprove God. I have to agree with Jamie and say that God is the Universe. The universe in itself is almost like a living being or machine.

    1. I love your and Jaime's approach to God, because I share that belief. God is life and the living to me. We are God, Earth is God, the Universe is God. Life is so mystical that it's hard for me, too, to deviate from agnosticism. I cannot claim to be an atheist just as I cannot claim to be a theist; I just don't know. I do know, however, that energy cannot be created nor destroyed...and that life is a complex network of energy. When it ceases, where does it go? Does it dissipate into the air around the body? Is it the soul? Does it remain intact somehow? Who knows, but I cannot dismiss the fact that this energy can't be destroyed, and that, at least to some minuscule degree, we continue beyond our bodies. Consciousness is a completely different discussion...lol

    2. Also, the bit about earth being a machine--love it. I've always viewed the globe as a singular, functional being, and we are just small pieces of the giant mechanism. If we let ourselves break or if we break the pieces around us, we do harm to the whole whether we see it or not.

    3. Defining everything as God is a pretty good way to rob the word (concept?) of any meaning, so I guess I would be in favor of that. But other than redefining God to shed all the anthropomorphism, what's the point? What do we gain by calling everything God?

    4. The only reason I use the term "God" is because of the relevance of situation and the fact that I can't think of anything else to call it by modern terms. A better way to put it would be that I consider life as is and the universe as is to be all powerful and awesome (in the traditional sense of the word)...not that I would worship, pray to, or whatever else towards the universe as a deity, but that the universe holds the spiritual beauty that most find in God. I respect it as the residence and caregiver to all life. There is no consciousness or personification, just overwhelming mystery and infinite possibility--which is about as close as I'll ever get to spirituality lol. Ergo, I call it "God" to help convey what I'm attempting to explain...

      I gain an easier way of explaining my beliefs. No real benefit other than that :P

    5. I understand what you're saying. For me, though, the rub lies in the fact of what "most find in God." To say that the word "God" comes loaded with a fair amount of baggage would be the understatement of the millennium. I would rather use language that promotes clarity, instead of further muddying the water.

      But then again, I'm pretty much an antitheist ;-)

    6. "There is no consciousness or personification, just overwhelming mystery and infinite possibility--which is about as close as I'll ever get to spirituality lol." See, I like that a lot. I feel the same way!

      But then you say "Ergo, I call it "God" to help convey what I'm attempting to explain..." and heap all that accumulated baggage right back on top of the concepts that you just wrested away from "God." It just seems counterproductive to me, but I understand the way words fail us when we're trying to quantify such unquantifiable concepts. If it was good enough for Einstein, Spinoza, and Hawking...maybe I'm being too nit-picky.

    7. What is happening here is simply drawing lines from facts in the world to the unknown and calling that God, which is the case for many of Goldstein's arguments. This is simply presuppositional privilege parading as arguments. Victor Stenger pointed out that we can call energy God and find it in a lump of coal but that hardly adds any heat or light.

      Further, I would argue that using the term "god" as a substitute for the wonder of the universe is an immoral application of the term. As David pointed out, why would one want to conflate the morally repugnant bronze-age dogma of the Bible with the natural beauty of the universe? Many humanists would find Stephen J. Gould guilty of aiding and abetting. Unless you can locate, slavery, homosexual bigotry, religious conceit, misogyny, and torture fetish in an evening rainbow, it would seem prudent to choose a term a bit more applicable. Regardless, I understand the complexity of the phenomena.

    8. Maybe this is me trolling, but it occurs to me that if there is immense negative emotional baggage associated with the word "God" no matter how that term is defined and completely apart from any specific understanding of him, that possibly says more about the baggage of the individual than the concept.

      One problem I see we have constantly running in this class is that most of the atheists are fighting/arguing against a conception of God familiar from conservative Christianity/Islam/Judaism. I know one person in particular has continually singled out mono-theism. But even within those traditions there is incredible diversity in belief about God, many of which don't include slavery, homosexual bigotry, misogyny or torture fetish (many Christians don't believe in hell). David mentions Spinoza. Well, Spinoza was a Jew. And had some interesting things to say about other religions.

      I honestly don't care if we call it 'Pedro', because either way it's just a word. As good old Bill said, "A rose by any other name smells as sweet". The fact that some people (be they anti-theists or Southern Baptists) do very very very much, angrily and loudly, what we call the non-empirical facets of our existence, makes me curious.

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  9. I would say that the way philosophers and theologians might define the word "God" has very little overlap with the way billions of monotheists define the word. So while our small group could sit around comfortably and enjoy a civil discussion about the finer points of Spinoza's God, millions of other people are being oppressed, imprisioned, and murdered in the name of the same three letter word.

    Can we, as two reasonable people, sit down and divest the word "God" of all it's negative emotional baggage by redefining it as we see fit? Sure we could. But what practical purpose would this serve in a world filled with billions of monotheists? What is served by checking the same "yes" box on a survey that a Southern Baptist would check if asked "Do you believe in God?"

    1. I personally do not believe on the whole religious violence is on any kind of upswing. Though I'll admit, I have few hard numbers to back this up. I think we simply hear about it more. Oppression, imprisonment, and murder all make the evening news. Good feelings don't. I can tell you I've experienced far more nice curious Christians asking me about Islam and being friendly than I have people protesting the local mosque, but guess which of those two groups got on CNN?

      There was actually an excellent book recently I've been meaning to read in more depth, to the effect that, based on everything we know about history and civilization, this is actually one of the most peaceful and pleasant times to ever be alive.

  10. Ok, Jamie, I'm going to come out and openly admit to trolling. Maybe I need a hobby that doesn't involve a bottle opener. I just really enjoy this class and am honestly interested in everyone’s comments.

    That being said, I hope you or no one in the class takes my disagreement about religion's truth or the veracity of faith personally (although I realize that is sometimes hard to do). I go by the old Navy Seal adage: if it doesn't hurt, you're not doing it right. I admit it may not have to hurt, but I have found that an inclination to respond emotionally to arguments is generally due to a lack of clarity or ability to understand a perplexing issue. I use this feeling, and I have had it a lot, as a motivation to go back and sharpen my pencil--if you'll excuse the trite pedagogical metaphor.

    That being said, I'd like to take exception to a few of your points.

    First, “god” or ‘rose’ is not just a word in spite of our friend William’s contention. Words correspond to objects or concepts and carry meaning—sometimes deeply and widely held meaning. Since we used words and symbols to communicate and if words didn’t have meaning, I could just hit random keys on my Mac to type this sentence and berate those who didn’t understand what I said. Fortunately, that’s not the case.

    This line of argument reminds me of racists of homophobes who defend the blatant use of the words “ni***r” and “fa***t” by claiming ‘they’re just words’; completely ignoring the hundreds of years of violent history associated with them. I’m not in any way insisting you are a homophobe or racist, I’m drawing attention to that line of reasoning. The word ‘god’ has been around for thousands of years, and although it has taken on different meanings in different cultures and religions, there is plenty of ‘negative emotional baggage’ associated with the use of the term. If you honestly think you can run into a mosque and yell ‘Pedro Akbar’ with impunity, I would be inclined to speculate otherwise.

    Secondly, you are partially correct in pointing out most of my discussions or posts involve monotheism. Although most of my experience is in Christianity, my beef isn’t necessarily with monotheism; it’s with religion in general or, at minimum, religions that posit a personal deity. Obviously, not all religious people are racists, bigots, misogynists, or have a torture-fetish, I just happen to think they’re wrong about reality. There are millions of wonderfully humanistic, empathetic, thoughtful, considerate, warm and friendly theists out there with various beliefs. There are roughly 38,000 different denominations of Christianity so, yes; I would say there is a bit of diversity within the ranks. Also, recent Pew study found that 78.4% of Americans are Christian. 4.7% were other religions, and 16.1% were unaffiliated. So, when almost 80% of Americans believe in personal god who interacts with the existential world in some capacity or another, they are generally referring to the same god as most other Christians when we use that word.

    Lastly, Christians claiming the Bible as the true word of God—Truth with a capital ‘T’ —is, for me, the root of the problem. All the hatred, bigotry, misogyny, etc., etc. that I mention from time to time is commanded, exemplified, championed, or regulated in the Bible. My problem with ‘moderate’ Christianity is they are all working, literally, off the same page; from the same book.

    For my money, the lack of general consensus by Christian leadership and membership, compounded by various theologians’ inability to distinguish the ever-moving distinction between metaphor, allegory, and parables from the actual facts about the world is evidence enough to dismiss any claims of even relative truth (much less Truth). Perhaps a majority consensus would be a more reasonable goal.

    In the meantime, I’ll take my bottle opener and go home and enjoy my emotionally charged rainbow.

    1. I understand your points Dean, and some of them are good, particularly I think your last two points, though I would address the issue of 'working' off the same book by saying that to me this is rather the point. Perhaps I am pessimistic, but I think that even if we agreed it was desirable to do away with religion (or even just Christianity/Judaism/Islam) entirely, I do not believe it would be possible to do so. It seems much more productive to me then to engage them on their own ground and educate/highlight the diversity of possible belief and experience within those traditions, in other words that it is perfectly possible to not do/believe all those things you object to and still be a "good" Christian/Muslim. My point is they are working off the same book, let's make sure they use it in appropriate productive ways.

      As to the rest, actually less Americans than that believe in a personal God. 78 percent identify as Christian yes, but I believe in my research on conversion I recall that same detailed report showed that only 60 something percent believe in a personal God. Which speaks to my comments in class I believe.

      The last thing I would say is that "Words correspond to objects or concepts and carry meaning" is only partially right. Words have only the communal meaning we agree on. And it's far easier to influence/change a word's meaning than to eliminate it.

    2. Hi, Jamie, thanks for responding and keeping the conversation alive.

      First, I don't think we need to 'do away' with religion any more than we need to do away with astrology. That language seems to connote force and I would never remotely advocate that line of reasoning. I just think institutionalized religion is false and has an intrinsic propensity to cause harm when it is taken literally, and unfortunately, that happens a lot.

      Secondly, I would never advocate the suppression of speech for any reason other than in the most extreme cases already recognized by the Supreme Court. Even as an atheist, I would support any religious group or private organizations' rights to free speech under the freedoms afforded to all U.S. citizens by the First Amendment. This includes the Westboro Baptist Church, the KKK, the Sons of Confederate Veterans, and Rick Santorum, etc., no matter how vile or offensive I might find the speech. This isn’t because I agree with any them (believe me, I don't), but because I really treasure free speech.

      You may find it surprising that I support the Muslim community and their right to build a new mosque in Murfreesboro as well as their Constitutional right to freedom of worship. I watched in utter disbelief as the local Christian community were not only attempting to suppress Muslim’s speech and right to worship, but tried to argue (in a court of law mind you) that Islam wasn't even a religion. Ignorance knows no bounds. Remind me to never buy a bow tie.

      That being said, I don't think any belief or idea is immune to skepticism, criticism, ridicule, or mockery. If someone asserts a certain belief to be true but deems it so fragile that it can't withstand criticism, maybe it's not worth having. Offensive criticism is not suppression of speech.

      One more comment on your quote:

      "The last thing I would say is that "Words correspond to objects or concepts and carry meaning" is only partially right. Words have only the communal meaning we agree on."

      This was exactly my point. In the spirit of Quine's holistic theory of meaning, using the term 'god' in a theistic discussion and then completely ignoring several thousand years of religious history that impels the etiology of 'communal meaning' is being insensitive to precedent. So, in that respect, it seems you have simply furthered my argument.

      Thanks again for the reply and thoughtful conversation. I enjoy your spirit and insight. Tell Mathew we missed him in class.


  11. I agree on a lot you have said Dean, I feel like the growth and popularity of christianity has turned it into more of a business seeking to destroy competition than a religion. I agree with the morals and ethics of the Bible (some of them at least) but i know for a fact not all of it is not true. My high school was a southern Baptist christian high school and we were not allowed to have dances, girls were not allowed to pray, and they took EVERYTHING in the bible literally, it drove me crazy.

  12. Wow, Parker, I feel for you, and, yes, the institution of religion does seem to be more concerned with numbers (money and membership) and protecting the church rather than the well being of the members.

    I grew up in a rather dull Methodist church in eastern Kentucky (this was in the 60s and 70s) but many of my friends were raised Southern Baptist and Church of Christ. They too were a miserable bunch--no dancing, music, makeup, smiling, etc. Everything they didn't agree with was the work of the devil, especially rock and roll music.

    One of my friends was beaten by his father (Church of Christ) because he got caught with a Led Zeppelin album under his bed. That is totally unacceptable on so many levels (although, consequently, I think it was Led Zeppelin III, which wasn't one of their best releases). Also, one wouldn't have to venture too far down the backroads weaving between the Kentucky foothills to find a Sunday morning snake-handler.

    I'm thrilled and inspired that your are finding your own way and asking the right questions. Many people never realize or explore the opportunity to inquire about the nature of the universe.

    Just remember: if you go home for spring break, you may have to keep your learnin' to yourself for a spell. :)

    Bon voyage!