April 5, 2007

Atheism Debate

An interesting debate at Donklephant about the existence of God. Not the usual stuff for that site, which is usually about separating the pressure of partisan politics from determining good public policy.

The question is whether reason and faith are incompatible. Ultimately, they are.

Faith is the assertion of the truth of a proposition in the absence of supporting evidence. Reason is the application of logic to evidence in order to ascertain the truth. Faith begins with truth and then disregards evidence. Reason begins with evidence and determines the truth from it, or not.

If the proposition is the existence of the supernatural, what we have is an absence of evidence. Granted, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence -- but in the absence of evidence, reason cannot lead us to any kind of conclusion and a hypothesis must be downgraded to a mere guess.

The proponent of a proposition is the one who bears the burden of proving its truth. It is not generally possible to prove a negative, so if an atheist offers the proposition, "God does not exist," that results in a logical parlor game with no end -- because God might be infinitely subtle, powerful, and knowledgeable, and therefore able to create and govern the universe in ways that defy the laws of physics (God being able to alter them at will) and therefore escape proof. Just as the "brain in the bottle" proposition is incapable of being disproven, so too is the existence of God. An intellectually honest atheist must admit that he cannot disprove God's existence.

However, a failure to disprove is not the same thing as proof. An atheist's failure to disprove the existence of God is no more meaningful than a phenomenologist's failure to disprove the "brain in a bottle" theory. (By the way, if the brain in the bottle -- who by definition must be you, Loyal Reader -- is the only conscious entity in existence, that means you are God, and God is delusional. a very happy ending to that story, is it?) So it does no good to the debate to say that an atheist can't disprove God's existence. That merely means that God might exist; it says nothing about the likelihood of God's existence. There could be a .00000001% chance of his existence, or a 99.9999999% chance of his existence, and we have no way of knowing from this parlor game where on that continuum the true probability lies. But the proposition of God's certain existence must be advanced by the theist or the debate ends there, inconclusively.

So, the burden shifts and now the theist says, "God exists." The honest atheist's response should not be, "No, he doesn't;" instead, it should be, "What's your proof?" If the theist's desire is to convince the atheist of the proof of the proposition, his response to that challenge can only be a citation of some fact that is objectively verifiable. The theist will either succeed or fail in offering such a fact.

In theory, if the theist could identify objectively verifiable facts that do demonstrate the existence of God, the theist has reasoned himself out of the realm of faith entirely. Now, do not need faith to know that my car is painted green or that my dog has once again eaten the toilet paper. I have evidence of these facts. Let's sidestep the problem of using sense evidence as reliable facts, please, as assume that indeed the car and the toilet paper and the dog do exist and that I am accurately sensing the existence of these things.

Doing this is that it renders God subject to objectively verifiable facts and evidence, and transforms God from a supernatural to a natural entity -- and thereby eliminating his divinity. So in objectively proving God's existence, the theist destroys God. Again, not a happy ending to the theist's struggle.

Conversely, if the theist's desire is to assert the true nature of religion, the theist avoids that debate entirely and replies to the atheist's demand for proof with a statement like, "God's existence is incapable of being proven. You just have to take it on faith." This the atheist will refuse to do and thus ends the debate. Neither the atheist nor the theist have changed their minds because neither has offered any reason for the other to do so.

The existence of God is simply not provable by use of reason. It can only be supported by faith. Faith and reason, although they can be partially reconciled through the use of sophistry, are ultimately incompatible. Accepting the existence of God is by definition not an act of reason. One's choice is whether to subliminate one's reason to one's emotional desire for God to exist, or not.

I choose "not."


zzi said...

Not even biblical scholars write posts this long trying to prove G-d's existence..

Burt Likko said...

That's far from true and I'm sure you know it. Hundreds of books and millions of words have been written trying to do exactly that.

Still, I'm sorry that my 800 word post is too intimidating for you to tackle. But c'mon. You're reading a lawyer's blog. Did you really expect brevity?

zzi said...

Yea you get billed by the word.

Thomas said...

Well put, Lawyer. If only Christians or other believers would just have faith enough to put the whole existence of God to rest and start living a faith-based life.

Certainly a person can have faith and reason, but he or she should not use faith to explain something outside of reason.

J. K. Jones said...

God’s existence has been proven. The arguments are out there (http://www.amazon.com/Classical-Apologetics-Dr-R-C-Sproul/dp/0310449510, http://www.amazon.com/Not-Chance-Modern-Science-Cosmology/dp/080105852X/ref=sr_1_1/002-2833519-9998455?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1180573537&sr=1-1). There is no doubt.

Faith is not the belief in the abscence of evidence. Faith is certianty.

Burt Likko said...

Thanks for the comment, J.K. I'd be interested in your reaction to this rebuttal to Sproul.

J. K. Jones said...

If polemics and ad hominem arguments were worth something,this article would prove devistating.

It does not deal with the bare fact that change does not exist. It's just an abstraction.

J. K. Jones said...

I ment to type "chance," not "change." Sorry.

Thanks for the comments on my blog.