The Presumption of Atheism

Do we really need a reason to not believe in God? Isn’t atheism the default position?

To answer this question we need to distinguish between believing that God does not exist on one hand, and not believing that God exists on the other. The former is the belief in an absence. The latter is simply the absence of a belief.

“Atheism” is commonly defined as the belief that God does not exist, but there are a growing number of people who define it in a weaker sense as the state of not believing that God exists (beginning with Antony Flew, who first suggested to use “atheism” in this way). For clarity, I will call the former sense “positive atheism” and the latter sense “negative atheism”.

So then, is atheism the default position? The answer depends on whether you mean positive or negative atheism.

If you mean negative atheism, then yes! I am in complete agreement that negative atheism is the default epistemic state. One does not need arguments or evidence to be a negative atheist, because negative atheism isn’t a belief at all. Being merely the lack of a belief, it does not assert that anything is true, and so requires no justification. It is just a description of someone’s subjective mental state. Babies, cats, and rocks are all negative atheists, since they do not hold a belief in the existence of God. (At least, we don’t think they do.) Positive atheists are negative atheists, but the converse isn’t necessarily true – agnostics are also negative atheists. (Which is why, if you want to distinguish between atheism and agnosticism, you have to mean positive atheism.)

Negative atheism is trivial. Note that we can just as well define “negative theism” to mean not believing that God does not exist, and then that is also the default position! (Someone can lack both the belief that God exists and the belief that God does not exist, and indeed the babies, cats, and rocks of the last paragraph are in that position – along with the agnostics.)

Because “negative atheism” is so trivial, it is only a useful category in some sociological contexts – in studying the kind of things that people believe, for example. But when we are talking about more than that – when we are talking about whether or not God really exists, not just what people believe about that – what we care about is “positive atheism”.

And there, the situation is quite different. If you claim that positive (not merely negative) atheism is the default position, well, you are simply wrong. Positive atheism is a belief – it takes a stand and asserts that something is true (namely, that God does not exist). And we should have reasons for believing what we do. We should seek to have justified beliefs. Thus, positive atheism requires justification to back up the assertion that it makes, which means it is not the default position.

I think this is worth repeating. The claim that God does not exist is no less strong of an assertion about the nature of reality than the claim that he does. So atheism (that is, positive atheism) is not an epistemically neutral stance. In order to be an atheist in any philosophically significant sense of the word, you have to have reasons.

To put a bit more rhetoric behind this statement: the atheist who says that he needs no evidence for atheism (because it is the “default”) is no better than the fideist who says that he needs no evidence for theism (because he accepts it by “faith”). Worse, even: at least the fideist usually recognizes that his position is irrational.

You’ll find atheists who say that atheism is not a claim, and therefore it has no burden of proof. But this can only be true of negative atheism: if said about positive atheism, it is blatantly false. The distinction between theism and atheism is not that one claims something and the other doesn’t. Rather, the distinction is that one is a positive existential claim (it claims that something exists) and the other is a negative existential claim (it claims that something does not exist).

And there is nothing about negative existential claims which makes them exceptions to the rule that we should have rational justification for what we believe. For comparison: philosophical idealism makes a negative existential claim, but that does not make it the default position, nor does it allow us to deny the reality of the physical world without valid reasons.

Reasons for Atheism

The saying “you can’t prove a negative” becomes relevant here. Some people assume that this is true, and that it means that justification for a negative existential claim can’t actually be given, letting atheism off the hook. But this saying is false. There are perfectly good ways to justify negative existential claims. There are, in fact, some reasons to believe atheism. Therefore, the requirement that atheists have reasons to be atheists is not unreasonable.

First, though, here are a few statements that are not reasons to be an atheist:

  • “There isn’t any evidence for God.”

If by “evidence” you mean the kind of natural, physical evidences that we study with science, then you’re looking in the wrong place. It presupposes atheism or philosophical materialism to insist that all justification for beliefs has to be evidence of this kind. Moreover, it is self-refuting, since we rely on certain non-evidential beliefs in order to acquire and use evidence at all. Construing “evidence” more broadly to mean any rational justification for a belief, this objection is false. See: all my previous posts on arguments for God’s existence.

  • “None of the arguments for God’s existence are convincing.”

This leaves you without a reason to believe that God exists, but it doesn’t give any reason to believe that he doesn’t. So at best, this leaves you with agnosticism. If you say you can be an atheist merely because you haven’t been convinced about theism, then you might as well say you can believe anything you want as long as it is not obviously false. I think rational belief requires a little bit more than that.

  • “God isn’t a valid explanation of anything.”

This objection is sometimes used against the cosmological or teleological arguments, saying that the God hypothesis is really a non-explanation. But for one, this objection is false: if God exists and created the universe, then God obviously would be an explanation for the existence of the universe. (And so the claim that God is a non-explanation just presupposes atheism, without justification.) And for two, even if true, this objection would only negate reasons for theism, rather than providing reasons for atheism.

(See also here for a further exploration of the not-a-valid-explanation objection.)

  • “Science shows that God doesn’t exist.” Or, “Science shows that we don’t need to posit God to explain anything.”

No, it doesn’t. I’ve written about this before. But by way of brief response: science allows us to explain a lot of things via natural causes, but it cannot explain everything, and it certainly cannot explain where those natural causes themselves come from. (To take up that question is to leave the realm of empirical science and go deep into the realm of philosophy.)

With those out of the way, here is one statement that is a valid reason to be an atheist (if true):

  • “There isn’t enough evidence for God’s existence, compared to the amount that there would be if he did exist.”

Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, as the saying goes – unless we should have that evidence if the thing did in fact exist. (For a more in-depth exploration of that principle, see here.) Where this is used as an argument for atheism, it is known as the problem of divine hiddenness. More generally, we can provide justification for negative existential claims in the following way:

  • “If X exists, then Y should be true. But Y is false. Therefore, X does not exist.”

This is the logical form behind the problem of evil and other arguments against God’s existence. These are the kind of arguments that can actually justify atheism, and they are what I will be exploring in upcoming posts.

Implausibility of Theism

There is one further argument that I will address which is relevant to the question of whether or not atheism can be considered the default epistemic position. It is raised by Paul Draper in his article on atheism and agnosticism in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. The idea behind this “low priors” argument is that theism is intrinsically improbable, so that even before taking any evidence into account, the presumption is in favour of atheism.

Draper argues for the low prior probability of omni-theism (his term for the kind of theism that I believe follows from the arguments for natural theology) by comparing it to an alternative position that he calls source physicalism:

  • Source physicalism: the physical world is ontologically ultimate, and any mental reality depends on the physical for its existence.
  • Source idealism: the mental world is ontologically ultimate, and physical reality depends on the mental for its existence.
  • Omni-theism: a subset of source idealism, which further specifies the ontological ultimate to be a unique, perfect person.

Draper’s claim is that 1) source physicalism and source idealism have equal intrinsic probabilities, principally because of the symmetry between the two positions, and 2) omni-theism is a very specific version of source idealism and therefore it must be much less intrinsically probable than source idealism in general. From this it follows that 3) omni-theism is much less intrinsically probable than source physicalism.

These claims are, of course, contestable. Despite Draper’s assertion, there is an asymmetry between source physicalism and source idealism, both in regards to our epistemic position (we can doubt the existence of the physical world, but we cannot rationally doubt the existence of our own minds), and in regards to their ontological status (there are mental phenomena that do not seem possible to derive from the physical world even in principle). It seems to me that these are a priori considerations that could tip the balance in favour of source idealism in terms of its intrinsic probability, over source physicalism.

Second, it seems to me that Draper’s claim about the specificity of omni-theism, compared to source idealism, is greatly exaggerated. Over and above source idealism, omni-theism simply claims that the ontological ultimate is personal instead of impersonal, one instead of many, and perfect instead of imperfect. The first of these additional claims arguably has the advantage due to similar considerations as those in the last paragraph. And the latter two claims are in some sense simpler than their counterparts, and could claim greater intrinsic probability on that basis.

Finally, omni-theism is actually a very simple hypothesis: it postulates the existence of a single entity (an immaterial person) who can be described by perhaps just three properties (knowledge, power, and goodness) and who possesses those properties in the simplest possible way (to the maximum degree, with no limitations). Compare this to Draper’s source physicalism, which has to postulate the brute existence of a number of physical entities, laws, constants, and initial conditions (or some kind of mechanism for generating such). So I would say that considerations of simplicity actually tip the balance of intrinsic probability in favour of theism!

So I don’t believe that Draper is successful in his argument that omni-theism is many times less probable, intrinsically, than source physicalism. Which means that is not a good reason to take atheism as the “default position”.

 

An aside on Draper’s arguments in the article referenced above:

I might add that Draper’s complete “low priors” argument also includes the premise that the total evidence does not favour omni-theism over source physicalism. (Where “evidence” in this context means any rational source of justification for a belief – experience, arguments, etc.) Combining this with the premise that omni-theism is intrinsically much less probable than source physicalism, he concludes that omni-theism is very probably false, and thus, atheism (understood just as the denial of omni-theism) is very probably true.

As I said, I think there is reason to doubt the premise about the intrinsic probabilities of omni-theism and source physicalism. But even if that were established, I absolutely disagree with this claim about the balance of the evidence. Justifying it requires one to undercut or defeat all of the arguments for omni-theism from natural theology, or at least to balance them with equally strong arguments for source physicalism. And that, from my perspective, is a very difficult task.

(Draper’s appeal to the “fallacy of understated evidence” is a good starting point for discussion about potential weaknesses or balancing considerations of certain theistic arguments, but it in no way shows that those considerations actually succeed in reducing the force of those arguments by a significant degree.)

Interestingly, the failure of this premise is related in a way to the potential success of the other one. One of the ways that Draper tries to justify his premise about the intrinsic improbability of omni-theism is by saying that omni-theism makes very specific claims, each of which must reduce its probability. But if we’re being rational, we theists don’t just make those claims out of the blue. We make specific claims about God and reality because of reasons that we see for them (for example, from natural theology). So in the end, theism’s level of intrinsic probability doesn’t really matter. The important thing is its probability when the evidence is taken into account.

The put it another way, omni-theism is not postulated a priori as an arbitrary refinement of source idealism, any more than the Standard Model of particle physics is postulated a priori as a refinement of source physicalism. These things are postulated as hypotheses to account for facts that need to be explained. So the fact that omni-theism is more specific than source idealism is no more of a strike against theism, to my mind, than is the fact that the Standard Model is more specific than source physicalism a strike against atheism.

One more note: Draper has a second argument for atheism in that article, his “decisive evidence” argument. This one isn’t really a distinct argument, since its premises basically assert that 1) none of the argument for theism are successful, and 2) there is an argument for atheism that is successful. (There’s more nuance to it than that, but when you really break it down the premises are justified only if those two things are true.)

End aside.

 

So far, I’ve explored two reasons that are often put forward for rejecting theism in favour of atheism: arguments that theism is impossible, and the presumption of atheism as the default epistemic position. And in my honest evaluation, neither of these carry any rational weight whatsoever.

In the next few weeks I will explore some atheistic arguments that I think do have force.

30 thoughts on “The Presumption of Atheism

  1. I still think one part of this problem is that people keep confounding questions about claims (or their negation) with questions about persistent attitudinal orientations. In the lives of real people, these distinctions don’t stay constant, but that’s as true of believers as it is unbelievers.

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  2. He’s ok with negative atheism being the default position. He also calls it trivial. So what?

    Maybe the next article will be interesting to this atheist but I’m guessing his target audience is believers.

    Mike

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    1. My target audience is anyone who is interested in the truth (and who is willing to put up with my writing, I suppose).

      In response to your question “so what?”, I make these distinctions because there are people who try to claim more than they are rationally justified in claiming, by equivocating between positive and negative atheism. The point is, if you believe that God does not exist, you need to have reasons for that belief.

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    1. There is no burden with the statement “I do not believe gods exist,” strictly speaking.

      The burden is with the statement “I believe gods do not exist.” And I suggest ways in this post for that statement to be justified.

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  3. I just can’t get past the incoherence of the properties and the story around them, like the whole aseity thing.
    You sidestepped that a few posts back. Pruss is no help either.
    Can an aseitic entity have ‘states’, then?
    I mean like God and God-sub-universe?
    A state of perfect completeness would seem to be perfectly static – to avoid contradiction.
    What’s to believe there – or not?

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    1. Hi Keith, I mentioned aseity a couple posts back, yes. But I see no incoherence in the concept, so I don’t think there is actually anything for me to “sidestep” about it. Could you clarify for me what you think the difficulty with it is?

      Aseity is the property of not being caused to exist by anything else, and not depending on anything else for one’s continued existence. Nothing in there that precludes having properties or states of existence.

      There was already some discussion in the earlier post (https://structureoftruth.wordpress.com/2018/09/22/the-incoherence-of-theism-i/) about whether perfection requires God to be completely static and unchanging. I don’t believe it does – that objection requires the unjustified assumption that there can only be one unique perfect state, rather than many different states for a perfect being to be in which are equal in terms of their perfection. Change can be “horizontal” rather than only “vertical” along the perfection scale.

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      1. These things always come down to definitions, of course.
        Aristotelian cause refers to process. It does not speak to the nature of existence, except to lump it onto a profusion of brute facts (forms).
        Of course, if one begins with such a scheme, there are no apparent barriers to an entity, which is self sufficient in its causal explanation, having properties, states, actions.
        However, an electron fits the aseitic bill, in that case. It is indivisible. It’s present ‘form’ is entirely determinative of its behavior.
        Yet it still requires events to exemplify its properties. Each electron has its explanatory reduction.
        Which brings us back around to the notion of perfection in terms of aseity. It is not any old perfection. It is perfect self-sufficiency – transcendence of the formal schema, not simply perfect exemplification of a form.
        If not, God is in the same boat as the electron – having merely met the criterion of being invulnerable to further theorizing.

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      2. Honestly, I’m afraid I don’t follow half of what you’re saying here.
        Electrons are not a se. They can be created and annihilated by certain physical processes; ergo their existence has causal dependencies and they fail to meet the definition of aseity.
        I don’t subscribe to an aristotelian metaphysical scheme; I expect there are multiple different ways to describe reality at a metaphysical level. (The scheme I use implicitly, I suppose, is one of entities that exist and the properties they instantiate, including their casual powers and liabilities – though I’m not a realist about abstract objects.)
        So I have no idea why you think an electron is a se, or what it even means to say that perfection requires transcendence of the formal schema. (If you want incoherence, feel free to go read about the doctrine of divine simplicity, but I can’t buy into that.) Or why you think aseity = invulnerability to further theorizing.
        We obviously are not on the same wavelength, here. 🙂

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      3. Wavelength – good one.
        The language surrounding self-existence is laced with threads of the Aristotelian causal scheme.
        But anyway, I take you at your word.
        What do you mean by “caused to exist”, then?
        Because the way that you are using it in “not being caused to exist by anything else” seems to imply something like irreducibility, which is where the electron comes in.
        I don’t think it fits the aseitic bill either, but it does seem to fit the “not being caused to exist by anything else” and the “not depending on anything else for one’s continued existence” rules – unless we want to say that its existence is sustained by continuing to not encounter a positron.

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      4. I’m not sure how else to explain what I mean by “caused to exist” except that it means “caused to exist”… causation and existence are both pretty fundamental aspects of reality.
        Perhaps I did not phrase things carefully enough. It might be better to say that electrons have causal liabilities on their existence: they can be annihilated given certain circumstances. Whereas that is not the case for a being with aseity.

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      5. I guess I just don’t see how destruction is an inherently distinct sort of event. The narrative does not seem to change, in principle, by it.
        The explanation of the electron continues on, because the particle exists in context, and something that is self-existent would seem to defy contextualization.
        Yet to participate in events is to be in context.

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      6. I really don’t know what you mean by that, or how it is supposed to show some kind of incoherence in the concept of a self-existent being.

        Let’s try this again, perhaps. Self-existence, a.k.a. aseity, as I understand it, fundamentally means that one’s existence is not dependent on anything, where dependence can be analysed in terms of causal relationships: either being caused to exist at the first moment of one’s existence (being created), or being sustained in existence by some external cause (without which one would cease to exist), or having causal liabilities on one’s existence (there being circumstances under which something could cause one’s existence to end).

        That’s as clear a definition of aseity as I think I can come up with. I don’t see any incoherence or contradiction implied by it: unless you think the concepts of causation or existence themselves are problematic. But then our dispute is much more basic than the concept of God.

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      7. No. Events are what happen to the entities that exist – they are changes in the properties of things that exist (or changes in which entities exist). So identities of the things that exist are more fundamental than events.

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  4. Hi structureoftruth, I came here from Outshine the Sun. Since you were game enough to respond to a few comments there I figured I could return the favor. I’ll start with your division of negative and positive atheism, which deserves more consideration. You sort of lump several things together and then dismiss them so you can focus on what you consider to be positive atheism. I would first divide out things like rocks, trees, and to a large extent babies, which don’t have beliefs at all. You could call them atheists in the broadest sense, but it is a pointless statement. I’d call them beliefless.

    So sticking to things that can actually have the relevant beliefs: First, there are humans who do not hold a belief because they have never heard of it, or it never occurred to them. For example, there are people who don’t believe in werewolves, but this is not surprising given they have never even run across the concept. It is equally true that some people don’t believe in capybaras for want of any exposure to the idea. I’ll call them unconsidered atheists in the case or religion.

    Then there are those who have heard of an idea but see no reason to adopt it. This covers a wide range of cases. Although we tend to believe people are telling the truth, we make many exceptions if we think they are unreliable, if it seems implausible, if it seems unnecessary, etc. Here you also have to consider that most potential beliefs simply don’t matter to most people. If you tell me your mother was 6 feet tall, I have no particular reason to doubt you, but I also don’t care. We can remain happily agnostic on many things because we have no reason to form a strong opinion. I’ll call the appertaining religious designation casual atheists.

    Finally I come to those who have a reason to reject a belief on the grounds that it is wrong. The proposed belief might be in conflict with something already believed, it might be internally inconsistent, it might be known for a fabrication… This also covers a lot of ground in terms of strength of rejection. At one end you might have someone who thinks they can actively disprove the belief, at the other those who simply find it not convincing enough to worry about, which depends also on the relevance of the belief. I’ll call this group active atheists.

    In terms of the “presumption of atheism” only the beliefless are really trivial. I’m an active atheist, but if I had my way and atheism became completely dominant, everyone would be close to an unconsidered or casual atheist. It would be good for people to recognize in the abstract the “active” problems with religion, but mostly people wouldn’t bother because it wouldn’t be a possibility that deserved much consideration. I think people ideally wouldn’t spend any more time refuting modern religion than we do refuting Osiris worship. That’s the sense in which atheism more generally is, or should be, the default. And it’s a very reasonable sense.

    The unconsidered unbeliever, as well as the casual unbeliever, doesn’t adopt extra beliefs without good reason to do so. You (ideally) don’t just start believing in e.g., someone’s existence, without sufficient reason to do so. Fewer beliefs is always the default. To adopt a belief you need evidence and the amount of evidence changes depending on 1) how much it adds to or alters your current belief structure and 2) how seriously you take the belief. So casually accepting that your mother was 6 foot requires only hearing it from you and not knowing a reason you would lie, while seriously accepting that she was a vampire would take mountains of evidence. (Note that the major evidence to change your beliefs requirement is assuming those beliefs were well formed with evidence in the first place, it shouldn’t take so much to change your mind if your belief was badly formed since you shouldn’t have adopted it in the first place.)

    So, it’s not the default to have a bunch of detailed counter-apologetics against theism in mind, but that’s not the default any atheists are talking about. Religion can’t be singled out from all other beliefs, rather, it has to be justified like any others. Casual or unconsidered atheism isn’t a belief, it’s a state of having all sorts of normal beliefs about the world and not having any good reason to adopt religious ones. If someone claims they can, say, disprove your god, then the burden is on them, but if the claim is that your beliefs are unpersuasive, then the burden is on you. If I can prove that your beliefs can’t possibly be true, good on me; but for the sake of atheism, I should only need to show that your beliefs aren’t reasonably founded, at which point you should return to the default state of not having them, i.e. atheism.

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    1. Hi Josh, thanks for dropping by.
      The point is that the definition of negative atheism, “not believing that God exists”, does include rocks and cats and babies. To separate it out you would have to define it as something like “being capable of believing that God exists but not doing so”. And that just highlights my main point: negative atheism is merely a report of someone’s mental state. It is not a position that can be true or false. If you say something like “atheism is true” you have to mean positive atheism; the sentence is meaningless otherwise.
      So in this post what I’m concerned with is the question of whether positive atheism can be taken as the default epistemic position: I’ve already conceded that negative atheism is the default (as is negative theism!).
      Your description of unconsidered atheists falls under the classification of negative atheism since they merely lack belief in God’s existence: they don’t believe that God doesn’t exist since they’ve never even thought about God.
      Casual atheists in your description may either be agnostics or positive atheists; you aren’t clear about their belief state. But as I said in my past, not being convinced of something is not a sufficient ground for believing that something is false; merely the lack of convincing grounds for believing that it is true.
      That can easily be transformed into sufficient ground for believing that it is false *if there should be convincing evidence if it were true*, but again, I already said that.

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    2. One more reply to your comment… you say “if the claim is that your beliefs are unpersuasive, then the burden is on you.” This isn’t really the case: if you say “I’ve seen all your arguments for God’s existence and they don’t convince me” there’s a good chance I’ll just say “well, I’m sorry to hear that, but they are valid arguments with premises that I think I have good reasons to believe, so I maintain that my belief in God is justified.”
      “Your arguments are unpersuasive” isn’t itself an argument for positive atheism, though it may very well be an explanation for negative atheism.

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    1. Thanks for the link; I’ll try to check out more of your blog when I have some free time. I’m not going to bother taking on those arguments for now, but I will note that 1) not all of them are arguments for atheism (some are just objections to theistic arguments), and 2) I disagree with your assessment of them being good arguments for atheism, for various reasons that you’ll find throughout this blog.

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  5. If by “evidence” you mean the kind of natural, physical evidences that we study with science, then you’re looking in the wrong place. It presupposes atheism or philosophical materialism to insist that all justification for beliefs has to be evidence of this kind. Moreover, it is self-refuting, since we rely on certain non-evidential beliefs in order to acquire and use evidence at all. Construing “evidence” more broadly to mean any rational justification for a belief, this objection is false. See: all my previous posts on arguments for God’s existence.
    This is game over right here. Yes, I am looking evidence, not “evidence”.
    “Construing “evidence” more broadly to mean any rational justification for a belief”
    But you shouldn’t construe it broadly. Evidence (not “evidence”) is not the same as rational justification. That’s why there are different words. If a married couple is going through a nasty divorce, the wife has been cheating on the husband, there’s a custody battle, and the husband stands to lose a lot of money – and the wife is murdered. The husband will be a suspect. There’s a rational justification for thinking so. It’s a common story, there’s a strong motive, there are strong emotions and things at stake. However, we cannot convict the husband of the murder on “rational justification”. We require evidence, not “evidence”. If the husband has an air tight alibi and there is unknown male DNA all over the victim, we probably need to drop the case against him.
    Imagine you’re accused of a murder and you are innocent. You ask the police what evidence they have against you. They say, “We don’t have any evidence at all, but we do have “evidence”, that is, broadly construed as rational justification to think you’re guilty. People say you really didn’t like the guy, so we think you did it, and we’re going to put you away on our “evidence”. Why you’re simply presupposing atheism or philosophical materialism to insist on justification of our belief, dear boy!”
    Another: The police find two men in a room. One man has been stabbed. The victim says the other man stabbed him. The other man says what happened is there was a brilliant flash of light, another man suddenly appeared out of nowhere, stabbed the victim, and disappeared in a puff of smoke. Are you honestly telling me you’d entertain the magical man alibi for a second? Why wouldn’t you? Why you’re simply presupposing atheism or philosophical materialism otherwise! it’s self-refuting to ask for evidence!
    I’m not presupposing anything other than normal common sense here. If there was a video camera running in the room and we see a man appear and disappear in a puff of smoke, then I’ll believe it. Otherwise, no. No one ever ever subscribes to this line of thinking unless they’re trying to push something they don’t have any evidence for. Bigfoot enthusiasts make the same claims: no, we don’t have any good evidence, just blurry photos and such, But, but, we have thousands of eyewitness claims! They can’t all be wrong! There is a “rational justification” to thinking Bigfoot is real, despite the fact we just can’t seem to ever get any darn good evidence.
    Ditto for alien rectal probings, Mothman, and the like. There is “rational justification” in that so many different people claim to have seen the same things. But without evidence, it’s a no go.
    Since we rely on certain non-evidential beliefs in order to acquire and use evidence at all.
    Yes, we all rely on some basic logical non-evidential ideas to communicate at all. We have to go with it or there’s no point in even talking. You cannot suddenly expand basic non-evidential ideas into “the supernatural exists”.

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    1. Not all belief formation takes place inside a courtroom, for one, and not all reasonable beliefs are of the kind that can be justified by evidence as you define it. Do you believe killing an innocent person is morally wrong? If so, what measurable scientific evidence do you have for that belief? (Evidence that killing causes harm or something like that does not cut it, because that doesn’t show that causing harm = morally wrong.)

      Cherry picking data does nothing to prove your point – yes, we do in fact have rational justification for believing in bigfoot, but we have stronger justification against such a belief. We weigh reasons for and against.

      I don’t, as you put it, suddenly expand basic non-evidential ideas into the claim that the supernatural exists. Rather, I reason from those basic principles of rationality, and the data that we have, and I infer that God exists.

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      1. But why does the courtroom require evidence, and not just rational justification? Because it’s too important to NOT require evidence.

        “not all reasonable beliefs are of the kind that can be justified by evidence as you define it.” If we got down to it, I probably wouldn’t consider those “reasonable beliefs” you speak of to be that reasonable at all. And mostly because there is no empirical evidence for them.

        I don’t believe in objective morality. I think killing an innocent person is wrong mostly because if I were an innocent person, I would not like to be murdered. It’s an opinion I hold, I don’t believe there is some Objective Platonic Morality out there.

        “yes, we do in fact have rational justification for believing in bigfoot, but we have stronger justification against such a belief”
        “Says You”, says the Bigfoot enthusiast. He feels the stronger justification is in favor of belief. The reason is there is no objective standard of how much “rational justification” is required for a belief to be considered “reasonable”. The point would be moot if a Bigfoot corpse showed up tomorrow, but since the evidence is lacking, they go on rational justification, of which they feel there is enough. You can see why non-Bigfoot enthusiasts don’t find it convincing. And the same thing takes place in your rational justifications for God. You feel there’s enough to be reasonable, but the non-God Enthusiasts don’t. The point would be moot if you had some evidence, but you don’t.

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      2. You’ve already admitted that we all use fundamental, non-evidential beliefs: you said as much in your first comment. You seem to think that you can justify these pragmatically. That may even be so, but that belief itself is a philosophical position that can’t be demonstrated by empirical evidence.
        In fact, the very claim you’re making that empirical evidence is the only way to know something is a philosophical position that can’t be demonstrated by empirical evidence. So everything you say here is ultimately unsupported.

        Conversely, if you accept that rational justification more broadly is what is actually required for belief, you can use the principles of reason to show that empirical evidence is often a very powerful form of rational justification, showing its importance. Unfortunately for the views you’ve expressed here, those fundamental principles also show that empirical evidence has its limitations.

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