Beyond the Fourth Wall
Where webcomic readers conspire
 
 FAQFAQ   SearchSearch   MemberlistMemberlist   UsergroupsUsergroups   RegisterRegister 
 ProfileProfile   Log in to check your private messagesLog in to check your private messages   Log inLog in 
Proof of God?
Goto page Previous  1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7  Next
 
This forum is locked: you cannot post, reply to, or edit topics.   This topic is locked: you cannot edit posts or make replies.    Beyond the Fourth Wall Forum Index -> Controversy Corner
View previous topic :: View next topic  
Author Message
TFBW
Deus Ex Machina


Joined: 07 Oct 2006
Posts: 1254
Location: Sydney, Australia

PostPosted: Thu Mar 05, 2009 5:28 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

lacavin wrote:
the aim of FSM ... is not mocking and scoffing religion, but a particularly stupid event that apparently happens in the US where some states put a religious theory of evolution at the same level as the Darwin's theory - or more to the point, want to introduce religion in science classes.

That's an interesting but separate subject to the one under discussion, and I won't pursue it here. A secondary effect of the FSM, evident here, is that it has been coopted by those who like to characterise monotheism as "my imaginary friend is more powerful than your imaginary friend". In that context, the FSM serves only to mock and scoff by being an appropriately ludicrous imaginary friend. I understood your reference to the FSM to indicate that there are an infinite number of possible imaginary friends. I have tried to show that this isn't a problem, because only a real, actual, existing God will answer a prayer, and you can address a prayer to this God without having to know anything more about his identity. If that's clear, we can dispense with the FSM and his noodly appendages for now.

lacavin wrote:
Remember, it's only an argument (which I still deem valid) against the prayer you were proposing - in order to make you understand how... I would say... stupid... it feels to pray when you don't believe that there is an entity to be prayed.

If you've already decided somehow that there can not be a God, then you are an atheist, and my suggested prayer is not relevant to you. A genuine agnostic, on the other hand, ought not to be so bothered by the prayer. For an agnostic, this prayer ought to be no more "stupid" than walking into a dark room and asking of the darkness in general, "is anyone there?"

lacavin wrote:
But really within the scope of this discussion, the real problem with Pascal's wager is that it does not encourage to seek the Truth.
We discuss here whether God exists, whether we can approach it with our reason, what proofs would be acceptable, and this wager tells us that the whole question is not important - just take your bet and get the winnings.

Pascal's wager is not an assertion that the question itself is unimportant: it is, rather, a very practical approach to uncertainty. If you don't have enough information to make a decision about something, then it's only rational to go with the alternative with the best expected outcome. This is called "hoping for the best", and it's a no-brainer when the alternative is "hoping for the worst". A strong agnostic -- one who concludes with a high degree of confidence that the question of God's existence is unanswerable -- is still faced with the practical problem of "how ought I live?" The rational approach under such conditions is to become a theist, since in the atheist picture of things being correct about atheism gains you nothing -- not even the knowledge that you were right all along. Practically speaking, why would you place a bet on the alternative that offers no winnings? Where's the sense in that?

Your concern about truth is admirable in some sense, but it also puzzles me. Why do you venerate Truth? Please explain this ideology. Why is it so admirable to be an atheist if atheism is a true belief? Is it a matter of "truth leads to better outcomes?" or is it "Truth for its own sake?" If the former, then can you actually demonstrate that atheists are better off than theists, granting for the sake of argument that atheism is true? If the latter, can you explain why you hold this attitude towards Truth?

lacavin wrote:
Almost no religion is as flexible as you are - I sure hope the God is, in which case He will welcome me as somebody that honestly tried to get the Truth, won't He?

Your honesty is not something that I can judge. I can't tell whether deep down you are searching for Truth, or searching for excuses to justify your actual behaviour. Only God sees our inmost being so clearly. If you're prepared to let God put your life and your motives under the microscope for final judgement as-is, then you're a braver man than I. I don't think I'd stand up to half a second of such scrutiny. I can't afford a fair trial: I'm guilty and I know it.

lacavin wrote:
Well, there is at least one genuine agnostic here - that's me. Not atheist, or I would not loose my time to discuss as I would know that there is no God. But agnostic and hence interested to know more to leave this status that can be roughly translated as "ignorant but honest about it".

Agnosticism isn't an automatic "plus" over atheism in my book. Sometimes it can be more productive to argue with an atheist than with an agnostic who places the burden of proof on theism and constructs arbitrarily high barriers to the evidence. All an agnostic has to do is manufacture doubt: an atheist must actually defend his beliefs.
Back to top
View user's profile Send private message Visit poster's website
lacavin
Supporting Role


Joined: 28 Nov 2008
Posts: 80
Location: Switzerland

PostPosted: Thu Mar 05, 2009 4:03 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

TFBW wrote:
I understood your reference to the FSM to indicate that there are an infinite number of possible imaginary friends.
That was not the purpose of my reference to FSM - the purpose was not to show that there are multiple possible entities, but that you don't feel serious when praying something you don't believe to exists (even if you may not believe "does not exist" - see the difference).
TFBW wrote:
If you've already decided somehow that there can not be a God, then you are an atheist, and my suggested prayer is not relevant to you.

Again, I did not make a decision about that. Let me try to explain you with your own example what I mean:
TFBW wrote:
For an agnostic, this prayer ought to be no more "stupid" than walking into a dark room and asking of the darkness in general, "is anyone there?"
I fully agree - that is similar. I mentioned that I did use this prayer, but as I mentioned "I can really not say I put my whole heart, nor a long perseverance, into it". Same as with your question:

It is dark, and you ask once "is there somebody here?".

You get no answer, so you don't repeat the question. You won't insist unless you heard something, like the noise of somebody walking.
If you don't hear anything and have no evidence that somebody is hiding, you infer that nobody is there. You might be wrong as there is not proof, but because there is no indication of the opposite, you infer from the absence of answer (and of any other signs) an absence of person. Case is closed and you don't ask again.

I said I did use this prayer. I did not hear footsteps. I did not get any answer. So I did not ask again and again. Why should I?

So if your point is to use the prayer once - without too much hopes, but just to get the info (what I felt) - then I followed your advice. If you mean I should do it repetitively, put my whole heart into it, than tell me how you would feel:
Every evening, when alone in your bedroom ask the question putting all your heart into it: "Is anybody here in the darkness?". Ask again, and again, and again. Believe in your question.
And tell me after a couple of weeks if you feel sane about it.

TFBW wrote:
If you don't have enough information to make a decision about something, then it's only rational to go with the alternative with the best expected outcome.
Again I am very familiar with Pascal's wager.
First problem: I am not able to decide to believe. That's my nature, perhaps my downfall. But a fact at this moment of my life.
Major problem: if Pascal is right, it means a calculating belief targeted at maximizing your gains puts you even with a selfless "genuine" belief. It means God would just be judging on the appearance and not on the essence, and it would be pretty unfair. Who am I to judge God? Nobody of course, but I can say I would not be willing to really honor/love such a superficial God even if I believed in Him - I would just do it to get the prize, of course.

TFBW wrote:
Your concern about truth is admirable in some sense, but it also puzzles me. Why do you venerate Truth? Please explain this ideology.
I am a bit surprised by this question.
In absence of Belief, I have to option:
a) ignore the question and turn on the physical pleasures of life.
b) try to investigate as much as possible whether my absence of belief is "right" or "wrong" faced with some billions humans that have religious beliefs; because I am not judging these billions humans as fools. This means as far as I can I should search the truth about it.

As I happen to have my share of (a) - a roof on my head, food on my table, heat in winter (no AC in summer, but in Switzerland, it's OK), a nice fiancée, not a bad health, a good job with a decent pay, no car (philosophical choice) but good train and bus connection - I have spare time for (b). Not full time, also my shares of hobbies, but time for it, so it would be a shame to ignore these questions, would it not?

On top of it, I'm trained as a scientist. I made a PhD in chemical research and while I work now more in applied development, I still have this curiosity to understand everything better. So, yeah, you could say the pursuit of "truth" (as far as I can understand it, no wonderful expectations here) is a sort of religion for me.

TFBW wrote:
Why is it so admirable to be an atheist if atheism is a true belief?
Nothing, except to at least know that it is true. It answers a fundamental question about the universe, and the price is in the knowledge. But if I could be convinced that monotheism (in a specific church or not) is true, it would not only brings knowledge, but may change my life - probably because it would have an external purpose.

Because life has in principle for me no external purpose. That's fine with me, it does not need an external purpose, as I can set my own objectives (e.g. understand the world; e.g. make my family and friends happy; ...). But it would be of course awesome if on top of it the whole history would have a purpose.

TFBW wrote:
Your honesty is not something that I can judge. [...] I'm guilty and I know it.
First off, don't take everything I write à la lettre. I am not asking you to judge, of course. What I meant is only to say that I assume (but of course don't know) that if a God exists and expects something from us, He will be happy to see that some people search for evidence and do not just go back to their game console.
On a side and lighter note: I can see from your post at least one huge advantage in not being monotheist: you bear apparently a heavy burden of guilt. I don't so I can probably sail across life with a lighter heart Wink

TFBW wrote:
Agnosticism isn't an automatic "plus" over atheism in my book. [...] All an agnostic has to do is manufacture doubt: an atheist must actually defend his beliefs.
Sorry - but I'm not trying to win the sympathy contest here. It is a clear statement of my philosophical position now. That's all.

Besides, that's very nicely formulated. I of course do not need to defend my (inexistent) Beliefs. But I neither want to manufacture doubts. I think I have been very clear in every post - I'm not here to convince people, I'm here to be convinced.

I may be a hard sell. I may be such a hard sell because I don't want to believe. Perhaps. You cannot judge, and actually I can not really judge myself either. But I can say that by making these discussions I evolve my thinking - think of how bad (immature, even) my first post about "the burden of proof lies in God's hand" was and how much clearer it became... hence I am growing somehow. I may become a bit less stupid. That's the aim. If on top of it I get sufficient supporting evidence for belief in a God, well, that would also be something.


Last edited by lacavin on Thu Mar 05, 2009 5:36 pm; edited 3 times in total
Back to top
View user's profile Send private message Visit poster's website
Guest






PostPosted: Thu Mar 05, 2009 4:12 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I think I lost you here for a moment:
TFBW wrote:
A strong agnostic -- one who concludes with a high degree of confidence that the question of God's existence is unanswerable -- is still faced with the practical problem of "how ought I live?" The rational approach under such conditions is to become a theist, since in the atheist picture of things being correct about atheism gains you nothing -- not even the knowledge that you were right all along. Practically speaking, why would you place a bet on the alternative that offers no winnings? Where's the sense in that?

Well, if you consider getting filthy rich, having wonderful s*x with many partners and enjoying other "religiously immoral" pleasures in life as "no winnings", then I follow you, but I disagree. In my opinion there are four possible outcomes for named agnostic:

A. Stay agnostic or go atheist, enjoy life to the fullest in according to your belief.

A1. He is is wrong; NO AFTERLIFE IN ETERNAL HAPPINESS. HE WILL REGRET THIS FOR ABOUT 1 SECOND, THEN THINK NO MORE.
A2. He is right; HE MAXIMIZES HIS LIFE VALUE IN THIS ONLY EXISTENCE.

B. Go theist, forsake many pleasures in life that your (monotheist Christian, or many with it) religion claims "bad".

B1. He is is wrong; HE LIVES A PRETTY LOUSY LIFE AND GETS NO REWARD WHAT SO EVER FOR IT.
B2. He is right; LOUSY LIFE, FOLLOWED BY AFTERLIFE IN ETERNAL HAPPINESS.

This is without modificators. He COULD choose B(1) and actually LIKE that life, and he COULD choose B(2) and STILL miss out on the "Eternal happiness" stuff, etc etc.

But in the basic scenario, I see more winnings in the "A" column, since either way, he will live at least one lifetime happily, whereas in column "B", there is the option of missing out completely.

So please explain why you think column "B" offers more "winnings" than column "A"?
Back to top
Bezman
Star of the Show


Joined: 08 Nov 2006
Posts: 1163
Location: Sweden

PostPosted: Thu Mar 05, 2009 4:14 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Ah, dang. I got timed out. The above was me.
_________________
B cool.
Back to top
View user's profile Send private message
lacavin
Supporting Role


Joined: 28 Nov 2008
Posts: 80
Location: Switzerland

PostPosted: Thu Mar 05, 2009 4:44 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Anonymous wrote:
So please explain why you think column "B" offers more "winnings" than column "A"?
Of course because the reward of B is infinite in duration, while the reward of A is finite.
So as long as the probability of B2 is not exactly zero, when you multiply by infinity you get a pretty high (i.e. infinite) expected value.

If we want to discuss Pascal's wager here, let me give some thoughts:

I mentioned already some issues - first you cannot really choose to believe, you perhaps choose to act as if you did believe. Secondly we can discuss the situation of several incompatible views of God, the more so if we introduce hell (minus infinite reward).

But for me, Pascal's wager is a simply too simple. It assumes too much, i.e. that the consequences of belief (perhaps only lip service) or unbelief are known.

An example of other interpretation of the bet:

As mentioned by Bezman, B is not a guarantee of B2 even if God exist (he may want "real" and not "calculated" belief - or lip service, but we have seen that this is offset by an infinite reward), but more to the point, A is also not a guarantee of A1 - God may be all-benevolent and actually not punish the Unbelief but give one more chance after Death (when proof is given; knowing of His existence, you still have choice to love/follow or to reject Him. Just an example, of course, AFAIK the Mormon Church has a similar view, see Spirit Prison).

In this case, A1 has also infinite reward with perhaps lower probability, and hence A and B are equivalent, both with infinity as expected values (when you mess with infinity, you cannot compare anymore any differences in probability).
If you assume A is a better life than B for you, then go for A for a certitude of reward and a potential infinite reward on top of it.

Razz

Some propositions of expected value tables, depending on the "views" of God which cannot be known as long as you don't believe in one of the multitude of religions and sacred texts around. The three options are "lip service" or chosen belief without Faith, unbelief, and "real" belief - i.e. Faith or having sufficient evidence to be convinced independently and hence not needing a "wager" to make your decision:
Code:
Pascal version:
(God reward those that at least pay lip service to him. No reward for others)

                       God exist     God does not exist
lip service               +Inf               0               = +Inf
not believe                1                 1               = 2
"real" belief             +Inf              0/1*             = +Inf (+1) = +Inf
--> believe (not a free option) or lip service to maximize expected value


Version proposed above:
(God may reward also people not paying lip service, he is infinitely benevolent)

                       God exist     God does not exist
lip service               +Inf               0               = +Inf
not believe               +Inf               1               = +Inf+1 = +Inf
"real" belief             +Inf              0/1*             = +Inf (+1) = +Inf
--> no help for decision, so take the best life for you, e.g. least constraints, that means belief if you have Faith otherwise no belief.


Version with a God not fooled by self-interest:
(God does not reward lip-service, only real love without self interest)

                       God exist     God does not exist                         
lip service                 0                0               = 0
not believe                 1                1               = 2
"real" belief             +Inf              0/1*             = +Inf (+1) = +Inf
--> lip service least expectations so believe if you have Faith, or don't believe but hope for enlightenment (and hence last option).
Notes:
- "choosing to believe" to maximize his gain means more or less paying lip service to God, respecting outward forms of a believer
- "real" belief cannot be chosen freely; it require Faith given by God or sufficient supporting evidence given by God (see here).
- Infinity is for reward of infinite duration. As long as the probability is non zero, expected value is infinite.
- 1/0 for finite (lifetime) rewards: 1 means more freedom, less constraints, more fun.
*) with "real" Faith, life must not be bad within the constraints as they make sense.


[edit]changed reward for atheist in presence of a God - set to 1 as they got their "reward" during lifetime (so not zero), but not the infinite reward (hence not +Inf)[/edit]


Last edited by lacavin on Fri Mar 06, 2009 9:38 pm; edited 1 time in total
Back to top
View user's profile Send private message Visit poster's website
Leorobin
Supporting Role


Joined: 02 Mar 2009
Posts: 185

PostPosted: Fri Mar 06, 2009 12:33 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I think we have wandered away from what Scott asked
Quote:

Let's put religion aside for a second...

With all that goes on in the world.
With everything we have access to...

Has anyone been able to prove the existence of a supreme being yet?

Not by faith. But by something more tangible?

But as we have seen it's highly difficult to dscuss the existence or not of a supreme being without religion getting involved.
Back to top
View user's profile Send private message
TFBW
Deus Ex Machina


Joined: 07 Oct 2006
Posts: 1254
Location: Sydney, Australia

PostPosted: Fri Mar 06, 2009 3:10 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

lacavin wrote:
Of course because the reward of B is infinite in duration, while the reward of A is finite.

Actually, the reward of A is also infinite: endless oblivion for all, no matter what they believed. The atheist lack-of-afterlife is the ultimate equaliser. When you factor in the infinite oblivion that comes after your brief existence, then the quality of that existence really doesn't count for anything, mathematically. This is also true from a common-sense perspective: if atheism is true, those who have died are all equally unaffected by their former lives and the quality thereof, and will remain so.

Maximise your pleasure in this life if that's what floats your boat, but if atheism is true, it's as pointless as accumulating money in a currency that's about to be cancelled. In the long run, if atheism is right, anything you do now isn't going to make a scrap of difference to your long-term prospects -- your looming eternal reward of senseless oblivion. Death nullifies everything: what difference does your bank balance make once the currency has been cancelled?

So I would modify these tables and put a zero in all the "God does not exist" column slots. The value that goes in that slot should express the value of infinite oblivion, and I think "zero" expresses that very well. And that's what I mean by "atheism has nothing to offer". If you think otherwise, it's probably because you aren't thinking about the long term.

Another thing: why is there a zero in the "I'm an atheist and I got it wrong" slot? Zero is for atheists who get it right. Atheists who get it wrong are facing a serious unknown. In the worst case scenario, they face some sort of eternal torture which should be graded "negative infinity". A value of zero assumes an afterlife devoid of both rewards and punishment, or perhaps one in which the pleasures of life are nullified by punishment and then oblivion. The uncertainty of this value is high, but so is the risk, and who could be less prepared for this eventuality than an atheist?

That's another aspect of Pascal's wager. If atheism is right, you don't need to prepare for the afterlife. The conservative approach is therefore to assume there is one, and get busy trying to figure out what it takes to maximise your long term prospects. If you're wrong, your actions are as pointless and inconsequential as everyone else's; if you're right, you've invested as wisely as you can.

As an aside, I'd also like to argue that if God exists, he is not "infinitely benevolent" in the sense suggested above where everyone gets an equally wonderful afterlife. If that's his plan, then what the heck is the point of this temporal existence, where some are miserable and mistreated? It's a strange kind of infinite benevolence that creates a temporary world in which misery, disease and injustice have free reign. Why blemish eternity with this unsightly sore if your goal is eternal paradise for all?

I think that pinning your hopes on God's infinite benevolence is a bad bet. If God were "infinitely benevolent", we'd be in paradise already, and not having this discussion. He may be benevolent, but he's not completely indiscriminate about it.
Back to top
View user's profile Send private message Visit poster's website
TFBW
Deus Ex Machina


Joined: 07 Oct 2006
Posts: 1254
Location: Sydney, Australia

PostPosted: Fri Mar 06, 2009 4:48 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Ayvielle wrote:
I didn't say miracles were impossible, just that it often doesn't make sense to point at specific events and say "look, God's hand at work," since in many cases there are so many chances for unlikely things to happen that they are bound to happen sometimes.


Yes, I see that now. You raised a qualitative objection to the evidence. Medron Pryde's description of his incident did not include any considerations as to sample size, and such considerations would render the events more probable. You concluded that the incident "doesn't necessarily lend credibility to the idea of an existence of a directly interfering higher power".

We have to assume that you consider there to be some sort of relationship between probabilities and miracles for this argument to be valid -- something basic along the lines of "likely events should not be considered miracles", which is reasonable, of course. So although we don't know the probability of Medron Pryde's incident, factoring in sample size will increase the probability, and this has the potential to render the event likely enough that it shouldn't be considered miraculous. Thus, the incident "doesn't necessarily lend credibility to the idea of an existence of a directly interfering higher power" given the available data.

Of course, given that we haven't computed any actual numbers, we don't know whether the incident actually lends credibility to the idea. The substance of your objection is "this could just be happenstance" -- and indeed it could. I must say, however that you've dismissed the evidence very readily: you've rejected it on the basis that it doesn't necessarily imply a miracle -- on the basis that if we ran the numbers, it might work out to be a probable event. Does this mean that if someone wants to persuade you that miracles exist, they must provide a demonstration where the result is necessarily a miracle? If such a demonstration were to be possible, you'd have to clarify your criteria for miracles in terms of probability or something like that.

To me, this demonstrates the importance of our attitude towards evidence. Scientific rationalists often rant about how every belief must be supported by evidence, but they tend to ignore the different attitudes that people hold towards evidence. More precisely, they tend to think that their own personal attitude towards evidence is the only reasonable one, and that everyone else is being irrational. Well, maybe that's a bit harsh, but it's not hard to find examples of scientific rationalism where it's richly deserved. The point is that evidence doesn't speak for itself: we approach it with an attitude, and that attitude matters just as much as the evidence itself, if not more so.

So even if we come back to Scott's original question (and thanks to Leorobin for reminding us) of "has anyone been able to prove the existence of a supreme being yet?", we have to wonder whether the question assumes that there is such a thing as a universal proof. A universal proof requires a universal standard of rationality, and a uniform agreement as to the significance of evidence. Maybe there is such a thing, in an ideal sense, but it's quite evident that we humans possess no such common standard.

Who knows -- maybe one of the proofs of God's existence (or nonexistence) is valid. A fat lot of good it does us if we aren't smart enough to recognise its validity.
Back to top
View user's profile Send private message Visit poster's website
TFBW
Deus Ex Machina


Joined: 07 Oct 2006
Posts: 1254
Location: Sydney, Australia

PostPosted: Fri Mar 06, 2009 7:48 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

lacavin wrote:
So if your point is to use the prayer once - without too much hopes, but just to get the info (what I felt) - then I followed your advice. If you mean I should do it repetitively, put my whole heart into it, than tell me how you would feel:
Every evening, when alone in your bedroom ask the question putting all your heart into it: "Is anybody here in the darkness?". Ask again, and again, and again. Believe in your question.
And tell me after a couple of weeks if you feel sane about it.

I can tell you that I pray to a God I can't see on a daily basis. I don't ask of the darkness "is anyone there" because I decided that there is someone there a long time ago. How's that for nutty? On the other hand, I look at the world around me and think that everyone's a bit mad in one way or another, so I don't get too hung up on having a few quirks myself.

I doubt that the evidence I've experienced as to God's existence is extraordinary. Some of my friends have heard the voice of God in an audible way -- I haven't. My direct experience of anything "supernatural" is so limited as to be barely worth mentioning, particularly to an audience that's inclined to dismiss these things as happenstance anyhow. A prophecy given and fulfilled, a healing in answer to prayer, conspicuous grace in relation to employment -- none of it is strong enough to persuade those who want the evidence to be unequivocal and compelling. There are events in my life which I interpret as God's provision, or God's grace, or God's guidance, and so on, but these won't convince a half-serious sceptic.

So here I am, living out the very "insane" lifestyle that you describe -- talking to the darkness daily as though someone is listening. Heck, you could say that I'm at an advanced stage of lunacy for my belief that someone does listen. Does it bother me? Not in the slightest. It did when I first started to make it a daily practice (on advice from a respected relative) -- I thought the repetition would drive me nuts. I'll leave it to others to decide whether it did or not, but it's now a practice that I am reluctant to abandon.

So if your big objection to seeking God in prayer is that it would make you feel a bit silly, I say suck it up, you big wuss -- the rewards are worth it. There are many references to humbling oneself before God in the bible: think of this as a practical example. It's not like you even have to do it in public.

lacavin wrote:
Major problem: if Pascal is right, it means a calculating belief targeted at maximizing your gains puts you even with a selfless "genuine" belief. It means God would just be judging on the appearance and not on the essence, and it would be pretty unfair. Who am I to judge God? Nobody of course, but I can say I would not be willing to really honor/love such a superficial God even if I believed in Him - I would just do it to get the prize, of course.

Belief in the existence of God is just step one, and certainly not enough in and of itself (if the Bible is anything to go by -- e.g. James 2:19). It seems to me that Jacob (one of the patriarchs of Israel and the person from whom the nation got its name -- God renamed Jacob as Israel) decided to follow God for fairly self-serving reasons. Contrast him with his grandfather, Abraham, but note that Jacob did not merely pay lip service to God, even if his underlying motives were perhaps not as pure as you would like.

The biblical picture of God is one who hates lip service, but one who also welcomes all who come and honour him. The initial motivation of a person's approach to God seems to be of little concern: it may be desperate need, reverent awe, outright opposition, the hope of prosperity -- anything. The important question is how the relationship develops after this initial contact, not the manner in which the initial contact was made.

In short, I think you need to reconsider your dilemma. There are more possibilities than you consider.

lacavin wrote:
On a side and lighter note: I can see from your post at least one huge advantage in not being monotheist: you bear apparently a heavy burden of guilt.

A common misconception, I think. I have my share of regrets -- who doesn't? -- but guilt is not a burden. It's the Christian belief that Christ came to take the burden of our guilt on himself. Consequently we can confess our guilt but not be burdened by it.
Back to top
View user's profile Send private message Visit poster's website
Bezman
Star of the Show


Joined: 08 Nov 2006
Posts: 1163
Location: Sweden

PostPosted: Fri Mar 06, 2009 11:28 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

For the interest in the discussion, let's add an option "C".
Life here on earth is full of misery for many, that's for sure.

Assume that "life on earth as we know it" is a PUNISHMENT for something bad we did in another reality.
Once you have served your time (and die), you go back to the reality. Although your existence here is engineered so that you have no memories of the "real" reality, you WILL remember what you did here during your imprisonment.

(Note: If you try to "chicken out" by taking your own life, your counter will be reset to zero and you will be reborn into this reality. If you on the other hand behave goodly, you may be beset by some terminal disease or be killed in a freak accident, which ends your natural life prematurely - that would explain why "good guys leave early", even if I think that statement is probably not true.)

Or maybe it is even some kind of "alternative reality vacation" that you have paid for in that other reality, and once you get back you will have some memories of it to assess. What did you accomplish?

Then what would the "values" be?
I can't tell if the "other reality" is eternal or not, so maybe both cases should be considered.

Besides, in response to the "infinite reward": unless our human brains are altered drastically when we enter this happy place ("heaven"), even a paradisical life would not feel so good if you have to do it in eternity, so with the current info, I disagree on "+Inf" being exactly that. It will most likely sooner or later turn into an eternal prison or torment.
(Using your own mathematics against you, as long as the chance of things going boring isn't exactly zero, multiplied with Infinity, it calculates into an Infinitely True value.)
_________________
B cool.
Back to top
View user's profile Send private message
lacavin
Supporting Role


Joined: 28 Nov 2008
Posts: 80
Location: Switzerland

PostPosted: Fri Mar 06, 2009 10:53 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Cool - an avalanche of posts.

Let's go one after the other...

TFBW wrote:
The atheist lack-of-afterlife is the ultimate equaliser. When you factor in the infinite oblivion that comes after your brief existence, then the quality of that existence really doesn't count for anything, mathematically.
I do not agree. Of course, it is factored as a +Inf vs +1 reward. But still 1 is bigger than 0. An example: the bread you eat today don't make a difference on your life. You'll be hungry again in the future.
But it's better to have something to eat today than not.

TFBW wrote:
if atheism is right, anything you do now isn't going to make a scrap of difference to your long-term prospects
Yeap, but not on the short-term prospects - I got my bread today, even if I'll be equally hungry next year whether I got my bread or not today!
So assuming no God it's better to have a good life than a bad life. Only assuming the existence of a God makes this difference negligible (but still present).

Thus you understand I am absolutely against "put(ing) a zero in all the "God does not exist" column slots".
And I think otherwise because I'm thinking as long term as possible - i.e. a lifetime in a case without infinite paradise. Perhaps even more - as a scientist I published many results and hence something will remain from my life even after my death, but that's another question (even money cannot be taken to the graveyard but can be given and make a better life for your children, so it is not lost).

TFBW wrote:
Another thing: why is there a zero in the "I'm an atheist and I got it wrong" slot?
This is a mistake, of course. It should be a "1" - as you got your reward during your life, but not the infinite reward. Thanks, I updated the table.
The absence of afterlife is 0. Compared to infinity for those who enjoy afterlife. The 1 is for more fun/freedom/less constraints during lifetime.
I explicitely did not include a -Inf for hell. If you include Hell, than you have to distinguish between religions (simpified, illustrative example: Muslim say "do not drink alcool" - christian do drink alcool in church (holy meal). If Muslims are right, all christians go to Hell... incompatible rules), and hence the wager becomes much more complex also because you have to predict what God will do in presence of an unbeliever as compared to the presence of a believer of a false religion.

I stop here discussing the details, because the simple fact that we have such a discussion show that the wager is flawed - depending on your views (e.g. do you believe in God?) you put different expected values and draw different conclusions. So this wager will not really help to make decision - at best it will confort everybody in his own decision.

TFBW wrote:
As an aside, I'd also like to argue that if God exists, he is not "infinitely benevolent" in the sense suggested above where everyone gets an equally wonderful afterlife. If that's his plan, then what the heck is the point of this temporal existence, where some are miserable and mistreated? It's a strange kind of infinite benevolence that creates a temporary world in which misery, disease and injustice have free reign. Why blemish eternity with this unsightly sore if your goal is eternal paradise for all?
Now you touch the core of a common question/problem in theology. Assume a benevolent God, assume He created the word, why is the world so mean.

I never found a very good answer to this question, except perhaps that before wanting us to enjoy, God wanted us to be free; freedom would be incompatible with a world without evil (really??? - even an all-powerful God could not achieve that???).

Anyway depending on religion (e.g. calvinism, the origin of most protestant churches), your acts in life have no weight on judgement day - the "-Inf" of being a sinner cannot be compensated by some positive points of good behavior. God will have to save you, and if He can save you from -Inf, he probably can save you also from some extra negative points of bad behavior.

Now I would not presume to understand God's plans - note that the current situation can be well explained by the absence of a benevolent creator; nature is not nice or bad. Nature is cruel but magnificient.

Let's go to TFBW's second post:

TFBW wrote:
To me, this demonstrates the importance of our attitude towards evidence. Scientific rationalists often rant about how every belief must be supported by evidence, but they tend to ignore the different attitudes that people hold towards evidence. More precisely, they tend to think that their own personal attitude towards evidence is the only reasonable one, and that everyone else is being irrational. Well, maybe that's a bit harsh, but it's not hard to find examples of scientific rationalism where it's richly deserved. The point is that evidence doesn't speak for itself: we approach it with an attitude, and that attitude matters just as much as the evidence itself, if not more so.
I think this is an excellent observation.

The scientific rationalism, however, tries to put the attitude aside - to prove something, you need numbers, you need trials that could falsify your work and you must publish enough details to allow others to run those trials. It is not perfect, but it tries (not always successfully, let me tell you from experience) to salvage as must as possible the "objectivity" from the subjective humans that do science. As I share this views, this is of course in my eyes a superior attitude.

But I recognize that other people may see it otherwise. Often scientists are deemed reductionists - as they look only at numbers, they ignore the big picture and all the facts that cannot be summarized by numbers.

I don't have any way out. But luckily this is supported by my demonstration (11) - God will know what evidence is necessary for each of us. So as long as nobody finds a flaw in points 1-11 of the demonstration, it still holds, not answering the initial question "do we have a proof that everybody would accept" but saying "if there is a God such as the christian God, it is his responsability to give to everybody sufficient evidence of his existence".


Onward to TDBW's third post:

TFBW wrote:
I don't ask of the darkness "is anyone there" because I decided that there is someone there a long time ago. How's that for nutty?
Sorry again for the misunderstanding. I did not mean asking to God whether he is there.
As in your example of coming in a dark place and asking "is (any human) there?", I propose you to ask in your room at night "is (any human) here?" repetitively, putting your heart into the question - while not thinking that anybody is there, because nobody answered the first time and you heared no footsteps.
That would be nut.

And that's what your prayer requires from somebody that does not believe in God - to put his heart and repetitively ask whether somebody hears him when he gets no answer nor any sign that anybody acutally hears his question.
And I can say I got no answers when using a similar prayer some years ago (of course, without putting my heart in there nor repeating zillions of times after getting no signs).

TFBW wrote:
So here I am, living out the very "insane" lifestyle that you describe -- talking to the darkness daily as though someone is listening. Heck, you could say that I'm at an advanced stage of lunacy for my belief that someone does listen.
I want to emphasis that this is a misunderstanding - I try in all my posts to be as open as possible. I never criticize the religious opinions of another. I updated my demonstration to add that having Faith allow to believe without sufficient evidence without loosing rationality (that's for you believers, not for me!).
If you have the feeling I'm criticizing your way of life or saying religious people are nuts - please consider in a first line that's a misunderstanding...

TFBW wrote:
So if your big objection to seeking God in prayer is that it would make you feel a bit silly, I say suck it up, you big wuss -- the rewards are worth it.
No, my objection is that it is not possible to put your heart in a prayer when you don't believe that somebody listen to it. And I assume you have to put your heart to get an answer. Because I did the prayer and did not get any answer (but don't want to draw the conclusion that there is no God just for an unanswered prayer - I'm nice: for normal humans, if nobody answer when I ask "anybody out there", then I assume there is nobody out there).

TFBW wrote:
Belief in the existence of God is just step one, and certainly not enough in and of itself [...] The biblical picture of God is one who hates lip service, but one who also welcomes all who come and honour him. The initial motivation of a person's approach to God seems to be of little concern [...] The important question is how the relationship develops after this initial contact, not the manner in which the initial contact was made.
That's the whole point: a "relation" can develop only if you believe in the other's existence - I cannot "relate" with superman as I don't think He exists.
Pascal's wager makes sense in the situation: assuming you believe in God, than it's wise to try to get in good relationship with him (always share the opinion of your Boss gets you the most promotions and raises - another name for Pascal's wager could be "*ss-kisser's theorem").
But if you don't believe (step 1), than it does not help if He really hates lip-service - because you can fake a relation with lip-service or by following rules "to the book", but you will not really with your heart honor somebody you don't think do exist.

I don't know if I can make myself clear on this one, that's really the key to all my messages here:
  1. you need to believe to have a relationship with God. Being rational, you need evidence to believe. God must provide this evidence (or give Faith in his existence) as He is supernatural and cannot be "measured". In presence of evidence, being rational, we will believe in His existence.
    Unbelief therefore cannot lead to "punishment" because the absence of evidence is not Man's fault.
  2. once you believe, you can accept Him, honor Him, or refuse Him - this is your free will and this may lead to reward or punishment.
Therefore, my personal answer to the initial question reminded by Leorobin "Has anyone been able to prove the existence of a supreme being yet?" is:
  • First, I don't know of any proof as to the existence of a personal God, but there are proofs that something super-natural must exist, independently from religion (see prima causa)
  • Secondly, if a personal God exists and expects something from us (e.g. honor), than it is His responsibility to give proof of his existence.


And finally Bezman's post:

I will not discuss your option C, even if it's pretty fun.

A key point is:
Bezman wrote:
Besides, in response to the "infinite reward": unless our human brains are altered drastically when we enter this happy place ("heaven"), even a paradisical life would not feel so good if you have to do it in eternity, so with the current info, I disagree on "+Inf" being exactly that. It will most likely sooner or later turn into an eternal prison or torment.
(Using your own mathematics against you, as long as the chance of things going boring isn't exactly zero, multiplied with Infinity, it calculates into an Infinitely True value.)
That's absolutely excellent indeed. It shows the absurdity of the "infinities" in probability calculations. I also always thought that an eternity with a 3-cords harp sitting on a cloud and singing praises to God may become boring, mostly at the end ;-D.
Of course an all-powerful God will be able to make a non-boring eternity. But it is clear that there is not much specifics about what the rewards actually is, i.e. what realy happens in this rather long eternity.
Perhaps some believers here may shed some light to give us unbelievers a taste of what we risk to miss?

Owwwawww. That was a monster post. Lucky I'm on holidays this week, so I have time... Cheers to all and thanks for the very interesting discussion!
Back to top
View user's profile Send private message Visit poster's website
Bezman
Star of the Show


Joined: 08 Nov 2006
Posts: 1163
Location: Sweden

PostPosted: Sat Mar 07, 2009 12:17 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I was planning to wait, but here goes:
Quote:
Of course an all-powerful God will be able to make a non-boring eternity. But it is clear that there is not much specifics about what the rewards actually is, i.e. what realy happens in this rather long eternity.

Does the movie "The Tommyknockers" by Stephen King ring any bells? Wink
Mmmm, to "become"...
_________________
B cool.
Back to top
View user's profile Send private message
Bezman
Star of the Show


Joined: 08 Nov 2006
Posts: 1163
Location: Sweden

PostPosted: Sat Mar 07, 2009 12:22 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Oh btw - wan't Jean Calvin AFTER Martin Luther? I haven't studied theology or religious history much, I only read that JC helped spread the Reformation throughout Europe.
And I also read that Calvinism may have affected many Protestant communities in the US, but in Europe and the rest of the world, it is not very widely spread. Therefore I doubt what you wrote... but it may be true.

(For clarity's sake, this is not intended to be a dissing of Calvinism. I put no other religions ahead of it - or behind it!)
_________________
B cool.
Back to top
View user's profile Send private message
lacavin
Supporting Role


Joined: 28 Nov 2008
Posts: 80
Location: Switzerland

PostPosted: Sat Mar 07, 2009 12:39 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Bezman wrote:
Oh btw - wan't Jean Calvin AFTER Martin Luther? I haven't studied theology or religious history much, I only read that JC helped spread the Reformation throughout Europe.

OK, I may be prejudiced coming from near the city of Calvin (Geneva, Switzerland). Indeed Luther initiated and Lutherian churches remain I think very present in nothern Europe (Germany, Sweden,...). Calvin (among others such as Zwingli) had large influence on what reformation became outside of northern Europe, i.e. Switzerland, France, England (Knox, bresbyterian founder, studied with Calvin in Geneva), and ultimately, US.

Me not be expert - but does not change anything about the fact that for Calvin and many other reformed movements, you cannot be "saved" by your works, only the grace helps. Your works may "reflect" the fact that you are saved, but they don't count at all.

Actually, the text on Wikipedia is rather interesting:
On Wikipedia, in the Calvin and Calvinism articles, the authors wrote:
In this view, all people are entirely at the mercy of God, who would be just in condemning all people for their sins, but who has chosen to be merciful to some. One person is saved while another is condemned, not because of a foreseen willingness, faith, or any other virtue in the first person, but because God sovereignly chose to have mercy on them. Although the person must believe the gospel and respond to be saved, this obedience of faith is God's gift, and thus God completely and sovereignly accomplishes the salvation of sinners.
[...]
The doctrine of irresistible grace (also called "efficacious grace") asserts that the saving grace of God is effectually applied to those whom he has determined to save (that is, the elect) and, in God's timing, overcomes their resistance to obeying the call of the gospel, bringing them to a saving faith.
The doctrine does not hold that every influence of God's Holy Spirit cannot be resisted, but that the Holy Spirit is able to overcome all resistance and make his influence irresistible and effective. Thus, when God sovereignly purposes to save someone, that individual certainly will be saved.

It seems that I have been more influenced by my former church than I thought Embarassed (emphasis by me above). It seems however that this does not let lot's of room for free-will...
Back to top
View user's profile Send private message Visit poster's website
TFBW
Deus Ex Machina


Joined: 07 Oct 2006
Posts: 1254
Location: Sydney, Australia

PostPosted: Mon Mar 09, 2009 4:06 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I've decided to relocate the part of this discussion which deals with Pascal's Wager to a new topic. Although somewhat relevant to the question of God's existence, Pascal's Wager is not a proof of God. Please pick up the discussion over there, particularly if you think that Pascal got it wrong.

I'll reply to some of the other points that have been raised in this topic at another time: I have already well and truly exceeded my word limit for today.
Back to top
View user's profile Send private message Visit poster's website
Leorobin
Supporting Role


Joined: 02 Mar 2009
Posts: 185

PostPosted: Wed Mar 11, 2009 5:32 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

TFBW wrote:

I can tell you that I pray to a God I can't see on a daily basis. I don't ask of the darkness "is anyone there" because I decided that there is someone there a long time ago. How's that for nutty? On the other hand, I look at the world around me and think that everyone's a bit mad in one way or another, so I don't get too hung up on having a few quirks myself.


I also pray to a God on a daily basis. This reminds me of another quote, don't know who said it "There's only a little step from crazyness to geniality

lacavin wrote:

Secondly, if a personal God exists and expects something from us (e.g. honor), than it is His responsibility to give proof of his existence.


As I said on another post it really depends on you if you believe or not, at least for those who believe in free will. I believe in destiny but no as a specific road but as series of checkpoints where we choose the path that takes us between them, also with more than one checkpoint for the same road.

Regarding this it's not the fact that we recive proof or not, it's more about what we expect as a proof. If there's a supreme being, be named as He or She or It is named, it might not give us the spectacular almighty deity proof but rather something more humble. We can ask for a more flashy thing but if this higher entity exists it can choose what it sends us as proof.
Back to top
View user's profile Send private message
TFBW
Deus Ex Machina


Joined: 07 Oct 2006
Posts: 1254
Location: Sydney, Australia

PostPosted: Thu Mar 19, 2009 4:11 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

This issue was raised in the Pascal's Wager thread, but it relates more to the "Proof of God" question, so I'm responding to it here. lacavin was taking the stance that atheism is the reasonable "default" stance to take on the existence of God as a matter of burden of proof.

lacavin wrote:
As a general view, you cannot prove an inexistence - at most you may be able to illustrate convincingly the absence of effects and infer the likely absence of cause - i.e. of existence.
But nobody will ever be able to prove that unicorns do not exist - only there is until now no proof that they do. The more so if you define the object as not measurable: how can you prove that there are no invisible, intangible, inaudible unicorns roaming around in Manhattan? You cannot.
Therefore it is rational to believe that something does not exist (while being aware that it is not proven, but likely due to absence of evidence) as long as no positive proofs are given.
If you hold the opposite, than you must believe that there are unicorns, or that superman exists, or that the sky is full of small invisible birds that carry the clouds and guide the rain drop by drop (and sometime have fun making snow by blowing their freezing exhalation on rain).

I think this is the core of rational behavior. I guess we will not agree on it, but I would like to have your argumentation on whether you believe in unicorns or superman, and if not, how you can rationally do so.

The first thing you need to decide when looking for evidence relating to a proposition is, "what are the evidential implications of the proposition?" So, for example, if unicorns exist, the implication is that there is at least one horse-like creature with a horn on its forehead. Were we to see such a thing, we would recognise it, so evidence is at least possible in principle. Also, there's no particular reason to doubt that such a thing is possible: horses exist, and similar animals with horns or antlers exist, so a horse with a horn isn't an outrageous idea (relative, say, to a horse with wings, which seems ludicrous given what we know about horses and creatures with wings).

If the proposition is "there is a unicorn in my bathroom", it's relatively simple to prove or disprove by inspection. I mention this because I want to pour a bit of cold water on the claim, "you can't prove nonexistence." It's not a reliable general truism. It's not even a particularly reliable truism that it's easier to prove existence than nonexistence. If the proposition is "unicorns exist on Earth", then disproof is impractical given current resources, and proof isn't necessarily going to be any easier. If there is exactly one unicorn located somewhere on Earth, and you don't know where, then you'll have to perform an exhaustive search to find it. On average, that exhaustive search will take half the time of an exhaustive search when there's no unicorn to find, but the technique for proof and disproof is exactly the same: exhaustive search. Two people who disagree on a matter of existence have exactly one evidence-gathering tool at their disposal: searching. There is no "burden of proof" here, there is only data gathering, and the data gathered is the same irrespective of expectations as to the outcome.

I think it's fair to be sceptical about the existence of unicorns: we know what to look for, we've had plenty of opportunity to find it, and nobody has seen it. (Well, there's probably someone who would testify to having seen one, but nobody has actually managed to produce the goods.) That's not to say that the burden of proof lies entirely with the pro-unicorn crowd, though: a unicorn sceptic can lend weight to his own theory by going unicorn hunting. The better your unicorn hunting skills and the more you do of it, the more justified you are in holding the view that unicorns don't exist when you don't find them. If you just sit in your armchair and deny the existence of unicorns, claiming that it's the pro-unicorn camp's job to go find one, that's not particularly praiseworthy from a scientific perspective. Of course, you're not obliged to care whether unicorns exist, but if you want to be scientific in your scepticism, you need some evidence, so you should at least attempt to find evidence which proves your theory wrong. The more you do of this, the more justified you are (by the standards of most modern scientists).

So, my stance on unicorns is that I'm fairly sceptical. I have a general body of evidence which supports this scepticism, since the absence of evidence is evidence of absence, given how extensively the animal kingdom has been studied. It's inconclusive evidence, though, and it's possible that unicorns exist (or existed) somewhere. I must also confess that I'm not a particularly well-informed sceptic: I haven't researched the subject, mostly because I've never felt a need to care about it. Given the evidence of which I am aware, however, I believe that a degree of scepticism is warranted.

In the case of invisible, intangible, inaudible unicorns, it seems that the thing itself has been defined in such a way that there can be no physical evidence. Assuming that's true, and these phantom unicorns don't interact with any form of measurement or detection known to current technology, then we have a proposition with no possibility of evidence. With no possibility of evidence, the question can't be decided scientifically. It can't be decided rationally, either: there's no a priori reason to think that unicorns can't exist, or that intangible objects can't exist, and so on, but there's also no reason whatsoever to believe that such a thing might exist of necessity. Well, there's no reason to think that such a specific thing might exist of necessity: some "many worlds" philosophers take the stance that anything which is possible does in fact exist, but there's no reason to single out and assert the existence of phantom unicorns, specifically.

As a matter of rationality, therefore, I am decidedly agnostic about the existence of phantom unicorns -- I can't possibly presume to assert or deny their existence. Maybe the "many worlds" philosophers are right, and phantom unicorns do exist simply because they are not logically impossible. As a matter of personal taste, I doubt it: I don't like the "many worlds" model, and phantom wildlife in general doesn't fit into my mental model of things. And as a matter of practicality, I really don't give a damn: how can it possibly make any difference to anyone whether this proposition is true or not? So I'm a sceptical, apathetic agnostic when it comes to phantom unicorns. Note that the scepticism is purely a matter of personal taste, whereas the agnosticism is grounded in reason.

In the case of God, we can't agree on what follows in terms of evidence from either "God exists", or "God does not exist". We don't agree whether the existence of good and evil, for example, are evidence for God's existence or against it. In fact, not everyone agrees that good and evil are real themselves in the first place. You need to decide how the evidence relates to the proposition before you can tell whether it's going to be easier to confirm or refute it, and we don't even have that much. The very nature of God is such that nobody can produce the thing itself as proof of existence, and an exhaustive search of the whole universe wouldn't suffice as disproof. There are purely rational reasons to suspect that God might exist -- such as first cause, and similar concepts -- but pure reason has failed to decide the problem one way or another so far.

So here we have a situation with no evidence, like our phantom unicorns, but a rational basis for at least suspecting that the entity in question might exist as a matter of necessity. We don't know whether God is actually necessary, since that would resolve the matter, but there is a rational basis for suspecting the necessity. We're not sure what characteristics God must have of necessity either: is God necessarily moral, for example? Can good and evil be real unless there is an ultimate absolute good, and would that good not of necessity be God, and would that God not of necessity be a personal God, since morality is essentially an interpersonal thing? Maybe, maybe not. Once you've recognised that God might be specially necessary, though, you can't dismiss him in the same way you can dismiss a phantom unicorn.

There is also the question of practical relevance. Should we care whether God exists? There is plenty of reason to suspect that this is a very important question for everyone. Pascal's Wager is one embodiment of that. Again, however, there is extreme disagreement on the matter (ranging from "God is irrelevant" to "God is all-important"), and no rational or empirical way to be sure. The question of God's existence may or may not be the most important question in the universe. Not helpful.

So here's a case with no agreement on the meaning of evidence, and no agreement on whether the entity in question is a logical necessity (e.g. first cause), or even a logical contradiction (e.g. paradox of omnipotence). Additionally, there's no agreement on the properties of God. Could there possibly be less grounds for a rational decision? On what purely rational basis could one declare any position in the spectrum of possibilities a reasonable default? Can we reasonably profess anything other than complete ignorance, and thus agnosticism, from a rational point of view? Pure reason is enough to alert us to the problem, but not enough to solve it. Ultimately we must address this problem with tools other than pure reason.

So, in summary, absence of evidence is evidence of absence when evidence is (a) possible, and (b) sufficiently available. In a case like the phantom unicorns where there is no possible evidence and no suggestion of logical necessity or impossibility, you can prefer nonexistence only if you start adding assumptions which are themselves matters of blind faith. If, for example, you believe that very few things which are possible in principle actually exist (as per your experience with the physical world), then "nonexistence" is a relatively safe bet even if you have no evidence. That's just a matter of drawing conclusions which are consistent with your assumptions, however: the assumption itself is still just an assumption, and the experience on which you draw isn't necessarily relevant. The best you can do to claim the strict rational high ground over someone who believes in phantom unicorns (or such like) is argue that their belief is arbitrary (no better supported than any other belief), whereas your claim of ignorance is completely justified!
Back to top
View user's profile Send private message Visit poster's website
John Theta
Major Character


Joined: 01 Nov 2007
Posts: 487
Location: Idaho, USA

PostPosted: Fri Mar 20, 2009 6:09 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Regarding your intangible unicorns: My senior year in college, we used to tell people who came into our dorm room that there was an invisible cat on the couch. We often encountered skepticism. The dialog usually went like this:

"Well, do you see a cat on the couch?"

"No."

"See, I told you it was invisible."
_________________
The Stickromancer
Back to top
View user's profile Send private message AIM Address
Leorobin
Supporting Role


Joined: 02 Mar 2009
Posts: 185

PostPosted: Fri Mar 20, 2009 4:00 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I remeber doing that to a friend quite oftenly...

From what we have read on this thread, and TFBW recent post, I think that we can't mke a consensual conclusion about the existence or not existence of a superior entity.
So far, we've been making propositions and then debating this propositions and the debating about this responses and so on.
I think that as TFBW said the only thing we can be certain right now is that we don't know.
Back to top
View user's profile Send private message
lacavin
Supporting Role


Joined: 28 Nov 2008
Posts: 80
Location: Switzerland

PostPosted: Sat Mar 28, 2009 4:37 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Leorobin wrote:
From what we have read on this thread, and TFBW recent post, I think that we can't mke a consensual conclusion about the existence or not existence of a superior entity.
So far, we've been making propositions and then debating this propositions and the debating about this responses and so on.
I think that as TFBW said the only thing we can be certain right now is that we don't know.


Before having a shot to the burden of proof in a future post, I would like to note my disagreement with Leorobin. In my not so humble nor very objective opinion, we did met a couple of milestones in this thread. On the top of my head:
  • Interesting definition of faith-belief-fact chain that clarifies a bit the field,
  • Also some clarification to distinguish between a pantheist God ("supernatural force"), a personal God ("has an identity and a will") or the christian God (with specific wishes and properties), and henceforth an agreement of sort that Bible bashing is not a legitimate "proof" for God's inexistence nor especially useful.
  • Some proof via Causality - intuitive at first in several posts (the universe must come out of something), then more formal (which nobody denied!) that at least some pantheist God exists. This is a consensus for the existence of "something" supra-natural!
  • Discussion and definition of how we could accept a proof given by God even when it will always be possible to deny it (as an until yet unknown natural phenomenon) - the use of statistics: repetitive events with an outcome under controlled conditions countrary to the likely outcome as observed normally.
  • I assume many will not agree, but I still have my proof that the burden of proof lies in God's hands which has not been proven wrong until now - the best argument against it is the potential unwillingness to accept evidence from my (the unbeliever's) side.
  • Some not yet conclusive discussion whether it is rational to pray for evidence (repetitively and with your full heart) when you do not believe that there is a God listening to you.
  • Reached an agreement that Pascal's wager cannot be used to assess as irrational the atheist lifestyle in general; it can be used to assess the rationality of the lifestyle based on explicit assumptions about God.

All-in-all, quite some good steps forward. I think I am less ignorant now than before this discussion - thanks everybody for all the interesting posts!
Therefore I, for one, have really not the impression to loose my time.
Back to top
View user's profile Send private message Visit poster's website
lacavin
Supporting Role


Joined: 28 Nov 2008
Posts: 80
Location: Switzerland

PostPosted: Tue Mar 31, 2009 8:34 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

As indirect answer to TFBW's post, here are my reflections on:
The burden of proof, or the default position in absence of evidence.

Positions with regards to a proposition

With regards to a proposition A, you can have three positions:
1. Believe A (A is true)
2. Believe not-A (A is false)
3. Doubt (don't know)

With regards to the proposition "I believe in A", however, there are only two possible answers:
i. yes (I believe in A)
ii. no (I do not believe in A)

Somebody that doubts (position 3) does actually not "Believe A", otherwise he would be in the position (1) above. Therefore positions (2) and (3) share the same answer (ii): "I do not believe in A".

Of course, the same reasoning can be inverted with the proposition "I believe in not-A", in which case both the persons in position (1) and (3) share the same statement (ii) - they both do not believe not-A.


Default position

In absence of evidence with regards to a proposition A, what is the rational belief? I guess it is clear that without evidence, both beliefs in A and in not-A cannot be justified. In absence of information, the reasonable position is to doubt.
Therefore in absence of evidence, the position is (3).

As we have seen, this means that the statement "I believe in A" is answered by false, as well as the proposition "I believe in not-A".

Hence the rational position in absence of evidence will be not to act in a way that require belief in A, nor to act in a way that require belief in not-A.


Burden of Proof

The rational person without evidence will hence have position (3). He will not try to convince somebody that A is true or that not-A is true, because he does not know.

If somebody wants to convince him that A is true or that not-A is true, this person has the burden of proof. He must bring sufficient evidence that A is true, or that not-A is true.

This is because only a positive belief (i.e. a proposition that begins with "I believe in...") needs evidence to be rational, whatever the thing (A or not-A) that the belief covers. A negative belief (i.e. a proposition that begins with "I do not believe in...") is the default situation as we have seen and hence does not rationally require evidence.

Now of course it is unsatisfactory to just have negative propositions. Therefore, in order to find out the truth (but NOT to convince others!) somebody with position (3) should target at searching for evidence.


Example applied on God's existence

Proposition A is "God exists".

The different positions are:
1. Believer (I believe God exists)
2. Atheist (I believe no God exists)
3. Agnostic (no clues)

On the statement "I believe in God", both atheists and agnostics answer no, while the believer answer yes.

Therefore both the atheist and agnostics will rationally not act when belief in God is required. For instance they will not expect that a prayer will help. (They may hope that a prayer will help, but that's not rational).

Finally the burden of proof lies by the atheist that want to convince that God does not exist, or by the believer that want to convince that God does exist. It never lies by the agnostic.

And as final finally, the agnostic should be unhappy about his lack of belief and seek the truth, i.e. seek evidence. But as TFBW said so well, he can be more or less apathetic - so many questions to answer and so few time for research...


Side note on the proof of negative

The truism that it is not possible to prove a negative comes from the fact that the absence of measure may just mean that the fact is below your detection limit.

I fully agree that if you define your object as being measurable, by definition the absence of measure will mean the absence of object.
This is what is done with "There is no unicorn in my bathroom" - it is assumed that unicorns are big enough to be visible and hence that if you don't see it, it is proof that there is no unicorn there. The obvious comment is: and what if unicorns are real small? Some seehorses (as much horses as unicorns Twisted Evil) are as small as 1cm - did you look that closely in the bath drain?

In many question, people ask for "the principle of precaution". For instance for genetically modified food, in Europe the majority of people wants to have a proof that those products are not harmful to health before allowing them. It is a case where any absence of evidence can be contradicted. Now I won't promote these food, but a fictious dialog as illustration:
- I eat genetically modified food since 1 year and don't feel any sickness.
- Sure, but you may be a special case, and anyway how many genetically modified things could you eat in only 1 year.
- Ok, we did not measure any increase in mortality in people eating genetically modified food!
- Sure, but significant consumption is only recent. What about long term effects?
- Well, now we waited 40 years, still no measurable effect!
- Sure, but it may have an effect on reproduction that will be apparent only in several generations?
... and so on.


As a conclusion therefore you cannot prove an absence unless it is already known how the presence can be measurable without doubts.


Other side note: Occam's razor

Occam was one of the proponent of the principle of economy. Don't multiply entities without reason. Occam was a priest and used among others this principle to argue against polytheism.

This principle is routinely used in science - the model should not include more control variables that absolutely necessary, otherwise its parameters cannot be set uniquely.

I just cite this principle, whose foundations are really practical (but it is not a "proven truth", just a principle), to explain why an agnostic may have more justification in having a sympathetic ears towards an atheist than a monotheist. In absence of evidence, if God is not required to explain the universe, than it is advised not to postulate it - otherwise why stopping at one single God? If you need God to explain the universe, how do you explain God? and so on...

Again, this is a principle of practical use and not to be used as a proof of the nonexistence of God. Indeed a model that forgets to include a key element is even worse than a model that includes one control parameter too much!
The principle of economy is however why it is suggested in absence of evidence to postulate the absence.
_________________
Status: confused.
Back to top
View user's profile Send private message Visit poster's website
TFBW
Deus Ex Machina


Joined: 07 Oct 2006
Posts: 1254
Location: Sydney, Australia

PostPosted: Wed Apr 01, 2009 2:46 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

lacavin wrote:
The burden of proof, or the default position in absence of evidence.

So much of what you say is true when belief and unbelief are inconsequential. The picture changes a bit when beliefs have consequences. Let me make up a quick story to illustrate the point.

Three guys are on holiday, relaxing on a deserted tropical beach, when a guy in a motorboat comes zooming in to shore and runs up to them. "Quick!" he says, "there's a tsunami coming! Get to high ground right away!" He dashes off before they have a chance to say a word in response.

The first of the three guys is a trusting sort and assumes the warning was true. "Oh well," he says, "so much for relaxing on the beach. We'd better get to high ground." "No way," says the second, a cynical sort who tends to assume that people are mischievous nuisances. "He's full of it. There is no tsunami." The first guy is a little surprised at this, but not much, since he's used to this kind of attitude from number two. So he asks number three, a sceptic, "what about you? Are you going to head to high ground with me?" The third strokes his chin thoughtfully, peers intently out to sea, and says, "there really isn't enough evidence to form a belief about the existence of this alleged tsunami one way or the other. It's not rational to act in accordance with a belief unless there's sufficient evidence for it, so I really can't join you until I've had a chance to investigate further."


I'll leave it to your imaginations as to what happens beyond this point.

It's all very well to be pedantic about evidence, but what kind of fool would do so when it's a matter of life and death? Of course, this story doesn't illustrate anything new: it's just Pascal's Wager all over again.

There's an additional problem with your argument, and this is also illustrated in my story above. The problem lies within the following statement.

lacavin wrote:
Hence the rational position in absence of evidence will be not to act in a way that require belief in A, nor to act in a way that require belief in not-A.

The sceptic on the beach who didn't run to high ground justified his actions on exactly these grounds. He refused to run to high ground, since that action would follow from belief in the tsunami, and he didn't have enough evidence of a tsunami. He wasn't entirely thorough in his reasoning, though, because he claimed to have no belief, and yet his actions were compatible with the cynic's actions, not the trusting man's actions. It's not that he particularly intended to act like a cynic who assumed the warning was a lie -- he just carried on doing what he was doing beforehand, except that he also looked for evidence of the tsunami. If the tsunami actually comes, however, there are only two courses of action with differing outcomes: get to high ground, or not. Doubt which prevents action is just as lethal as false belief in this case.

This is another aspect of Pascal's Wager: you're already in the game, and your life is at stake. Not betting is not an option.

lacavin wrote:
If somebody wants to convince him that A is true or that not-A is true, this person has the burden of proof. He must bring sufficient evidence that A is true, or that not-A is true.

Sure, but the guy who ran up and warned them didn't feel the need to convince anyone. He just provided them with a warning so that they could act in rational self interest on their own accounts. He wasn't in a position to prove that the tsunami was coming in any case -- he was just passing on the warning.

lacavin wrote:
Finally the burden of proof lies by the atheist that want to convince that God does not exist, or by the believer that want to convince that God does exist. It never lies by the agnostic.

A "burden of proof" exists in a courtroom to overcome a barrier such as "innocent until proven guilty". The kind of "burden of proof" you have presented here is "that which someone must provide to alter my convictions". This kind of burden is only of passing interest to me. If I feel that I can clear whatever bar you have decided to set for me, then I will try to do so. If I think you've set it unreasonably high, then I'll feel no guilt in leaving your beliefs (or lack thereof) as they are. You may confront others with a "burden of proof", but the burden of consequences is unavoidably yours and yours alone.

lacavin wrote:
In absence of evidence, if God is not required to explain the universe, than it is advised not to postulate it - otherwise why stopping at one single God?

You answered your own question by reference to Occam's razor: "because one God is enough". If we could show that God isn't necessary at all, then zero would be enough.
Back to top
View user's profile Send private message Visit poster's website
Bezman
Star of the Show


Joined: 08 Nov 2006
Posts: 1163
Location: Sweden

PostPosted: Thu Apr 02, 2009 11:50 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

TFBW wrote:
Let me make up a quick story to illustrate the point.

Three guys are on holiday, relaxing on a deserted tropical beach...

I'm not saying that I am any better, but this kind of story is so obviously made up to suit and enhance one side's aspect of the problem. It reminds me in part of a "proof" that communism actually works better than "capitalism", I think the proof was called "dog-owner" or something. I put this in the same basket, and react with the same position, only opposite, and with anger.

To clarify my point and make the story more like real-life, add the following information (taken from real life):
* they are in a part of the world where tsunamis have not been recorded to occur, EVER.
* this particular beach, and the ones nearby, are well-known for posh students from a nearby internate (? "high school where you live as well as study"), driving by in their expensive boats running an urban legend / running joke about tsunamis. This appears to be their way of making fun of tourists.
* This has happened hundreds of times before, and to the three guys on the beach, seven times already since they arrived.

Now, is it still rational to be running to high ground an eighth time, even though no tsunami showed up the previous seven times?
(Yeah, this is much the same as lacavin's earlier point about asking "is anyone there?" into the dark many times enough, but still.)

Since the likelyness of the underlying big question being true is (imo) way less than the chance of winning the lottery, I think action should be considered in proportion. Also note that in the case of a lottery, most often someone actually DOES win occasionally - in this case, the alleged "prize" may be (is most likely, according to present evidence) purely fictional, or if you wish, fake.
_________________
B cool.
Back to top
View user's profile Send private message
TFBW
Deus Ex Machina


Joined: 07 Oct 2006
Posts: 1254
Location: Sydney, Australia

PostPosted: Thu Apr 02, 2009 2:02 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Bezman wrote:
I'm not saying that I am any better, but this kind of story is so obviously made up to suit and enhance one side's aspect of the problem.

Bez, you're interpreting this story entirely the wrong way. I'm not giving you an allegory of life here. Believe it or not, I'm not a pastor in a pulpit telling you why you should believe. I'm illustrating a point about burdens of proof.

In my story, we don't know if the warning was a hoax or not. We don't know if the island has a history of tsunamis or not. There is no hidden information: all we have is what's given, and what we're given is nothing more than plausible hearsay from a source with no reputation. This is precisely why the sceptic refuses to act: there isn't enough evidence to form a belief. The story finishes before the truth is revealed, and it makes no difference to my point whether there is a tsunami or not.

The point is that the sceptic's "burden of proof" reasoning was inappropriate: it utterly neglected the possible consequences of being right or wrong about the belief, and further failed to recognise that scepticism was not neutral territory but shared the same consequences as unbelief. The point is that claiming "burden of proof" is all very well and good under some conditions, but under others it just shows a lack of perspective. "Burden of proof" is context sensitive.

In a (Western) court of law, the burden falls on the prosecution to prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt. This is a purely utilitarian barrier: it's supposed to prevent innocent men from being punished.

In mathematics, there is no "burden of proof": there either is proof, or there is not proof. A statement about things which is not associated with a known proof is called a conjecture. A statement about things which is associated with a proof is called a theorem.

In science -- well, my experience of research science so far is both limited in time and in scope (I'm a computer science PhD student with two published and several rejected papers, plus I've studied philosophy of science). I'm not entirely sure what burdens or "proofs" are supposed to exist in science generally, or even in my field particularly. Mostly one faces a burden of peer review, rather than a burden of proof, so it helps if you know what kinds of things please the reviewers. This can vary quite widely, not only by sub-speciality within a broader field, but also on a person to person basis. Comments from reviewers can be remarkably different. Many people like to portray science as more objective and impartial than this, but the reality of publication is gritty, political, and probably dependent on when several people had their last cup of coffee or whether they're having a good day in general.

In general, "burden of proof" is a personal matter of taste that you make up based on what seems reasonable to you given the circumstances. If someone tells you that they have a guaranteed money-making scheme which requires a $10,000 investment from you, that's a circumstance in which you might demand a lot of supporting evidence. If you're on a beach and someone warns you of a tsunami, and you have no reason to think it's a hoax, you'd be nuts to apply the same burden of proof.

lacavin has been writing as though "burden of proof" is an objective standard -- a matter of rational necessity with no scope for opinion. I've been hinting otherwise. I'd now like to make it explicit: I assert that there is not and can not be a single, universal standard for sufficiency of evidence. This is one of the fundamental problems we face in asking whether there is a proof of God: there isn't a standard for proofs of that sort. Because of this, to say "the burden of proof lies with you", is to say nothing more than "I will not be convinced in this case unless provided with a certain quantity and quality of evidence". It is a claim that relates to the psychological makeup of the speaker, not a law of reason.

We might have some agreement as to the reasonableness of various degrees of scepticism, or we might not. My story is an appeal to intuition: I expect you to think that the sceptic in my story is being silly to apply the standard he applies, given his circumstances. If you think he's being reasonable, then I'm in no position to accuse you of being wrong: I can only say that I disagree.
Back to top
View user's profile Send private message Visit poster's website
Bezman
Star of the Show


Joined: 08 Nov 2006
Posts: 1163
Location: Sweden

PostPosted: Fri Apr 03, 2009 8:42 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

First of all, I would like to apologize for using bad netiquette - writing when I was upset. Working with computers, I know better. Lot of stress lately - sorry all.

I agree with your point on there being no universal standard for level of proof needed - or "burden of proof". That is made quite obvious by the example.
(What I did react to was that if the example was supposed to be a comparison to the situation everyone faces in oversight of Pascal's wager, it had the environmental settings, or (implicit) preconditions, quite wrong. Never mind that now.)

I could of course argue about that since seeing the rather well-known video tape capturing the strike of the 1996 asian tsunami on a holiday beach in Thailand, there were plenty of facts that could be used to the sceptic's advantage:
    * Clear distinguishable early indications; The waterfront was withdrawing A LOT well in time before the arrival of the wave. If and when THAT happens, he (or sceptic) can reconsider.
    * Visual 1st hand evidence; The wave approaching - still time to get to higher ground (maybe, maybe not in your example). If and when THAT happens, he can reconsider.
    * No immediate danger of life; One (Swedish) woman running straight into the tsunami wave, trying to save her children. She survived, mostly unharmed if I don't misrecall. If our sceptic dozes off in the sun and realizes the threat too late, he can always go for that solution. (The screaming and commotion from people around him is likely to wake him up)

But that would be attacking detail in the present example only, not the principle - so I will not. (you could always present a better one, and I could probably find shortcomings or things to pick on in that one too, and we could go on like that forev... I mean for a long period of time Wink for no good)

I would though like to give lacavin some credit to his point. There must be a limit to when you stop going for a goal, if all your results point to that you are wasting your time. (I base this in part on my own experiences.)

In my (apologized) example above, "empirical tests" (?) should tell you that by the eighth time the same guy comes around warning about a tsunami that does not come, it would no longer be a wise (rational?) thing to do to be running up the hills again, since this guy has proven to be untrustworthy. One guy could however have taken a decision about his precious life and decided to go with that belief ("danger must be avoided at all costs!!!") and by principle run for the hills at any sign of danger. He would, of course, be considered a loon by his fellows.

The same thing about praying without any kind of response, or researching the existence of God without ever any solid feedback, or calling "is anyone there?" into the dark over and over again the same night at the same place and still believing someone is there, becase the moving leaf (wind), the light that went out (bulb was old), or the rustling sound (rat or cat activity) all point to the same direction.

My point being that it seems to me that lacavin and TFBW are in effect* implying that the other party has an unreasonable level of proof requirement for the "big" question, high and low respectively.
I'm not sure exactly what this means in the question of voluntary belief, but since our level of required proof apparently is subjective, and it appears that each person is able to justify his level, it appears to me that belief is if not unvoluntary, then at least subconsciously controlled by the amount of information we have acquired and the level of faith we have in each (relevant-to-the-matter-at-hand) piece of it.

* Note: Just to make things clear, I do not mean "in affect", I mean "effectively" or "this whole thing boils down to" or "what this topic is actually about".
_________________
B cool.
Back to top
View user's profile Send private message
Display posts from previous:   
This forum is locked: you cannot post, reply to, or edit topics.   This topic is locked: you cannot edit posts or make replies.    Beyond the Fourth Wall Forum Index -> Controversy Corner All times are GMT
Goto page Previous  1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7  Next
Page 5 of 7

 
Jump to:  
You cannot post new topics in this forum
You cannot reply to topics in this forum
You cannot edit your posts in this forum
You cannot delete your posts in this forum
You cannot vote in polls in this forum


Powered by phpBB © 2001, 2005 phpBB Group