Saturday, May 26, 2007

 

Cracks in the Pot


Okay, so I'm reading Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion and, for the most part, I want to wait until I have finished the book before I comment, so as to reduce the possibility that whatever I criticize isn't clarified or changed later on in the text. Still, this one is well enough known and independent of Dawkins himself that I think it is ripe for discussion. I'm talking about Bertrand Russell's orbiting teapot example of the alleged burden of proof concerning religious claims that is adopted with a vengence by Dawkins.

I'll remind anyone who may stumble in here that I am a militantly apathetic agnostic and a fervent apatheist. Nothing here should be interpreted as an argument in favor of God's existence. Dawkins, for whatever reason, feels almost as much or more antipathy for agnostics as he does for theists. He at least announces a policy of not going out of his way to offend theists (whether or not he adheres to it is another matter) but has no qualms about inventing a (strained) acronym for agnosticism as PAP (Permanent Agnosticism in Principle). In any event, Russell's argument is well known:

Many orthodox people speak as though it were the business of sceptics to disprove received dogmas rather than of dogmaticists to prove them. If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes. But if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is an intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense. If, however, the existence of such a teapot were affirmed in ancient books, taught as the sacred truth every Sunday, and instilled into the minds of children at school, hesitation to believe in its existence would become a mark of eccentricity and entitle the doubter to the attentions of the psychiatrist in an enlightened age or of the Inquisitor in an earlier time.
According to Dawkins, "we would not hesitate to declare our strong belief that there is positively no orbiting teapot." And, indeed, it might well be the impulse of anyone to say that it is unlikely that there is a peculiarly human object like a teapot in orbit in deep space ... given what we empirically know about space flight and how such an object might get into orbit. There is much evidence showing how hard it is to launch things into space and there have been relatively few launches into the area between Earth and Mars. Furthermore, between the motivations for those launches, which leave little room for things like teapots, and our actual records of the contents of such flights, we may well dismiss the likelihood on empiric grounds. In short, Russell, and Dawkins after him, have, by their choice of object, not only imported, sub rosa, a standard of evidence -- empiricism -- to apply to the issue but a standard we can already meet.

Just for starters, what if what was being proposed was the existence in orbit between Mars and Earth of something like the monolith of Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick? In other words, what if it was proposed that an apparently created object of unknown origin was located there? Is the case for dismissing the possibility out of hand as compelling then? It certainly wouldn't be to me and the difference results from sneaking hidden premises into the original example. A term sometimes used for such argumentation is "cheap rhetoric."

John Wilkins gives an excellent explanation of agnosticism to counter Dawkins' strawman in the comments to this post at Larry Moran's Sandwalk. But I'm not really interested in that part of the debate here.

Instead, I want to focus on the notion of burdens of proof as they are usually used in these debates. People frequently assert various burdens of proof along Dawkins' and Russell's lines but rarely attempt to actually justify them. I would argue that the only burden that really exists (outside of socially imposed ones, such as those in the law, intended to attain specific social goals) is an initial burden of going forward.

In any debate, there must be a starting point, some issue to be discussed. One side must propose the issue and either provide some evidence for the reality of the issue or else a reason to discuss it as an abstract. It seems to me that this is a minimal burden and, once met, can either be thought of as dropping away or, perhaps more correctly, as a starting point for constant shifting burdens as each side makes new assertions and as new subsidiary issues are raised. Otherwise, the alleged burdens are just a rhetorical device to justify ignoring the opponent's evidence and arguments.

Let's go back to Russell's teapot example, as flawed as it is. What evidence would be needed to meet the burden of going forward proposed by Russell? Let's say, in the happy day when a manned spacecraft is making its way to Mars from Earth, one member of the crew, idly looking out a port, sees what seems to him something mighty like a teapot (perhaps with a Soviet red star on it).

The radar was not aimed in that direction at the time and there was no chance to take a picture before it was gone. In short, the only evidence is the astronaut's report. Still, an astronaut is presumably someone with some training in correct observation and someone who has undergone no little vetting for stability. More importantly, if one person's unconfirmed observation is not sufficient to meet the initial burden, why not? Other than dismissing the evidence out of hand (nothing more than an unsupported rhetorical move) any protesting of the quality or the import of the evidence is, itself, an assertion of a subsidiary issue that needs a reason for going forward on. For example, saying that the crew member was under stress and hallucinated the teapot must meet its own burden of showing that, not only was the astronaut under pressure, but was hallucinating and that the teapot was part of his or her [cough] delusion. At the very least, based on this scant evidence, the teapot would pass into Dawkins' temporary agnosticism, pending some compelling evidence that the teapot didn't exist.

Need it be pointed out that billions of people, many of them intelligent and otherwise clearly rational, have reported having a personal experience of God? I await with bated breath the evidence that atheists will use to meet their burden of showing that such reports are all false and/or that God doesn't exist ...
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Comments:
I'm curious as to what you identify as the null hypothesis on the god question. As an "agnostic" or an "apatheist", it would appear that you would agree that a lack of god(s) occupies the position, as you implicitly do not see any warrant to the converse.

The teapot analogy isn't perfect, but I'm not of the opinion that anything outside of complete isomorphism is useless. Yes, there are flaws, but it still highlights the fact that the null hypothesis (no teapot orbiting mars) is what we adopt in the absense of any justification of the converse. Whatever that justification may be is up for debate, but it's foolish to pretend that no justification for adopting it exists.

Furthermore, how is your argument against the teapot any different in it's premises from my argument against the miracles described in holy texts like the New Testament? In both cases we are importing what are by any standard empirically established phenomena to cast doubt upon the possibility of a certain phenomenon. And in both cases, I fail to see how the common defense of the religious, i.e., an ad hoc appeal to magic, can't remedy either situation if we permit it as epistemically justifiable.

But about religious experiences, I would say that being skeptical of such things is warranted for the same reasons I am skeptical of people who claim to experience "psychic" phenomena and Big Foot and Elvis Presley (still alive, that is). It is not to claim that people aren't experience something, only that such a thing would be very extraordinary. In the cases that they are not, it is really vague descriptions of emotions and and a sentimental attachment to belief. Or at least, I have yet to hear anything that falls out of those categories.
 
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Need it be pointed out that billions of people, many of them intelligent and otherwise clearly rational, have reported having a personal experience of God? I await with bated breath the evidence that atheists will use to meet their burden of showing that such reports are all false and/or that God doesn't exist ...

I am an atheist. I have no such burden. It is not up to me to prove that God doesn't exist any more than it is my "burden" to show that leprechauns don't exist, people haven't been abducted by UFO's, and there was another shooter on the grassy knoll. People believe all kinds of things that aren't true. Surely you understand this?

You've been told this many times. I don't ask that you accept the proper definition of atheism as "lack of belief" but it would be really nice of you to at least acknowledge from time to time that you are imposing a "burden" on us that we totally reject.
 
Tyler:

I'm curious as to what you identify as the null hypothesis on the god question. As an "agnostic" or an "apatheist", it would appear that you would agree that a lack of god(s) occupies the position, as you implicitly do not see any warrant to the converse.

I think "null hypothesis" is just another way of describing a burden of proof. You are saying, roughly, that there are certain things that you will accept as possibly "true" (presumably based on evidence, past experience, etc.) and other things where, if someone proposes them, you'll insist that they produce evidence before you'll consider it. If so, theists have been producing their "evidence" for thousands of years and trying to trace and hold everyone to their particular burden of proof is pretty sterile. At that point, its best just to try to evaluate each argument on its own merits or lack thereof.

To whatever extent there is a "null hypothesis," mine has to do with what humans can possibly "know" (to the extent we can at all). I don't think there is a way to rationally choose a null state on the existence of a suitably non-empiric God of the sort Wilkins and I am talking about.

... the null hypothesis (no teapot orbiting mars) is what we adopt in the absense of any justification of the converse. Whatever that justification may be is up for debate, but it's foolish to pretend that no justification for adopting it exists.

But, you see, the teapot "analogy" is used (particularly crudely by Dawkins) to hide the debate over the justification, rather than to illuminate it.

... how is your argument against the teapot any different in it's premises from my argument against the miracles described in holy texts like the New Testament?

First of all, remember what I am interested in here. I want to point out that every time you hear someone confidently assert someone else bears a "burden of proof," you should reach for your intellectual wallet. I don't think there really is any such thing worth mentioning and any time you do hear it mentioned, you are having dubious rhetoric practiced on you.

In both cases we are importing what are by any standard empirically established phenomena to cast doubt upon the possibility of a certain phenomenon. And in both cases, I fail to see how the common defense of the religious, i.e., an ad hoc appeal to magic, can't remedy either situation if we permit it as epistemically justifiable.

I'm not sure I am completely following you here but if you want to openly import a standard of empiricism/naturalism into a theological debate, you are free to but it is an argument ender. You can declare your opponent a loser on epistemological grounds but the question is why you bothered to engage him/her in the first place. I'm with Wilkins: in such a case, the proper response is to smile wanly and back slowly out of the room.

But about religious experiences, I would say that being skeptical of such things is warranted for the same reasons I am skeptical of people who claim to experience "psychic" phenomena and Big Foot and Elvis Presley (still alive, that is).

How many sightings after the first billion would it take before you started to wonder if there might be some sort of phenomena that people refer to as "Big Foot"?

But, again, I'm not making any sort of judgment (here) about the sufficiency of the theist's evidence or the counter arguments. I'm only concerned with showing that appeals to burdens of proof are really attempts to avoid, by misdirection, discussing those evidences and arguments.

Larry:

I am an atheist. I have no such burden. It is not up to me to prove that God doesn't exist any more than it is my "burden" to show that leprechauns don't exist, people haven't been abducted by UFO's, and there was another shooter on the grassy knoll. People believe all kinds of things that aren't true. Surely you understand this?

Why, yes I do, Larry.

You are perfectly free to believe in the absence of something simply because you don't have evidence in favor of it after arbitrarily limiting the scope of evidence you will accept.

But seriously, you surely understood the point of my throwing around "burdens of proof" willy-nilly in the context of this argument, didn't you?
 
I'm only concerned with showing that appeals to burdens of proof are really attempts to avoid, by misdirection, discussing those evidences and arguments.

No, it's just that the evidences and arguments aren't good enough. And you agree with that. So I don't see what the problem is. You seem to be saying that if someone appeals to the burden of proof then that means that they aren't aware of the things that already don't meet the burden of proof. I don't get what the problem is.
 
... it's just that the evidences and arguments aren't good enough.

Then there is no need to appeal to a burden of proof.

You seem to be saying that if someone appeals to the burden of proof then that means that they aren't aware of the things that already don't meet the burden of proof.

I'm not sure what you mean but what I'm saying is that appealing to a "burden of proof" is mere rhetoric. If, as you say, there is something wrong with the evidence someone presents or the arguments they make, then address that. An appeal to a burden of proof is only a way to avoid doing that.
 
John Pieret says,

But seriously, you surely understood the point of my throwing around "burdens of proof" willy-nilly in the context of this argument, didn't you?

Yes, I do understand why you are doing it. That's why I'm trying to get you to stop. It's not helpful to demand that someone prove a negative.
 
Hey,

I'm a Christian who is working on a series on Dawkins' book "The God Delusion" at my blog at:

http://michaelkrahn.wordpress.com/richard-dawkins/

Join me there for some discussion.
 
Yes, I do understand why you are doing it. That's why I'm trying to get you to stop.It's not helpful to demand that someone prove a negative.

Funny, sarcasm has never been beyond you before.

Larry, if you just want to say that you won't accept the existence of God unless you receive empiric evidence to support that existence (to some specified or unspecified degree), it is your right. It's a personal philosophy of life and you can construct it however you please.

But if you, like Dawkins, want to make the claim in debate with others that the "null state" is that God doesn't exist and, based on that claim, that there is a burden on theists beyond simply going forward with some evidence (which they've done), then you are making a positive claim that is not self-evident. What is more, it is a bare, unsupported assertion ... rather like an assertion on Nov. 22, 1963 would have been that there was no need to address the reports that there were other shooters on the grassy knoll.

In short, Larry, you have no burden to do anything in order for you to be an atheist. But if you don't want to have people like me pointing out that you are using cheap rhetoric in a debate, then you have to actually refrain from engaging in it.
 
An appeal to a burden of proof is only a way to avoid doing that.

That doesn't mean that they don't have a burden of proof. It keeps sounding like you're saying that if someone appeals to the burden of proof then all of a sudden nobody has a burden of proof. Dawkins appeals to the burden of proof but he also addresses a whole lots of other stuff. It's not like throughout his career he keeps writing "I appeal to the burden of proof" a million times so he can fill up all those books. Same goes for Bertrand Russell too. I don't get what the problem is.
 
That doesn't mean that they don't have a burden of proof. It keeps sounding like you're saying that if someone appeals to the burden of proof then all of a sudden nobody has a burden of proof.

If you have some rational basis for a burden of proof greater than merely going forward and producing some evidence on the issue under discussion, please explain. Otherwise, theists have already met that minimal burden and we can all move on.

Dawkins appeals to the burden of proof but he also addresses a whole lots of other stuff. It's not like throughout his career he keeps writing "I appeal to the burden of proof" a million times so he can fill up all those books.

As I've said over and over, I'm only interested in this particular argument. Bad argumentation is bad argumentation and is not justified by other arguments in other times and places, except by going back and admitting that the argument was wrong. Dawkins gave it a prominent place in his book as the main justification of his attack on agnostics and he owns it until he admits his error. Plus, I've seem many people in the blogs who emulate his use of this bogus argument without any such record of doing more.

I don't get what the problem is.

And I must say that I find that is part of the problem.
 
If you have some rational basis for a burden of proof greater than merely going forward and producing some evidence on the issue under discussion, please explain. Otherwise, theists have already met that minimal burden and we can all move on.

Oh I don't know. Something better than hearsay would be nice. What evidence are you referring to?

As I've said over and over, I'm only interested in this particular argument.

Okay that one finally sinks in on me. (Ooops!)
 
Oh I don't know. Something better than hearsay would be nice. What evidence are you referring to?

"Something better than ... " is an undefined standard, which leaves your opponent with a goalpost subject to racing off over the countryside. If you have objections to the opponent's evidence, state them and support them, don't just handwave them away. Simply saying you want "something better" is avoiding the heavy lifting of actually confronting the evidence that has been presented.

As to what evidence has been presented in favor of God, you should really consult a theist. But, in terms of what is most difficult to dispose of with the various arguments that attempt to merely dismiss theism and its evidence, the personal experience of god, ala Francis Collins, is probably the most common and the best.

Empiricism can find other, seemingly sufficient, causes for some parts of such experiences, at least in the tiny number of cases it samples (and remembering the problem of justifying induction) but it can never establish that the origin of such experiences are non-supernatural.

Dawkins will probably sputter at that point that the fact that the supernatural origin of such experiences, along with "orbiting teapots and tooth fairies are undisprovable is not felt, by any reasonable person, to be the kind of fact that settles any interesting argument" ... as if the feelings of people that Dawkins happens to think are "reasonable" constitutes a rational argument itself.

My point is: either deal with the evidence as it is or, if you choose to simply handwave it away, don't act surprised when others accuse you of making an emotional, anti-rational and, ultimately, dishonest argument.
 
As to what evidence has been presented in favor of God, you should really consult a theist.

Oh okay. Thanks for not handwaving anything away there dude.
 
Thanks for not handwaving anything away there dude.

Why? Because I said that a theist would represent the evidence better than I? I still provided evidence more than sufficient to meet the burden of going forward. What more were you asking for?
 
What more were you asking for?

I was hoping to see some evidence for theism so I can stop being an atheist. Dembski has "feelings" about ID, and his feelings are also the best evidence in support of ID, but I don't see you worried about hurting his feelings on the matter. And you seem to be very confident that ID is a bunch of hooey in spite of the problem of induction and the shortcomings of empiricism and all that.
 
I am always wary of pushing an analogy too far... I think that Bertrand Russell used the orbiting teapot as an object that was both undetectable (by definition) and impossible (by any natural processes known at the time).

The cosmonaut seeing a teapot in space could be seeing a detectable teapot which could be present by known (if unlikely) natural processes. Without any supporting information or observation there is no burden of proof as the observation is a one-off and cannot be proved or disproved.

If there are many observations of the teapot then the burden of proof shifts towards the non-believers to explain away a common observation.

However if there have been many observations of differing objects (the teapot, a hippo, an 18 hole pitch and putt course, a bust of Lenin) then one of the most likely explanations is some sort of space induced delusion...

Back on Earth many millions of people have believed in thousands of different gods and supernatural beings. Once again the burden of proof falls on the believers of the One True Teapot, otherwise the expectation is that all the 'beliefs' are due to some delusion common to many humans.

I think that analogy is thoroughly trashed.
 
I was hoping to see some evidence for theism so I can stop being an atheist.

Sorry, I'm not in the proselytization business.

Dembski has "feelings" about ID, and his feelings are also the best evidence in support of ID, but I don't see you worried about hurting his feelings on the matter. And you seem to be very confident that ID is a bunch of hooey in spite of the problem of induction and the shortcomings of empiricism and all that.

That's right. Dembski's feelings about ID are the best evidence for it that I've seen ... which is why ID isn't science. I think the claim that ID is science is a bunch of hooey. What does Dembski's confusion over what science is have to do with the possibility that a god was somehow involved in the creation and development of life?

I think that Bertrand Russell used the orbiting teapot as an object that was both undetectable (by definition) and impossible (by any natural processes known at the time).

I think that Russell could have managed a better example than a teapot then. I suspect it was chosen by Russell (and was certainly used by Dawkins) for its effect of ridiculing the notion of even having to bother responding to any evidence for god.

Back on Earth many millions of people have believed in thousands of different gods and supernatural beings. Once again the burden of proof falls on the believers of the One True Teapot, otherwise the expectation is that all the 'beliefs' are due to some delusion common to many humans.

First of all, what possible warrant might we have for making an argument based on some unidentified person's or group's "expectations" grounded on nothing more than an analogy? And why that particular expectation rather than the possibility that the experience is, say, so overwhelming that people can't explain it clearly, causing theological differences to arise, or that an infinite being is multifaceted (something that would strike me as highly likely, as long as we are throwing around "expectations") or dozens of other possibilities? And don't confuse religion with Dawkins' "God Hypothesis" which includes deism and Spinoza's god and not just the allegedly "true gods." He claims to have defeated them all.

But if you want to stick with the notion of burdens, I'll look forward to your evidence to support your affirmative claim that billions of personal experiences of god are all due to some delusion rather than the action of god(s). I'll let you know after you present the evidence if it meets the burden of proof.

I think that analogy is thoroughly trashed.

I agree, but perhaps not about which.
 
Billions with personal experiences of god? I think you will need convincing evidence of the numbers, or a clear definition of what counts as an experience of god. There are cetainly a few billion believers, but only a small proportion would claim to have had a personal god experience.

However, on to the main point, for all the religions (and their various sects), deists, spiritualists, yoists, New Agers, quantum god field woo, previous gods fallen into a state of disrepair, wood spirits, sacred stones, Westboro Baptist Church, satanists, pagans, ancestral spirits - they can't logically all be right. Especially if you (incorrectly) count non believers as members of a spritual system.

Even if there were some transcendant, multifaceted, universal spirit many of the 'believers' would deny it, in favour of their own partisan beliefs.

Now start at the beginning and start eliminating the gods and or spirits that there is no logical evidence for. Zeus, nope; Tooth Fairy, nope; and so on. Eventually, when you are about 5,000 divine spirits down you start thinking that the chances of finding the true god(s) is getting slimmer and slimmer, until you reach a point where you realise that the chances of finding the true god(s) is vanishingly small compared with the possibility that all the beliefs arise from a human tendency to construct myths (or some other mental quirk).

It is at this point for me that the burden of proof falls upon a believer to make their case, if they wish to affect the views of other people.

It is a case of the material world looking for proof, and the magical world not being the type of worldview to provide it.

To summarise, a null hypothesis that there is some transcendant, multifaceted, universal spirit cannot be supported by logical inference. The null hypothesis must be (for logical reasons) that there is no god(s), and belief in god(s) should be tested against it.
 
There are cetainly a few billion believers, but only a small proportion would claim to have had a personal god experience.

The personal experience of god of the sort related by Francis Collins in his book is a common report among Christians and, I believe, Muslims. I'm no expert in comparative religions but I think they are common in other religions as well. Add a couple of thousand years and large numbers of believers in all religions, and I hardly think it is an unreasonable estimate. If you feel strongly about it, feel free to reduce it to some hundreds of millions of reports.

... they can't logically all be right.

What exact restraint are you placing on an infinite being and how do you intend to support it? In short, how do you intend to demonstrate logically that such a being is limited by human logic?

Even if there were some transcendant, multifaceted, universal spirit many of the 'believers' would deny it, in favour of their own partisan beliefs

I already pointed out that Dawkins has claimed to make all versions of gods improbable. How does "disproving" any one religion or even any group of them (even assuming that you are doing that by merely showing disagreement among believers) go to disprove all possible gods? Indeed, how is the "fact" (if you manage to establish it) that finite human beings may be wrong about the nature of an infinite being even logically relevant to the existence of such a being?

Now start at the beginning and start eliminating the gods and or spirits that there is no logical evidence for.

Given the way you just throw the word around, please define what you mean by "logical evidence" and where did the requirement for such evidence from? Why doesn't irrational and/or emotional evidence count? Do you get to just impose standards as you like? Justify insisting on that standard.

... the burden of proof falls upon a believer to make their case, if they wish to affect the views of other people.

Ah, the "make their case standard"? Can I rev up your goal posts for a quick getaway?

The notion of a fair debate requires that you define your terms, especially when you are setting a benchmark. Please define what your "burden" consists of and justify it.

In any event, you are basically giving up Dawkins' claim of showing that gods probably don't exist and are merely setting your own personal standard for what you require before you'll let your views be affected. As I told Larry, that's fine but it is not a proper basis for debate or any claim of success in one.

Oh, and if that's really the standard you want to use, let's not forget that theists have been much more successful in affecting the views of other people than atheists have.

To summarise, a null hypothesis that there is some transcendant, multifaceted, universal spirit cannot be supported by logical inference. The null hypothesis must be (for logical reasons) that there is no god(s), and belief in god(s) should be tested against it.

I see you using the word "logic" a lot but I don't see any demonstration of relevant connections between premises and conclusions. In fact, all I've seen are assertions.
 
Very well, opening position in debate:

1) There are no credible photographs of god(s)
2) There are no credible videos of god(s)
3) There is no credible physical evidence of god(s)
4) The human experience of god(s) is varied and contradictory and may best be explained by a predisposition to infer agency when it does not exist, peer pressure, group dynamics and hysteria.
5) Therefore no god(s) exist.

On these assumptions and assertions my null hypothesis is that god(s) does not exist.

The null hypothesis fails if anyone can produce credible evidence of the physical existence of god(s) that would convince a reasonable person. More credible proof than an image of the Virgin Mary on a toated cheese sandwich is required!

By my definition of debate the existence of belief is insufficient in itself, as this is a mere assertion without proof that others can consider (especially as there are so many beliefs). The claim that god(s) are immaterial and cannot be detected fails the test *as set* - the burden of proof then falls on the believer to show why a non-material 'spirit' can be proved to exist.

This is indeed the teapot analogy - in the absence of physical proof no claim of teapot existence can be confirmed.

If you wish people's beliefs to be considered, I think you will have to show why this assertion should be treated as credible data.
 
First of all, how do you justify your claim that no god(s) exist, based only on the lack of evidence (adage: "an absence of evidence is not evidence of absence") that no one would expect to find in the first place and the bare assertion, without the slightest attempt at "credibility," that personal experiences of god "may best be explained" by a hodgepodge of hypotheses that you have not attempted to relate in any way to the actual experiences of these people? In the law, we would call the attempt to demonstrate that someone is a thief by showing that lots of people steal "irrelevant" (not to mention "stupid").

You've also now thrown in another demand: physical evidence. Please justify limiting the evidence to physical evidence. Also, please detail these further undefined terms: "credible data" and "reasonable person."

To your credit, you recognize that these are assumptions and assertions and that it is only your "null hypothesis," that you presumably recognize is not binding on anyone else. The question is why any objective observer should credit your assumptions and assertions more than theists' beliefs? Indeed, how exactly are your assumptions and assertions any different from their beliefs? Why shouldn't I, based on your own "rule" of debate hold your assumptions and assertions, made without proof that others can consider, to be insufficient in themselves to establish any "null hypothesis" or to meet the evidence presented by theists?
 
Ho hum.

I set out my conditions and assumptions behind my null hypothesis. Clearly they have been put together from a philosophical materialist point of view. It is a debating stance; the advantage of this viewpoint is that any physical evidence can be presented to anyone for consideration, if they so chose.

If you choose to counter argue that the requirement for physical evidence is merely one of several assumptions that can be made, or that 'belief' can be treated as strong evidence, then I guess that you start out with a different world view. Now I don't want to put words in your mouth but under non-materialist assumptions I cannot see what your null hypothesis would be or what you could prove. We'll just end up with a sterile exchange about 'my god is realler than your god' because apart from details of belief itself there is nothing else to debate. Either that or we will end up with with a pantomime debate "God exists","Oh no he doesn't","Oh yes he does" repeated indefinitely.

Perhaps you could explain what assumptions, evidence, and hypothesis you are promoting?

Now I am ready to change my mind anytime there is reason to - but sometimes absence of evidence just means there is no evidence.
 
I set out my conditions and assumptions behind my null hypothesis.

Which is a much more straightforward procedure than hiding them in bogus "burdens of proof."

Clearly they have been put together from a philosophical materialist point of view. It is a debating stance ...

Except it is a non-debating stance. If you start from materialistic assumptions then theists can't win. Save everyone the trouble and just pick up your marbles, declare victory, let your fellow materialists pat you on the back and go home.

If you choose to counter argue that the requirement for physical evidence is merely one of several assumptions that can be made, or that 'belief' can be treated as strong evidence, then I guess that you start out with a different world view. Now I don't want to put words in your mouth but under non-materialist assumptions I cannot see what your null hypothesis would be or what you could prove.

Did you bother to read any of what I wrote or what went before in the comments? I'm an agnostic. I don't think you can prove anything in this area and I don't think you can rationally establish a "null hypothesis" about God. And, frankly, nothing you've said has led me to doubt that position in the slightest.

We'll just end up with a sterile exchange about 'my god is realler than your god' because apart from details of belief itself there is nothing else to debate.

I keep trying to explain that to atheists but no matter what I do you still have people like Dawkins who think they can debate the particulars of gods.

Perhaps you could explain what assumptions, evidence, and hypothesis you are promoting?

Tell you what. Go to the main body of the post and where it says: "John Wilkins gives an excellent explanation of agnosticism to counter Dawkins' strawman ..." click on the link. Wilkins and I may not hold 100% the same views, but close enough.
 
I believe I can see where we have failed to communicate clearly with each other.

I think that the teapot analogy is that what cannot be proved has no existence - with the corollary that what is unknowable has *no value* as proof. I infer that your position is that the corollary should be that what is unknowable may have value as proof.

Dawkin's God Delusion is a polemic and as such he does not weaken his case by considering the unknowable. Yes, it's rhetoric, but in his defence it seems consistent with his views about proof.

Now you could 'go forward' in a debate by exploring how some of the unknowable might be converted to knowable, and therefore provable (actually I really mean falsifiable).

Now you have suggested, I think, that personal experience of god might be such a potentially knowable piece of evidence. I don't know how this could be done at the moment but I'm open to your suggestions. You will recall that in my statement of assumptions I used the phrase "The human experience of god(s)...may best be explained...". My *expectation* is that personal experiences of god, feelings of oneness with the universe and so on will eventually be shown by science to be emergent properties of the brain, caused by natural processes.

I place no burden of proof on you of course, although I still don't understand where you want to 'go forward' to.
 
I think that the teapot analogy is that what cannot be proved has no existence ... what is unknowable has *no value* as proof ...

I'm pretty sure you don't really mean that because that would mean that quarks didn't come into existence until we invented particle accelerators. I suppose you mean something like "that which cannot be "proved" (care to define?) in principle does not exist."

Since you consider "proof" (whatever you mean by that) so important, I look forward to seeing your proof that what is humanly knowable is coextensive with reality.

Of course, if you can't prove that human capabilities are coextensive with reality, that would seem to rule out the possibility of reality being knowable and thus reality has no value as proof.

Opps.

I infer that your position is that the corollary should be that what is unknowable may have value as proof.

Nope. I think what is humanly unknowable is immune to human knowledge. The problem is whether 'unknowable' is the is the same as "nonexistent." How can you possibly "know" that?

Dawkin's God Delusion is a polemic and as such he does not weaken his case by considering the unknowable. Yes, it's rhetoric, but in his defence it seems consistent with his views about proof.

Now you could 'go forward' in a debate by exploring how some of the unknowable might be converted to knowable, and therefore provable (actually I really mean falsifiable).

I haven't a clue what you are trying to say there ... and I strongly suspect we're even in that regard.

My *expectation* is that personal experiences of god, feelings of oneness with the universe and so on will eventually be shown by science to be emergent properties of the brain, caused by natural processes.

So other people's experiences are not good enough to be "proof" but your "expectations" are?

I place no burden of proof on you of course, although I still don't understand where you want to 'go forward' to.

Maybe I've confused you by using the word "debate." I mean an honest dialogue where both sides straightforwardly present their evidence for their position without tricks to manipulate some third-party audience. If you want to rule out consideration of any argument that doesn't meet your arbitrary, one-way definition of "evidence," feel free ... just do it up front and out in the open so other people don't waste their time needlessly.
 
I shall not comment on this cooling thread again as I seem to be doing all the heavy lifting and you seem to be doing all the criticising. I'll leave it to others to judge how much of the criticism was intented to progress the debate and how much was the 'cheap rhetoric' you decry in others.

Thank you for the use of your blog comment area.
 
I'll leave it to others to judge how much of the criticism was intented to progress the debate ...

I'm sorry that, despite repeated attempts, I could not make it clear to you that I wasn't interested in advancing any debate, except on the issue of the proper manner of conducting debate, including appeals to "burdens of proof" that are not equally applicable, claims of standards of proof that apply only to the opponent, "rules" of proceeding that give unfair advantage to one side, etc. I was criticizing what I still see to be improper methods of argument, rather than the substance of the claims, in which I have little interest.

I certainly never had any intention to advance or to counter either a theist or atheist position.

HANL.
 
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