Monday, August 07, 2017

A philosopher defends agnosticism

Paul Draper is a philosopher at Purdue University (West Lafayette, Indiana, USA). He has just (Aug. 2, 2017) posted an article on Atheism and Agnosticism on the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy website.

Many philosphers use a different definition of atheism than many atheists. Philosophers tend to define atheism as the proposition that god(s) do not exist. Many atheists (I am one) define atheism as the lack of belief in god(s). The distinction is important but for now I want to discuss Draper's defense of agnosticism.

Keep in mind that Draper defines atheism as "god(s) don't exist." He argues, convincingly, that this proposition cannot be proven. He also argues that theism—the proposition that god(s) exist—can also not be proven. Therefore, the only defensible position for a philosopher like him is agnosticism.

But there's a problem ... and it's similar to the one concerning the definition of atheism. Here's one way to describe an agnostic according to Draper.
... an agnostic is a person who has entertained the proposition that there is a God but believes neither that it is true nor that it is false. Not surprisingly, then, the term “agnosticism” is often defined, both in and outside of philosophy, not as a principle or any other sort of proposition but instead as the psychological state of being an agnostic. Call this the “psychological” sense of the term. It is certainly useful to have a term to refer to people who are neither theists nor atheists, but philosophers might wish that some other term besides “agnostic” (“theological skeptic”, perhaps?) were used.
I wonder if there are any agnostics who adhere to this definition? Most people will, after considering the question, reach a conclusion about whether god(s) exist or not regardless of whether the conclusion can be rigorously defended. Most of those who choose to call themselves agnostics will have concluded that there are no god(s) and will act out their lives accordingly. They are atheists by my definition.

But this is not the definition of agnosticism that Draper prefers.
If, however, “agnosticism” is defined as a proposition, then “agnostic” must be defined in terms of “agnosticism” instead of the other way around. Specifically, “agnostic” must be defined as a person who believes that the proposition “agnosticism” is true instead of “agnosticism” being defined as the state of being an agnostic. And if the proposition in question is that neither theism nor atheism is known to be true, then the term “agnostic” can no longer serve as a label for those who are neither theists nor atheists since one can consistently believe that atheism (or theism) is true while denying that atheism (or theism) is known to be true.
I know a theist who is content to call himself an agnostic because he cannot prove the existence of his preferred god(s) even though he believes in them and acts accordingly. Similarly, there are many nonbelievers (atheists by my definition) who will accept the proposition that neither the existence nor the nonexistence of god(s) is knonw to be true for an absolute fact. Thus, you can have believers in god(s) who are agnostics and nonbelievers in god(s) who are agnostic.

This is why Dawkins refers to himself as an an agnostic atheist.

The simplest argument for this version of agnosticism is that you cannot prove a negative. Thus, although you can, in theory, prove that god(s) exist, you can never prove that they don't exist. If you define atheism as the belief that god(s) don't exist then that version of atheism is logically indefensible if you are in a philosophy class. In the real world, probabilities count so that if something is extremely improbable you can reasonably maintain that it doesn't exist. You can certainly act and behave as if it doesn't exist. We do that all the time. I'm not worried about being abducted by aliens in near-Earth orbit. See Russell's teapot.

I don't think philosophers like that argument so they look for better ways to defend agnosticism. Here's how Paul Draper does it ....
4. An Argument for Agnosticism
According to one relatively modest form of agnosticism, neither versatile theism nor its denial, global atheism, is known to be true. Robin Le Poidevin (2010: 76) argues for this position as follows:
  • (1)There is no firm basis upon which to judge that theism or atheism is intrinsically more probable than the other.
  • (2)There is no firm basis upon which to judge that the total evidence favors theism or atheism over the other.
It follows from (1) and (2) that
  • (3)There is no firm basis upon which to judge that theism or atheism is more probable than the other.
It follows from (3) that
  • (4)Agnosticism is true: neither theism nor atheism is known to be true.
In my experience, the vast majority of agnostics, including agnostic philosophers, have judged that there are no gods. Unless they are being totally irrational, this means they have reached a conclusion concerning the existence of god(s) because they don't act as if they existed. Presumably they must have a reason for reaching this conclusion even if it's only a tentative conclusion.

I assume their reasons are the same as mine—there's no believable evidence for the existence of god(s) so there's no reason to believe in them. The evidence strongly favors the proposition that god(s) don't exist.

I reject propositions #1 and #2. I think there IS firm basis for judging that god(s) don't exist. Part of that "firm basis" is because of my understanding of how the natural universe works and my understanding of the main arguments for the existence of god(s). I reject conclusion #3 because there IS firm basis for judging that god(s) don't exist.

Therefore, in my opinion, strict agnosticism of this sort is false because nonexistence of god(s) is far more probable than existence of god(s). I have to ask myself why philosophers argue this way. I think it's because they want to set up a rigorous logical proof of their propositions and conclusions. They are uncomfortable with probabilities and they aren't overly concerned about how people behave in the real world where these discussions play out.

I think my view is similar to pragmatism but, as usual, when you read what philosophers have to say about a viewpoint it becomes very confusing.


109 comments :

  1. Hi Larry -- I think your article contains two errors.

    First, Draper rejects premise (1) in the argument for agnosticism you quoted, although he doesn't make that clear in the SEP article. See his brief article om The Secular Outpost which not explains his theory of intrinsic probability, but also explains why atheism is at least ten times more intrinsically probable than theism.

    Also, his section on Le Poidevin's argument for agnosticism ends with the conclusion that Le Poidevin's argument fails to establish that agnosticism is true.

    Furthermore, his article also includes arguments for global atheism local atheism, and against agnosticism.

    Second, I wouldn't accuse Paul Draper, of all people, of being uncomfortable with probabilities. The vast majority his work applies probabilities to religious claims. He is very well-known in philosophy of religion circles for his various evidential (probabilistic) arguments from evil, which appeal to things like the biological role of pain and pleasure, flourishing and languishing of sentient beings, and so forth. He also defended various other arguments for atheism which appeal to probability, including arguments from biological evolution, the dependence of minds upon brains, and even the history of science itself.

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    1. It's all very confusing. I'm assuming that Draper is presenting the best possible philosophical argument in favour of agnosticism. If that's the best philosophers have to offer then why are so many of them agnostics?

      Is it because they are all convinced that the arguments for global atheism are too weak to be taken seriously? (I'm not interested in local atheism and I'm not interested in the argument from evil since it's only relevant to a small number of special hypothetical gods. Why do atheist philosophers care about the properties of nonexistent beings?)

      I'm glad to hear that Paul Draper is so comfortable with probabilistic arguments. It doesn't come across in his article.

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    2. Hi Larry!

      As a matter of empirical fact, I wonder how many philosophers identify as agnostics as opposed to atheists. I don't know what the percentage is. And, to answer your question, I don't know why they identify as agnostics rather than atheists.

      I'm going to have to respectfully disagree with you about the importance of arguments from evil. You are correct that, if you count the number of gods to which an argument from evil might apply and then divide them by the total number of hypothetical gods (Yahweh, Thor, Zeus, etc.), you'd get a very low percentage. I don't understand why that leads you to conclude that arguments from evil are unimportant.

      First, as a simple matter of demographics, the majority of supernaturalists are Abrahamic theists (e.g., Jews, Christians, or Muslims); arguments from evil are relevant to their beliefs.

      Second, from the perspective of statistics and probability theory, I think it can be shown (and Draper has shown) that omnitheism, to which arguments from evil apply, starts off with a much higher intrinsic probability than other forms of supernaturalism. If you think of a Venn diagram, imagine a big circle representing supernaturalism. Inside of that circle are other circles, one for (mono)theism, another for polytheism, etc. The circle for theism is going to be (relatively speaking) much bigger than the other circles inside of the supernaturalism circle. So, in that sense, arguments from evil go a long way towards discrediting the larger circle known as supernaturalism.

      I don't understand why you wrote your last sentence. His article contains 20 instances of the word "probability." The argument for agnosticism refers to probability. Section 6.2, "The Low Priors Argument," is argument about prior probabilities. Section 6.3, "The Decisive Evidence Argument," refers to probabilities. Section 7, "An Argument Against Agnosticism," refers to probabilities.

      In addition, Draper is a Bayesian about evidence, which means that he thinks about evidence probabilistically. So every instance of the word "evidence" in his article is also an implicit reference to probabilities.

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    3. Second, from the perspective of statistics and probability theory, I think it can be shown (and Draper has shown) that omnitheism, to which arguments from evil apply, starts off with a much higher intrinsic probability than other forms of supernaturalism.
      I'm curious regarding how this is shown.

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    4. Jeffrey,

      First, many of Draper's arguments talk about probabilities but I find them very confusing. What confuses me even more is why he presents "an argument for agnosticism" according to Le Poidevin if he knows (or believes) that it is seriously flawed. In scientific reviews we usually make some statement about which arguments are convincing and which ones aren't and we usually make it very clear which position we support.

      When I read Draper's review, I come away thinking that that philosophers are having more fun debating the existence of god(s) than actually deciding whether they exist or not. I'm pretty sure Draper has taken a personal stance on whether to behave as if god(s) exist. Why not tell us what that stance is and how he came to that decision?

      As for the argument from evil, here's my position. I'm interested in whether any gods exist. I don't think there's any evidence to support the claim that ANY gods exist. Therefore I am an atheist where atheism is the position that I don't believe in any gods (i.e. I am not a theist).

      The argument from evil begins with theists who claim that their particular god(s) have all kinds of properties that cause good thinks to happen. That's very interesting but my response is to ask them for evidence that their god(s) exist.

      In order for me to have a serious discussion about the problem of evil, I have to accept (provisionally) the premise that some god(s) exist and then discuss the "evidence" that they have certain personalities. Why would I do that? The important question isn't whether certain gods are good or honest or all-powerful or male or female or tripartite. The important question is whether any of them exist.

      Besides, the Christians I know will argue that their gods work in very mysterious ways and that's why evil exists. The gods know best how to run the universe and we mortals cannot be privy to everything that's going on.

      In order to argue against such a position I have to try and convince those Christians that their view of their own gods is wrong and my view of how they should behave is better than theirs. Why in the world should any atheist go down that path?

      This is why I think the argument from evil is a very stupid argument for atheists. Leave it to the believers to sort out what kind of gods they want to believe in. They're obviously very happy to believe in good gods that allow evil. Do those gods actually exist? - that's the important question.

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    5. John Hashmans asks,

      I'm curious regarding how this is shown.

      You do it by ignoring the intrinsic probability of the Q Continuum, which is much higher than the probability of Yahwah and Jesus.

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    6. I know the Q Continuum exists, because I've seen it on TV. I've seen God too, but only in several mutually contradictory forms: Freddy Prinze, George Burns, Morgan Freeman, Alanis Morisette, and others. So it seems that Q does win.

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    7. In order for me to have a serious discussion about the problem of evil, I have to accept (provisionally) the premise that some god(s) exist and then discuss the "evidence" that they have certain personalities. Why would I do that?

      You would unless you thought proof by contradiction was inherently a flawed method of argument. Should we tell the mathematicians they're doing it all wrong, then? "Assuming for the sake of argument" is a perfectly valid method that concedes nothing. Works in science too; it's nothing more than logical hypothesis testing.

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    8. [quote]Therefore, in my opinion, strict agnosticism of this sort is false because nonexistence of god(s) is far more probable than existence of god(s).[/quote]

      Can anyone support the claim that the nonexistence of god is more probable then the existence?

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    9. Same argument as for the nonexistence of Russell's teapot, if you're talking about the general case. If you're talking about the specific case of YHWH, there are more specific arguments, including the argument from evil. I'm surprised you've never seen any of that.

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    10. I just looked at the teapot argument. How do think it establishes a higher probability of non existence. Do you think it trumps Aquinas's 5 way argument. Russell tries to disqualify the concept of God through Occum's Razor but the idea of no creator is not necessarily the simplest explanation or the one with fewer assumptions.

      The no creator argument has to make a starting assumption that the origin of matter is a random accident.

      The argument from evil in the best case puts into doubt the specific nature of God. The counter argument is that it is the by product of free will.

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    11. Aquinas's 5 way argument is just the sort of thing you like purely because it comes to the conclusion you like. Other than that, it's vacuous. I see you have changed the subject from god(s) to "a creator". Are those the same thing in your mind? Not in mine.

      And yes, the nonexistence of X is the simplest explanation for a lack of evidence that X exists. This becomes an even better explanation if X would be expected to leave evidence. Not all gods are expected to leave evidence, but yours would be.

      No, the origin of matter doesn't have to be assumed to be a random accident. It could be a host of things that don't include Jesus. It could be the inevitable consequence of an eternal cosmic substrate, for example. (I have no idea what an eternal cosmic substrate is, but it isn't god, which ought to be good enough.)

      Agreed that the argument of evil requires a assumption for the sake of argument of a god with a particular nature. Fortunately, your god as described has that nature. Would you care to agree that your particular god doesn't exist or is not as generally described, which amounts to the same thing? And no, free will is not a counter-argument. Free will doesn't give you malaria.

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    12. "Aquinas's 5 way argument is just the sort of thing you like purely because it comes to the conclusion you like. Other than that, it's vacuous. I see you have changed the subject from god(s) to "a creator". Are those the same thing in your mind? Not in mine."

      Aquinas is considered by many to one of the top 10 philosophers of all time. You make an assertion that his argument is vacuous without a supporting argument?

      "And yes, the nonexistence of X is the simplest explanation for a lack of evidence that X exists. This becomes an even better explanation if X would be expected to leave evidence. Not all gods are expected to leave evidence, but yours would be."

      The evidence is all around you if you open your eyes. The existence of matter, the existence of a predictable universe and our ability to model it, the existence of an observer that can make sense of it. Occum's razor points to a planned created event.

      " No, the origin of matter doesn't have to be assumed to be a random accident. It could be a host of things that don't include Jesus. It could be the inevitable consequence of an eternal cosmic substrate, for example. (I have no idea what an eternal cosmic substrate is, but it isn't god, which ought to be good enough.)"

      We can add to this the origin life.

      " It could be a host of things that don't include Jesus."

      Agreed.

      " Free will doesn't give you malaria."

      I disagree. Free will requires a world where somethings are probabilistic.

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    13. You make an assertion that his argument is vacuous without a supporting argument?

      Yes. Do you think "is considered by many to one of the top 10 philosophers of all time" to be a supporting argument for Aquinas's 5 ways?

      The evidence is all around you if you open your eyes.

      No, the evidence is all around you if you already believe the conclusion. Otherwise, not. You have made no rational argument that any of the things you mention is evidence of a creator, much less Jesus.

      Free will requires malaria? Make your case.

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    14. "Yes. Do you think "is considered by many to one of the top 10 philosophers of all time" to be a supporting argument for Aquinas's 5 ways?"
      No but I think it makes supporting your claim important. Aquinas philosophy is widely studied today called Thomas philosophy. His 5 way argument is base on Aristotle who's argument for cause and effect is an important basis for modern science.

      "No, the evidence is all around you if you already believe the conclusion. Otherwise, not. You have made no rational argument that any of the things you mention is evidence of a creator, much less Jesus."

      My argument is not for Christianity it is for a created universe.

      Malaria is a result living in a partially chance universe. If the universe is fully deterministic then there is no free will.

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    15. Bill,

      Interesting, sort of. I don't especially like arguing with dead people, so if you will first articulate the argument for your favorite one of the five ways, I will attempt to explain why it's vacuous.

      "Created universe" is so vague, and doesn't seem to have anything to do with biology. Yet you argue about biology quite a bit.

      How does chance allow for free will? How does malaria result from chance?

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    16. the existence of a predictable universe

      The universe is unpredictable (quantum) at the most fundamental levels we know of, so this is a factually incorrect premise.

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    17. From Wiki, Here is the second argument derived from Aristotle's argument from cause and effect.
      "The Argument of the First Cause[edit]
      Summary[edit]
      In the world we can see that things are caused. But it is not possible for something to be the cause of itself, because this would entail that it exists prior to itself, which is a contradiction. If that by which it is caused is itself caused, then it too must have a cause. But this cannot be an infinitely long chain, so therefore there must be a cause which is not itself caused by anything further. This everyone understands to be God.[6]

      Explanation[edit]
      As in the First Way, the causes Aquinas has in mind are not sequential events, but rather simultaneously existing dependency relationships. For example, plant growth depends on sunlight, which depends on gravity, which depends on mass.[8] Aquinas is not arguing for a cause that is first in a sequence, but rather first in a hierarchy: a principal cause, rather than a derivative cause."

      " The opposite of chance is deterministic. If all events are determined then there is no free will. Malaria is a eukaryotic parasite. We know that yeast (eukaryotic organism) is a very important part of life but somehow through mutation or some other mechanism a eukaryotic cell became a parasite. Our body has and immune system to deal with this along with a brain the developed antibiotic resistance.

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    18. Sunlight depends on gravity? Explain?

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    19. "Sunlight depends on gravity? Explain?"

      Gravity is space-time curvature. This allows a mass like the sun to exist. In this case light can escape in the case of a black hole it cannot.

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    20. Bill,

      I asked for you to articulate your argument, not just cut and paste. But OK. Do you agree with everything you cut and pasted? I see several problems. First, it's not true that everything has a cause; nuclear decay, for example. Second, infinite regress may be hard to imagine, but being hard to imagine is not a refutation. Third, even if there is a necessary first cause, there is no reason to identify it with god. The uncaused cause might as easily be some primordial set of conditions. Why not?

      As for this:
      The opposite of chance is deterministic. If all events are determined then there is no free will. Malaria is a eukaryotic parasite. We know that yeast (eukaryotic organism) is a very important part of life but somehow through mutation or some other mechanism a eukaryotic cell became a parasite. Our body has and immune system to deal with this along with a brain the developed antibiotic resistance.

      Did you write that? I agree that if all events are determined there is no free will. But if all events are chance there is also no free will. Nor does a combination of chance and necessity result in free will as far as I can see. Perhaps your definition of "free will" is different from mine. What is it?

      The bits about malaria, yeast, and immune systems are just incoherent. Malaria didn't evolve from yeast, nor is it necessary for malaria to exist -- or even to be possible -- in order for yeast to exist. The existence of immune systems is irrelevant to the existence of malaria. And "along with a brain the developed antibiotic resistance" is uninterpretable word salad. I suggest thinking before typing, and then rereading what you typed before posting.

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    21. " Second, infinite regress may be hard to imagine, but being hard to imagine is not a refutation."

      I think Aquinas's point is, that an infinite regress is logically incoherent, and I agree that is a fair claim.

      ". First, it's not true that everything has a cause; nuclear decay, for example"

      I don't agree nuclear decay is caused by an unstable nucleus. From a google search....
      "Radioactive decay occurs in unstable atomic nuclei – that is, ones that don't have enough binding energy to hold the nucleus together due to an excess of either protons or neutrons." I think you will struggle with claim that not everything has a cause.

      "The uncaused cause might as easily be some primordial set of conditions. Why not?"

      Some primordial condition is pretty vague. Lets remember an early element out of the big bang is the hydrogen atom a mission critical element for both DNA and Proteins. A consequence of a primordial condition? This little component has lots of capability, together with oxygen it forms water. So if you claim a primordial condition what caused the condition? You can't stop the infinite regress which according to Aquinas is logically incoherent.

      "Did you write that? I agree that if all events are determined there is no free will. But if all events are chance there is also no free will. Nor does a combination of chance and necessity result in free will as far as I can see. Perhaps your definition of "free will" is different from mine. What is it?"

      Here we agree. Free will takes a universe that contains both deterministic and random characteristics. With free will you need a choice so if there is good their must be evil also. Free will is simply the ability to choose actions and thoughts.

      I apologize for the word salad. I don't know where the parasite from malaria comes from but it could very well be a random change from something else that is not harmful.

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    22. Bill,

      I think Aquinas's point is, that an infinite regress is logically incoherent, and I agree that is a fair claim.

      Why?

      I don't agree nuclear decay is caused by an unstable nucleus.

      Perhaps we have different definitions of "cause". Certainly unstable nuclei decay more often than others. That's why we call them unstable, and there are reasons why they would be expected to be so. But the decay of any particular nucleus at any particular time has no cause. Nothing happens at that moment to make it decay. It just does. This is standard physics.

      Some primordial condition is pretty vague.

      True, but no more vague than "first cause". If it's a primordial condition it doesn't need to be caused because it was uncaused, by definition. Just like god. It's just that you're willing to make "uncaused" part of god's definition but for no rational reason unable to make it part of "primordial condition's" definition.

      Here we agree. Free will takes a universe that contains both deterministic and random characteristics. With free will you need a choice so if there is good their must be evil also. Free will is simply the ability to choose actions and thoughts.

      We don't agree. This is another example of your inability to read. Neither chance, nor necessity, nor their combination can make free will a coherent concept. "The ability to choose" is itself incoherent, simply substituting the undefined "ability to choose" for the undefined "free will". The reason you're having trouble with that definition is that there is no coherent definition possible. Free will is neither determined nor random, and there is no coherent concept of a third sort of cause.

      I don't know where the parasite from malaria comes from but it could very well be a random change from something else that is not harmful.

      I thought you rejected common descent. Wouldn't malaria have to be created directly? And why is it necessary for free will that random genetic changes (we call those mutations) happen?

      You really are very bad at this.

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    23. Gravity is space-time curvature. This allows a mass like the sun to exist.

      Nope. Mass exists by operation of the Higgs field. Mass curves space.

      In this case [a star] light can escape in the case of a black hole it cannot.

      Yes, but this is nothing like an explanation for the existence in our universe of sunlight (i.e., stars and electromagnetic radiation from them), which is what was asked for. Sorry Bill, but this stuff really isn't in your field of knowledge. (Not mine either, but at least I know that.)

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    24. John,
      "Perhaps we have different definitions of "cause". Certainly unstable nuclei decay more often than others. That's why we call them unstable, and there are reasons why they would be expected to be so. But the decay of any particular nucleus at any particular time has no cause. Nothing happens at that moment to make it decay. It just does. This is standard physics."

      I think you have brought up an interesting point, however I do not think you have strongly supported your claim there is no cause here. I think you can claim that the cause is not well understood.

      "True, but no more vague than "first cause". If it's a primordial condition it doesn't need to be caused because it was uncaused, by definition. Just like god. It's just that you're willing to make "uncaused" part of god's definition but for no rational reason unable to make it part of "primordial condition's" definition."

      I would argue that it is more vague then a creator. How can the materials that can assemble life come from a "primordial condition" I think you have made a strong point that you can define anything as an uncaused cause.

      "
      We don't agree. This is another example of your inability to read. Neither chance, nor necessity, nor their combination can make free will a coherent concept. "The ability to choose" is itself incoherent, simply substituting the undefined "ability to choose" for the undefined "free will". The reason you're having trouble with that definition is that there is no coherent definition possible. Free will is neither determined nor random, and there is no coherent concept of a third sort of cause."

      You are making an assertion here but you have not supported your claim. I have defined free will as choice, You will have a hard time supporting the claim that you have had no choice in the course of your life.

      "I thought you rejected common descent. Wouldn't malaria have to be created directly? And why is it necessary for free will that random genetic changes (we call those mutations) happen?"

      I don't categorically reject anything. It isn't required for free will that random genetic changes happen. It is required that the universe is not completely deterministic.

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    25. Judmark
      "Nope. Mass exists by operation of the Higgs field. Mass curves space"

      Are you making the claim that mass can exist independent of gravity?

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    26. John,
      " You really are very bad at this."
      True. But I have a much easier hand to play :-)

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    27. Bill, Bill...

      Nope, here’s how it works: Mass curves space-time. Space-time curvature *is* gravity. Mass that causes space-time curvature and thus gravity is imparted to matter by the Higgs field. In turn matter and energy are acted on by gravity (space-time curvature).

      The larger point is that these gaps you think need to be filled by a creator are comprised in large part of your own gaps in understanding. Science - physics, chemistry, biology, etc. - has sailed along answering fundamental questions and asking others our ancestors didn’t know existed, while philosophers debate the relevance of concepts developed in the Bronze Age to try to answer them.

      There are some things for which philosophy may still be useful, but for how the Universe began and how we got here, it doesn’t hold a candle to the Large Hadron Collider or evolutionary biology research labs all over the world.

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    28. Judmarc
      "Nope, here’s how it works: Mass curves space-time. Space-time curvature *is* gravity. Mass that causes space-time curvature and thus gravity is imparted to matter by the Higgs field. In turn matter and energy are acted on by gravity (space-time curvature)."

      I am also not an expert here but I think you are confused. The equation for general relativity involves the Ricci tensor which is a simplification of the Riemann tensor which is the standard for 3D curved spaces. The other side of the equation includes newtons constant and the stress energy tensor which represents energy in three dimensional space. Since mass and energy are equivalent by E=MC^2 we can say mass and curved space time are also equivalent. What we appear to have is an interdependent system.

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    29. Bill,

      I do not think you have strongly supported your claim there is no cause here. I think you can claim that the cause is not well understood.

      This is nothing but standard physics. Hidden variable theories have been ruled out. Your argument here is with physicists, not me, so I suggest you take it there.

      How can the materials that can assemble life come from a "primordial condition" I think you have made a strong point that you can define anything as an uncaused cause.

      In that case, an argument for an uncaused cause is not an argument for god, and you must abandon it. Why can't the materials that can assemble life, which doesn't seem at all relevant, by the way, come from a primordial condition?

      I have defined free will as choice, You will have a hard time supporting the claim that you have had no choice in the course of your life.

      You have then defined free will so as to make it meaningless. I have made choices, but I would maintain that my choices were all determined. If your claim is that choices are not determined, by definition, then I have never made any choices and neither have you. Again, you have substituted one undefined term, "choice", for another, "free will". That doesn't help.

      I don't categorically reject anything. It isn't required for free will that random genetic changes happen. It is required that the universe is not completely deterministic.

      You don't reject common descent, but you can't appeal to it as an explanation unless you accept it. And we were talking about malaria, which you say is an unavoidable consequence of free will. You have just denied the only case you have made for that. Try again.

      We can't really discuss free will until you provide a meaningful definition, which you have not done. (I maintain that it's impossible to do so, but you are at any rate ill-equipped for the necessary reasoning.)

      But I have a much easier hand to play :-)

      To continue the analogy, you have a poker hand, perhaps even a good one, when the actual game is Scrabble.

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    30. JM
      "The larger point is that these gaps you think need to be filled by a creator are comprised in large part of your own gaps in understanding. Science - physics, chemistry, biology, etc. - has sailed along answering fundamental questions and asking others our ancestors didn’t know existed, while philosophers debate the relevance of concepts developed in the Bronze Age to try to answer them."

      Were not talking about "gaps" in understanding were talking about first cause. My claim is that this is best explained by an intelligent creator.

      "There are some things for which philosophy may still be useful, but for how the Universe began and how we got here, it doesn’t hold a candle to the Large Hadron Collider or evolutionary biology research labs all over the world."

      This is an assertion. Can you support it?

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    31. My claim is that this is best explained by an intelligent creator.

      This is an assertion. Can you support it? In fact you seem to have agreed that you can't, when you said "I think you have made a strong point that you can define anything as an uncaused cause."

      Delete
    32. "In that case, an argument for an uncaused cause is not an argument for god, and you must abandon it."

      This is an illogical conclusion. Just because you can make another argument does not eliminate God as a possibility.

      ". Why can't the materials that can assemble life, which doesn't seem at all relevant, by the way, come from a primordial condition?"

      Is a primordial condition deterministic?

      "
      You have then defined free will so as to make it meaningless. I have made choices, but I would maintain that my choices were all determined. If your claim is that choices are not determined, by definition, then I have never made any choices and neither have you. Again, you have substituted one undefined term, "choice", for another, "free will". That doesn't help."
      Your arguing in a circle here.

      "You don't reject common descent, but you can't appeal to it as an explanation unless you accept it."

      I don't think a random mutation in a eukaryotic cell that creates a human toxic condition requires the acceptance of orthodox common descent. These are different claims.

      "We can't really discuss free will until you provide a meaningful definition, which you have not done. (I maintain that it's impossible to do so, but you are at any rate ill-equipped for the necessary reasoning.)"

      When you commit logical fallacies like question begging it is true I am not equipped to handle them. The materialist argument that there is no free will is non sense based on unsupported assumptions.

      Delete
    33. John
      " "I think you have made a strong point that you can define anything as an uncaused cause."

      You have not made the case that there is a better explanation then an intelligent creator as the uncaused cause. This is also just one piece of the argument from Aquinas.

      Delete
    34. This is an illogical conclusion. Just because you can make another argument does not eliminate God as a possibility.

      Again you have trouble reading. What you must abandon is that Aquinas's 2nd way is an argument for god. It's only an argument for god if god is a clearly preferred conclusion. If other conclusions are just as good, you must abandon that argument. It doesn't mean there aren't other arguments, though you have not so far made (or even pasted) any.

      Is a primordial condition deterministic?

      I don't even know what you meant by that.

      Your arguing in a circle here.

      How so? Define "choice" so as to clearly show that it is neither determined nor random, and then we can talk.

      I don't think a random mutation in a eukaryotic cell that creates a human toxic condition requires the acceptance of orthodox common descent.

      What you don't think is hardly relevant. I think you have no idea what Plasmodium is and have no concept of its many adaptations for a parasitic life, which lets you toss it off as "a random mutation".

      You are not equipped to understand arguments or make arguments. As evidence, I submit that you think a request for a sensible definition of "free will" or "choice" is question-begging. I think there is no free will based on its logical incoherence, which you have not attempted to address.

      You have not made the case that there is a better explanation then an intelligent creator as the uncaused cause. This is also just one piece of the argument from Aquinas.

      I don't have to make the case that there's a better explanation, only that other explanations are no worse. And let me remind you that in addition to proposing other first cause candidates, I have also proposed two separate scenarios in which there is no first cause at all.

      If it's just one piece of the argument, remember that I asked you for the one you think is best. That bit being demolished, you might move on to the second-best. My claim is that not one of the 5 ways holds up to serious examination. That you are incapable of serious examination is unfortunate, but I'll try to work with it.

      Delete
    35. John
      "Again you have trouble reading. What you must abandon is that Aquinas's 2nd way is an argument for god. It's only an argument for god if god is a clearly preferred conclusion. If other conclusions are just as good, you must abandon that argument. It doesn't mean there aren't other arguments, though you have not so far made (or even pasted) any."

      Since the term primordial condition is meaningless then I think you have yet to defeat Aquina's argument. It is meaningless because you cannot describe it or consider it random deterministic or both.

      "You are not equipped to understand arguments or make arguments. As evidence, I submit that you think a request for a sensible definition of "free will" or "choice" is question-begging. I think there is no free will based on its logical incoherence, which you have not attempted to address."

      Lets try again: Free will is making a choice. A choice is making a decision based on two or more possibilities.

      "If it's just one piece of the argument, remember that I asked you for the one you think is best. That bit being demolished, you might move on to the second-best. My claim is that not one of the 5 ways holds up to serious examination. That you are incapable of serious examination is unfortunate, but I'll try to work with it."

      You need to come up with something better then "primordial condition" to challenge is 2nd argument. Your claims of instant victory are amusing. Your claims that you have throughly examined the 2nd argument is also amusing.

      Delete
    36. Bill,

      The term "primordial condition" is no more meaningless than the term "god". How about "vacuum energy" or "multiverse"? Or just think of whatever you suppose god created first, say the laws of physics, and substitute that. It doesn't matter. The point is that "first cause" does not uniquely refer to god until you make some kind of case. And if it doesn't, it's not an argument for god. I will also point out again that both infinite regress and spontaneous appearance (as in quantum events) are alternatives to a first cause that you have not addressed.

      Lets try again: Free will is making a choice. A choice is making a decision based on two or more possibilities.

      Still no good. You now have the undefined term "making a decision". If the decision is caused, it isn't free will. If the decision is random, it isn't free will. What is the third possibility? Until you describe a third possibility, you are just on your way to an infinite regress of undefined terms.

      Your claims of instant victory are amusing.

      I'm glad you are amused, but my claim was based on your admission that "you can define anything as an uncaused cause". Would you like to retract that admission? If it remains, it destroys the 2nd way.

      Delete
    37. John,
      "The term "primordial condition" is no more meaningless than the term "god". How about "vacuum energy" or "multiverse"? "
      The term God defines an intelligent creator and an uncaused cause by definition. None of your definitions define something that can create matter. Matter that can become organized to observe the universe.

      "infinite regress and spontaneous appearance (as in quantum events) are alternatives to a first cause that you have not addressed." How do you think these explain the origin of matter?

      "Still no good. You now have the undefined term "making a decision". If the decision is caused, it isn't free will. If the decision is random, it isn't free will. What is the third possibility? Until you describe a third possibility, you are just on your way to an infinite regress of undefined terms."

      Are you making the claim that human thought is an illusion? We can kick the can down the road defining terms but fundamentally your claim that there is no free will means that our ability to reason and problem solve is an illusion. Look outside at the world man has built. Is this possible without science and the ability to reason?

      "I'm glad you are amused, but my claim was based on your admission that "you can define anything as an uncaused cause". Would you like to retract that admission? If it remains, it destroys the 2nd way."

      Yes, you define anything as an uncaused cause but that does not defeat the second way. You have to identify an uncaused cause to the origin of laws of physics, origin of matter, and ultimately the origin of life.

      Delete
    38. The term God defines an intelligent creator and an uncaused cause by definition. None of your definitions define something that can create matter. Matter that can become organized to observe the universe.

      That's your definition of god, but do you imagine it's anything other than an attempt to argue by definition? You can't define god into existence. You have also combined "uncaused cause" and "intelligent creator" in this definition without justification. And yes, my definitions do define something that can create matter. Particles do emerge from vacuum energy. And I can define "primordial condition" as "an unintelligent, uncaused original state of the universe that's capable of causing matter". How is that worse than your definition of god? Also, the fact that particles are able to form human beings is irrelevant to anything.

      No, our ability to reason is not an illusion. The illusion is your impression that it's not a causal process. I say again: reason is causal. The brain gets inputs, performs various operations, and out comes reason. You can't just declare free will based on your feeling that it exists.

      You have to identify an uncaused cause to the origin of laws of physics, origin of matter, and ultimately the origin of life.

      I identify it in the same way you do, by declaring that a cause is adequate for the purpose. You think god is somehow special, in that you can imagine or define it as an uncaused creator as if definition somehow makes it real. What makes you suppose that vacuum energy or a multiverse are not uncaused or are not capable of resulting in matter? We actually have evidence that this sort of thing can happen, unlike your deity.

      Thomist philosophy was, I'm sure, ginger peachy in its day. But that day was very long ago, when we knew very little about the universe.

      Delete
    39. " Particles do emerge from vacuum energy. And I can define "primordial condition" as "an unintelligent, uncaused original state of the universe that's capable of causing matter". How is that worse than your definition of god? Also, the fact that particles are able to form human beings is irrelevant to anything."

      This assumes the existence of a vacuum condition and the four forces of nature. Can you show this works without the pre existence of matter? Saying that particles are able to form human beings is irrelevant to anything is denying a substantive observation that makes a creator a vastly superior explanation,

      "No, our ability to reason is not an illusion. The illusion is your impression that it's not a causal process. I say again: reason is causal. The brain gets inputs, performs various operations, and out comes reason. You can't just declare free will based on your feeling that it exists."

      Our ability to reason allows us to choose. Evil allows us to choose what is good. We don't need to get hung up on trying to define free will. I think the denial it exists is one of the great materials canards.

      "I identify it in the same way you do, by declaring that a cause is adequate for the purpose. You think god is somehow special, in that you can imagine or define it as an uncaused creator as if definition somehow makes it real. What makes you suppose that vacuum energy or a multiverse are not uncaused or are not capable of resulting in matter? We actually have evidence that this sort of thing can happen, unlike your deity."

      Matter is extremely sophisticated. If you look at the double slit experiment you will see that it changes from wave like behavior to particle like behavior depending on whether it is being observed. The fact that it can form our solar system, form the sun which powers life on earth and form the life itself with so few sub components is phenomenal and does not appear to be the result of a random accident. It appears to be the result of a creative intelligence.

      "Thomist philosophy was, I'm sure, ginger peachy in its day. But that day was very long ago, when we knew very little about the universe."

      The core to Thomas philosophy is Aristotle's argument about cause and effect. This concept is what is behind the scientific method. It has hardly run its course. What is interesting here is the best argument for god and the argument that supports science are derived from Aristotle's argument.

      Delete
    40. Bill,

      I don't see anything you say there as a response to anything I said. You seem to have abandoned all attempts at argument in favor of repeating your original assertions.

      Can you show this works without the pre existence of matter?

      What does that mean?

      Saying that particles are able to form human beings is irrelevant to anything is denying a substantive observation that makes a creator a vastly superior explanation

      How is that at all relevant to a creator? Explain.

      We don't need to get hung up on trying to define free will. I think the denial it exists is one of the great materials canards.

      Your inability even to think about defining it is an argument that free will doesn't exist. Again: you can't define it other than to offer an infinite regress of synonyms. And this is because it is at bottom an incoherent concept, neither caused nor random but some unspecified and unimagined other thing. In concrete terms, you imagine a homunculus inside your head pulling levers and pushing buttons, and inside the head of that homunculus there is another homunculus, and so on ad infinitum. But you choose just to stop at the first homunculus, as if that's an explanation.

      If you look at the double slit experiment you will see that it changes from wave like behavior to particle like behavior depending on whether it is being observed.

      This is the sort of gross misunderstanding of quantum mechanics I have come to expect from you.

      It appears to be the result of a creative intelligence.

      What leads you to believe in such an appearance? I don't see it, so you will have to make an argument rather than just an assertion.

      Delete
    41. John
      "What does that mean?"
      It simply means that nothing you have proposed qualifies as a first cause because it requires the preexistence of something else.

      "Your inability even to think about defining it is an argument that free will doesn't exist. Again: you can't define it other than to offer an infinite regress of synonyms."

      Again forget about trying to define free will. All we need to establish is that humans have the ability to choose. BTW can you name any conceptional definition that avoids the infinite regress of synonyms? If you cannot your argument is nonsense.

      "This is the sort of gross misunderstanding of quantum mechanics I have come to expect from you." This is a silly ad hominem John. If you have an argument or can clear up my misunderstanding please do it.

      "What leads you to believe in such an appearance?" This is a fair question. The atheist paradigm starts with a random accident and ends up with an observer of the universe. This requires a random accident to become deterministic. This is not logical if the components of the observer (atoms) are random. If they have deterministic elements then what caused this condition? The best explanation in my opinion is an intelligent creator.

      Delete
    42. It simply means that nothing you have proposed qualifies as a first cause because it requires the preexistence of something else.

      Why does it require the preexistence of something else? Of course god doesn't require the preexistence of something else purely because you have defined it that way. I can define anything that way.

      Again forget about trying to define free will. All we need to establish is that humans have the ability to choose.

      What does "ability to choose" mean? Do computers have "ability to choose"? If not, what is the difference between humans and computers that makes the one able to choose and the other not?

      BTW can you name any conceptional definition that avoids the infinite regress of synonyms? If you cannot your argument is nonsense.

      Most definitions do not use synonyms. A chair, for example, might be defined as "an object built for humans to sit on", and nothing in there is a synonym for "chair".

      This is a fair question.

      Yes, but it isn't fair to answer it with word salad. Assuming for the sake of argument that a random accident began the universe, what does it mean for that to "become deterministic". Are you claiming that random events can't cause other events? You are not making any sense.

      Delete
    43. " Why does it require the preexistence of something else? Of course god doesn't require the preexistence of something else purely because you have defined it that way. I can define anything that way."

      So far you have not been able to.

      "What does "ability to choose" mean? Do computers have "ability to choose"? If not, what is the difference between humans and computers that makes the one able to choose and the other not?"

      A computer is an extension of human thought through the application of hardware and software. A computer can make quantitive choices a human can make both quantitative and qualitative. The good and evil choice is qualitative.

      "Yes, but it isn't fair to answer it with word salad. Assuming for the sake of argument that a random accident began the universe, what does it mean for that to "become deterministic". Are you claiming that random events can't cause other events? You are not making any sense."

      The question is what is the source of determinism from a random beginning?

      Delete
    44. So far you have not been able to.

      One defines something just by saying so. God doesn't need a cause because you say so. The universe doesn't need a cause because I say so. Same thing.

      A computer is an extension of human thought through the application of hardware and software. A computer can make quantitive choices a human can make both quantitative and qualitative. The good and evil choice is qualitative.

      Ah, so it's only qualitative choices that involve free will? You didn't say that before. Why can't computers make qualitative choices?

      The question is what is the source of determinism from a random beginning?

      I do not understand the question. Explain.

      Delete
    45. "There are some things for which philosophy may still be useful, but for how the Universe began and how we got here, it doesn’t hold a candle to the Large Hadron Collider or evolutionary biology research labs all over the world."

      This is an assertion. Can you support it?

      Sure. Did philosophers find the Higgs boson? What about the human genome? What parts of it did philosophers elucidate the composition or operation of?

      Delete
    46. but I think you are confused. The equation for general relativity involves the Ricci tensor which is a simplification of the Riemann tensor which is the standard for 3D curved spaces. The other side of the equation includes newtons constant and the stress energy tensor which represents energy in three dimensional space. Since mass and energy are equivalent by E=MC^2 we can say mass and curved space time are also equivalent.

      First you say I'm confused, then you essentially repeat an abbreviated version of what I said (leaving the Higgs field out) using bigger words. :-)

      Why were physicists looking for the Higgs boson, Bill, if what you have just said is everything important to know about gravity?

      Delete
    47. "One defines something just by saying so. God doesn't need a cause because you say so. The universe doesn't need a cause because I say so. Same thing."
      Do you really believe this is a logical conclusion based on the evidence?

      "Ah, so it's only qualitative choices that involve free will? You didn't say that before. Why can't computers make qualitative choices?"

      Computers are the result of human design and are currently restricted to digital logic. And gates or gates nand gates nor gates etc. so they are limited to hard logical rules. Perhaps in the future they will be architected more like the human central nervous system and brain but presently they are not. I had not thought about free will being primarily qualitative until this discussion. Thanks.

      "I do not understand the question. Explain." We live in a highly deterministic universe. Your explanation is that it just is. I am asking about the cause of the determinism. This I would attribute to a creative intelligence.

      Delete
    48. JM
      "Sure. Did philosophers find the Higgs boson? What about the human genome? What parts of it did philosophers elucidate the composition or operation of?"

      What did the discovery of the Higgs boson tell us about the origin of matter?

      Delete
    49. Bill,

      Do you really believe this is a logical conclusion based on the evidence?

      Do I believe what is a logical conclusion based on the evidence?

      You didn't answer the question. Why can't computers make qualitative choices? Do you maintain that qualitative choices are illogical? If a computer were attached to a random number generator could it then make qualitative choices?

      We live in a highly deterministic universe. Your explanation is that it just is. I am asking about the cause of the determinism. This I would attribute to a creative intelligence.

      You didn't explain. You just repeated. What do you mean by "the cause of determinism"? Why do you attribute it, whatever it is, to a creative intelligence?

      Delete
    50. BC, what do you mean by "limited to hard logical rules"? Are there logical rules you wouldn't call "hard"? In what substantive way do you distinguish between digital gates and neurons to claim a limit on overall behaviour?

      JH, to preempt the claim that computers only have pseudo random number generators, we can imagine a computer with a robotic arm that picks up and tosses a die and then observes the result, 1-6, with its vision system. That would satisfy the definition of random, as used in other areas of analysis.

      In my experience, most arguments about inherent differences between what computers can do versus what humans can do incorrectly imagine computers as black boxes running algorithms totally disconnected from the world. It's a game changer when we have, as we do, computers that directly interact (and learn from) their environment.

      Delete
    51. JH
      "You didn't answer the question. Why can't computers make qualitative choices? Do you maintain that qualitative choices are illogical? If a computer were attached to a random number generator could it then make qualitative choices?"

      A qualitative choice is one without hard logical rules. Making a decision to not eat lunch and work is a qualitative decision.

      "You didn't explain. You just repeated. What do you mean by "the cause of determinism"? Why do you attribute it, whatever it is, to a creative intelligence?"

      Cell division is an example of a highly deterministic process. The outcome and the way the outcome happens is very repeatable. If we back track to how this became so deterministic you find determinism all the way down the chain to how atoms behave when they interact. This determinism has to have a cause.

      Delete
    52. BW
      "BC, what do you mean by "limited to hard logical rules"? Are there logical rules you wouldn't call "hard"? In what substantive way do you distinguish between digital gates and neurons to claim a limit on overall behaviour?"

      I don't think the comparison is between digital gates and neurons. I think the comparison is between neurons and the transistor. A logic gate is an array of transistors that perform a logical output of one's and zero's based on the input. I don't know enough about neural networks to comment.

      " In my experience, most arguments about inherent differences between what computers can do versus what humans can do incorrectly imagine computers as black boxes running algorithms totally disconnected from the world. It's a game changer when we have, as we do, computers that directly interact (and learn from) their environment."

      I agree and see this level of progress being made.

      Delete
    53. A qualitative choice is one without hard logical rules. Making a decision to not eat lunch and work is a qualitative decision.

      Still fails to answer any questions. How do you know that a decision to not eat lunch and work has no hard logical rules? On what basis is such a decision made? Wouldn't a random number generator get rid of the hard logical rules and allow a computer to make qualitative decisions?

      This determinism has to have a cause.

      Once again you fail to explain but just repeat. I just have to speculate on your meaning. By "determinism" you seem to be talking about the existence of causality, and you claim that causality must have a cause. That seems nonsensical. But if causality must have a cause, shouldn't the cause of causality also have a cause? We're back to infinite regress.

      And, once again, "Why do you attribute it, whatever it is, to a creative intelligence?"

      Delete
    54. What did the discovery of the Higgs boson tell us about the origin of matter?

      It gives continuing provisional confirmation to the Standard Model, which limits what sorts of events could have happened in the tiniest fractions of a second immediately subsequent to the Big Bang, and thus limits the type of event the Big Bang itself could have been. This, together with such other physics experiments as the Cosmic Microwave Background Explorer, gives us a tremendous amount of information about what the event that resulted in the creation of matter and energy in our universe, the Big Bang, was.

      On a more detailed level, it tells us that our theoretical picture of what matter is (among other things, that it is subject to the Higgs field and therefore has mass; and the nature of that field) provisionally continues to be correct.

      Delete
    55. BC wrote, "I don't think the comparison is between digital gates and neurons." Well, you were the one who introduced digital gates into the discussion to suggest that their nature imposed a limitation compared to "the human central nervous system and brain." The best you can say, so far, about any such limitation is a vague notion of qualitative versus quantitative.

      BC further wrote, "I think the comparison is between neurons and the transistor." Let's not go there. It's another regress. The fundamental building block of digital computers is a switch. With any on/off switch technology, be it manual, electro-mechanical, electronic, photonic, or biologic, you can build a digital computer. A transistor is a kind of switch. But, there were digital computers that predate the invention of the transistor. There will be digital computers if/when transistors, as we now know them, become obsolete.

      What I react to is assumptions of human exceptionalism. They occur on at least two fronts: 1. Claims that what humans are capable of is different from (and superior to) what computers can ever do. 2. Claims that what humans are capable of is different from (and superior to) what any other animal species can do.

      These days, human exceptionalism is argued (on both fronts) not so much at the level of central nervous system and brain but on the assumptions that humans possess something extra, call it mind, soul (or whatever). That something extra, if it exists, is unlikely to be based on differences between neurons and transistors. BC may or may not believe in human exceptionalism with respect to other animals. But, he should clarify what, if anything, about his claim is unique to humans.

      Delete
    56. But, he should clarify what, if anything, about his claim is unique to humans.

      Just so you know, that won't happen. Bill is incapable of and uninterested in clarity. Also, he doesn't know what's different, how it produces free will, or what choice is. He just knows there's something different and that it produces free will and that choice is choice. Because.

      Delete
    57. BW
      "BC further wrote, "I think the comparison is between neurons and the transistor." Let's not go there. It's another regress. The fundamental building block of digital computers is a switch. With any on/off switch technology, be it manual, electro-mechanical, electronic, photonic, or biologic, you can build a digital computer. A transistor is a kind of switch. But, there were digital computers that predate the invention of the transistor. There will be digital computers if/when transistors, as we now know them, become obsolete"
      I agree with you that it is a switch. If a neuron operates like a switch then they would be equivalent. Agree?

      "What I react to is assumptions of human exceptionalism. They occur on at least two fronts: 1. Claims that what humans are capable of is different from (and superior to) what computers can ever do. 2. Claims that what humans are capable of is different from (and superior to) what any other animal species can do."

      I agree with you here. I don't think we know what computers will be able do. Isn't it remarkable that all the materials exist here on earth to build them?

      Delete
    58. JH
      "Once again you fail to explain but just repeat. I just have to speculate on your meaning. By "determinism" you seem to be talking about the existence of causality, and you claim that causality must have a cause. That seems nonsensical. But if causality must have a cause, shouldn't the cause of causality also have a cause? We're back to infinite regress.

      And, once again, "Why do you attribute it, whatever it is, to a creative intelligence?"

      What do you attribute the emergence of determinism in the universe? Given the existence of atoms was at the time of the big bang as Judmarc claims. So the strong and weak forces existed along with charge. All these forces are contributors to determinism.

      Delete
    59. JH
      "Still fails to answer any questions. How do you know that a decision to not eat lunch and work has no hard logical rules? On what basis is such a decision made? Wouldn't a random number generator get rid of the hard logical rules and allow a computer to make qualitative decisions?"

      I don't understand your claim here on a random number generator contributing to qualitative decisions?

      Delete
    60. Bill Cole writes:

      Isn't it remarkable that all the materials exist here on earth to build them?

      Not at all. What would be remarkable is if we built computers out of materials that weren't available to us.

      Delete
    61. BC wrote, "I agree with you that it[sic] is a switch. If a neuron operates like a switch then they would be equivalent. Agree?" Equivalence is way too strong a word to use here. I'm going to exit the conversation at this point. You aren't addressing the questions I raised and I don't appreciate being lead down a garden path.

      BC also wrote, "Isn't it remarkable that all the materials exist here on earth to build them [computers]?" I do find it remarkable the way technology has advanced over the course of my career. But, what I truly find remarkable is that the theory of computability exists whether or not there exists materials here on earth to build actual computers.

      Delete
    62. Bill,

      OK, I give up. You are incapable of explaining what you mean, or even of realizing that you haven't explained. There is no possibility of a discussion.

      But I will answer your questions one last time.

      I don't understand your claim here on a random number generator contributing to qualitative decisions?

      The answer to that question is "yes, you don't understand". I'm trying to figure out how a qualitative decision differs from a quantitative one. You say it's by not following hard logical rules. Random numbers do not follow hard logical rules. Therefore a computer that incorporates random numbers into its decisions would, according to what you have claimed so far, be capable of qualitative decisions. (Note that I think your whole "qualitative decision" thing is nonsense, but I'm playing along.)

      This goes back to my earlier question about the source of free will decisions. It's not causation, it's not random. What is it? You can't even see the question.

      What do you attribute the emergence of determinism in the universe?

      That is neither a grammatical sentence nor a coherent question. "The emergence of determinism" is word salad. I think you mean causality, but it isn't clear. If causality needs a cause, isn't that causality already? All causality actually needs is a direction of time and a dependence of future states on prior states, which may in fact be the same thing. I don't think someone has to make them, or it.

      Delete
    63. Bill Cole writes:

      Isn't it remarkable that all the materials exist here on earth to build them?

      lutesuite said:

      Not at all. What would be remarkable is if we built computers out of materials that weren't available to us.

      Well, of course we haven't discovered slood yet.

      Delete
    64. All causality actually needs is a direction of time and a dependence of future states on prior states

      Here in space-time at least, yes. But it's interesting to consider whether in other dimensions causality would necessarily involve time.

      Delete
    65. But it's interesting to consider whether in other dimensions causality would necessarily involve time.

      If it didn't, we would have to redefine some terms. Without time, what does "cause" even mean?

      Delete
    66. Given the existence of atoms was at the time of the big bang as Judmarc claims.

      I made no such claim. Your bowdlerization of whatever you think I said is incorrect.

      Delete
    67. Without time, what does "cause" even mean?

      If X causes Y, it means X is necessary for the occurrence of Y.

      Consider the double slit experiment. If two slits are open, the pattern formed on the target by electrons coming through the slits is an "interference pattern." This is so *even if electrons are only sent through the slits one at a time*, so no physical interference in space-time is possible. However, if one of the two slits is closed, the interference pattern vanishes.

      So having both slits open is necessary for and thus a cause of the interference pattern. However, sending electrons through *at the same time* so they can physically interfere is not. Thus causation of the interference pattern isn't dependent on time.

      Delete
    68. John
      "The answer to that question is "yes, you don't understand". I'm trying to figure out how a qualitative decision differs from a quantitative one. You say it's by not following hard logical rules. Random numbers do not follow hard logical rules. Therefore a computer that incorporates random numbers into its decisions would, according to what you have claimed so far, be capable of qualitative decisions. (Note that I think your whole "qualitative decision" thing is nonsense, but I'm playing along.)

      This goes back to my earlier question about the source of free will decisions. It's not causation, it's not random. What is it? You can't even see the question."

      I don't know what it is. I don't understand well enough how our brains work. What I do know is that we can make choices and people make different choices as evidenced by opposing world views.

      "That is neither a grammatical sentence nor a coherent question. "The emergence of determinism" is word salad."

      I agree determinism is a poor choice of words. Maybe predictability is better.

      Delete
    69. Thus causation of the interference pattern isn't dependent on time.

      I don't think that follows. The interference pattern happens because there are two slits before the pattern appears. Time.

      Delete
    70. I don't know what it is. I don't understand well enough how our brains work. What I do know is that we can make choices and people make different choices as evidenced by opposing world views.

      If you don't know what "choice" means, then how can you know it isn't made according to hard logical rules, which I take to mean that it's caused. That people make different choices, or different choices at different times, might be wholly due to differences in input and hardware, i.e. strictly causal. Or there might be a random element. What you call "free will" would in that case be simply unrecognized determinism.

      At the least, you have offered no third possibility beyond causation and randomness from which true free will might emerge. You have nothing.

      I agree determinism is a poor choice of words. Maybe predictability is better.

      So why does predictability need a cause?

      Delete
    71. JH
      "That people make different choices, or different choices at different times, might be wholly due to differences in input and hardware, i.e. strictly causal. Or there might be a random element. What you call "free will" would in that case be simply unrecognized determinism."

      This is certainly possible but is it the best explanation? Certainly free will is not ruled out as an explanation. You seem to believe that there is either direct causation or randomness but we know that a combination of both better describes reality. I think a combination of both is a better description then a random number generator for describing qualitative decision making.

      "So why does predictability need a cause?"

      If we define predictability for discussion purposes as the behavior of the four forces then what would you attribute to their origin?

      Delete
    72. What I do know is that we can make choices and people make different choices as evidenced by opposing world views.

      If you throw two dice at the same time, they will most likely come up different numbers. So that means dice have the free will to determine what number they come up. Right?

      Delete
    73. This is certainly possible but is it the best explanation? Certainly free will is not ruled out as an explanation.

      "Free will" can only be an explanation if you tell me what it means. Are you saying that a combination of determinism and chance equals free will? I doubt many would agree. And certainly a computer is capable of combining chance and determinism. So why don't computers have free will?
      If we define predictability for discussion purposes as the behavior of the four forces then what would you attribute to their origin?

      I think you're really asking what I would attribute their origin to, which is different. Right? Why do I have to attribute it to anything? Why can't they be uncaused?

      Delete
    74. I don't think that follows. The interference pattern happens because there are two slits before the pattern appears. Time.

      If you can picture this:

      Two slits open. Electrons sent through the slits one at a time. Each makes a "mark" (signal, really) on the target. As more and more "marks" build up, they show an interference pattern. But each mark that comprises the interference pattern has occurred at a separate point in time. So the interference has plainly not occurred due to electrons interfering with each other "in time," i.e., by colliding on their way to the target.

      Delete
    75. ""Free will" can only be an explanation if you tell me what it means. Are you saying that a combination of determinism and chance equals free will? I doubt many would agree. And certainly a computer is capable of combining chance and determinism. So why don't computers have free will?

      What made you write these words? Determinism? Chance? The combination of the two? Or you had the freedom to write them and you did it?

      Delete
    76. Don Quixote,

      Or you had the freedom to write them and you did it?

      What does that mean? I don't think you know. What is there that isn't either chance, determinism, or a combination of the two?

      Delete
    77. John -

      Normally, in order to interfere with each other in space-time, particles must *simultaneously* occupy spaces close enough to each other to affect each other via some force. This isn't happening in the particular version of the double-slit experiment I've described. It doesn't fit with our usual notions of causality, which is one reason it's a rather famous experiment.

      You may have heard the interference pattern described as an aspect of the electron's "wave-particle duality," but that is a description, not an explanation of how the interference occurs. (You get interference patterns in the double slit experiment using two light beams, but same as with electrons, if photons are sent through the slits one at a time, you get an interference pattern just the same.)

      This suggests to me that the interference is not occurring in the four space-time dimensions, but in another dimension. There are many physical theories using more than four dimensions, beginning with Kaluza-Klein theory, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kaluza%E2%80%93Klein_theory .

      Of course I don't know which if any of these theories is true. But they do suggest our notion of causality as being dependent on time is intuitional and based on our macroscopic non-quantum experiences, not a necessity for a workable physical theory.

      This is quite far off-topic at this point of course, so I'm happy to end here or with your response.

      Delete
    78. LS
      "If you throw two dice at the same time, they will most likely come up different numbers. So that means dice have the free will to determine what number they come up. Right?"

      Dice are very unlikely to roll 2 six's 5 times in a row. A human can place 2 six's on the table all day.

      Delete
    79. JH
      ""Free will" can only be an explanation if you tell me what it means. Are you saying that a combination of determinism and chance equals free will? I doubt many would agree. And certainly a computer is capable of combining chance and determinism. So why don't computers have free will?"
      Free will is the ability to make a qualitative choice. This ability falls somewhere in the spectrum of chance and determinism.

      "I think you're really asking what I would attribute their origin to, which is different. Right? Why do I have to attribute it to anything? Why can't they be uncaused?"

      Having no cause is a possible explanation. This would be outside the philosophy of Aristotle which is the foundation of the scientific method.

      Given that those forces plus matter make up the universe and humans that can observe it, I am highly skeptical the four forces and matter are uncaused.

      Delete
    80. Free will is the ability to make a qualitative choice. This ability falls somewhere in the spectrum of chance and determinism.

      Do you imagine that you have said something meaningful there? What is "the spectrum of chance and determinism", and how does it differ from "a combination of determinism and chance"? Why can't a computer make a qualitative choice?

      This would be outside the philosophy of Aristotle which is the foundation of the scientific method.

      Why should we at this late date care about whether we are in accord with Aristotle? Is quantum mechanics not scientific because it deals with uncaused events?

      Given that those forces plus matter make up the universe and humans that can observe it, I am highly skeptical the four forces and matter are uncaused.

      How does your conclusion follow from your premise?

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    81. You are making freewill much more difficult than it needs be.

      First we must recognize that the term ‘free’ is modifying the term ‘will’.
      By ‘will’ is meant ‘the desire to do something.’ The ‘human will’ then would include the various things humans desire including- continued survival, a house on the beach, good tasting food, to play golf, solutions to mathematical puzzles…
      For a computer to have ‘freewill’, the computer would need ‘will’. I don’t recognize my computer having desires.

      What is meant by ‘freewill’ is ‘the ability to choose between different possible courses of action unimpeded.’ (these courses of actions are based on one's desires).

      The usual test for this is ‘Given the person did A, could the person have done otherwise?’ (We can’t watch the ability to choose at work, but we can see which action the person takes).

      Accepting modern physics as being correct about uncertainties and probabilities, it is clear any physical action might have come out differently than it did. That’s the nature of nature.
      But that doesn’t really tell us about the ‘ability to choose’ because the way physics works the differences in result occur ‘at random’ rather than ‘due to choice’.

      But that is not entirely correct. As was pointed out by von Neumann The changes in the behavior of the physical do in fact depend on choices made. In the case of the physics experiments, light can change behavior depending on if I decide to turn on a detector or not.
      My decision to turn on the detector alters the course of nature- even though I may not have determined the outcome entirely, the choice of the experimenter has altered the possible outcomes and the behavior of the physical.

      So not all the changes in outcome occur ‘at random’ in a physics experiment. In fact, the choices made by the experimenters are considered to be made ‘freely’, that is to say random with respect to the physical arrangement. So from an operational stand point our interpretations of physics depends on the ability of the experimenter to make ‘free’ choices, that is to say the experimenter has some sort of freewill. That’s from an operational standpoint.

      If I ask you- ‘do you want vanilla or chocolate’, then it is possible given the nature of nature, you could answer either way. The question then is ‘what did you have to do with what came out of your mouth’?
      The feeling that ‘I had something to do with what came out of my mouth’ is what we call ‘freewill’.

      It’s that simple.

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    82. Wiki: "Determinism-the doctrine that all events, including human action, are ultimately determined by causes external to the will. Some philosophers have taken determinism to imply that individual human beings have no free will and cannot be held morally responsible for their actions."

      Chance would imply the opposite of determinism but would not include any input; forethought, the weighing the possibilities of the outcome..

      Some believe in the combination of the two above...

      Which one made you type the words above?

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    83. Jack,

      You are making freewill much more difficult than it needs be.

      You are making it longwinded and incoherent. You seem to be declaring in turn that free will is randomness, that it's just "free", and that it's "a feeling".

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    84. @ Bill Cole:

      Dice are very unlikely to roll 2 six's 5 times in a row. A human can place 2 six's on the table all day.

      So what? I can program a computer to output nothing but sixes all day. Will it then have free will?

      You also forgot what I was responding to, which was this typically idiotic statement of yours:

      What I do know is that we can make choices and people make different choices as evidenced by opposing world views.

      Are you still willing to defend that claim?


      Delete
  2. Atheism, agnosticism and theism are all based on faith. This means that if either atheism or theism were based on clear irrefutable evidence, the opposite view and agnosticism would no longer be required... Also, faith would no longer be needed for theists, which would defeat its purpose in the first place...

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    1. It doesn't require faith to not believe a claim, especially one that is not backed by evidence. Remember, atheism is simply the lack of belief, not a belief that gods don't exist.

      Delete
    2. Helpful reddit comments on this topic:

      https://www.reddit.com/r/askphilosophy/comments/2za4ez/vacuous_truths_and_shoe_atheism/cph4498/

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    3. Eric,

      It doesn't require faith to not believe a claim, especially one that is not backed by evidence. Remember, atheism is simply the lack of belief, not a belief that gods don't exist.

      What does it take to believe the opposite view if it is not backed by evidence?

      Even lack of belief has to be justified.

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  3. BTW: True atheism doesn't exist as Dawkins clearly acknowledged:

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/religion/9102740/Richard-Dawkins-I-cant-be-sure-God-does-not-exist.html

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    Replies
    1. Since Dawkins lacks a positive belief in deities he is a true atheist.

      Delete
    2. Dawkins said he considers himself to be agnostic...
      You seem to know better. I get it!

      Delete
    3. There are two kinds of agnostics ... those who believe in gods and those who don't. Dawkins is in the latter camp. He admits that you can never prove the negative therefore he is technically an agnostic. He doesn't believe in any gods so he is an atheist by my preferred definition.

      There are Christians who admit that you can never know for certain if gods exist or not. They are agnostics and theists.

      HTH HAND

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  4. God/Christianity is not just based on faith. its based on conclusions about practical origin of the universe. Then it also is based on written claims about God etc
    To not believe in God requires FIRST a rejection of a claimed witness.
    its not just a neutral opinion. Atheism/agnosticism is a aggressive rejection of a witness.
    Likewise to explain the universe one needs a explanation with a brillient being have done it.
    They try now but what of ancient mankind? very difficult.
    Agnosticism must be either I DON'T KNOW or there can not/is not evidence for/or against.

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  5. With respect, I don't understand why you are spending any time on this (in my view pseudo-) issue at all. After all, no one asks whether one is agnostic wrt Russell's teapot. It's not worth the time.

    One other point, though. To be fair to Draper, the articles in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy don't argue for a conclusion. They review the arguments made about an issue without concluding that some hold and others don't.

    It's unfair to say, that Draper "argues, convincingly, that [the proposition 'god(s) don't exist'] cannot be proven. He also argues that theism—the proposition that god(s) exist—can also not be proven. Therefore, the only defensible position for a philosopher like him is agnosticism."

    He may present arguments about these propositions, but he doesn't say that he personally adopts any of them.

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  6. I find it useful to reframe propositions. Instead of asking, can I prove there is no God(s), I ask, can I prove there is no magic?

    I say you can. You can demonstrate that there is no evidence for magical phenomena existing. There is much evidence for deception and wishful thinking in all reported cases of magical phenomena. There is much evidence for the utility of believers in magic to people saying there is magic. And, most of all, there is much evidence to show that this is a material universe, where everything is constituted of mass/energy, and all events have regularities (commonly called laws of nature,) not least of which is, all effects have causes. That we know how things are, and they aren't magical. Magic, like all instances of the supernatural, are effects without causes.

    Now it is obviously possible to limit the notion of causes so narrowly that it disappears. If your only notion of causation is one particle striking another, causality disappeared with Faraday. However, this strikes me as very poor science. Or you can limit the notion of proof to a quasi-mathermatical proofs of logical necessity/impossibility, and/or based on necessary a priori truths. That strikes me as more mystical than reasonable.

    As for probabilistic formulations, the notion that you can meaningfully say, for instance, there very probably is no magic, then cavil at saying, there is no magic, is drawing a distinction without a difference. A negligible probability that cannot be neglected is not negligible.

    I suspect the issue lies in the role of religion, philosophy and law, as normative projects, that in practice aspire to coherence in their demands, rather than to truth (propositions corresponding to reality.) Otherwise, I do not understand how it could possibly be reasonable to insist "There is no magic," is not equivalent to "There is a negligible probability of magic." And, even worse, how anyone could possibly think it is reasonable to entertain the postulate there is magic.

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  7. Aesthetics also influences how people identify themselves. In my experience, agnosticism is a half-way house for some who have just left a faith because they view "atheist" as a pejorative. Others don't want to be associated with atheists like Dawkins who they view as too strident or too polarizing. We mustn't forget that people may choose agnostic or atheist depending on how they want to be viewed in a larger cultural context.

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  8. I’m curious—
    What about how the natural universe works forms a firm basis on which to judge if theism or atheism is intrinsically more probable than the other?

    Historically the argument went like this-
    If the universe had a beginning, then god exists
    If the material universe is eternal, then materialism is true and no god exists.

    What about that argument would cause one to reject the existence of god(s)?
    Why has that argument been rejected?

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    Replies
    1. Clouds have a beginning, yet no one thinks that is evidence for God. Stars, planets, solar systems, and galaxies all have a beginning, yet no one cites that as evidence for God. I don't know why a universe having a beginning would be evidence for God when these other things are not. It would appear that the problem with your argument is things that have a beginning do not necessarily require a deity to make them. You should be asking why the universe having a beginning would cause anyone to accept the existence of gods.

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    2. eric-
      As to why someone would think the universe having a beginning would indicate some sort of god—

      https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/cosmological-argument/

      It seems the popularity of the argument changes from time to time.
      But it is still fine as far as I know— perhaps you can explain where Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Leibniz… got it wrong. Some people think they have shown the argument wrong. Some people think the argument holds up fine. What do you know?

      As to your argument, allow me a parallel—

      People purposely, consciously carried out actions in order to produce certain dog breeds for certain purposes; for example the dachshund.
      Can you give me an example of a creature that you know with certainty was not produced by the efforts of a conscious entity?
      Does that prove to you that all creatures were produced for specific purposes by conscious entities?

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    3. JJ, several plant species arose fairly recently in the wild from the hybridization of other plant species. Examples include two or three Tragopogon species in eastern Washington state. No humans made them. The new Tragopogon species are uncommon. They don't seem to serve any particular purpose. It seems clear to me that these were not produced for specific purposes by conscious entities.

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  9. A lot of religious types present arguments for the existence of a deist god, and then start talking about a theist god. Bait and switch.

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  10. It seems the distinction between a deity and a theist god (theity?) is often overlooked.

    Deism seems fairly safe, certainly a non-disprovable deity is easily imagined. And the desire to have an answer to the question, ‘how did this all get here?’ opens the door to any flight of fancy one might want to take.

    But theism implies an active god— and that supposedly means things like miracles and so forth.
    Personally I have no idea why an active god would want to preform miracles or anything like that.
    Of course if there really is a being that could create the universe I’m living in, then I really have no idea what sorts of things such a being would desire or do.

    I think some people figure if there is a deity, then the deity could become active (a theity?) if it wanted to.
    You know, if it could create this universe who is going to stop it from parting a sea or something?
    Not me.

    Humans tend to engage in wishful thinking. I think the tendency for deism to become theism is tied to that trait. If there is such a being. then I want it on my side.

    I’ll stop rambling now.

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  11. bwilson295-
    My comment is more argumentative than you are allowing.
    I would ask you to prove that no conscious entities were involved and you can’t prove a negative, so let’s just agree that you can’t prove a negative.
    So I can prove creatures exist that have traits due to a conscious entities meddling, I don’t think you can prove the contrary.
    Really doesn’t mean as much as one might imagine, does it?

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    Replies
    1. JJ - So yours was a worthless "Heads I win, tails you loose" question.

      In order to argue for the positive in this case (that a conscious entity created Tragopogon species for some specified reason) you'd have to have positive evidence of the existence of a conscious entity with such power (which you don't) and evidence for a reason for the existence of these Tragopogon species (which you also don't have).

      Of course, proving the negative is impossible in this case, so I'll just give you your meaningless victory and go away.

      Delete
  12. bwilson295-
    My argument was in response to what i thought was a similar argument presented by eric.
    You win the argument by noticing how vacuous it is.
    Well done.

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  13. Late to the party, but this is what I always think when the agnosticism versus atheism discussion comes up.

    Atheist: I don't see any reason to believe in gods.

    Agnosticist: I want to make really, really clear that you can't prove a negative, and also I don't want to be called an atheist because they have such a bad rep, but I don't see any reason to believe in gods.

    That's the difference in its entirety.

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  14. Agnosticism appears to have two attractive features. a) Emphasis on fallibility - an apparently unassailable position which b) which saves the trouble of affirming or denying deity.

    The problem with agnosticism is that God IS an explanatory concept. It’s merits may be arguable, but otherwise there is nothing to argue. Religions assign God substantive attributes. Traditions differ , but they inform how to interpret behaviour and what expect will result. Believers struggle to reconcile God with evolution because they see them as two explanations concerned with the same thing. With all due respect to academics, it takes training to avoid this observation.

    Yes, the divine attributes are redefined to fit circumstance – even to the point of paradox. Propositional analysis is ill suited to this application. Such attributes still inform intuitions, expectations and motives. Theological explanations do not have indefinite flexibility.

    It reminds me of a joke I was told about the troubles in Ireland.
    A man was walking along, when two masked gunmen ambush him,
    “Catholic or Protestant?” they demand.
    “Uh, er, I’m an atheist.”
    “Catholic atheist or Protestant atheist?!”

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