Monday, August 13, 2018

An apologetic shortcut

A popular atheist trope is to act as though Christians must run through a long list of pagan gods and disprove them one-by-one. 

i) To begin with, it isn't always necessary to directly disprove something in order to disprove it. It's unnecessary to send probes to Mercury or Pluto to disprove the existence of carbon-based lifeforms on those planets. Rather, that can be demonstrated indirectly by the fact that those planets lack the conditions necessary for carbon-based lifeforms to survive.

ii) It isn't necessary to individually disprove every pagan deity. If Christianity is demonstrably true, due to an abundance of evidence, then that indirectly falsifies every alternative position that contradicts Christianity. And pagan alternatives don't remotely have the same amount of evidence.

24 comments:

  1. does the atheist bear the burden of proof to prove atheism is true?

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    1. Both sides are making truth-claims. Denials are truth-claims. So both sides have a burden of proof, philosophically speaking.

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    2. Just as I thought. The atheists that I have talked to refuse to bear the burden and claim they bear no burden because they don't find the evidence for God compelling. Thus they are justified in their unbelief.

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    3. I've found these types of (village) atheists typically argue atheism is non-belief and there's no onus to argue for a non-belief.

      Instead, they want to shift the burden of proof to the (Christian) theist to argue for God's existence. To make the Christian do all the work while they sit back and throw stones. At best, it amounts to intellectual laziness on their part.

      It might be worth pointing out to them that atheism is not merely non-belief, but disbelief. Atheism isn't the lack of belief in God (otherwise insects lack belief in God so they're atheists?), but disbelief in God.

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    4. Meyu,
      One of the things I've pointed out before, but I don't mind repeating (sorry everyone else) is that saying "I don't believe 2 + 2 has an answer" is making more claims than just that you don't believe in the existence of the number 4. There are immediately aspects of mathematics that fall into incoherence if you deny even a single numeral.

      In the same way, atheism isn't just denying the existence of God; it is positing specific claims about the nature of the universe. Just a basic easy one is the fact that it asserts the possibility of existence itself apart from the existence of some form of deity. With God, you can at least point to His timeless, self-existent, eternal, omnipotent nature. And, in fact, one of the arguments I've used against atheists is that once you start to add in the specifics of what is needed for us to exist, you quickly end up with almost every single attribute that God has.

      In fact, at one point I had an atheist argue with me, "Why couldn't the universe itself be self-existent, timeless, omnipresent, omnipotent, the source for logic and morality?" to which I responded, "What reason do you have for not calling such a universe by the label 'God'?" I especially thought it interesting that he had previously said he was in awe of how impressive the universe was, so he also was inadvertently stating it was worthy of some form of worship. Anyway, he blocked me from Facebook at that point, so take of that what you will.

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  2. As a Pagan apologist, I'd tell Pagans not to worry about evidence: you can only offer evidence for uncertain propositions, and propositions can only refer to subjects that can be described. But, if polytheism were propositional, it'd be certain, and the Gods are -- qua themselves -- too individual to be describable.

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    1. What's the difference between that and agnosticism. If the gods are ineffable and unknowable, what's the discernible difference between their existence and nonexistence? How is reality distinguishable from naturalism?

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    2. Steven Dillon

      "As a Pagan apologist, I'd tell Pagans not to worry about evidence: you can only offer evidence for uncertain propositions, and propositions can only refer to subjects that can be described. But, if polytheism were propositional, it'd be certain, and the Gods are -- qua themselves -- too individual to be describable."

      1. Is this proposition of yours uncertain or certain? If it's uncertain, then why should I accept it? If it's certain, then you can't offer any evidence for it, so again why should I accept it?

      2. All the evidence that I see for paganism could be subsumed under Christianity (e.g. ghosts, demons).

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    3. Epistle: With a Christian, I would argue that monotheism is a kind of atheism -- such that theism just is pilytheism -- and that atheism is incoherent. This would give a Christian good reason to be Pagan.

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    4. "Epistle: With a Christian, I would argue that monotheism is a kind of atheism -- such that theism just is pilytheism -- and that atheism is incoherent. This would give a Christian good reason to be Pagan."

      Hm, this idea seems quite "incoherent"! How is monotheism "a kind of atheism"? Monotheism is belief in one God. Atheism is the rejection of all gods including one God. And polytheism is belief in many gods. In any case, I'm not sure this is much of a "reason" let alone a "good reason" to become a pagan!

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    5. Epistle: Monotheism is a kind of atheism in that way that naturalism is. If all monotheism said was something like that there is only one YHWH, it wouldn't contradict polytheism. Polytheists would just nod and say there's also only one Poseidon, and only one Odin and so on and so forth. To try and contradict polytheism, monotheism has to treat divinity as a 'what' that only one 'who' has. But, in so doing, monotheism identifies as divine what is in reality metaphysically composite, and so no different in kind than anything else in Nature. Monotheism thus fails to posit anything beyond Nature, and fails to be theistic.

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    6. Ah, but there’s the rub! If the Gods are unknowable in and of themselves, then on what basis do you know pagan polytheism is what underlies fundamental metaphysical reality? Maybe it’s just turtles all the way down!

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    7. Actually, monotheism isn’t identical to YHWH. There are other monotheistic religions.

      Also, from a Christian perspective, God transcends nature, hence he is “beyond” nature.

      Christian theism could arguably identify polytheism as demonic.

      The other God’s like the Greek and Norse Gods you mention are created from primordial matter, are they not? By contrast, the Christian God created all things including matter.

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  3. Consider the subject of a proposition on its own. It is trivially predicateless, or indescribable. But, it is no less "real" for that.

    We don't know the Gods as they are in themselves because they're so individual that there's nothing about them to describe them with that is not just themselves. But, we know them through their effects, as all things proceed from each God in their own way. Moreover, while we may not be able to intellectually know subjects qua subjects, we can know them experientially, phenomenologically, unitatively.

    So, it's not a denial of *all* knowledge, just a positioning of *propositional* knowledge as inappropriate.

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    1. Well, your earlier and current statements are "propositional!" So why wouldn't they fall under the same criticism? It seems like special pleading to exclude your propositions.

      Anyway, more importantly, if you know these "Gods" through their effects, then what makes you think they are "Gods" rather than something else (e.g. extraterrestrial aliens, future humans with advanced technology including time travel, the demonic, human psi)?

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    2. Dillon,

      You seem to be saying that what's detectable can't account for everything, so there must be *something* behind-the-scenes that makes up the difference, but we have no idea what that's like. But in that event, what makes you suppose these are gods?

      If they resist predicates, why do you classify them as gods rather than a blank?

      And even if (ex hypothesi) they can be experienced, you can't know what you've experienced.

      What makes you think a divine "who" is metaphysically composite?

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    3. Patrick: That's an interesting subject you bring up...I no longer blog there since joining the Army, but I wrote a lot about this. Check it out http://paganbloggers.com/thearmchair/blog/2017/08/19/on-the-disenchantment-of-the-world/

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    4. It sounds to me like you’re starting with your desired conclusion (i.e. you want to live in an enchanted world rather than a world disenchanted by atheism/naturalism/scientism which you believe resulted from monotheism overtaking polytheism) and subsequently retrofitting all the evidence in order to arrive at your desired conclusion (e.g. your discussion about ineffability).

      Instead, you should start with the evidence or data, rather than your desired conclusion, then see where it goes.

      All this is apart from the philosophical inconsistencies in your worldview too.

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    5. You seem to argue monotheism makes the world intelligible which in turn means the world is less ineffable which then logically leads to atheism/naturalism and scientism which thoroughly disenchants the world. However, each of these steps is contestable.

      For example, why should Christian theism making the world rationally intelligible subtract from the enchantment? Why is intelligibility inconsistent or in tension with enchantment? I can understand how life itself unfolds in such splendid array and vibrant variety from the blueprint of DNA and I can chart with perfect mathematical precision the trajectory of the stars in their course through the heavens, but these don’t take away from the awe, wonder, and mystery of the microscopic or astronomic! In fact, better understanding the world only adds to my enchantment with it.

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    6. In fact, even atheistic secular scientists argue against your disenchantment idea.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VSG9q_YKZLI

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  4. Epistle: The idea is just that monotheism eliminates the ineffable as a layer of reality, replacing it with the intelligible. On monotheism, all of reality proceeds from something that is itself intelligible -- even if only to itself. This represents a decline from the ineffable; which, if convertible with individuality, represents the first step of atheism: denying that there is any individual (= ineffable) beyond nature.

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    1. Right, I understand.

      However, I'm just saying I don't see how Christian theism (or even some other worldviews) "eliminates the ineffable" etc. It's possible for a worldview like Christian theism to be both "ineffable" as well as "intelligible" (as I've pointed out above).

      What's more, there's no sense in prizing the "ineffable" or "enchanted" if there's no corresponding rational intelligibility let alone truth behind it. Why believe in lies breathed through silver (as Tolkien might've said)?

      I think there's something like a slippery slope in your argument. Or at the very least each of the steps is contestable (e.g. I don't see a successful argument equating convertibility with individuality).

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  5. If the ineffable is taken to mean not only that which we dare not describe but also that which we cannot describe (e.g. paradox), then the natural world itself is ineffable in many respects.

    Take quantum mechanics. Quantum mechanics is mathematically describable and explainable. In fact, it's exceedingly precise and accurate (e.g. quantum electrodynamics). However, I think it's safe to say physicists find the quantum universe baffling if not downright bizarre. For example, the quantum universe is replete with paradox (e.g. Schrodinger's cat is both dead and alive).

    Likewise, we can describe and explain much if not most of the neuroanatomy and neurophysiology of the human brain. Perhaps someday we can explain the physical workings of the brain in its entirety. In fact, perhaps someday we will be able to explain the brain so perfectly that we will be able to explain in excruciating technical detail the causality of consciousness either from or mediated through the brain. However, that does not imply we will necessarily have the faintest clue what consciousness is. Consciousness may very well continue to elude the best minds (forgive the pun). And a causal description of how the brain/mind works is not equivalent let alone identical to an explanation for why the brain/mind works.

    As such, it seems there is a degree of ineffability built into the world or universe itself. In this respect, pagan polytheism is not more ineffable than the universe itself. If anything, it's arguable pagan polytheism takes away from true ineffability based on reality by filling it with false ineffability based on unknowable "gods".

    As such, ineffability is consistent with a scientific and rationally intelligible universe. A scientific and rationally intelligible universe is ineffable in these respects. A scientific and rationally intelligible universe is enchanting and spellbinding in its own right.

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