Author Topic: Skepticism vs. Atheism  (Read 21450 times)

0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.

Offline seaotter

  • Drunkenly yelling LITTLE WING!
  • Planetary Skeptic
  • *
  • Posts: 27022
  • My homunculus is a grammar troll!
Re: Skepticism vs. Atheism
« Reply #120 on: May 24, 2009, 07:23:07 AM »
he tends to stick with the most poorly versed true believers.
This is a common criticism of the show, and as Dillahunty has explained it's not his choice. Those just happen to be the people who call in.

Matt is usually pretty good about acknowledging that his criticisms don't apply to every believer in every case, but sometimes he and the others do slip into focusing on the easy targets.  I actually prefer the Non-Prophets, which is their biweekly podcast.  Shilling is especially good at looking carefully at the arguments, not the conclusions.  He often take stances you might not expect, avoiding the "go team!" mentality the others are a little more prone to express.

He likes to argue, and I'm not sure he doesn't just adopt the opposite view of whatever the topic might be.
"There is no use trying," said Alice; "one can't believe impossible things." Lewis Carroll

Offline dhawk

  • Seasoned Contributor
  • ****
  • Posts: 879
  • Physkepticist
    • The Physkepticist
Re: Skepticism vs. Atheism
« Reply #121 on: May 24, 2009, 07:42:48 AM »
He likes to argue, and I'm not sure he doesn't just adopt the opposite view of whatever the topic might be.

He does that plenty too, heh.  But his sincere values are still consistently applied to all issues, even when the result isn't superficially in line with "believers are stupid" and "abolish all religion".
Attaching a probability to the existence of God is not only stepping out of the boundaries of empiricism, but also pretending that you have even a piece of Ultimate Truth.

Offline Fast Eddie B

  • Frequent Poster
  • ******
  • Posts: 3334
Re: Skepticism vs. Atheism
« Reply #122 on: May 24, 2009, 08:12:54 AM »
Quote
It's just a limitation of the scientific methodology.

I think its more likely its a limitation of the claim in question (limited to non-falsifiability).

Offline dhawk

  • Seasoned Contributor
  • ****
  • Posts: 879
  • Physkepticist
    • The Physkepticist
Re: Skepticism vs. Atheism
« Reply #123 on: May 24, 2009, 08:29:24 AM »
Quote
It's just a limitation of the scientific methodology.

I think its more likely its a limitation of the claim in question (limited to non-falsifiability).

If you want to put it that way, fine.  But the point is that all metaphysical assertions are off-limits in science.  And statements of existence and non-existence are metaphysical assertions.  Science is about building models of our observations, and eschewing the metaphysics.
Attaching a probability to the existence of God is not only stepping out of the boundaries of empiricism, but also pretending that you have even a piece of Ultimate Truth.

Offline Fast Eddie B

  • Frequent Poster
  • ******
  • Posts: 3334
Re: Skepticism vs. Atheism
« Reply #124 on: May 24, 2009, 09:43:12 AM »
Quote
And statements of existence and non-existence are metaphysical assertions.

I'm not sure what that means.

For instance, "Bigfoot exists"? Is that a "metaphysical assertion"?

Or are you just referring to seemingly non-questions like "why are we here"?

Offline dhawk

  • Seasoned Contributor
  • ****
  • Posts: 879
  • Physkepticist
    • The Physkepticist
Re: Skepticism vs. Atheism
« Reply #125 on: May 24, 2009, 10:30:13 AM »
For instance, "Bigfoot exists"? Is that a "metaphysical assertion"?
It depends on whether the statement is a just a shortcut that we use all the time, or meant to be philosophically and epistemologically accurate.  Stating things precisely takes a long time, and is in general unnecessary.  But if you're going to have these conversations at all, then it pays to understand which statements are fundamentally accurate and which are not.

You can't make statements in science without a reference to observations.  And we never assess the "truth" of those statements, just their utility. 

Or to phrase it differently, the naked statements are metaphysical assertions -  they cannot be evaluated directly.  All we can say is that one set of assumptions is more or less useful than another.  And what we mean by useful is 1) accurately predicts observations 2) contains as few assumptions as possible.

Yet another way of expressing this is to say, the set of all statements you believe to be true about "reality" is your ontology.  Questions about what is "real" are metaphysical, and so are statements about what is "real" or what "exists".

So bottom line is yes, the statement "Bigfoot exists", taken in its purest form is a metaphysical one, and cannot be evaluated "true" or "false" or anything in between using science.  To make a scientific statement, you must specify the relationship of a claim to our observations, and further, you should understand that neither the claim nor the observations need have anything to do with what's "really" going on.  We could be in the Matrix, or figments of someone else's vivid imagination, or part of a physics simulator in some other universe.
Attaching a probability to the existence of God is not only stepping out of the boundaries of empiricism, but also pretending that you have even a piece of Ultimate Truth.

Offline positivecontrol

  • Keeps Priorities Straight
  • ***
  • Posts: 279
Re: Skepticism vs. Atheism
« Reply #126 on: May 24, 2009, 03:56:25 PM »
Late to the party, as ever...

I think skepticism gets stuck when we evaluate religion solely as a set of claims, rather than as a natural phenomenon in itself.

Religion, if thought of as pattern of behaviors and set of values, appears to be a natural consequence of the structure of human brains, and of the nature of human interactions.   There are many theories to explain this, from theological to psychological and sociological.  But the common thread in all of them is that humans are not fully rational things.  And to a certain extent, maybe that's OK.

Certainly to the extent that the religious way of thinking impedes our ability to collectively make decisions and solve problems, the skeptics movement should be critical.  But to say that skepticism inevitably leads to atheism implies religion is just a way of thinking. 

Many who are religious are so because they are culturally entrenched and/or have attached various levels of meaning to their rituals and traditions.  Religion gives them a way to address the various non-rational attributes of their subjective experiences of the world.  The truth claims and theology tying together the traditions are, I think, probably secondary for many religious people, the purview of their respective religious authority figures.  You can be skeptical of the claims, and show believers how the claims cannot be rationally supported, and maybe even convince a few to drop religion altogether.  But in so doing you alienate the others, whom belief does not what drive to be religious, but rather whom being religious drives to believe.

Many people do not have a psychological need to apply skepticism to their religious beliefs, though those people might find skepticism nonetheless useful in other contexts.  The skeptics movement unnecessarily limits itself by shutting them out of the club.
Purported data line fails sanity check.  - BLAST sequence search error message

50 Books in 2009

Offline positivecontrol

  • Keeps Priorities Straight
  • ***
  • Posts: 279
Re: Skepticism vs. Atheism
« Reply #127 on: May 24, 2009, 03:59:42 PM »
As for making fun of religious claims, especially on this board, I have to admit guilt.  But I think it is humorous to lift the claims out of their religious context and view them objectively.  It's like repeating the same word until it looses it's subjective meaning and then laughing at it's objective absurdity (especially effective when mentally impaired by some substance or other..) or wondering at the ridiculousness of certain fashion trends.  We always have to come back out of the objective judgment frame of mind and recognize that within their own contexts, words, and capris, and indeed religious beliefs, have some level of subjective validity. 
Purported data line fails sanity check.  - BLAST sequence search error message

50 Books in 2009

Offline stands2reason

  • Empiricist, Positivist, Militant Agnostic
  • Poster of Extraordinary Magnitude
  • **********
  • Posts: 10734
Re: Skepticism vs. Atheism
« Reply #128 on: May 24, 2009, 04:03:29 PM »
Quote
Skepticism is an approach to testable physical claims. Atheism is a conclusion regarding an untestable metaphysical claim. These are not the same thing.

Well, that's not completely true. Skepticism is also an approach to untestable claims. Chi, life force, the Invisible Pink Unicorn. Those are all physical, natural postulates that are entirely untestable and umempirical. Skepticism also applies.

Offline stands2reason

  • Empiricist, Positivist, Militant Agnostic
  • Poster of Extraordinary Magnitude
  • **********
  • Posts: 10734
Re: Skepticism vs. Atheism
« Reply #129 on: May 24, 2009, 04:09:19 PM »
I'm an atheist not because I believe there is no god, but because I'm convinced the chance of there being a god is infinitesimally small. To me, the word agnostic suggests there is about a 50% chance either way, or that it isn't an important enough matter to consider. I find the former to be flawed logic.

I think logic leads invariably to the conclusion that there is almost no chance of there being a god. So, yeah I think skepticism ought to lead to atheism. However, I would also say that not being an atheist is only bad skepticism if a person has thought about the topic and come to the conclusion that there probably is a god. Being religious is bad skepticism, but being agnostic isn't necessarily bad skepticism.

Guessing at the probably of there being a God implies that the concept of a God makes sense and applies to the natural world.

Everything I observe is completely compatible certain definitions of God that actually make sense. And everything I observe is completely compatible with the lack of existence of anything that is commonly referred to as a God. Attaching a probability to the existence of God is not only stepping out of the boundaries of empiricism, but also pretending that you have even a piece of Ultimate Truth.

As you can tell, I'm a hard-nosed agnostic. But I'm also an atheist (lacking positive belief) and a theistic non-cognitivist (cause they don't make sense) regard the common definition of God.

Offline stands2reason

  • Empiricist, Positivist, Militant Agnostic
  • Poster of Extraordinary Magnitude
  • **********
  • Posts: 10734
Re: Skepticism vs. Atheism
« Reply #130 on: May 24, 2009, 04:48:42 PM »
I understand the concept that religion can be compartmentalized to ONLY deal with the afterlife and supernatural realm but the problem is that there is ALWAYS going to be dogma wrapped up in any sort of belief that is going to dictate and make generalizations about real world phenomena. So inevitably a truly religious person must abandon his skepticism if he is going to practice his faith. Every faith that I can think of makes specific claims of miracles and historical events that should be testable to some extent.

+1
 
Plus, belief in something (even supernatural) without evidence is not skeptical.

   I've encountered many believers who've said "I'd respect your position if you actually had a firm belief either way".  When someone says that, I either think they're saying it because me having a 'hard atheist' position would be much easier to criticize, or because they truly do not understand (or can't understand) someone being ok/satisfied with "I don't know" as an arrival point after giving great thought to the issue (thought that is continually ongoing as well).

Or maybe the concept that absolute Truth does not exist or cannot be attained, along with some intellectual honesty.

Disbelief is the default. I disbelieve until there is reason to believe. Do I believe there is a god? No. Do I believe there is no god? No.

You mean lack of belief?

Quote
Skeptics, atheists, and humanists are infamous for splintering over doctrinal
differences and interpersonal politics. That’s ridiculous — there are far too few
skeptics (and far too much work to be done!) to bog down into such nonsense.

Ah...so I can toss a copy of the Holy Qu'ran on the fire and grab a copy of the Libertarian Manifesto and we can all agree to be good friends?  ;)

Offline stands2reason

  • Empiricist, Positivist, Militant Agnostic
  • Poster of Extraordinary Magnitude
  • **********
  • Posts: 10734
Re: Skepticism vs. Atheism
« Reply #131 on: May 24, 2009, 04:57:28 PM »
No, not at all.  I mean, there certainly are atheists who seem to have the same religious fervor as a radical Muslim (i.e. "There is no God" as opposed to "There is no evidence of a god.")

From an empirical epistemology, the two statements are practically the same. The technically correct version would "there is no evidence of a god so there is almost certainly no God" or "there can be no evidence of a God therefore the God concept is meaningless in acquiring new information about our world."
I just think there's nothing terribly clever about declaring "there could be something untestable that doesn't manifest". If it doesn't manifest and can't be tested, then it is completely indistinguishable from the non-existent, and therefore useless.
Yeah, like that.
If you can't test it, then how can you say is doesn't manifest?
\
The best you can do is say that it isn't worth bothering with.
If you can't tell whether or not something "manifests", or whether or not it reacts with the world at all, it is empirically equivalent to nonexistent. That is not to say that you could actually empirically prove that it is does not exist.
atheism makes no claims scientifically - usually it's a philosophical or logical stance, if a stance at all.
In most cases it's a lack of belief, though it can be positive disbelief.

Offline stands2reason

  • Empiricist, Positivist, Militant Agnostic
  • Poster of Extraordinary Magnitude
  • **********
  • Posts: 10734
Re: Skepticism vs. Atheism
« Reply #132 on: May 24, 2009, 05:32:25 PM »
For instance, "Bigfoot exists"? Is that a "metaphysical assertion"?
It depends on whether the statement is a just a shortcut that we use all the time, or meant to be philosophically and epistemologically accurate. 

So if I say "my car exists", what I mean is that from an empirical perspective the evidence in favor of my car existing is overwhelming that the idea that is exists is by far the best explanation.

Directionalism is a view opposed by many evolutionary biologists - including Stephen Jay Gould - but advocated by Dawkins (+others) that says that human like beings with human like intelligence are more or less inevitable as a crop from the evolutionary process. Gould said if we we re-ran life on earth a second time we would get something very different - Dawkins thinks that we would end up with something very like the same end result. This are views that both Gould and Dawkins have adopted based on intuition - little more than educated guesses. Without evidence - kind of like most of sociobiology (sorry if that sounds like a swipe - it isn't really - more a statement of fact. I have no problem when people use their intuitions/experiences and make educated judgements/projections.) Theistic evolutionists tend to agree, for some reason(!) and for once, with Dawkins on this point.

As Drosophilia already mentioned, directional evolution is just large-scale convergent evolution. The eye has already evolved independently at least three dozen times. There's very good reason to expect that certain high-level concepts, like a upward standing creature with a head at the top with brain inside of it and the photoreceptors pointing forward would be found, and that this body plan would be conducive to intelligence.

Add in some segmentation and bilateral symmetry, and you have something very humanoid.

First of all, evolution has no end result. Second, there are many strategies of adaptation that have occured many times, but intelligence* approaching our level is not a prolific one, comparatively.

Every organism that has ever lived is an end result of evolution. If we reach the singularity, remove selective pressures, and stop reproducing normally, then evolution will have ended and humanity at that point will become a true End Result of evolution.

Offline Proto

  • Many of them supposed him to be a drunk gambler
  • Well Established
  • *****
  • Posts: 1007
  • Neither them nor us
Re: Skepticism vs. Atheism
« Reply #133 on: May 24, 2009, 06:04:50 PM »
You take great photos so I'm not going to argue.  :P
Shucks.


But the great modern biological reductionist Dawkins doesn't agree with your first point(retreat behind authority (talk about cherry picking your authorities!)) - and personally I think that while some aspects of sociobiology are legitimate science, much that I have read in this field is little more than speculation. Maybe you can recommend some reading to improve my opinion.
Dawkins doesn't think evolution has an end point to my knowledge. If he did, he would be wrong. Evolution would only halt at Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium, which never completely occurs. What Dawkins may believe (I'm not sure) is that evolution has a tendency to repeat. That is true. It's called convergent evolution. I took that into account when by mentioning that intelligence approaching our level is very rare in nature.


I said I wasn't going to argue, but I guess I will....mmm.... elaborate a bit.

I didn't say there was an end point - or that Dawkins said that. The point I was trying to make was that many scientists, beginning with Darwin himself, felt that there was a kind of direction within the causal medium of natural selection. Dawkins is an advocate of this.

He is an advocate of biological "arms races", believing that evolving lines of organisms compete against each other, improving adaptions. As the prey gets faster, so also does the predator. As a shell gets thicker, so also the teeth and jaws get stronger. Overall, it is thought that this kind of comparative progress leads to a kind of absolute progress which is ultimately expressed in terms of brains and intelligence. He draws a parallel with how military arms races have progressed from focussing on weapons through to the use of computers, intelligent technology and electronics. Humans or human-like beings may not have been absolutely necessary end consequences of evolution (the arms race could have been won earlier), but their appearance is far from a matter of coincidence. This is the sort of thing that can reasonably be expected.

Since evolution cannot progress in any possible direction (there are certain niches/constraints - and not all niches are equal) this leads to many cases of convergence.

The above way of thinking leads to statements such as the following from Conway Morris "witin certain limits the outcome of evolutionary processes may be rather predictable".

Gould of course disagreed.

Perhaps I oversimplified my point above - maybe this helps clarify.

Some sources which expand on the above: Dawkins, 1986 The Blind Watchmaker
Dawkins, R and J. R. Krebs 1979 Arms races between and within species, Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, Series B: Biological Sciences 205: 489-511
R. Dawkins, 1997, Human Chauvinism reviow of Full House by Stephen Jay Gould. Evolution 51(3): 1015-20.
Conway Morris, S. 1998 The Crucible of Creation: The Burgess Shale and the Rise of Animals. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
« Last Edit: May 24, 2009, 06:26:15 PM by Proto »
"If you wish to advance into the infinite, explore the finite in all directions", Goethe

Offline dhawk

  • Seasoned Contributor
  • ****
  • Posts: 879
  • Physkepticist
    • The Physkepticist
Re: Skepticism vs. Atheism
« Reply #134 on: May 25, 2009, 04:59:02 AM »
So if I say "my car exists", what I mean is that from an empirical perspective the evidence in favor of my car existing is [so] overwhelming that the idea that is exists is by far the best explanation.

I still disagree with the choice of words, if the goal is to have a precise scientific statement.  It's not accurate to say that there is evidence that supports the existence of your car.  Again, existence is outside the scope of science.  The second part of what you said is more accurate, but the word explanation is problematic, because it implies a connection to what's "really" going on.

It is far better to make explicit references to models, predictions and observations.  I'm not merely being pedantic - these are the words used by scientists when discussing fundamental ideas in cosmology, quantum mechanics, and relativity.  I have even heard a physicist specifically state he tries to avoid ever using the word explanation in his classes, because it perpetuates a misconception about how science works.  Or if you read the first chapter of Dirac's Quantum Mechanics, you'll see how careful he is with his language.

I would have said, "the model in which I have a car is the one that 1) has the fewest assumptions and 2) makes good predictions of observations."  Both of those qualities are purely pragmatic, and need not have any special relationship to the Truth. 

I agree with what you said earlier, and think that basic idea applies to everything, even mundane things we take for granted, like the existence of a car:
Attaching a probability to the existence of God is not only stepping out of the boundaries of empiricism, but also pretending that you have even a piece of Ultimate Truth.

In fact, I like it enough that it's my new signature.
Attaching a probability to the existence of God is not only stepping out of the boundaries of empiricism, but also pretending that you have even a piece of Ultimate Truth.

 

personate-rain