Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Conversations with a Christian

I had an interesting exchange with a Christian recently that highlighted for me the absolute lack of respect for reason and evidence amongst the religious.  It is interesting how willing the religious are to contrast their belief in god against reason and evidence themselves.  It is very rare to find a Christian who believes that reason and evidence can actually be used to support the existence of a god.  I felt that this was an important thing to share, so please check it out below.  What I have posted is just part of our exchange, because the rest is largely irrelevant.  Also, all spelling and grammar mistakes in the selection attributed to him are his own: 

Christian:  It seems our discrepancies come over what we are willing to take leaps of faith for. You're willing to believe that everything can be explained by human logic and put your fiath in that, whereas I believe that man cannot fully comprehend everything and put my faith in God. Also, you are starting with the logic as you have laid it out and from there are, point by point, explicating how God could not exist due to each. However, I start out with the existance of God as my absolute truth and pick apart the arguments from there. In your case, logical arguments are bigger than God and so God cannot exist within them. In my case, God is bigger than logic and so has power over the logical arguments and turns their absolute truths into fallacies. If you take a step back and open your mind to the fact that we as humans are only wired to understand a very small crossection of the greater universe, be it light, distance, sound, time, or what have you, then you may be able to realize that no human can fully define the laws of the universe or its existance.

Me:  I think your argument really fell apart for me, though, when you said, “However, I start out with the existence of God as my absolute truth and pick apart the arguments from there.” If you presuppose your conclusion, of course you will arrive at it. This is a fallacy and therefore not a legitimate way to analyze a claim.

My aim is not to disprove the existence of a god with certainty. If you state that a god exists but has created humans and the universe in such a way that if we apply a logical and evidence-based analysis to the world around us, we will find that this god does not exist, I know of no way to disprove that statement. You have constructed an un-falsifiable claim that is inherently illogical.

Imagine if we did this with another issue, say politics. I tell you that I believe a careful study of economic principles and history shows that the supply-side policies advocated by Republicans will produce superior results to the demand-side policies advocated by Democrats. According to your logic it would be okay for you to reply, “Well, if you start off by using economics as the arbiter of economic truth, then yes, you are right. But I choose to use the Democratic Party platform as the arbiter of economic truth and then go back and decide what economic model works based on that. You and I just have different ways of approaching the problem.” This is absolutely not a legitimate way to think and analyze problems. A conclusion cannot be your starting point.

As I said, my aim is not to definitively disprove the existence of all gods by all possible definitions. My aim is simply to show that there is no good, positive reason to believe that a god exists when one analyzes the question objectively without presupposition in favor or against the existence of god. I also aim to show that there are good reasons to believe that the god of Christianity does not exist.

Given two thousand years, Christianity has failed to produce a single argument for the existence of a god that can withstand the rigors of logic and evidence, but atheists have developed many arguments such as the ones I have given to believe that this particular god does not exist.

The only recourse left for Christians such as yourself who wish to perpetuate their belief in the face of overwhelming contrary evidence is to denounce reason and logic themselves. As Martin Luther famously said, “Reason is the greatest enemy faith has.” When you contrast my acceptance of logic with your belief in god, you confirm this.


  1. "If you presuppose your conclusion, of course you will arrive at it. This is a fallacy and therefore not a legitimate way to analyze a claim."

    I don't think I would have said a lot of things the way he did, but I think you may be missing a valid point he's making-- there is no such thing as intellectually neutral. All of us start somewhere.

    He pointed out that your epistemology begins with reason. However, you take reason for granted-- you cannot demonstrate it; and to give reasons for why you trust reason would be circular, and so you are as fideistic as the Christian who begins with God as his ultimate epistemology.

    You also begin with a presupposition of naturalism that necessarily excludes God, just as his presuppositions make God necessary. Cornelius Van Til pointed out that a thinker's conclusion follows from their presuppositions, and that their method of argument ought to also be consistent with their presuppositions and conclusions. As an atheist, you presuppose purposelessness and non-rationality, and you essentially conclude as such. The curious part is that you attempt to use reason and purposeful argumentation as the bridge to get between the two.

    As a Christian, I would argue that genuine logic will point to God. The autonomous "logic" of sinners who hate God will naturally point away from Him, but this is not a blight on logic itself.

  2. Well, you make two points here, neither of which are valid.

    1) That reason and logic come from a god

    2) That presupposing the validity of reason is equivalent with presupposing the existence of a god.

    I have explained to you ad infinitum that reason and logic cannot come from a god even if one does exist and they would exist and be valid if we were naturally evolved or created. This is a point that you simply cannot make--it's not justified and it is frankly a little silly.

    The second point, that presupposing the validity of logic is equivalent with presupposing the existence of a god is almost (but not quite) as empty as your first. Reason is a methodology while the existence of a god is a conclusion. In argumentation, you can presuppose a methodology if you have justification for it.

    The methodology of reason has justification because its efficacy at answering questions has been proven. When we use evidence-informed reason well, we can usually (but not always) answer a question correctly.

    You cannot, though, presuppose a conclusion. Believing that a god exists is not a way of analyzing something, it is an answer to the question "does a god exist?"

    If you use the method of starting with your answer and looking for reasons to support it, you can pretty much justify anything. I agree that the only way to believe a god exists is to simply make the assumption, then work backward to figure out your reasons for such an assumption. However, this is not a good way to approach any problem.

    If this is how someone approaches a question, all they have done is demonstrate that they are not amenable to reason and therefore a waste of time.

  3. Always enjoy reading! Great brain exercise!

  4. Those actually weren't my main points. My main point was about epistemology, not about where reason comes from.

    You demonstrated that my point about epistemology was valid when you said:
    "The methodology of reason has justification because its efficacy at answering questions has been proven."

    How do you demonstrate that reason is efficacious? By using reason, of course. This is a circular endeavor. You presuppose reason, test reason by reason, and then conclude that reason is reasonable. How is this different than arguing that the Word of God is inerrant because it says it is?

  5. That's not how you test reason. You apply reason to a problem. If it gets the right answer, then reasons efficacy is proven.

    For instance, you use reason to figure out, say, how to design an airplane. Because the airplane flies, reason works. Nothing circular about that.

    And, as I said, reason is a methodology that can be tested. The existence of god is a conclusion that needs to be justified. Two entirely different things.

    You can no more use the conclusion that a god exists as your presupposition than I can use the conclusion that a god does not exist. If we both do that, then conversation is pointless.

    We both need to start off in a common place with the assumption that by analyzing evidence and using reason we can make as close of an approximation to the truth as possible. Then we look at the evidence for the existence of a god and against the existence of god and have a conversation about which side has the most compelling evidence.

  6. Which tool do you use to analyze the data about how well the plane flies?

  7. I think we're getting away from the point, though. The point is this: In order to maintain a belief in god, one is required to ignore or question the validity of reason, logic and evidence.

  8. It seems, more and more, that these Christian idiots forget something they taught us all in elementary school. The difference between fact and opinion. If I say that I am the son of god but have no way to prove my claim it means that this is only my opinion. If I'm able to convince others based only on my word then that becomes their opinions. On the other hand, if I claim that I'm the son of god and procede to shoot a lightning bolt from my ass and turn a bunch of water into wine (which I might add I read somewhere wasn’t even invented when the bible was written) then maybe that would be cause to believe.
    And for all you Christians who would take my comment and say "Well Joe, how do you know Jesus didn't shoot lightening from his ass and transform water into wine?" I'd like to make it clear that I'm only using that as a sarcastic example to make my point.

    In reality, anyone could venture to Las Vegas, Nevada and find an overabundance of magicians that could do all the tricks Jesus did...and more! Why don't these people go and worship Siegfried & Roy? They hang out with white tigers, Jesus never hung around with white tigers. Do you want to know why? Because he was a poor, attention whore and a shitty magician who couldn’t afford white tigers, all he could afford was dead fish. Bastard.

    From now on, this is what I'm praying too.

  9. Yea, that was a pretty EPIC comment Joe, right on.

    I had no idea Cody was one of the "you cannot trust reason/logic!" Christians...

  10. Ben-- you cannot analyze what you see or hear from others without reason. So you use reason to validate reason. This is circular. You are flipping open your Bible to show me the verse that says the Bible is the Word of God.

    "I think we're getting away from the point, though. The point is this: In order to maintain a belief in god, one is required to ignore or question the validity of reason, logic and evidence."

    I disagree. I do not question the validity of any of these when they are used properly, but unlike you I have a mechanism to account for them. You simply assume that they are reliable despite the fact that it is impossible for materialism to produce them, which is irrational. I do not believe that reason is untrustworthy, but that it can only be trustworthy if it was created with the intention that, if used properly, it will reach correct conclusions. As a Christian, I can trust reason. As an atheist, you have no reason to.

  11. "I do not believe that reason is untrustworthy, but that it can only be trustworthy if it was created with the intention that, if used properly, it will reach correct conclusions"

    Does the bible outline the "proper" ways to reach correct conclusions?

    Through faith...?

  12. "unlike you I have a mechanism to account for them."

    I've lost track of the amount of times I have explained the grounding for reasoning in atheism to you, but here goes (again!):

    Natural selection favored our ancestors who had the capability to accurately understand their circumstances over those who could not. Those who could reason properly were able to avoid predators and catch prey more effectively than those who could not, therefore those with greater reasoning capacities could survive longer and reproduce more.

    That gives atheism the strongest possible grounds for explaining human reason. The alternative explanation, that a deity imbued us with reason, is no explanation at all because

    1) it doesn't explain how reason originates, it just regresses it a step. We are still left with the question of how that deity is capable of reason.

    2) Humans are not capable of perfect reason. A deity that is capable of perfect reason would have to either be a)incapable of giving humans perfect reason and therefore not be omnipotent or b) unwilling to give humans perfect reason and therefore not be omnibenevolent.

  13. Also, validating reason with observation is not circular. Reason and observation are two entirely distinct things.

  14. If I may interject. Hello ben :P

    'God is the programmer, nature is the code and you are the machine claiming that nowhere in the code is there proof of god. When in fact the code IS evidence of a programmer' Your reasoning stems from the code hardwired into your brain and DNA, your observations and reasoning are made with the very substance you seek to disprove.
    It would be accurate to say the x-ray spectrum is a myth were I in 12th century england, however today it would be in-accurate. Observation can only be made with tools available.
    It is therefore unreliable to say 'because you can't see it, it doesn't exist.' Observation is at best a confirmation of existence, not a judgment.

  15. I wouldn't say that because something cannot be observed, it does not exist. I would just say that if someone makes a claim that something exists, and I have no way of testing that claim or anything other than their word to go on, I will disbelieve that claim. That doesn't mean that I say the claim is definitely false, just that I do not have any reason to think its true.

    It's also not accurate to say that the appearance of order in the natural world, whether in neurology, DNA or anything else, is the result of design. We have natural mechanisms that account for the existence of order almost everywhere that it appears which do not invoke a deity.