rationality, atheism, and mysteries prof. matt mccormick department of philosophy california state...
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Rationality, Atheism, and MysteriesProf. Matt McCormickDepartment of PhilosophyCalifornia State University, Sacramentomccormick@csus.edu
What is an argument supposed to do?
A successful argument for a claim p will be a set of reasons (different than p) that are true and that when taken jointly would imply the conclusion p to a reasonable person who does not already believe p.
Whats the rational thing to do when you hear a successful argument?Accept the conclusion.If a reasonable person who does not already believe p:understands and believes that all of the premises in the argument are true.understands and believes that the premises when taken jointly imply pthen, that person is rationally committed to believing p.
When are we being irrational? To fail to accept p as true in these circumstances would be patently irrational: You have understood the premises, and accepted them as true.You recognize that they jointly imply the conclusion.Yet you do not accept the conclusion.
Then what are the sources of rational disagreement?Often, the theist and the atheist differ about which premises are true.They disagree about whether or not the premises jointly imply the conclusion.One or the other, or both, have been confronted with a sound argument, yet they refuse to acknowledge it. (Irrationality?)
Can we give a successful argument for the non-existence of something? Some people say no:In general, (it is alleged) you cannot prove a negative because:You haven't looked everywhere.Craig: Absence of Evidence is not Evidence of Absence.You could be wrong.You just don't know what is out there (or what God may be like.)
It is reasonable to conclude that many things do not exist:Unicorns the Tooth FairySanta ClausDinosaursBigfoot
Hoax: Patterson Bigfoot Footage
Hoax: Crop CirclesDoug Bower and Dave Chorley from Southampton, England made the crop circles that had been showing up in English fields for 15 years.
Hoax: Loch Ness monsterIn 1993, Christian Spurling admitted that 60 years earlier, he and Duke Wetherall had faked this picture with a plastic and wood head over the body of a toy submarine with the intention of embarrassing a British newspaper.
You Are Already a Reasonable Atheist about Lots of GodsConsider these gods:Anansi, West African god who is brings rain, stops fires, and performs tricks. Brekyirihunuade is the highest god in the religion of the Akan people. He knows and sees everything. Cghene is the supreme God of the Isoko people of southern Nigeria. He created the world and all peoples.!Xu is the central benevolent and omnipotent god of the bushmen of southern Africa. He is the sky god to whom the souls of the dead go. Gefjun, the Norse goddess of fertility and agriculture.Sobek, the Egyptian crocodile god of water.
It Has Been Proven to Your Satisfaction that No Such Beings ExistYou dont believe that any of those beings are real. And you think it is perfectly reasonable to be an atheist about them. So its a mistake to say that negative existential claims about God or gods arent reasonable and cant be proven.
The Santa PrincipleA person is justified in believing that X does not exist if all of these conditions are met:the area where evidence would appear, if there were any, has been comprehensively examined, andall of the available evidence that X exists is inadequate, andX is the sort of entity that, if X exists, then it would show.
Is God like Santa?Now we have what appears to be a successful argument:If conditions A,B, and C, are met concerning an entity, then it is reasonable to conclude that no such entity exists.Conditions A,B, and C are met concerning God.Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that God does not exist.
A common response: God is a mystery.Several claims are often made about our inability to understand God:Gods real nature is vastly beyond our conceptual abilities.So our attempts to understand Gods nature, motives, plans, and existence are handicapped by our limited conceptual tools.Even though the arguments for Gods existence seem to fail, he could or does exist in some unconceived fashion.A related claim: Gods goodness is so far beyond anything we can imagine, that what appears to be evil is actually good and part of Gods plan. The problem is our limited intellects, not the impossibility of Gods existence.
Some of these points are correct:There are mysteries.We have our limits
The question is, what attitude is reasonable to take towards things that are at or beyond the limits of our abilities?
The mystery response undermines theismIf there exists something that is ex hypothesi beyond our capacity to understand, then it cannot be reasonable to form any positive belief about it.That is, it is inconsistent to simultaneously assert that it is reasonable to believe in the existence of something AND it is beyond our comprehension.
What should we believe about these sorts of entities?It is possible that God is the sort of thing that cannot, in principle, be grasped by human understanding. The universe could be populated with any number of things like that.Anansi, Brekyirihunuade, Cghene, !Xu, and Gefjun could possibly exist. (But you dont really think so.)
Agnosticism?So should we be agnostic about God, and the infinitely long list of other things that could be like this?
Agnosticism is not reasonable. It isnt reasonable to be agnostic about Santa, dinosaurs, the Tooth Fairy, unicorns, and Sobek. Once a certain threshold of investigation has been met, it is no longer reasonable to believe in X, or even to be agnostic about X.
Atheists and theists disagree about a number of things. They usually try to resolve those disagreements by means of argument.They often think of each other as being irrational because the other refuses to change their mind about the issueInterestingly, this model rarely if ever actually describes the sort of process any of us, theists and atheists included, undergo to arrive at our beliefs. Priming studies show that neurological processes are set in motion towards a reaction long before we are aware that we have seen or heard something consciously.
If these are empirical disagreements, about say whether or not it is possible to be a moral person without believing in God, we can go and look and settle it. If this disagreement is not empirical, say about whether or not Notice the two categories of non-existing things: fantasy things that have never existedwe deem these to be impossible given natural laws, andNatural objects that did exist once, or could exist (Bigfoot), but we The consensus among philosophers (theist and atheist!) who work on this topic, although not among theists at large is that none of the traditional arguments for the existence of God succeed. Evidence: Any information that is employed in reasoning to support an assertion. Neither reasoning, nor empirical evidence works. Or if there is evidence it isnt adequate to convict, as it were. This point is much harder. The presumption among all people who engage in disagreements about whether or not God exists seems to be that God is the sort of thing whose existence could be revealed through intellectual investigation, reasoning, examining the world, argument, etc. If God is not the sort of thing that would show, then we have a number of problemsIll return to these in a moment concerning mysteries.We have certainly looked long and hard in what we take to be the right places. Very few would argue that God is out there under some rock we just havent looked under yet. Biologists recently found a bunch of new species of plants, insects, mammals, and birds in Borneo. God is not like that.