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April 23, 2012

Comments

You have way more patience than I do, Greg! I don't know where/how the phrase originated, but it makes me cringe whenever I hear it. I think it's one of the most ugly, mean-spirited, insulting things I've ever heard.

The Flying Spaghetti Monster was invented by Bobby Henderson, and the point of the analogy isn't to say that just as there's no evidence for the FSM, so also is there no evidence for God. Rather, the point of the analogy is to say that God is an arbitrary explanation of the apparent design in biology since the FSM can be invoked to explain the same thing. It's a spoof of intelligent design arguments.

Here is Bill Craig on the Flying Spaghetti Monster: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/god-and-the-flying-spaghetti-monster

You know, I see these arguments all the time. Either it’s Santa Claus, the Easter bunny, Tooth fairy. Blah blah blah. I guess we humans really do have short memories. We read our Bibles, we buy books, view articles such as this, and somehow people still manage to have a Da Vinci code lose my faith meltdown. I also love how the atheists totally gloss over any biblical history or fact whatsoever. They appear to hone in on the same Old Testament passages, same myth stories, and same moral arguments.

Sam-

You're right about the origin of the FSM.

It has since come to be used just as Greg suggests though. Insofar as you are given to intellectual slumming, you could reply to those who use it that way in just the way Greg suggests. It will probably be ineffective.

As for the use that Henderson made of it, as an attack on ID, it also leaves much to be desired.

ID is miles away from any particular thesis about who or what the designer is. As far as ID is concerned, the designer might be Yahweh, or Zeus, or Cthulhu, or Q or some unknown and unguessed intelligent being.

And it might be the FSM.

As such Henderson's spoof spectacularly misses the point.

I usually apply the Marinara defense. If that doesn't work, I'll turn to the Roasted Tomato and Garlic Counter.

If someone raises the objection that we have no evidence for the existence of God, then that challenge needs to be met with actual evidence, and not just some passionate insistence that "yes, there really is evidence!" So for instance if you think that some cosmological argument provides evidence for the existence of God, you had better explain why. Because it's not obvious that any of those arguments really do provide evidence at all. They just seem to me like a slew of very bad arguments.

I should probably add that although I agree that the fundamental problem with theism is lack of evidence, I really dislike the use of the FSM analogy. It seems counterproductive.

Why doesn't anybody use The Bicycling Ravioli argument?

The public is fickle, Sam. [line stolen from Gladiator]

" They just seem to me like a slew of very bad arguments"

Hi Ben, suppressing the truth will do that to you. Not specifying anything particular about you, but the FSM and the like are evidence that God Is because it proves scripture correct about man. Your standard of what is evidence, is skewed. Like the other thread, the desperate attempt to leave LNC ungrounded, or to ground it somehow in itself when there is a legitimate and reasonable option. It isn't an option for some, not because it isn't there, but because it isn't an option for them.

Brad B,

The LNC is just a feature of how we use language. We use language in that way because we want to be coherent, and the LNC is the only way we know how to do that with language. But there is no deeper justification available to anyone than the desire for coherence.

You can continue to insist that you really do have a deeper justification (or "ground"?), but so far you haven't demonstrated this dubious claim.

As for my standard of evidence, I'm not sure how you would have me relax it. Anyway, it's not a matter of just demanding a higher probability or likelihood before I will believe that God exists. The existence of God is utterly unknown. There is no evidence whatsoever for (or against) his existence. So even if I accepted weaker and weaker evidence, that still wouldn't help the case for the existence of God.

Regards,
Ben

Ben, why do you say there's no evidence for or against God? Doesn't the beginning of the universe as well as the DNA molecule provide evidence for God? Doesn't the existence of suffering as well as hiddenness provide evidence against God? Why are these not evidences? What WOULD count as evidence?

Sam,

You wrote:

Ben, why do you say there's no evidence for or against God?

Well first and foremost, even if somehow there were evidence out there waiting to be found, I've certainly never seen any. So at the very least, I don't have any evidence.

But more than that, the essential omnipotence of God prevents there from being evidence for or against his existence even in principle. The argument goes like this: Since our justification for inferences about the external world depends on the regularities of our experience, we cannot justifiably infer about an external object that it has a property which transcends those regularities. However, God is an external object with a property (omnipotence) which transcends those regularities. So we cannot infer that God is omnipotent. But omnipotence is one of God's essential properties. Without it, he's not really God. So we cannot infer that the external object we might otherwise take to be God really is God.

You can read more here if you like.

Doesn't the beginning of the universe as well as the DNA molecule provide evidence for God? Doesn't the existence of suffering as well as hiddenness provide evidence against God?

Not that I can tell, no. Why would they?

Why are these not evidences?

They neither justify nor help to justify inferring the existence of God.

What WOULD count as evidence?

Nothing, that I can tell.

Regards,
Ben

Wisdomlover,

Insofar as you are given to intellectual slumming, you could reply to those who use it that way in just the way Greg suggests.

That's a good point.

Ben,

They neither justify nor help to justify inferring the existence of God.

That is what I suspected. You understand something to be evidence for a point of view only if it succeeds in justifying that point of view. I don't think that is the way most people understand evidence, though. Evidence is anything offered in support of a point of view, whether it succeeds or not. For example, I might offer an alibi as evidence that I didn't commit a crime. But perhaps somebody else could offer evidence that the alibi is lying and that I actually did commit the crime. If the case for my guilt turns out to be stronger than the case for my innocence, then the alibi will have failed to justify the belief that I am innocent, but that wouldn't mean the alibi wasn't evidence. In the same way, although I don't think the existence of suffering or the hiddenness of God are sufficient to justify the claim that God doesn't exist, I still acknowledge that suffering and the hiddeness of God are nevertheless evidence against God's existence. So we are just quibbling over the meaning of a word.

Sam,

You wrote:

You understand something to be evidence for a point of view only if it succeeds in justifying that point of view.

But this is not correct. In the context of evidence for the existence of God I do think that the relevant concern is justification for god-belief, but that doesn't mean I have such a strict interpretation of evidence.

Evidence is anything offered in support of a point of view, whether it succeeds or not.

But this can't be right, either. For instance, suppose some theist believes that God promised sinners will suffer as a result of their sin, and that because of this, he offers in argument the existence of suffering to support the existence of God. On the other hand, there are plenty of atheists who offer the existence of suffering as supporting the nonexistence of God. Neither argument succeeds, but on your view that doesn't matter, and we end up with the existence of suffering as evidence both for and against the existence of God, which is absurd.

Or perhaps in an act of desperation, a criminal protests that the smoking gun in his hand actually confirms his innocence, because if he was guilty he wouldn't have stuck around holding it while the cops showed up. Does that make the smoking gun evidence of his innocence, just because he's foolish enough to offer such a ridiculous defense?

On the other hand, I realize it's not obvious how to concisely characterize what constitutes evidence. I wish I could have answered your earlier question by providing a definition of evidence and then showing how arguments for/against the existence of God fail to meet that definition. But I don't have a rigorous definition for evidence, and so I couldn't do that. Perhaps you have some ideas on how to construct one. Personally, I am inclined towards the following:

A possible definition: E is evidence for a position P iff(def) it could be reasonably expected that E might (under certain conditions) help justify belief in P.

Of course, there are potential problems with this view as well, and so I'm not convinced it is correct. But it seems closer to the mark than anything I've encountered thus far. (Note that arguments for/against the existence of God also fail this criterion.)

Fortunately, I don't think it's necessary to fully understand the nature of evidence in order to observe that there is no evidence for/against the existence of God. We just need to understand enough about evidence to recognize that bad arguments are not evidence. Now, maybe on your view bad arguments are evidence (as long as they are offered in support of a particular view). Well, okay, I guess. There are plenty of bad arguments for/against the existence of God. But I don't know why you (or Koukl, or any other Christian apologist) would be interested in pointing that out.

Regards,
Ben

Ben, when I first started reading your comments, I understood you to be an atheist. It seems instead your position is a hard agnosticism, one which claims it is impossible to know whether or not God exists. Is that correct?

Jesse, yes, that is correct.

Hi Ben, I'm really short on time and want to answer your responses, but dont have it just now, but I want to let you know that I'll be answering some of your challenges from within the last few days. I'm suspicious of your willingness to minimize the necessity of justification in ultimate terms. I also recognize the contextualist language in the response to Sam, so there are some points to contend for that might make the time and effort worthwhile.

Just a note:

"Jesse, yes, that is correct."

But the Bible tells us that God is transcendent and yet immanent. It also tells us that everyone knows God because that which is known about God is evident within them because God made it evident in them. So when someone says "I dont know [of] God", this is the condition known as suppressing the truth.

Brad B,

Take your time as you like. I look forward to your response.

However, I'm not sure what is the point of insisting that I really do know that God exists. You can make all the claims you like, of course, but it does no good (in this case, anyway) unless they have some clear justification. For instance I could insist that no, you really don't know that God exists---you just think you know. But unless I offer some justification for this claim (e.g. the argument above), it doesn't really help to make it.

Regards,
Ben

Speaking of justifying claims-- how does one justify the claim that no one can know whether or not God exists? Does your omnipotence vs. regularity of nature argument above do the trick, or is there more to it?

Jesse,

I only have the one argument.

--B

Hi Ben, I spent a little more time reading from the link you provided in the other thread.

I can see that you endorse a system that is adverse to making ultimate claims. Jesse is correct to point this inconsistency out. I do think that the argument is really not putting evidence on trial, but putting perception on trial. Your worldview has given you permission to stop short of ultimate justification and claim it isn't necessary or that it's everyones problem equally. I have to wonder why.

Because we ground logic and morality in a personal God, [specifically Yahweh], doesn't negate the logical consistency that the Christian worldview uniquely enjoys.

Here is an example, you said:

"However, I'm not sure what is the point of insisting that I really do know that God exists. You can make all the claims you like, of course, but it does no good (in this case, anyway) unless they have some clear justification."

My response is no, this isn't my claim, it is the claim of the Creator, according to His revelation. Your worldview grounds knowledge in fallible man, thus the contextualist epistemology. If He has said in His word that this is the case with man, and if He is the Person the scriptures say He is, this is true whether men think it is or not.

Ben,

I'm not very convinced by what you wrote here, and I'm having quite a bit of trouble following your blog post you linked to. (Maybe it's just too late at night?) So please bear with me here. Are you arguing generally that can know nothing about irregular phenomena?

Jesse,

Oh no. We can know all kinds of irregular phenomena as we directly experience it. However when it comes to external objects (e.g. God, apples, Pluto, the qualia of people other than ourselves, etc.), then we must rely on regularities. Whatever we infer about the world external to our experience must involve the broadest-according regularities, else it will not be justified.

Even then, we can infer things that are what you might call locally irregular. So for instance we are free to infer the existence of black swans. But what we infer needs to accord broadly with the regularities of our experience, since those regularities are the heart of our justification for inferences about the external world.

Regards,
Ben

Brad B,

You wrote:

I can see that you endorse a system that is adverse to making ultimate claims.

What is an "ultimate" claim? Do you mean a claim about ultimate justification, or which I assert to be ultimately justified? As I said, I don't think ultimate justification is a coherent concept, and so of course I'm not going to assert that any of my claims are ultimately justified.

Jesse is correct to point this inconsistency out.

I haven't seen Jesse write about ultimate justification or "ultimate claims." Are you referring to this blog post? Or did he write a comment elsewhere which I must have missed?

Your worldview has given you permission to stop short of ultimate justification and claim it isn't necessary or that it's everyones problem equally. I have to wonder why.

If you can show me that you mean something coherent by the term "ultimate justification," then I would be happy to consider seeking it out. But whatever standard of justification we use, we can always ask ourselves why we should care about that standard.

Because we ground logic and morality in a personal God, [specifically Yahweh], doesn't negate the logical consistency that the Christian worldview uniquely enjoys.

As I keep pointing out, so far you haven't explained how an appeal to God helps us at all. You just insist that yes, it really does help. Okay, how?

Regards,
Ben

"Whatever we infer about the world external to our experience must involve the broadest-according regularities, else it will not be justified."

This is false.

The most that regularity shows, by itself, is that I might be wrong over and over.

Hi Ben, I understand that terminology is important, by ultimate, I mean irreducible as an appeal to authority. Whether it is a claim or appeal to justification, an ultimate foundation is one that is self attesting--on its own--no need to appeal to a further justification to logically compel belief.

The laws of logic aren't just descriptions of how we explain the world, if they were, they would be subject to change. Unless I am misunderstanding your system, this is a door left open. If you cant find coherency in an ultimate justification, I would have to say it's because you dont want to find it.

btw, we know that the laws of logic are unchangeable because the word of God informs us that they are.

Ben

"So for instance if you think that some cosmological argument provides evidence for the existence of God, you had better explain why. Because it's not obvious that any of those arguments really do provide evidence at all. They just seem to me like a slew of very bad arguments."

When it comes to the cosmological argument, it is not the argument that is possible evidence for God. The argument trades on evidence and that evidence is the big bang. So, we Christians have scientific evidence from which we derive our cosmological argument. I think that is the proper way of thinking of it.

Louis,

Sure, I understand that theists often think they have evidence for the existence of God in terms of the big bang, alleged problems with evolution, etc. However those things are only going to actually be evidence if the arguments which use them have some force.

Koukl talks as if it's obvious that there is *some* evidence for the existence of God, and that the only remaining question is whether there is *enough* evidence. But if the arguments are not forceful, then I don't see how there is any evidence at all. Instead we have "would-be" evidence.

Regards,
Ben

Brad,

You wrote:

Whether it is a claim or appeal to justification, an ultimate foundation is one that is self attesting--on its own--no need to appeal to a further justification to logically compel belief.

Are you sure that's what you have in mind? Just a logical compulsion? Because in that case we don't need to appeal to God to "ultimately" justify something like the LNC, since it is already a logical theorem (or schema, depending on how you characterize it).

This view also prevents you from having an ultimate justification for any inductive inference, which seems like the sort of thing you might want to have.

The laws of logic aren't just descriptions of how we explain the world, if they were, they would be subject to change.

Well I don't see why descriptions of how we explain things are always subject to change. Obviously there are many past-tense facts regarding human explanations which aren't going to change, but we can even find exceptions among tenseless facts. For instance it seems to me an unchangeable fact that human beings must appeal to their own thoughts to understand and explain the world.

At any rate, I don't regard the laws of logic as descriptions of the natural world, but rather as rules for those parts of language dealing with inference.

btw, we know that the laws of logic are unchangeable because the word of God informs us that they are.

I am very curious how you think this happens. Certainly there is no mention of, say, the law of noncontradiction in the Bible. Has God revealed to you this information directly? What was that like?

Regards,
Ben

Ben

"But if the arguments are not forceful, then I don't see how there is any evidence at all. Instead we have "would-be" evidence."

Thanks for the clarification I am gratified that you have a clear understanding of his position. If I am not mistaken he is working from the weight of the evidence, not maybe the force as you have in mind. It is a kind of decision made on the preponderance of the evidence, rather than a lack of reasonable doubt. It is the question: Is the preponderance of the evidence sufficient to remove reasonable doubt? I think that Greg answers it in the positive and has stated that his level of confidence in the evidence is sufficient to bring it to the level of something that is reasonable to believe.

Louis,

Thanks for the response.

I don't think Koukl should take for granted that there is evidence in the first place, though. Some people acknowledge that there is evidence for the existence of God, but they just think that the evidence isn't sufficient to justify belief. But not everyone concedes that much. Some of us---myself for instance---don't think the "evidence" pushes us in any direction whatsoever. And that's why it's not really evidence at all.

Regards,
Ben

Ben-

Suppose I have a deductive argument for the thesis C. It goes like this:

1) A

2) B

Therefore

3) C

Now, I also have evidence for the truth of the premises. But you tell me this: "That gives you no evidence at all for the truth of C."

What are you saying?

It seems to me that the only way that your claim could be true is for the argument from A and B to C to be invalid.

Well, it seems that your contentions about theistic (and atheistic) arguments are like that. Your insistence that there is no evidence for the theistic (and atheistic) claims is tantamount to the insistence that every theistic (and atheistic) argument is deductively invalid.

Is that right?

Ben
"Some of us---myself for instance---don't think the "evidence" pushes us in any direction whatsoever. And that's why it's not really evidence at all."

Why should evidence not pushing you in any direction be evidence that pushes you to the conclusion that it is not evidence at all then?

WisdomLover,

Of course there are plenty of valid deductive arguments for the existence of God, but in those cases at least one of the premises is unsupported by any evidence.

(Even if the other premises have supporting evidence E, as long as there is at least one problematic premise in the argument which lacks any evidence, I wouldn't consider E to constitute evidence for the conclusion of the argument.)

Regards,
Ben

Louis,

You asked:

Why should evidence not pushing you in any direction be evidence that pushes you to the conclusion that it is not evidence at all then?

Well, remember I'm speaking in normative terms, here. When I say that evidence doesn't push me in a particular direction, I don't mean a subjective kind of push to believe, but rather the push of justification for belief. So for instance maybe I believe an utterly unjustified premise (by "utterly" unjustified I mean that it lacks any supporting evidence whatsoever), and along with a few justified premises it follows that God exists. In that case I the justified premises might push me closer to belief in the existence of God. However, they shouldn't do so, if only I recognized that one of the premises required for the conclusion is utterly unjustified.

Regards,
Ben

Ben

You seem to be modifying your previous statment:

"Some of us---myself for instance---don't think the "evidence" pushes us in any direction whatsoever. And that's why it's not really evidence at all."

With an introduction of mixed collection of justified and unjustified premises. I is a premise that "Evidence is not pushing you in a particular direction." is a valid or justified premise, in your mind. At least that is what I got from your previous statement. So, both unjustified and justified premises should not move you toward belief or away from it as your previous statement admits no such effect on you.

If I understand your new modified position, you are saying if there is only one unsupported premise, that is enough to move you completely away from any chance of considering all the others as being valid on their own merit. So, and if I am mistaken please correct me, you are willing to throw out millions bits of evidence that supports something if you find that million and one fails to. Is that about right?

Ben-

This is not exactly a theistic argument (being atheistic), but it has the advantage of being simple, while, I think, disproving your contention.

Definition:

X is God ==
a) X is a being who prevents instances of misery and wickedness whenever He can.
b) X can prevent every instance of misery and wickedness He knows about.
c) X knows about every instance of misery and wickedness.
.
.
.

.
.
.

Argument:

1) Instances of misery and wickedness exist.

Therefore

2) God as defined above does not exist.

Now, this argument is unquestionably valid. The definition is a definition that some people accept. It's no good telling them that the definition is false (because definitions cannot be false). And there is excellent evidence for the premise. This leads to the fact that there is excellent evidence to not believe in the God so defined (and I don't).

Now, this is a perfectly good atheistic argument that provides evidence against a particular alleged deity (or family of alleged deities...in particular all those deities the definition of which includes clauses a, b and c.)

Uh oh. The vertical ellipsis above was supposed to include the phrase "[other stuff]" right in the middle. I used angle brackets for that though, making it disappear as an unrecognized html tag.

So it looks like I just decided to add a bunch of gratuitous white space. In truth, I just wanted to show that a, b and c need not be the only clauses in the definition of "God" that supports the argument.

You wrote:

If I understand your new modified position, you are saying if there is only one unsupported premise, that is enough to move you completely away from any chance of considering all the others as being valid on their own merit. So, and if I am mistaken please correct me, you are willing to throw out millions bits of evidence that supports something if you find that million and one fails to. Is that about right?

That is not my position, no. First of all, individual premises are not valid or invalid; rather arguments can be deductively valid or invalid. Second, I don't think those bits you apparently have in mind supported the existence of God to begin with. So I don't have to throw them out---I simply never had any reason to regard them as supporting the existence of God.

Regards,
Ben

WisdomLover,

No problem about the html. Sorry for my own delayed reply---I've been out of town.

Anyway, I do not take the position that we cannot rule out certain narrow conceptions of God. Obviously we can. Probably the best example is the God who causes me to not have the experience I'm having right now. At least at the moment of said experience, I can rule out that conception of God. However it all comes back to our experience. To the extent that an object is external to my experience, I can't rule it out like I can sometimes rule out the object which is (in part) defined in terms of my experience.

As you observe, though, you don't need to characterize God in those terms. God's essential properties aren't connected to our experience in that way, and so you are free to posit a God whose existence is consistent with the experiences we actually have. So ruling out that narrow conception of God isn't going to get us any closer to disproving God altogether.

Regards,
Ben

That there are instances of misery and wickedness in the world is not just a matter of my experience.

Shifting gears to talk about an evil genius even greater than Descartes (who can even make me mistaken about whether I am thinking) and ruling it out based on the familiar Cogito grounds doesn't address the atheistic argument presented above. The evidence I have for the existence of instances of misery and wickedness is ordinary evidence like the evidence I have for the existence of bumblebees and speedboats.

And the conception of God that is ruled out by that evidence is a conception that is not simply ruled out by the fact of my own thoughts (or at least, I can ignore my own thoughts and still rule that conception of God based on nothing more than the very ordinary evidence I have for the premise of my argument.

Furthermore, it is a conception of God that some people in fact have.

Now as to this issue of disproving God altogether, in order for us to have theological knowledge, it is not necessary for us to have all theological knowledge. The argument I gave gives us some theological knowledge. It is knowledge based entirely on ordinary evidence.

WisdomLover,

You wrote:

That there are instances of misery and wickedness in the world is not just a matter of my experience.

I agree!

Shifting gears to talk about an evil genius even greater than Descartes (who can even make me mistaken about whether I am thinking) and ruling it out based on the familiar Cogito grounds doesn't address the atheistic argument presented above.

I wasn't talking about that kind of mistakenness.

As to your argument, my point in the previous comment was that I don't see anything wrong with it. It's quite compatible with my own position. I sometimes experience misery, and at least during those moments I can rule out the existence of the God which prevents all such misery.

However I should clarify one point: As to the misery of others, is it not possible that God has in fact prevented it from occurring? I can only experience my own misery. But God is omnipotent and may well have prevented the misery of others without leaving any evidence for that.

For example, imagine a world where God suspends the consciousness of everyone who would otherwise feel misery. After the misery has ended, God releases our consciousness and implants false memories of having experienced misery. So we have memories of misery, but we never actually experience misery.

And God can perform similar tricks to secretly prevent other bad things from happening. I don't know if God has done this in the case of other people. Maybe he has. I can only ever know that he hasn't done it for me---and even then, only when I'm in the midst of the experience itself. (Otherwise it could be a false memory.)

None of this is to say your argument is a bad one. The argument is fine in its proper context. For if we assume (as we usually do) that our memories are authentic and that the regularities of our experience hold up as usual, then in that context we can rule out the existence of a broader swath of Gods than if we just focused on our own experience. But of course we can always consider a wider context where such Gods may yet exist even given the "apparent" evidence.

Now as to this issue of disproving God altogether, in order for us to have theological knowledge, it is not necessary for us to have all theological knowledge. The argument I gave gives us some theological knowledge. It is knowledge based entirely on ordinary evidence.

I'm not opposed to using evidence (in a context where we take it for granted) to rule out certain conceptions of God. However that's not going to get us any closer to positive atheism, which involves the denial of the existence of God in general.

Regards,
Ben

Ben-

I'm not trying to get to broader atheism (being a thoroughgoing Christian Monotheist). I am trying, and succeeding I think, to argue that theological knowledge is possible. I was, just as a first step, trying to to undercut your claim that there is no evidence for or against God.

WisdomLover,

I'm not sure what you have in mind when you use the term "theological knowledge."

At any rate, you have not given evidence for or against the existence of God in general. You have merely shown that there can be evidence against the existence of particular conceptions of God. And of course, I fully agree.

Regards,
Ben

There's no such thing as evidence for X in general. There can only be evidence for particular notions of X.

Did Clyde Cowan and Fred Reines discover the neutrino in general? No. They discovered an entity that fit a theoretical conception put forward (with a high degree of particularity) by Wolfgang Pauli over two decades before.

God is no different. There might be evidence for the Christian conception of God, but against the Christian Science conception of God (which is very similar to the conception I argued against above).

We gain knowledge of God and neutrinos by gathering evidence for and against very specific conceptions of them.

WisdomLover,

I don't know why you would say that there cannot be evidence for general classes of entities. In your very own example we see that Cowan and Reines discovered the neutrino. It may also be that they also discovered particular neutrinos, but that's hardly so important to us as the idea that, in general, the neutrino exists.

We can also have evidence against the existence of general classes of entities. For instance we can check the refrigerator to see if there is any food at all inside. We don't have to limit our search to, say, ham sandwiches, or any other particular food.

So as I was saying before, you can construct some specialized conception of God and, as long as that conception runs afoul of the assumptions we take for granted in a given context, then within the bounds of that context we can rule out the existence of that specialized conception of God. However none of the essential properties of God are inconsistent with every context of assumptions. We can always consider the possibility that our assumptions are wrong, and that some sort of creator-deity really does exist.

And moreover, while we may be able to find evidence against a special conception of God by associating it in a certain way to our direct experience, we can never find evidence in favor of that conception due to the fact that in principle we are unable to attribute one of God's essential properties (omnipotence) to whatever entity we might otherwise take to be God.

So when you say that "there might be evidence for the Christian conception of God," I must disagree.

Regards,
Ben

Your point about particular neutrinos existing seems way off.

My argument was not about particular Gods. It was about a particular conception of God. And just so Cowan and Reines efforts were not about particular neutrinos, but they were about a particular conception of the neutrino.

Pauli's prediction of the neutrino wasn't some vague prediction of some sub-atomic particle or other. It was of a particular particle that had narrowly defined properties and was predicted to be emitted by particular identifiable nuclear events (beta decay).

Cowan and Reines were after an entity defined with focused mathematical rigor. They were clever enough to construct a crucial experiment to detect the particle. That is, their apparatus would prove that the particle, so conceived, existed if it did, and that it did not exist if it did not.

But their apparatus has nothing at all to say about, (nearly) massless particles per se. It only addresses itself to the particular type of entity that Pauli predicted.

Now, I readily agree with this point:

we can never find evidence in favor of that conception due to the fact that in principle we are unable to attribute one of God's essential properties (omnipotence) to whatever entity we might otherwise take to be God.
if what you mean by 'evidence' is restricted to collected and aggregated reports of sensory experience (or some such).

But that notion of evidence is flawed. That's not the kind of evidence I have for, say, the triangle inequality. But I do have decisive evidence for the triangle inequality. Evidence that puts sensory evidence to shame. It's entirely possible that my evidence for an omnipotent God is like that.

I must also add that the shortcomings we find in establishing the existence of God through sensory evidence, while real, are not unique to God.

Indeed, they apply equally to the neutrino. I said above that Cowan and Reines designed a crucial experiment. That's true, but not if what's meant by "crucial experiment" is an experiment that rules out virtually every conceivable possibility out other than Nature giving a yes or no answer to the question we are asking.

If that's what's meant, then there can never be a successful crucial experiment, or a successful experiment of any other kind. This is because the possibility that the invisible leprechauns did it with their elfish magic remains a conceivable option that no experiment can ever rule out.

If the universe shows significant evidence of intelligent origin, no, that does not absolutely prove that there is an almighty God. It could, after all, be the leprechauns. That does not mean that the most reasonable conclusion to draw from the evidence is not, for all the charms of the wee-folk, that an Almighty Creator God exists.

WisdomLover,

Recall that my position is that we can rule out specialized conceptions of God, but not all conceptions of God. By asserting this, I do not intend to deny that we can use some definite (but still general) notion of "God." At a minimum, we might characterize God as an unembodied mind whose wishes always come true, and which used this paranormal power to create the universe. Now, that seems pretty definite to me, but it's also very general. It doesn't say anything about God sending a Son to die on the cross, inspiring a prophet to preach to the Arabs, looking after the well-being of conscious creatures, etc.

So if your objection is simply that we need to have a certain, definite conception of God in mind before we can discuss evidence for or against its existence, then I agree! But that definite conception need not be specialized to conflict with our direct experience.

On the other hand, maybe you really do object to the idea that we could ever have evidence for or against general (but still definite) conceptions of anything. But this is obviously false, since however specialized we make our conception, we can always further specialize it, leaving the original idea more general by comparison. So I gave the examples of, first, considering this or that neutrino in comparison to the more general notion of the neutrino, and second, considering ham sandwiches in comparison to the more general notion of food.

Also, I'm not restricting my attention to experiences of any one type or another (e.g. sensory experience). You can talk about whatever sort of experiences you like---but there's no getting away from the fact that justification for claims about the external world depend on inductive inferences from the regularities of our experience.

Of course I'm speaking under the umbrella of coherent ideas, here. Certainly we can rule out the truth of incoherent ideas (even regarding entities external to our experience). So aside from the fact that the triangle inequality does not regard entities external to my experience, its truth necessarily falls under that umbrella of coherent ideas.

Additionally, I don't think an experiment needs to rule out invisible leprechauns in order for it to be successful. We just take it for granted that such leprechauns do not exist, much like in everyday practice agnostics such as myself often take for granted that God does not exist. But it's not as if we have evidence for the nonexistence of invisible leprechauns any more than we have evidence for the nonexistence of God. That such silly entities do not exist is just an assumption we like to make in our day-to-day operations. The only difference is that some people really want to question my assumption about the nonexistence of God, whereas few people have a problem with assuming the nonexistence of invisible leprechauns.

Finally, let me address this point:

If the universe shows significant evidence of intelligent origin, no, that does not absolutely prove that there is an almighty God. It could, after all, be the leprechauns. That does not mean that the most reasonable conclusion to draw from the evidence is not, for all the charms of the wee-folk, that an Almighty Creator God exists.

Certainly I disagree that the universe shows any evidence of intelligent origin. However let's suppose for the sake of argument that, somehow, we do have evidence that the universe was designed by an intelligent agency. By your own admission, the designers could have been invisible leprechauns. But for some reason you want to say that it is "most reasonable" to put aside leprechauns and conclude instead that an omnipotent creator-deity is responsible. Now, I have to ask, why? Ordinarily, our preference would be based on the regularities of our experience. But in this case, we have no such regularities to guide us in choosing God over leprechauns. So why should we do so? What reason have we to prefer an omnipotent disembodied mind to invisible leprechauns?

Regards,
Ben

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