Wednesday, January 30, 2008

There is no God - proving the negative

An anonymous comment on one of my posts here challenged the often argued atheist position that it is unreasonable to expect them to prove there is no God - as one can’t prove a negative. I left the anonymous comment there – of course it is correct - we prove negatives all the time.

Equally absurd, is that while arguing that you can’t prove the negative, many atheists actually claim that they have proven that there is no God. Simply put, the PoE - Problem of Evil - (or ‘Argument from Evil’ if you prefer) seeks to prove that God and evil cannot co-exist and since evil exists it deduces that there is no God.

Now some atheists have an interesting dilemma – if you can’t prove a negative then the PoE is worthless … if they credit the PoE then they accept the burden of proving their view that there is no God – or they retreat into agnosticism.

It is my view that the distinction between so called ‘strong’ and ‘weak’ atheists is nonsense. Either you believe God exists or you don’t – if you can’t figure out which, and many people are searching, then being agnostic is at least an honest position.

In terms of the atheist/theist debate however there is no hiding place in ‘you can’t prove a negative’, nor is there a defence in saying that being atheist is not ‘believing there is no God’, but simply ‘not believing that God exists’ while not acknowledging implicit belief in the corollary.

A number of atheists still set great store in the PoE – it creeps into most of their arguments at some point. While it is certainly not valid as an argument – it is flawed through and through and to believe its conclusion is more of a act of faith than believing in unicorns – it is none the less an interesting source of questions. Why do we have evil? Why are there negative consequences to some of our actions? Why do some people choose evil? What of the innocent victims of evil? Where/how does God fit into an evil world? … … etc etc.

I often wonder why so many atheists cling to the myth of the Argument from Evil. Is it simply that as people, when we choose to believe something (even a negative) we seek justification. In many ways it is so much more important for atheists to convince themselves that they are right than theists – after all, being wrong as an atheist means there really is an afterlife and who knows what else.

It must be very difficult to believe the negative – there is no God. It is an absolute position and it is not a singular position. There being no God implies there is no afterlife, no metaphysical phenomenon etc. This is such a vulnerable position, any evidence to the contrary undermines the absolute nature of atheist belief – no wonder so many atheists are so emphatic about requiring absolute proof to shake their absolute position.

Of course the weakness of the Argument from Evil is a real threat to atheist belief – if one can’t prove there is no God, well perhaps there is.

Now I don’t expect a single conclusive argument that God does not exist from atheists, but it would be interesting to see at least one that comes close, or perhaps an assembly of arguments or evidence that produces a weighting in favour of atheism. Failing that all we have from the atheist camp is a call to groundless faith in the proposition that there is no God.
To expect theists to provide proof (accumulated argument and evidence) of their position while atheists avoid doing so is intellectual nonsense brewed in a teacup. It is reasonable to ask anyone to justify what they believe – if they respond that they have no reason, just no one has convinced them of an alternative position, then one should question if their position is borne from reason and rational argument or faith?
I for one admire the faith of many atheists I have met – it stands firm in the face of all reasonable argument and evidence.


Thursday, January 17, 2008

It is really that simple

While indulging in the theist atheist debate over the last few months I have come to realise that there is only one question that really needs to be answered. The rest are qualifiers at best.

No it not the Problem of Evil which seems to be immortal in spite of being thoroughly defeated in ways too numerous to mention.

Nor is it the question of proof that God exists – many atheists appear to hold to a belief that is beyond logic, for many their faith is indeed strong.

There are two very important questions:
* Do we have freewill?
* How are we different from the complete thinking, singing, dancing, simulated human on the horizon of science?
But these questions only allude to the key and are themselves not the key.

The hub of the issue remains for me the existence of a metaphysical realm. While it may not obviously answer the freewill question, it does set us aside from machines. Of course you could argue that the spirit realm has/can colonise machines and perhaps that is what we are, colonised bio-mechanical devices – but none the less occupied in a metaphysical sense. So where I am really going with this is that the true crux of the issue is; “do we have a metaphysical or spiritual element?”.

How would we know if we had a spiritual element or not? – the $64,000 question! (my but inflation has taken its toll!).

Firstly we would have to seek the evidence within ourselves and secondly we would look to confirm it in others. The evidence would of course be metaphysical – no point using a metal detector to find wood.

The area I risk bumping into is that of brain chemistry and emotions – how to distinguish between the normal functioning (or even malfunctioning) of our bodily machine and metaphysical effects? We know quite a lot about brain function and personality etc. We know how sadness manifests itself in the brain and we know the areas of brain involved in math and memory. Clearly the human machine can function on a day-to-day basis as we would expect any fine machine to function.

So where and when does the metaphysical become relevant? It would be pointless for the spirit to occupy us merely as a physical home if it did not have a purpose – what are the options?
* To direct the body to do what it would not otherwise do – that is achieve some physical objective of the spirit.
* Provide a vehicle for the spirit to improve itself, or in some way to meet its own personal non-physical objectives.
Now I don’t know the answer, but either of the above (and perhaps other reasons you may think of) would most likely manifest themselves in ways which direct or influence our actions.

At this point I keep coming back to examples of metaphysical experiences (not necessarily religious in nature) that those whom I trust and respect have had. These range from premonition to telepathy like events and visual manifestations (yea call it seeing that which is not there – but not to be confused with hallucinations from wacky-backy or whatever). As for myself, yes I have a few events that defy scientific or probabilistic explanation.

However I find myself returning to the incident of Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus. This is a more powerful example to use than personal incidents which tend to be less open to scrutiny, less verifiable and easier to attack. But there are other well known incidents besides Paul’s, William Wilberforce’s conversion to name but one.

How does this convince me? The hypothesis “There is no metaphysical realm” is an absolute statement, all I need is a single metaphysical event to discredit it. In practice I am spoilt for choice, there are too many events to credibly dismiss then all as frauds or insanity.

With the existence of a metaphysical realm established, the existence of God is but a small step which I will keep for later.