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Welcome! This is the place to ask the community of experts and other fallacyophites (I made up that word) if someone has a committed a fallacy or not. This is a great way to settle a dispute! This is also the home of the "Mastering Logical Fallacies" student support.


Dr. Bo's Criteria for Logical Fallacies:

  1. It must be an error in reasoning not a factual error.
  2. It must be commonly applied to an argument either in the form of the argument or in the interpretation of the argument.
  3. It must be deceptive in that it often fools the average adult.

Therefore, we will define a logical fallacy as a concept within argumentation that commonly leads to an error in reasoning due to the deceptive nature of its presentation. Logical fallacies can comprise fallacious arguments that contain one or more non-factual errors in their form or deceptive arguments that often lead to fallacious reasoning in their evaluation.

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Hilzar

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Hilzar


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#example
#help me
#logicalfallacy
atheism
religion
Fri, Mar 22, 2019 - 05:54 AM

Which one is it?

Is the following example an argument from ignorance or a false dichotomy fallacy or something else?

Person A: why do you believe in God?

Person B: We have no proof that God isn't real, so I default to believing that he is.



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Kaiden

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Kaiden


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I enjoy fitness, listening to and playing music, laughter, spending time with my grandparents and discussing ideas with other people. Intellectually, I am especially interested in topics in philosophy and theology. I am a student of philosophy at Indiana University.
Print Sun, Mar 24, 2019 - 05:38 PM
Hi, Hilzar!

I'm not so quick to assume that Person B is committing a fallacy. The language used by Person B to express his belief in God is worth paying careful attention to. He considers his belief to be a default position, and claims that he is justified in not giving up this default position because there is no proof to the contrary.

It sounds like Person B is describing what is known in epistemology as a properly basic belief. A full account for what a properly basic belief is, is still a matter of some work. Essentially, a properly basic belief is a belief that is not arrived at through making inferences or arguments, and is grounded in immediate experience or comprehension, or is a belief that is foundational to a system of knowledge. In the absence of any defeaters to a properly basic belief, a person is entirely justified to maintain that belief and would actually be irrational to not maintain that belief.

Relating this topic to your post, A properly basic belief is not arrived at through inference from other propositions or argumentation from other beliefs. A fallacy can only be committed in the course of an inference or argument. If Person B has a properly basic belief in God's existence—some non-inferential or underived belief grounded in experience—then he does not, indeed cannot, commit any fallacy in the course of believing that God exists along the lines stated in your post, let alone a fallacy of appeal to ignorance. Furthermore, citing the absence of proof (or, broadly speaking, citing the absence of defeaters) against his belief would justify him in proceeding to maintain that God exists and it would actually be irrational for him to give up his properly basic belief in God's existence.

In sum, based on the language used by Person B, it can be argued that Person B is entirely rational in his address to Person A. I encourage you, Hilzar, to dig deeper into your question by researching properly basic beliefs and discussions in epistemology in regards to whether the belief in God is properly basic.

Thank you,

From Kaiden


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Bo Bennett, PhD
Author of Logically Fallacious

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Bo Bennett, PhD

Author of Logically Fallacious

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About Bo Bennett, PhD

Bo's personal motto is "Expose an irrational belief, keep a person rational for a day. Expose irrational thinking, keep a person rational for a lifetime."  Much of his charitable work is in the area of education—not teaching people what to think, but how to think.  His projects include his book, The Concept: A Critical and Honest Look at God and Religion, and Logically Fallacious, the most comprehensive collection of logical fallacies.  Bo's personal blog is called Relationship With Reason, where he writes about several topics related to critical thinking.  His secular (humanistic) philosophy is detailed at PositiveHumanism.com.
Bo is currently the producer and host of The Humanist Hour, the official broadcast of the American Humanist Association, where he can be heard weekly discussing a variety of humanistic issued, mostly related to science, psychology, philosophy, and critical thinking.

Full bio can be found at http://www.bobennett.com
Print Fri, Mar 22, 2019 - 06:36 AM
This is a classic argument from ignorance since the conclusion is based on ignorance (i.e., ignorance of proof God is not real rather than proof or evidence that he is). I suspect, however, that nobody would every actually believe in something for this reason, which can be demonstrated by asking them about the existence of other gods, unicorns, Bigfoot, Russel's teapot, green cheese on the moon, or anything else that has never been proven not to exist. They will quickly realize they have other reasons that they believe in God.
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Shane Skinner
Saturday, March 30, 2019 - 11:17:54 AM
@Kaiden: Hello Kaiden,

I agree that if a belief in a claim is properly basic as you defined it and if there is insufficient evidence to prove an alternative hypothesis, then belief in the claim is warranted. Or perhaps another way of wording it is that belief in a default position which does not make a positive claim requiring supporting evidence is warranted in light of lacking evidence to the contrary.

However, I think that it is difficult to establish the claim of "God is real" as properly basic or a default position. In terms of properly basic, this claim is neither self-evident nor fundamentally empirical (as it would fall under the category of claims that can be assessed by scientific or naturalistic means, which is contrary to the supernatural nature of the claim). In terms of a default position, the claim is positive, which requires a burden of proof.

If we let A = the claim that God exists (positive claim) and let B = the claim that God does not exists (negative claim), then the default position is to not accept A (which is not the same as accepting B) until sufficient evidence warrants belief in A. Therefore, I do not necessarily think that person B holds a default position, but rather has the burden of proof.

Sincerely,

Shane

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Kaiden
Saturday, March 30, 2019 - 07:27:20 PM
Hi, Shane!


I’m sure many people in this forum disagree that a belief in God can be a properly basic belief. I’ve been down voted a few times, but you are the only one who has stepped out of the shadows, so to speak, and offered an argument in favor of a disagreeing position. I appreciate that, Shane.

I do not defend the idea that a belief in God is a properly basic belief. I refrained from defending this position for one primary reason. The reason is that I do not feel my knowledge of reformed epistemology is deep enough, yet, for me to decide that I agree with their position. So, instead of making an attempt to defend that the belief in God is properly basic, I implored Hilzar that Dr. Bennett’s answer should not be accepted without first considering the views of reformed epistemology. I’m not sure what Hilzar is up to, but I hope my advice had some influence.

Alright, Shane, do not confuse a negated statement with the lack of a statement for which warrant can be demanded. “God does not exist” is a statement that atheists claim to know is correct. Agreeing with the negation of a proposition—as atheists do in regards to “God does not exist”—is still a claim to know something and it is right to have warrant for this knowledge-claim. For instance,

The human body does not have two hearts.
The sun does not revolve around the earth.
I do not have a hat on my head.
There are no living Tyrannosaurus rex on earth.
Abraham Lincoln did not die of old age.
Canada is not in the Southern Hemisphere.

Surely a person agreeing with these claims thinks that he knows something about the human body, the solar system, the top of his head, animal populations, former president Lincoln, and geography. It makes sense to ask the person why he agrees with any of the statements—to ask what how he came about his knowledge of the body, the solar system, or whatever the matter. Similarly, if I claim that there is no God, I am claiming to know something metaphysical about reality. Due to this, it makes perfect sense for anyone to ask me to give reasons in support of my position about this metaphysical matter. The statement you call ‘B’ (God does not exist; atheism) offers an answer to an important question about reality. Is God real? No. Explain how you know that. To explain it with “because the contrary view has not been proven to be true” is an argument from ignorance. Atheism does not escape the responsibilities of warrant that it wants to impose all on the theist.

It is false, in the first place, to think that a person has a burden of proof just for making a positive claim. “Burden of proof” has to do with disputes in which one side is obliged to show why their position is right. This is not relevant to all positive claims. I claim to have had a blueberry bagel for breakfast this morning. Why should there be a dispute about this in which I have to defend that I had a blueberry bagel? And if I don’t have the means, through my computer screen, to prove that I ate the bagel, will you conclude that that I didn’t eat it? Has someone ever walked up to you and told you they had the same shirt you’re wearing? Did you demand evidence for their claim and perhaps call them irrational if they failed to satisfactorily support their claim that they have the same shirt at home? No, I’m sure anyone in your shoes would have said nothing more than something like, “hey, great!” For a person to make a positive claim is not sufficient for us to impinge a burden of proof upon that person.

Take another example. I believe I had a dream last night about riding on a bus being operated by a reckless driver. Now here is the thing. If I failed to provide evidence that I had that dream, does not mean I am irrational to believe that I had that dream? No. I can rationally believe claims that I absolutely cannot prove to anyone else. If I cannot prove to you that I ate a bagel or have the same shirt as you, it would likewise not follow that I am irrational to hold those claims for myself. I can have knowledge of certain aspects of reality that you yourself may not have access to. That is what people must understand, Shane: even if you could never prove to someone that your claim is true, and even if there were no empirical data or self-evident supports that you could offer to others for your claim, you can still be entirely rational to believe the claim for yourself and even be irrational for not believing it for yourself. Claims about your inner mind or your secret past are excellent examples of this. Clearly, you should not agree that every claim obliges a person to carry around a burden of proof. And clearly, a person’s inability to provide empirical or self-evident support for their claim is not sufficient for that person to be evaluated by society as irrational in holding to that claim. Adherence to certain claims and the rationality of adhering to those claims, can be a personal matter and irrelevant to burdens of proof that others demanded that you fulfill.

Reformed epistemologists say a similar thing about a belief in God. Some theists might believe in God on an evidential basis and can stand in the universities, contend with atheists, and level arguments in favor of theism. But a person can also believe in God in such a way that they have no obligation or need for having to provide argumentative or evidential warrant. A reformed epistemologist would argue that a person can have an inner knowledge about the existence of God—for instance, what a Christain would call the witness of the Holy Spirit—that cannot be immediately shared with others. And on the basis of these inner impressions that a person has (of what he thinks is God), he is entirely rational to believe that it is indeed God, provided that these impressions arise within certain contexts and that there are no defeaters to the belief. The claim is positive, but that does not necessarily impinge a burden of proof upon the person who makes the claim. A theist has no obligation nor, in most cases, the ability to prove claims about the activity going on within their inner person, which is how an experience with God is typically claimed to manifest for theists. Nonetheless, claims of this inner sort are rational to believe in, provided that they are formed within certain contexts and there are no defeaters to the belief.

I want to learn more about reformed epistemology. I hope I will eventually have the time to focus intensely on this subject, and I wish to revisit this page in the future and share what I’ve learned about reformed epistemology. From as much as I presently know about their views, they have two primary reasons for criticizing the kind of criteria for properly basic beliefs that your post has in mind. First, numerous beliefs which we consider rational to hold, are irrational by the standards set by the kind of criteria you give. Reformed epistemology (RE) challenges us with examples, like the following—

1. The world has existed for more than five minutes
2. There are other minds besides my own
3. I’m not a brain in a vat.

These claims are neither self-evident nor evident to the senses, so in order to rationally affirm them, we must derive these beliefs from those that ARE properly basic. Yet, arguments for these claims are rather poor or are too poor for these claims to be accepted with the degree of certainty with which we typically hold them. And I’m sure some people reading this post think that these claims are highly rational to accept and will rush to find such arguments in order to respond to me—but that would only show that they have believed these claims all along without having any good arguments ready, and without these claims meeting the criteria you’ve shared for being properly basic beliefs, and yet still thought of themselves as rational in affirming them—ergo, demonstrating my point. Yet surely these beliefs are rational to hold. So, if we all agree that these three previous claims (just a few examples) are rational, then if the are irrational by the criteria you present (which derives from classical foundationalism, by the way), then we should agree your criteria must be wrong, as RE strongly challenges us to consider.

Secondly, the criteria you share is criticized by RE for being self-reverentially incoherent because it is neither evident to the senses nor self-evident that what you have presented is the true standard for properly basic beliefs. In light of this, RE argues, in part, for a revision of our understanding of what really makes a belief basic.

Furthermore, what is the definition of “senses”? You often will hear of theists claiming to have a sense of God’s presence, thus the belief in God is arguably properly basic even by your criteria due to its potential satisfaction of the condition of being evident to the senses.

Furthermore, your last paragraph is wrong to assert that “God does not exist” is properly basic by your own criteria, because that claim is neither self-evident nor evident to the senses—there is a conflict between your last paragraph and the very criteria you present. I suspect that even you yourself doubted the sufficiency of the criteria you present. After all, you say that the belief in God does not satisfy your criteria. But instead of concluding that a belief in God is not properly basic, you only go so far as to claim that it would be “difficult to establish”. If belief in God did not satisfy the criteria you present, then assuming the criteria is correct, the appropriate conclusion would be that the belief in God is CERTAINLY not properly basic. Saying only that it is “difficult to establish” suggest hesitancy on your part to fully accept your own position. Hopefully, I have tested your position even further.

I think that not only I, but all of us in the discussion, should give serious attention to RE and evaluate the arguments given for it if we want to deeply address Hilzar’s post from a philosophical perspective. That has been my main conclusion. In this post, I’m have pointed out some basic ideas to consider, as we move forward: One, consider the views of reforms epistemology before agreeing with Dr. Bo Bennett’s answer. That is my primary objective. Two, by your account, Shane, atheism also carries a burden of proof because it is not properly basic by your criteria. Three, atheism makes a knowledge claim for which it is sensible to demand reasons. Four, a person can assert and rationally accept claims without having a burden of proof and without even being able to satisfy a burden of proof. Five, a belief in God may be a claim of the previous kind. Six, the criteria you present for properly basic beliefs has received considerable criticism by esteemed philosophers for the last several decades.

Again, I’m sure this will be another post that many disagree with. I wish that stepping forward with well-formulated viewpoints and arguments, as you have done, Shane, was the mode of operation for those who disagree, rather than just pushing a minus symbol. Though, people probably disagreed because they don’t believe in God, rather than because they had something to say about properly basic beliefs, which is the only topic that had I initially discussed. I appreciate that your post, Shane, showed that you recognized the true topic and I’m glad that you offered an argument. And even though I have not yet decided my final standing in regards to reformed epistemology, I hope that this post has given you, Hilzar, myself, and others some fundamental points to consider and I look forward to the input of the logically fallacious community while I prepare to eventually look deeper into reformed epistemology.

Thank you, Shane.

From, Kaiden

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Shane Skinner
Saturday, March 30, 2019 - 08:48:02 PM
@Kaiden:

Kaiden,

I appreciate your response and giving me some information to think about. Aside from the finer points of RE, which I am not too familiar with, here are my thoughts on some of the points you made:

(i) The majority of atheists that I know or I have researched do not make the claim that “there is no God.” The point that I was trying to make, and which I will state explicitly here, is that both A = “there is a God” and B = “there is not a God” are claims which require a burden of proof. I agree that B requires a burden of proof and is not properly basic; rather, the default position should be “I do not accept A until such evidence warrants acceptance”, which is not the same as B. Consider this analogy: Person C claims that a fair coin will land on tails when it is flipped. Person D asks why Person C believes this, and they say “it is a lucky coin.” Person D then concludes that Person C does not have a warranted claim. Does this mean that Person D believes the coin will land on heads? No, they are just not convinced of person C’s argument. Similarly, most atheists object to the claim “there is a God” by stating that there is insufficient evidence to prove it correct. This does not mean that they claim “there is no God.” There are some atheists who believe that there is no God, but they usually claim so probabilistically, not definitively.

(ii) Perhaps an issue here is that of definition. Because “theism” is a positive claim requiring a burden of proof, negating it with the prefix “a” seems to mean the exact opposite, which also requires a burden of proof. However, as previously mentioned, most atheists do not claim “there is no God.” So, there is a bit of confusion that can occur regarding the labels. However, I would like to mention this as well: most view A as an unfalsifiable claim. How could one possibly falsify an unfalsifiable claim? This is why I hardly hear any serious atheist boldly claiming B. My understanding of the atheist position is that it contains those who don’t accept A. Some may go as far as to say they are inclined more toward B, but do not actually claim B as fact because they would be falsifying the unfalsifiable.

(iii) I believe that, technically speaking, any positive claim should carry the burden of proof. This is because one cannot simply assume something as correct and use that as a basis for conceptualizing other things unless there is good reason and evidence for doing so. I grant that, if you tell me you had a blueberry bagel for breakfast, I will accept that without pressing for proof. This is because in the grand scheme of things, falsely believing you had a blueberry bagel for breakfast is not fundamentally detrimental in any way. I am not basing any important beliefs on this fact and it does not have large implications. Simply, I must choose which claims I spend my time rigorously assessing because I practically do not have time to do so for every claim I encounter. Should this claim technically carry the burden of proof? Yes, but it is something I am most likely just going to accept, because I would drive myself insane demanding proof of every minute or inconsequential detail of life. However, the claim A would have extremely important consequences, as it could potentially shape one’s entire worldview and the lens through which they interpret phenomena. So this claim most definitely requires a burden of proof, especially since the existence of anything supernatural has not been confirmed in any demonstrable way.

(iv) If one has personal experiences which lead them to undeniably conclude a God exists, then I may concede that the belief is rational or warranted for them. However, one may be warranted in believing both correct and incorrect claims. For example, it may have been warranted at one point in time, based on the available evidence, that the Ptolemaic model was the correct representation of the universe. As we know now, however, this belief turned out to be incorrect when new, more reliable evidence was presented.

Again, thank you for bringing up some interesting ideas and philosophical points. I certainly did not address everything you mentioned, particularly RE, but I will definitely do some research into this field.

Sincerely,

Shane

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Kaiden
Sunday, March 31, 2019 - 06:33:51 PM
@Shane Skinner:

Hi, Shane!


In your latest response, you contest the third and fourth points of my position, as well as raise new ideas to consider. I would like to discuss the meaning of atheism, the notion of a “default position” between affirming and denying God’s existence, the applicability of burdens of proof to every positive claim, briefly touch on the notion of falsifiability, and finish with the idea that warranted claims may still be false.

In paragraph (i), I’m glad that you clarify your position. You reaffirm that a person bears a burden of proof whether they deny the existence of God or affirm it. You argue that the “default” position is the one which refrains from accepting that God exists on the grounds that not enough warrant has been offered for believing the claim. However, I’m concerned about your description of this default position for two reasons: firstly, you, or the people you know or have researched, identity this default position with atheism. Secondly, you appear to treat this default position as if it were a view that, unlike those repented by “A” and “B”, does not have a burden of proof in a dispute.

You consider the default position to be the one that refrains from believing in God until sufficient evidence for believing it comes to light. And you proceed to say that this is not the same as affirming “B”. Pulling these threads together, your complete description of the default position appears to be that it is the position which accepts neither that God exists NOR that God does not exist, due to both views lacking warrant sufficient enough for either to be rationally believed. In my understanding, what you are calling the default position is hardly equatable with atheism. This suspension of commitment to theism, on the basis of insufficient evidence, while refraining from concluding that God does not exist, is indistinguishable from agnosticism. Your paragraph (ii) acknowledges the confusion that comes with naming this position “atheism”.

Now, the etymological roots of atheism have shown that the word has a somewhat flexible definition. Among philosophers of religion, I have found that “atheism” is typically agreed to be the literal affirmation that there are no gods. There are good etymological reasons for accepting this definition. As you recognized, “atheism” contains a suffix attached to the word “theism”. This shows that atheism is defined in terms of what theism means. Theism is not a psychological state of believing in gods, rather it is, as you pointed out, Shane, a proposition that there is a God (gods, etc.). Since atheism is defined in terms of theism, it is likewise appropriate to understand “atheism” as a proposition—the negation of theism: there is no God (gods, etc.) For this reason, an atheist is one who believes the proposition “there is no God”.

It is remarkable how often people today reject that this is the traditional or even sensible meaning of atheism. Defining atheism to be little more than a disbelief or a non-affiliation with theism, reduces atheism to a claim about oneself, rather than an outward claim about metaphysical reality. Atheism, in this guise, is nought but a psychological state of disbelieving something, usually due to the person’s perspective regarding the insufficiency of evidence. I challenge you to distinguish that from agnosticism. The man who coined the word agnostic is Thomas Henry Huxley, who did so in the 19th century. I recalled that he had invented the word and went to find quotes on exactly how he defines his terms. Here are three quotes by him that you can quickly research.

“Agnosticism, in fact, is not a creed, but a method, the essence of which lies in the rigorous application of a single principle ... Positively the principle may be expressed: In matters of the intellect, follow your reason as far as it will take you, without regard to any other consideration. And negatively: In matters of the intellect do not pretend that conclusions are certain which are not demonstrated or demonstrable.”

Thomas Huxley, "Agnosticism", Collected Essays V, 1889

“Agnosticism is of the essence of science, whether ancient or modern. It simply means that a man shall not say he knows or believes that which he has no scientific grounds for professing to know or believe.”

Thomas Huxley, "Agnosticism: A Symposium", The Agnostic Annual. 1884

That which Agnostics deny and repudiate, as immoral, is the contrary doctrine, that there are propositions which men ought to believe, without logically satisfactory evidence; and that reprobation ought to attach to the profession of disbelief in such inadequately supported propositions.

Thomas Huxley, "Agnosticism and Christianity", Collected Essays V, 1899


Surely, Huxley has the highest authority on the meaning of the word “agnostic”. Study his definition closely, Shane, and compare it to how the “atheists” you know and research describe themselves—perhaps, the Four Horsemen of Atheism, internet “atheists”, “atheists” on the street, and so on. I challenge you to explain to me why the view these people have been calling “atheism”, is not really agnosticism, instead. Defining atheism is terms of a psychological state and not a proposition, can serve as an escape hatch for many people who, inwardly, truly do deny that there is no God, but who wish to nonetheless deflect from themselves the responsibility of intellectually upholding their position or who wish to avoid committing the appeal to ignorance fallacy. There are no doubt many honest agnostics, but I suspect that there is a common inter-tangling of these two words for the purposes of avoiding intellectual accountability.

Nonetheless, take all of the people who honestly occupy a sort of middle-ground—agnosticism, if you will. An intellectual warrant can be demanded of them, even still. You and I both agree to the enormous significance of addressing the question of whether there is a God. It alters your perception of the world on a fundamental level. We can rightly inquire to the occupier of the middle ground: Why do you neither affirm nor deny that there is a God?

In a dispute, people who hold the middle ground because they don’t care whether there is a God, can be demanded to explain why they disagree with us on the sheer significance of the question. And we can weigh arguments for and against the significance of God‘s existence. For instance, the person who does not care whether there is a God, probably thinks it would be wrong to kill an innocent child. Yet, they could be challenged to explain how any objective morality can exist apart from the existence of a God. Suddenly, the question of God existence implores them to care, inasmuch as it may challenge their fundamental views on morality. It seems they now have the rational burden of internally reconciling their world view with their view that God’s existence is not to be cared for. We can create in them a kind of existential crisis.

Does someone hold the middle ground because the evidence one way or another is equally balanced? We can challenge them to discuss with us the research they’ve done on the existence of God and exactly how it is that they reached the conclusion that all the evidence comes out too equally balanced for a rational decision to be affirmed one way or the other. And we could raise objections to their conclusion that the evidence is equally balanced. It seems they now have the rational burden of defending the view of the equal balance of the evidence.

Similar to the previous paragraph, but with a more specific description, does the person hold the middle ground because the evidence for God’s existence is very poor? Well, surely the person has conducted an intense review on the subject. I would challenge them to correctly recite even three arguments for God’s existence. That enough is a task. We could then challenge him to evaluate those arguments right in front of us. To undermine the goodness of an argument, they can do only one of three things—

1. Prove that the argument is invalid.
2. Show that the argument contains at least one false premise.
3. Show that the argument commits a fallacy.

If you have not evaluated an argument and shown that it is weak in one of those three ways, you have not demonstrated that the argument is a bad argument. If anyone thinks that there are no good arguments for God’s existence, they still have a claim to uphold: that every argument for God’s existence commits one of the above three errors. Before we believe their claim, then, let us hold them to the standard of taking those three points above and getting to work on every argument for God’s existence.

You see, Shane, when a dispute unfolds involving a person occupying the “default” position and a person affirming or denying God’s existence, I don’t agree to the notion you appear to have that this “default” position dodges a burden of proof. Whether a party affirms God’s existence, denies it, or do not affiliate with either view, they still have a commitment to maintain should a dispute between these parties occur. God exists? Explain what warrants your claim. God doesn’t exist? Explain what warrants your claim. The question doesn’t matter? Reconcile that with your belief in the reality of good and evil, or purpose, or meaning, (or some aspect of your worldview to which the question of God’s existed is significant). Is the evidence too well-balanced for the existence of a God to be rationally affirmed or denied? Show your work. Is the evidence for God insufficient? Show your work. Is it a meaningless question? Discuss. Had it never occurred to you to think of whether God exists? Let me help you think about it.

Wherever a person stands, they must come to grips with a formidable challenge. The question of God’s existence is so fundamental to the human being’s very person and I see no slick escapes from the responsibility of addressing and defending any given viewpoint on the issue when disputes arise between these various positions.

I have discussed the meaning of atheism, and the notion of a default position. Secondly, you raise the idea of falsifiability. Your paragraph (ii) appears to serve only to explain one reason why relatively few atheists defend the strong claim that there is no God. Although, some atheists actually criticize theistic views for being unfalsifiable. What you have here, Shane, is a good observation that I think explains why some atheists disguise themselves with agnostics masks—defending the claim that they actually believe on the inside (there is no God), is an enormous a task to undertake.

In your third point (iii), you maintain that a person carries a burden for proof for any positive claim they adhere to. You use the word “technically”. However, “technically” speaking, the burden of proof refers to an obligation. If I want my claim to be accepted by others, I must fulfill certain standards of evidence. However, you proceed to say that if I told you I had a bagel for breakfast, you would just accept my claim. In which case, you are telling me that my positive claim is acceptable without fulfilling some prerequisite obligations of providing evidence. There is an inconsistency here in what you profess and how you act. Now, it doesn’t seem that you realized that “burden of proof” is only applicable to certain contexts. Rather, you say that “any positive claim should carry the burden of proof.”

However, if it is not detrimental for you to believe one thing or another about the contents of my breakfast and if no important beliefs are based on it, then why am I obliged to evidentially support the claim (and similar claims)?

Also, to whom do I bear the obligation of proving what I had for breakfast?

And why do I bear this obligation? Your second sentence in (iii) defines your understanding of the the burden of proof, rather than supporting its applicability.

And, must I prove to everyone all the positive claims I have? That is to say, am I obliged to fly to France and speak on why I believe that I ate a bagel for breakfast? If not, then what is a non-arbitrary reason for limiting the range of people to whom I bear the obligation?

Why aren’t you posting information about your sex life, for us? Do you honestly believe that you are technically obliged to provide this information?

I’m convinced that you have not constructed a strong account for why every positive claim bears a burden of proof, nor an account that you yourself follow, nor an account that you yourself would even agree to follow when taken to its logical conclusion. Burden of proof is a term which is intended to apply to certain parties in certain contexts (i.e. disputes). It is the not the universal epistemic code that you are construing it to be for every positive claim that anyone holds. I think that some beliefs can be rationally affirmed on account of a person’s personal or internal experience, regardless of what standards the outside world pretends to oblige that you have to fulfill. This is not unlike what RE seems to claim about some people’s belief in God on the basis of immediate experience. And certainly the existence of God is a significant issue, as you acknowledge near the finish of (iii). This does not raise any counterpoint to the claim that it is rational to believe that God exists on the basis of an inner warrant.

To your fourth point, it is right to think that a belief in God on the basis of immediate experience is not an incorrigible belief. However, simply raising the possibility that the belief could be false, seems like an unnecessary observation. Possibly, the heliocentric universe model is false. Whatever point your fourth paragraph is after, can use a stronger argument than “the belief is possibly false.”

In sum, be wary of what people really mean when they identify as atheistic and please, tell me what you think about the uncanny resemblance that this popular definition has to agnosticism. Also, within a dispute on the existence of God, no viewpoint is avoiding a burden of proof, even these so-called middle positions. Furthermore, the burden of proof is a contextual obligation and is not universally applicable to instances of believing claims. You raise a good area of discussion with falsifiability, but require clearer intentions for your last point.

Thank you Shane, for being so willing to openly engage with me on this issue.

From, Kaiden



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Kaiden
Sunday, March 31, 2019 - 07:46:32 PM
@Shane Skinner:

In speaking of the three-point criteria for evaluating an argument, I say that “they can do only one of three things”. What I intended to say is that the only thing they can do is to show at least one of these three things. Thank you for your understanding.

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Shane Skinner
Tuesday, April 02, 2019 - 12:42:36 AM
@Kaiden:

Hello Kaiden,

In response to your previous points, I will discuss further the following topics:
(1) The burden of proof as an obligation and its applicability in specific contexts
(2) The idea that rejecting both the claim “God exists” and the claim “God does not exist” is indistinguishable from agnosticism
(3) The default position in regard to the claim “God exists”
(4) Falsifiability of the claim “God exists”
(5) The potential of warranted beliefs to still be false

(1) Many of these issues center on the definition of terms, so I will try to be explicit about what I mean by “burden of proof.” I am discussing a “burden of proof” as a characteristic of any claim (positive or negative) which requires that its purported verity is supported by evidence when rationally assessed or defended. In terms of obligation, I am using this in the particular context of either when one is rationally assessing a claim to determine if it they should include it in their set of beliefs or if one is arguing or defending such a claim. Using your example of the blueberry bagel, if you are either trying to rationally convince yourself that you ate a blueberry bagel or you are trying to convince me of it, a burden of proof is required. You are not by any means obligated to do either, but in the event that you choose to do so, evidence must be presented by the fundamental characteristic of a claim as having a burden of proof. Perhaps I may be complicating this by using terms which carry unwanted baggage, so I will try to make this clear in the context of a specific and general example. Let claim S = “the sky is blue.” Say that your default position is to accept the claim, no evidence needed. Then, if you are consistent and use the same standard, you must also accept any claim T = “the sky is C,” where C is any color. This would lead to multiple conflicting positions and result in an irrational belief. If one accepts a general claim, G = X, based on no evidence whatsoever, and X can be expressed a set of potential propositions {X_1, X_2,…, X_n}, where n ≥ 2, then this inevitably leads to an irrational belief about G. Notice that if this set contains 1 element, E, it immediately is expanded to 2 elements, as “not E” is also a claim. Because G has this property, in order to be rationally assessed, there must be a mechanism to sort out which, of {X_1, X_2,…, X_n} is correct. It is because of this dilemma that I say G requires a burden of proof, aka evidence. It is a characteristic of G that, when assessed rationally, demands evidence for the purposes of eliminating contradictory propositions. Whether one feels obligated to partake in this assessment is up to them, but if they are to be rational in trying to convince themselves or others about G, evidence is needed.

(2) A bit more on definitions. You challenged me to distinguish the rejection of “God exists” and “God does not exist” from agnosticism. Again, many have defined terms such as “atheism” in multiple ways, so I want to be very clear about how I define the terms I am using. I see the terms “gnosticism” and “agnosticism” as referring to knowledge and “theism” and “atheism” as referring to belief. Further, I view knowledge as a subset of belief. Because these are not disjoint, defining “agnosticism” as a middle ground between “theism” and “atheism” would be misleading, because one could be either an agnostic theist or an agnostic atheist. Let me define the four possibilities to make this clear:
“gnostic theist” = one who believes in God(s) and knows with complete certainty that God exists
“gnostic atheist” = one who lacks belief in God(s) and knows with complete certainty that no God(s) exist
“agnostic theist” = one who believes in God(s) but does not know with complete certainty that God exists
“agnostic atheist” = one who lacks belief in God(s) but does not know with complete certainty that God does not exist

(3) Now that these definitions are made clear, I will revisit the notion of the default position. Because of the characteristics of any general claim G I discussed in (1), the default position cannot be that of the gnostic theist or gnostic atheist, because they are both making positive claims with complete certainty which require evidence. Now the question is: should one believe a positive claim, even without complete certainty, without evidence? I contend the answer should be no because of the dilemma mentioned in (1). If your default position is to believe the positive claim on the basis of no evidence, then you run the risk of believing mutually exclusive explanations simultaneously, which is irrational. I thus argue that the rational position is to suspend belief until belief is warranted, which would make me identify the “agnostic atheist” position as the default position. Now, must one who identifies with the “agnostic atheist” position be required to provide evidence when they are assessing or defending their position? I also say no. This is because they are not making a claim; they are rejecting a claim. Another example (based on Russell’s teapot): someone claims that a teapot is orbiting the sun, but they do not provide evidence for this. Suppose you then say: “I will not believe this until it has been demonstrated a teapot is in fact orbiting the sun.” You are not making any claim about the existence or nonexistence of the teapot; you are simply withholding belief. Because of this, no “evidence” is required for this position. Kaiden, you seem to indicate that there is an underlying claim being made from someone who holds the “agnostic atheist” position which would require evidence, such as “I have evaluated all of the arguments for the claim and I have found all of them to be insufficient.” This is hardly ever the case and is not necessary to claim to hold the “agnostic atheist” position. Would it be correct for me to say, “give me evidence for why you lack belief in an orbiting teacup?” or “in order to lack belief in the orbiting teacup, you need to consider all of the potential arguments for its existence?” I do not think so, because the position you are holding is not making a claim about the existence of the teacup, which thus does not require evidence.

(4) This leads to the notion of falsifiability. The claim “God exists” is unfalsifiable because, regardless of new empirical data, and/or the potential massaging out of a component of God’s existence which is contradicted by empirical data, the claim can still stand. Try to think of a hypothetical scenario in which God’s existence could be disconfirmed; there will always be another unfalsifiable claim which could be made that would theoretically avoid the problem(s) inherent in the hypothetical. This is why I do not see how the gnostic atheist position can be rationally upheld and why relatively few atheists claim this. Because of the nature of the claim as unfalsifiable, I also do not see how one could rationally accept it without requiring evidence either. One could construct a set of infinite unfalsifiable claims, all of which have not been demonstrated to be correct. On what basis is one warranted to believe one of the claims from this set, but not all, if evidence is not required? Further, if one is to claim that there are reasons that may indicate a claim from this set is true, but these reasons do not necessarily meet the level of evidence required to demonstrate its verity, and they thus feel warranted in believing it, I would point out that there are multiple, if not infinite, other claims which, on the basis of the same reasons being used to justify that specific one, would also have to be believed.

(5) Lastly, I will clarify what I meant by “one may be warranted in believing both correct and incorrect claims.” What I was getting is that, even if one has demonstrated that their belief is warranted, it can still be incorrect. While this seems like a dry point, it can have important consequences. For example, we are currently warranted in believing that the germ theory of disease is correct based on developments in technology, the repeated successful outcomes when it is applied in the field of medicine, etc. However, there is always the possibility that new scientific findings could update an important aspect of it, show that one component of it was wrong, etc. What this shows is that even strong warrant can lead one to believe incorrect things; this is why I am agnostic in terms of knowledge. I do not think that one can be 100% sure about anything. Recall that science says nothing about the truth of something; it constructs the most probable model which describes something and is always open for revision on the basis of new evidence. The point that I am making is that even the best method of understanding we have at our disposal, the scientific method, which intends to rid of as much subjectivity as possible, can lead to incorrect beliefs. If this is our best method for comprehending how the world works, and even it makes no claims to absolute knowledge, how could one accept a claim of absolute knowledge on the basis of a method much weaker than the scientific method and with a lack of sufficient demonstrable evidence?

Thanks again Kaiden for engaging with me on this topic; I find it productive to ask important questions, introspect, and get at the root of these issues.

Sincerely,

Shane

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Kaiden
Saturday, April 06, 2019 - 07:06:57 PM
@Shane Skinner:
Hi, Shane!


Thank you for your patience as I balanced our discussion with my school work. I’d like to draw our attention back to my initial intentions for responding to Hilzar. My initial intention was that he might consider the arguments of reformed epistemology before accepting that Person B is at fault for committing an appeal to ignorance. My advice was motivated by giving attention to the language used by Person B to express his position as a “default position”. The term “default position” has undergone a significant change in meaning in the course of our conversation, Shane. In my answer to the post, I identified the default position NOT as a mental reservation to which a person resorts, guided by normative epistemological principles, when the evidence for or against God’s existence is weak. I interpreted it as a confident belief, grounded in immediate experience, that God exists—i.e. a belief that is properly basic. I hope we realize the way that the term “default position” has taken up a meaning that is virtually opposite to the interpretation under which I worked in my Answer to the original post.

You accepted without any evidence that I had a blueberry bagel for breakfast. Yet the greater portion of your paragraph (1) argues that this move is irrational. I would like to return your awareness to the inconsistency between what you profess and what you do. When the way you conduct your intellectual life does not line up with your philosophy, I begin to question that you truly accept that philosophy. As far as what you profess, your latest post expresses an agreement to the contextual application of the burden of proof. However, the context to which you apply the term “burden of proof” is not accurate to what the term means. You take a burden of proof to be an inherent characteristic of a claim that becomes relevant once the claim is being assessed. By all means, you are free to clarify your terms, but if the term already has a definition, then we should use that definition. A claim does not carry a burden of proof, a party does, and only in the context of a disputation with another party. A person may assert things to his heart’s delight and cannot be regarded as irrational for failing to fulfill the burden of proof for these beliefs, because his assertions are made outside the context to which a burden of proof applies. Claims do not have a burden of proof nor do burdens of proof arise whenever claims are being assessed—only parties have the burden of proof and, furthermore, people who are trying to convince themselves of something don’t have a burden of proof because there is no other party with whom they are disputing.

I think that the reason you strongly insist that every claim has the burden of proof, is because something worries you intellectually. I think what worries you intellectually is that if the burden of proof does not universally apply to every claim that is being assessed, then people are rationally permitted to believe whatever they want without sufficient warrant. You see, you continued to confuse “burden of proof” with “having warrant for a belief”. So, when I denied that every claim has a burden of proof, you may have taken that to mean that I thought some claims could be rationally accepted without warrant. Let me relax you, Shane, that this is not be the case. The previous paragraph has reiterated what I have been saying, all along: that fulfilling a burden of proof is not equivalent with having warrant for a belief. The second prong of my argument was to present an actual example of a belief that is rational to accept without fulfilling any burdens of proof: properly basic beliefs. Building on this, a person who believes in God without being able to give evidence or proof to others, and who has no arguments in defense of the belief, suffers no inconsistency in refraining from believing in additional claims that have not been argued, proved, or evidentially supported to him, provided that his belief in God is properly basic. (As an aside, a person may also be warranted in believing things, without fulfilling any burden of proof, by drawing upon his empirical and rational insights outside the context of a dispute with other people.)

There are differing views about whether God exists. In your latest post, you’ve said that “theism” is a reference to belief—“belief”, in contrast with “knowledge”. You say that atheism is also classified as “belief”, just as theism is. Pulling this together, you appear to be suggesting that theism, like atheism, is a psychological state about whether or not a mind believes something. That is not what theism is. When theism is defined as the belief in gods, the emphasis is on the CONTENT of the belief. Theism is that statement which is BEING believed true: the proposition that there is a God. Theism should be understood propositionally. As for agnosticism, pardon my frankness, but I am not interested in how you see that word. Huxley coined and defined the term. My aim in raising the distinction between atheism and agnosticism was to reveal that many so-called atheists are misidentifying themselves. Many of these people should be properly recognized, upon close inspection of Huxley’s definition, as agnostic. Your reply has not expressed any dissent from my observation that many so-called atheists misidentify themselves. From a certain point of view, you have expressed an agreement to this observation because you went and attached “agnostic” to your term for the default position.

However, since you do provide definitions—although they do not express disagreement—I want to review them.

You say that these four are the possible definitions. Well, this assertion worries me. If your definitions are correct, then it is impossible for there to be a gnostic theist and another person who is an gnostic atheist. Each of these people knows, according to the definition, a fact, but one that contradicts the other person’s fact. However, two contradictory facts cannot both be true, therefore they cannot both be known. Your four definitions, then, are not possibly all be true at once of any set of people. Allow me to alter the two conflicting definitions, on your behalf, by adding the phrase “claim”.

“gnostic theist” = one who believes in God(s) and claims to know with complete certainty that God exists.

“gnostic atheist” = one who lacks belief in God(s) and claims to know with complete certainty that no God(s) exist.

Another issue now arises from the redundant nature of the conjuncts of each definition. For instance, to claim to know with complete certainty that there is no God already captures the idea that the person lacks a belief in God’s existence. The definition of “gnostic theist” is also an unnecessary conjunction. One who knows or claims to know that God exists surely believes that God exists. Allow me to alter the definitions a second time, on your behalf. An gnostic theist is a person who claims to know with certainty there is a God. An gnostic atheist is a person who claims to know with certainty there is no God. The state of their belief in included in their claim to knowledge.

At this point, however, the terms “gnostic atheist” and “agnostic atheist” are smoke screens. After the definitions have been analyzed and adjusted for consistency, it is revealed that the definition named under “gnostic atheist” is really the “atheist” I’ve been describing all along—the one who claims there is no God. And the so-called “agnostic atheist” is essentially the “agnostic” that Huxley described. Sticking “gnostic” or “agnostic” in front of “atheist” and pumping unnecessary conjuncts into the definitions, can barely hide the parallels.

Besides, what you have at not the only four possibilities, even when they are adjusted for inconsistency. There is a fifth conjunction, and one that is not redundant:

“One who believes that there is no God and does not know or claim to know with complete certainty that God does not exist”… is a very common description of people and is missing from your dictionary. In fact, you don’t have a consistent way to name this definition. All the combinations of “gnostic”, “agnostic”, “theism” and “atheism” have been used up in your account. And if you use any of those words alone to refer to this fifth position, you immediate encounter an inconsistency or a mistake in your understanding of those four words. I’m afraid that whichever way to you handle this definition, your are encountering a need for serious revision.

I did acknowledge the flexibility of English words and I will continue to research scholarly discussions that center around understanding the various positions on God’s existence. My current terminological perspective is grounded on an investigation into the etymological roots of “atheism”, the authority of certain prominent philosophers of religion, and quotes by Thomas Henry Huxley. I am concerned that what you have particularly offered is not a coherent set of alternative meanings, it also misses a definition, and when the definition is to be incorporated, inconsistencies surface. Furthermore, I think that you take too much for granted that the popular usage of words is a good authority on their true meaning. It is not uncommon for the masses to misuse terms, especially technical terms. When you appeal to how “atheists” use the word “atheism” in reference to their own view towards God, you beg the question that these people are correctly calling themselves atheists. I await your revision of the meaning and names of the various views on the existence of God, if you wish to take up that heavy task again.

I would like to answer this idea you have that a person who believes in God does not occupy a default position. Be reminded that the term “default position” has changed meanings in the course of our conversation. By “default position”, I had meant to refer to a properly basic belief. With that in mind, the way to argue that the belief in God is not a default position, under the initial interpretation I had, would be to argue that the belief in God is not properly basic. You have not successfully argued against the belief in God being properly basic. I presented some criticisms offered by philosophers against the criteria for a properly basic belief that classical foundationalism advocates (the criteria you borrowed), criticisms that you have not rebutted.

Your different meaning of a default position has to do with refraining from holding belief in things for which there is no solid evidence. Recall the quotes on agnosticism. I implore you, once again, to compare what you‘re talking about with agnosticism. Even so, positions of this sort are underlaid with philosophical assumptions that should be subjected to philosophical scrutiny.
Obviously, a person who does not believe in God should not have to provide evidence one way or the other on whether or not God exists; I said as much myself, so there is no need to remind me of it. You retort that the assertion of “I have evaluated all of the arguments for the claim and I have found all of them to be insufficient”, is not necessary for a person to be what you call an agnostic atheist. This is a rather ironic retort on your part, considering that many of your examples of the agnostic atheist involve having them cite the insufficiency of evidence. Nonetheless, you misunderstood the status of the assertion—I did not propose the evaluation of the evidence, and finding the evidence weak, as NECESSARY for being a person who disbelieves on God; I proposed it as SUFFICIENT for being such a person.

Commonly, the people who don’t believe in God think they are rational in maintaining their disbelief; even in your examples of the agnostic atheists, they are portrayed as if their disbelief were a rational disbelief. Yet, why is the person rational to maintain his disbelief in God? This, itself, is a view to defend. People have ideologies that guide what they conclude about God’s existence and these ideologies are subject to rational assessment. If a philosopher disputed with someone who suspends belief in God, they may sensibly inquire about that someone, things like “why do you suspend belief in God? Is the evidence insufficient? Is the evidence too well-balanced one way or another? Does the question not matter? What is your standard of proof? Why is it a good standard? Do all the statements you believe meet that standard, and if not, then why is it not arbitrary for you to apply that standard to the existence of God? If the sufficient evidence was presented, would you then believe or still reject God? Can a person rationally believe in God even if they cannot present evidence to the effect that YOU are rational to believe in God? If God does not exist, how does your own worldview make sense, such as your belief in objective morality or the existence of contingent beings?” Indeed, if the arguments presented to a person for the existence of God are good arguments, then a person IS irrational in disbelieving the conclusion. Thus, I now assert, though I didn’t before, that any person, if they are rational in refraining from believing in God, must show that the arguments for God’s existence that have been presented to them are bad arguments. The rational suspension of belief does not occur in a vacuum. All of these questions and challenges attempt to open up some of the assumptions and potential inconsistencies that underlay a disbelief in God’s existence—assumptions and potential inconsistencies for which reasons can be demanded and weighed, and readjustments conducted, though a person may deceive some people into thinking that he has escaped the need for thoroughly examining his disbelief in God.

Some people refrain from concluding that there is no God because such a statement is unfalsifiable.
The notion of falsifiability is meant to restrict the hypotheses that science should considered as objects of its investigation. However, atheists often complain that one cannot prove a negative. But the atheist is very mistaken in making this complaint, not only empirically, but also when it comes to evaluating ideas of a transcend nature. Philosophers of religion, for instance, assess religious beliefs and do make headway in sorting the true from the false beliefs about transcendent reality, human beings and our relation to the world, and so on. Ultimately, though, think it’s true that the general existence of a higher reality may be impossible to scientifically prove false, and perhaps it is even impossible to philosophically prove false. For as some philosophers argue, such a reality (God, perhaps) is a necessary being. Your fifth paragraph raises interesting topics. Skepticism can be taken in healthy dosages. I will consider your last point more deeply and am interested to learn more about how this relates to properly basic beliefs.

In sum, I have addressed your concerns about having warrant for beliefs. More work is required for you to develop a terminological system for the views of God’s existence that is more insightful and coherent than that to which I adhere (theism, atheism, and agnosticism). Furthermore, I’m afraid the fifth definition I offer is a wrench in your system. I have attempted to correct your understanding of the purpose behind my philosophical challenges to the “agnostic atheist” and have lightly touched on falsifiability and your paragraph (5). After a careful review of this post, I think you will find that we closer in agreement than you may have thought.

Thank you, Shane.

From, Kaiden

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