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Two empirical arguments for theism countered

From: Mathew G.
Sent on: Saturday, September 7, 2013 7:13 PM
1) We experience everything has having a cause.  The first cause argument asserts that a god is needed to provide the first cause.  This relies on the premise that only god needs no cause but this premise is not properly justified, contrary to the insistence by some theists otherwise.  On the contrary, according to a number of cosmologists who have spoken or written on this topic, the available empirical evidences favors the conclusions that "absolute and complete nothingness" is an inherently unstable condition and as such is likely a fictional concept, and that all events do not have an identifiable cause.

2) Fine tuning argument.  The physical constants must have precisely the values that they have for life to exist therefore they were intentionally set at these values by god.  Victor Stenger, a retired physicist who made multiple substantial contributions to physics during his career, has written a book arguing that the fine tuning argument is incorrect.  If he is correct then the physical constants are not fine tuned for life.  My understanding is that his argument relies mostly on mainstream physics, is not publicly disputed by most other physicists, but that some of his argument may rely on more speculative physics.  A second counter-argument is that the standard model of physics predicts a multiverse.  Given a naturalistic multiverse we would expect our universe's physical constants to have values needed for life to exist.

I do not think theists have anything better than these two arguments.  It's not that they do not have lots of arguments, but the other arguments mostly are not empirical, evidence first, grounded arguments so they are not good.  Pascals Wager, for example, is not an empirical, evidence first argument.

On Sep 7, 2013, at 5:20 PM, Mathew Goldstein <[address removed]> wrote:

Some theisms are in direct conflict with how our universe works, others are not, and in the latter case there is an automatic agnosticism because that variety of theism is not being contradicted by the available evidences.  But this is mostly an academic detail because, as a practical matter, arguments rooted in mere possibilities carry no weight.  It is only empirical, evidence first arguments that carry any weight in this context.

see the overall available evidences as positively favoring atheism.  I disagree that there are no relevant evidences or that the overall relevant evidences are mixed.   Yes, there are some arguably reasonable, evidenced based justifications for theism, or at least deism, but they are too weak and too few.  There are many ways to define god that place god outside the reach of the available evidences, but that approach cannot justify theism.

I am not at all impressed with the atheistic arguments for theism of people like Karen Armstrong.  I see pure sophistry in such liberal theology, it is thoroughly vacuous word game nonsense.  Using that approach anyone can justify belief in the existence any noun by redefining the noun onto an arbitrary, substanceless, abstraction of jumbled sentiments.  I don't give priority to what other people assert over what makes sense and I insist on meaningfully constrained usage of nouns.  

There are different religions with different traditional and popular definitions of god.  And there are a variety of so-called sophisticated theology redefinitions of god that rely heavily on abstraction and poetry and analogy and contrast and indirection and ambiguity and the like.  Bit in the end it is all variations on the same theme and they are all mistaken because they all either fail to take an empirical, evidence first approach to justify the theism or they do attempt to take such an approach but only incompletely, in a biased way.  I literally cannot agree with the theism that theists of any stripe are defending because regardless of the variation, it is atheism that is the better fit with the overall available evidences.

On Sep 7, 2013, at 3:22 PM, Don Wharton <[address removed]> wrote:

This is most helpful.  Obviously the internet made a lot over RD's claim to be an agnostic.  I guess I put too much weight on encountering a great many of these references without seeing RD's redaction of that view.
A claim of 6 on this scale presumes that we allow the theists to include many thousands of different views of God without specifying which version they are asserting.  Obviously we cannot be certain that God does not exist if we don't have much of a clue about what is meant by the term.  This is the reason why I dislike RD's scale.  For most views of God we should be comfortable in being a solid strong atheist on this scale.  If we run accross a definition of God that totally removes the person God properties and aligns the meaning with science and reason as we know it then they have become a Christian atheist.  I would be happy to confirm to such a person that God exists.  I would then suggest their views would mean that they will be junking the Bible and commit to spending their church services. celebrating evolution, scientific cosmology, plate techtonics, etc. 
Of course, there is the rather irritating category of definitions that align the God concept with some process but don't do it with any useful clarity.  "God is love"  We cannot say that love does not exist.  However, if someone asserts that a parent with a feeling of love winds up killing his or her progeny in an exorcism this definition has an obvious problem.
I fully intend to review a good number of these debates before I actually go into one with any preacher.  Thanks for the reference to this one.

From: Martin <[address removed]>
To: [address removed]
Sent: Friday, September 6,[masked]:23 AM
Subject: Re: [atheists-27] Challenge to debate
On 09/05/[masked]:45 PM, Don Wharton wrote:
Richard Dawkins prefers to call himself an agnostic


I think I know why you said that, but let's first get back to basics... Look at Chapter 2, titled The God Hypothesis of Dawkins' famous book, The God Delusion. Under the section The Poverty of Agnosticism, Dawkins very carefully lays out a spectrum of probabilities for belief, with seven "milestones" (I would have called them "bands" of the spectrum, but I nitpick), in a nutshell:

Probability of God's Existence
Strong Theist 100%
De facto Theist
Very high, but <100%
Technically Agnostic, Theist leaning
>50% but not very high
Impartial Agnostic
Technically Agnostic, Atheist leaning
<50% but not very low
De facto Atheist
Very low, but >0%
Strong Atheist

Dawkins then categorically puts himself in category 6,  as a "De facto Atheist", saying:

"I count myself in category 6, but leaning towards 7 - I am agnostic only to the extent that I am agnostic about fairies at the bottom of the garden."

Now, I think your remark was coming from the following:

There was a comment by Dawkins at a discussion with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams last year (in Oxford University's Sheldonian Theatre on Feb 23rd 2012, viewable here: This comment was much ballhooed by conservative British newspapers (the Telegraph and the Daily Mail) and religious bloggers. Indeed, the Telegraph's Religious Affairs Editor, John Bingham, flatly stated: "He told the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, that he preferred to call himself an agnostic rather than an atheist." However this is a gross distortion. Dawkins in fact reiterated that he is a 6, then in fact clarifying further that he is a "6.9". The Telegraph's distortion was derived from the following actual exchange (at 1:11:40 in the video) between Dawkins and the discussion chair/moderator, the philosopher Sir Anthony Kenny:

Kenny (to Dawkins): "You, I think Richard, believe you have a disproof of God's existence."
Dawkins: "No,  I don't, I don't! You were wrong when you said that! I constructed in The God Delusion a seven point scale of which 1 was 'I know God exists', 7 was 'I know God does not exist'. I called myself a 6!"
Kenny: "Why don't you call yourself an agnostic then?"
Dawkins: "I do. But I think it is rather..."
Kenny (interrupting): “You are described as the world’s most famous atheist!”
Dawkins (being humble): "Well not by me."

Dawkins went on to talk about the problem of agnosticism and why he is a "6.9"

You see what was going on here, Dawkins was simply accepting Kenny's own implicit and simple definition of an "agnostic" as anyone between the two extremes of 'I know God exists', and 'I know God does not exist'. Dawkins never said that he preferred to call himself an agnostic!

By the way, this discussion between Dawkins and Williams would be a great study in preparation for your own debate!


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