When I was a very young child, 8 years old, I remember going to services at our local Reform temple one evening. It was a very cold day, and I was running ahead of my family when my mother called out for me to be careful. I told her, secure and confident in the way that only a child can be, that I had nothing to fear since a temple is “God’s house” and of course I couldn’t get hurt there. She reiterated that I had to be careful, and that I could break a bone if I slipped and fell on the ice. That was the first time I truly began to realize that theism didn’t quite add up.
So, I’ve written here, at great length, about the importance of negation, of the null hypothesis, as a fundamental hypothesis that can only be overturned by carrying the burden of proof. And the null hypothesis’ relationship to belief in deities. (or God, or G-d, or יהוה, or what-have-you). But tonight I was discussing Spinoza and Einstein with someone, and it helped me to crystallize a way that I might share my mind with you… and thereby give you insight into where I’m coming from.
Professional Christian apologists like Frank Turek love to shift the burden of proof via a tactic so intellectually dishonest, that I’m sometimes surprised that they manage to keep a straight face. While it comes in various flavors and often uses various versions of the Murder One fallacy, generally dovetailed with a full on Gish Gallop, the argument boils down to the claim that unless someone knows the deepest mysteries of physics below the Planck scale, and the entire chain of chemical reactions and evolutionary events that took us from proto-replicators to today, that theistic claims must be the default hypothesis.
Imagine my eyes rolling so hard that they might violate conservation of angular momentum, and you’ll have a pretty good idea of my reaction to this moist nugget of fractal wrongness.
“I slept with faith and found a corpse in my arms on awakening; I drank and danced all night with doubt and found her a virgin in the morning.” – The Book of Lies
I’d like to address the claim that an omnipotent, omniscient being, a being that wanted its will to be communicated with perfect clarity and fidelity to all people for all of time, decided to do so by having people grind up pigments in order to stain dead trees and/or animal hides with words.
“I think Martin Luther correctly distinguished between what he called the magisterial and ministerial uses of reason. The magisterial use of reason occurs when reason stands over and above the gospel like a magistrate and judges it on the basis of argument and evidence. The ministerial use of reason occurs when reason submits to and serves the gospel…. Should a conflict arise between the witness of the Holy Spirit to the fundamental truth of the Christian faith and beliefs based on argument and evidence, then it is the former which must take precedence over the latter.” – William Lane Craig
Craig’s entire schtick is that it is reasonable to have faith in an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent deity that calls for genocide; that that deity gives rules for the proper care and beating of slaves; that that deity created humans without the knowledge of good and evil, and then punished all humans, forever, because the first humans did something that was evil… which god had specifically and deliberately made it impossible for Adam and Eve to know. Besides the inherent absurdity of trying to rebrand faith from “belief without evidence”, to some strange alchemical modification of knowledge, there is the utter absurdity of Craig’s deliberate, patent, and freely confessed intellectual dishonesty.
I have, previously, discussed how absolute ontological certainly is precluded by the structure and nature of knowledge. I also recently engaged in a public debate that touched on the nature of the null hypothesis and reasonable beliefs. My opponent from that debate recently asked me to clarify my position on the issue of falsifiability. Specifically, the request was:
[W]hat is ‘falsifiability’? You seem to take it to mean that a proposition yields predictions which can then be compared to empirical evidence and shown to be false. Is that correct?
My response was that that statement was “Pretty much” accurate, but that I’d need to write up a blog post “since the answer is somewhat lengthy.” Dr. Chenvi’s followup question was:
[H]ow that definition is applied to beliefs like “There are no transcendental truths” or “We cannot have real knowledge of deep reality” or “We should only accept claims based on evidence”, or “the external universe actually exists”, etc… None of these claims are falsifiable, on the basis of your definition. So whatever statements you make about whether or not we should believe ‘unfalsifiable’ claims should wrestle with statements like these.