Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Response to DB's essay

What follows is a response to an essay published by blogger "Da Bomb" on his site. The essay and direct comments can be viewed here.


If I did not want comments then I would not put it up to receive comments

Hounds released. No take-backs.

Atheism and theism is [sic] the central idea regarding our reality, our lives, our being.

Okay, before I get too involved here, I should say that irrespective of the content, the essay is not written well. The sentences are often too short and choppy, and the piece features grammatical errors which highlight the problems with its flow. Since these do not bear on the content, I shall try to avoid directly identifying them except as appropriate with respect to quotes.

That being said, this opening sentence features a false dichotomy. Even if you seek to contrast atheism against theism, the truth of the matter is that there are many "central ideas," not just the two you seek to compare.

The fundamental question for every person is the question “Is there a God?” We cannot sit on the fence in regard to this universal issue; the relations between belief or disbelief and the existence of God affect the very way we live and the way we perceive life.

You identified this explicitly as your "thesis statement," though based on the capitalization of "We" it is two statements... Taking the first, it is a bald assertion to claim that the question of the existence of a god or gods is fundamental to every person. You seem to take this as a universally supported premise, but this is clearly not the case. If this is part of your thesis, it needs to be argued; if it is not, then the whole paper is suspect based on the early dismissal of what is apparently a key premise.

With the second statement, we can sit on the fence with regard to this issue, and indeed a very many humans do exactly that. This goes back to the false dichotomy present in the opening sentence: there are other options besides atheism and theism.

Their qualifications and short bios are as follows...

As Bathtub already pointed out, it is your responsibility as a writer to either explicitly state the fact that these bios refer to the participants' positions at the time of the debate, or to provide updated bios. If this information is verified, it should be a major penalty in terms of the grade you receive.

There are a number of atheists that vary in their beliefs but there are examples from well known atheists that suggest the primary reasons for their disbelief in God.

In point of fact, every atheist differs from every other in terms of what he individually believes, which would be apparent if you ever frequented atheist forums. The one thing upon which atheists can be counted on to agree is that they all share an unbelief in gods. Beyond this, there should be some sort of qualifying padding to the 'suggestion of reasons,' such as, "...that suggest the primary reasons for their disbelief in God, some of which follow from Professor Dawkins' statements in the Dawkins-Lennox debate."

He states that the revelation of the theory of evolution showed him that the idea of a Supernatural Designer is not needed to produce complex creatures.

The ToE is not a revelation, and I expect Dawkins would never describe it as such. If you are citing a specific statement of his, you should include a quotation. If you are merely paraphrasing, you should include a reference and a time index.

These questions raise a number of issues such as “Does evolution take away the necessity of a Grand Designer?” or “Because we cannot scientifically test God does this mean that God is not real?”

Dawkins' questions, which you did not quote, have little, if anything, to do with these questions you'd evidently rather answer. Since these are your questions, not Dawkins', you should single-quote them to avoid a false association of them as actual quotes of Dawkins.

For the atheist, reasons such as these cause them to disbelieve in God.

This sentence fits better with the one about Dawkins' unreferenced reasons for rejecting the need for a deity, and I'd guess that's where it started before you later inserted the questions you'd prefer to address. It says nothing to your questions, which are not reasons in and of themselves -- their answers may be reasons, but you haven't provided us with any answers just yet.

Morality has been a controversial issue and is thought and considered by every person to some degree.

More bald assertion. Note that such assertions are unnecessary -- if you want to talk about morality, then do so. You do not need to invent universal experiences to introduce a relevant topic.

According to Dawkins, atheism has no absolutes regarding morality except for what our supposed evolutionary development has produced.

Important statements such as these must be referenced, and should be quoted. Be that as it may, Dawkins most certainly said no such thing. You are conflating "atheism" with "evolution" -- specifically, the development of morality with respect to humanity. Atheism doesn't say anything about morals whatsoever -- as shown by your definition a couple paragraphs ago.

However if [morality can be accurately described as "Dancing to our DNA"] then there is no real or absolute way to define what is morally right or wrong in a universal sense.

This does not follow. If Dawkins' statement is true, then we can define morality according to the 'dance,' and it is entirely possible that such a definition could be absolute and/or universal.

This kind of thinking is known as relativism...

While you are obviously trying to describe relativism, the existence of objective morals is not contingent upon humanity's ability to correctly identify them. It is not so much embracing relativism as it is acknowledging that actual knowledge of absolute morality may be inaccessible.

Therefore atheistic relativism has the consequence of ultimately no universal “rights”

This is false association -- all relativism would be subject to this consequence, if your "argument" is valid.

Therefore universal morality is evidence of a standard not made by human means, but by God.

Awesome. You go from arguing that there may be objective morals, to concluding that there must be god. Not merely weak, this is pathetic.

A significant issue is raised...

This entire paragraph is a stream-of-consciousness nightmare. No sentence follows from its predecessors in a grammatically appropriate fashion. It's so awful that I don't really know how to begin. Expect to see lots of red question marks next to this "paragraph" when the graded essay is returned...

If someone disbelieves in God it throws a challenging light onto their justification to practice reliable science, because if the laws were not designed, then they are potentially less able to be trusted.

This is fractured logic at best. The laws need only exist and be stable for science to be something we can practice -- there needn't be any designer at all. Of course, since Christianity admits of miracles, which are necessarily suspension of physical laws, it is under theisms such as Christianity that we cannot trust physical laws.

There are two types of atheists; one is a strong atheist who claims to know there is no God and the other is a weak atheist who does not know if there is a God.

If these are stated as definitions, you should cite the source, as you have done with other definitions. If it is your opinion, or some credible source's opinion, you should qualify it as such. In my experience, a "strong atheist" is one who makes the claim that there are no gods -- note there is no implication of actual knowledge. Likewise, in my experience a "weak atheist" is one who expects that there are no gods. Neither claims to know, but each is based on an expectation, which is itself based on evidence. I would say that "strong atheism" is on roughly equal footing as theism, whereas "weak atheism" is clearly an appropriate starting point. Agnosticism, to contrast "weak atheism," contends that it is not possible to know whether there are gods.

Therefore atheists basically believe in what they can be sure of, mainly through scientific demonstration.

You continue to paint all atheists with a humongous brush, but you must know this generalization is invalid. Many atheists may hold such a view, and perhaps even most, but no matter how you state it, you must qualify such statements through reference, or be guilty of falsely applying a universal generalization.

There is no scientific proof of God, nor is there scientific proof of no-God.

The first part is true, but the second part is patently absurd. It's not that there is scientific proof that there is no god, but that a universal negative cannot be proven except by definition. That is, if chalk by definition is white, then I could prove the universal negative, "No chalk is black." Since that is not the general definition of god, it does not apply. Saying "There exist no planets in the galaxy Andromeda" is not possible to prove, no matter how many times we fail to find a planet, until we are able to survey all of the Andromeda galaxy. The same is true of proving there is no god, except the problem becomes more magickal -- since god may not exist in our directly experienced dimensions, it would effectively require omniscience on our part to actually prove there is no god.

While it is true that there is no evidence for god, and it is trivially true that there is no evidence against any possible god, the two are not of equal value. There could conceivably be evidence for god, but there cannot be evidence against any possible god, without a provision of omniscience.

For theists finding truth and having faith is about taking the best conclusion with the evidence they have laid out before them, they take a belief in something beyond a reasonable doubt.

While this statement includes a reference, it is clearly untrue to say that all theists draw their conclusion(s) based on evidence, and it is certainly true that few classify their belief as "beyond a reasonable doubt." While they may consider their beliefs 'beyond doubt,' for most theists, reasonable doubts must exist, else a) no reasonable theist would change religions, or b) this statement carries an implied assertion that all theists so scrutinize their belief system. Of course, no matter what, the sheer number of mutually exclusive variations of theism requires that some of these beliefs which lie 'beyond a reasonable doubt' should be doubted. Either it is better to be unreasonable, or the assertion that these beliefs are 'beyond a reasonable doubt' is fallacious.

[B]elief is not merely speaking out what someone believes, but is more like speaking and then acting on what they believe.

You cannot define a term and then declare that definition invalid by fiat. If believe is based on what one considers true, it need not be related to how one behaves.

It is an attempt to shift the burden of proof onto the theist.

No, it is a reinstatement of the burden of proof. It lies squarely with the theist, who makes a positive claim. If the atheist made a singular negative claim, a case may be made that the burden of proof lies with him, but since the atheist makes a universal negative claim, the burden of proof cannot be shifted away from his opponent.

The theist in reply to the atheist’s disbelief in God might as well reply “I just disbelieve in the non-existence of God”

In spite of the source's credulity, this is nonsense. Consider the following:

Adam claims there exists X somewhere.
Bob claims there does not exist X anywhere.

Upon whom do you think the burden of proof lies? If you like, you may replace "X" with trial terms, and see if it helps. I suggest trying terms like "Werewolves," "interstellar teacups," "one-eyed, one-horned, flying purple people eaters," "corn," "chairs," "transparent objects," or "god." Irrespective of the actual existence of "X," I expect you can correctly identify the location of the burden of proof in all but perhaps one case... I wonder why.

Belief or disbelief in the existence of God is not a matter of “I don’t know”, but a matter of “taking the best conclusion”.

This is untrue based solely on your descriptions of "weak atheists" and "agnostic atheists," much less the general (and unmentioned) groups of agnostics and pure skeptics. For these sorts of people, belief or disbelief in the existence of god -- according to your own definitions in two cases -- is by definition a matter of "I don't know," regardless of what that person views as the best conclusion.

Atheists not only disbelieve in God but by their actions they actively believe in no God by not acknowledging or following His ways.

This is absolutely preposterous. How exactly can a person who does not believe in X acknowledge or follow the ways of X? Grow up.

Without God there can be no absolute right and wrong outside of what individuals think; individuals live the way they like (The Dawkins Lennox debate, 2007). For example, a murderer who has a lifestyle of a murderer cannot say and be neutral (even if he is honest) “I don’t know if there is a state law by which we will be judged”.

Your references leave much to be desired. I cannot determine from your poor referencing whether the whole statement is referenced, or just the portion following the semicolon. Furthermore, the debate itself is not a reference -- it is the document, sure, but to be a reference it must identify the actual person who made the remark. If you were referencing a book with multiple authors, this might work, but a debate by definition consists of differing viewpoints, such that referencing the debate is inappropriate.

Apart from the "reference," the "example" is no such thing. If individuals live the way they like, there is no reason a murderer cannot honestly be unaware of the laws in his territory. Indeed, even if individuals can't live the way they like, a murderer could still be legitimately unaware of the laws which apply to him.

The Bible makes the Christian theist’s position clear...

...just as the Qu'ran makes the Muslim theist's position clear, and just as the Tanakh makes the Jewish theist's position clear, and just as the Book of Mormon makes the Mormon theist's position clear...

What's clear is the fact that the atheist's position (generally, that there is most likely no god) is actually clear, but the theist's position (generally, that there certainly is some god) is likewise actually clear, but that the bible -- specifically, the New Testament as cited -- applies only to a select few versions of theism. You have moved the goalposts considerably, and you are poised to beg the question by assuming that not merely theism, but Christian theism, is valid.

It is imperative that people make a conscious decision about where they stand regarding belief and the existence God. [sic]

This statement would make a pretty good thesis, but you didn't really argue the case, either for this statement or for your declared thesis. Regarding your declared thesis, you ignored the fact that some people very consciously decide to "sit on the fence" regarding committing one way or another to the notion of the existence of any gods, and you really didn't argue why people should get off the proverbial fence.

All told, the paper was poor. A generous community college instructor might give it a C, and I'd be surprised if it received a passing grade at a university -- unless, in either case, the grade was inappropriately based on whether or not the grader agreed with the thesis and/or bias exhibited in the paper. You should seriously consider handing papers such as these to English majors for a grammar and format critique before turning them in, and you should familiarize yourself with informal fallacies before trying to make logical arguments. Unless you're taking a course in logic, philosophy, or theology, however, I wouldn't expect the quality of your argument to bear out too much with respect to your grade.

I respect your position, believe it or not, but the way you argue for it is terrible. Ignoring the reference problems, the grammatical problems, and the fragmented thought process, the actual arguments are generally awful. Insofar as I agree with the final statement made in the essay, the conclusion does not follow from the argument presented in support of it, and the implicit dichotomy is invalid -- making a conscious decision regarding one's belief in the existence of god may include indifference as well as an admission that insufficient information is available to make a determination, and you have set up your "argument" to specifically exclude these sorts of very plausible possibilities.

Of course, it is practically impossible to consciously extricate oneself from the proverbial fence in the case of every specific god, in which case a strong case could be made against your thesis -- making conscious, informed decisions regarding the existence of specific gods is not possible, so by superposition, neither might it be possible to make a conscious, informed decision regarding the existence of any god whatsoever...

Surely, you haven't consciously considered the possibility of the existence of those gods about whom you are unaware, and surely there are various gods about whom you will remain unaware for the duration of your life, so it follows that you will be unable to consciously consider the existence of those gods.

...so in principle it may be impossible to consciously consider the existence of the actual god, if any such being actually exists. Perhaps, then, the prudent decision is instead one of "weak atheism" or agnosticism. Odd, then, that you would proudly proclaim that you are an atheist with respect to gods you've never considered...

There you go. Not much in the way of constructive criticism, but genuine comments nonetheless. Try to organize your thoughts better, learn to write more effectively, and make sure your arguments are well-formed. Read and re-read your papers before submitting them -- on paper, if possible -- and try to ensure that you are fair to the opposing viewpoint. In my experience, the more concessions you provide to the opposition, the more favorably your own conclusion will be regarded. Failing that, however, you must at the least ensure that your arguments are air-tight.