Oct 30 2008

Religion vs Superstition – Mande Barung Revisited

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Michael Egnor has managed to write his most incoherent blog entry ever, and that’s saying something.  I was actually impressed with how many errors and misconceptions he could cram into each sentence. Writing for the anti-evolution Discovery Institute, Egnor also reinforces the point I have been making recently that the Intelligent Design movement is not just anti-evolution but anti-science, and their primary strategy is to paint any scientific conclusion they find objectionable as “materialist ideology.”

This time Egnor is playing off the recent Baylor University survey on religious beliefs, and true to form he gets it completely wrong. He begins:

“Skeptical” atheist Steven Novella has a blog post on “Mande Barung,” an Indian version of the Himalayan Yeti and the North American Bigfoot. Novella ruminates on the credulity of one Dipu Marak, a local passionate believer in the shy mythical creature. Debunking Yeti sightings is low-hanging fruit for skeptics like Novella, whose skepticism knows no limits — except for his own materialist ideology, about which he is credulous to the bone. One wonders why atheist “skeptics” need to explain to their readership — presumably compliant atheist skeptics all — that Yeti probably don’t exist.

I see that now he has taken to using “skeptical” in scare quotes. Clearly Egnor does not understand the first thing about skeptical philosophy. First, he seems to equate it with being an “atheist”. He does not bother to define “atheist”, which is not a small point, especially since I am on record as describing myself as an agnostic. (The atheist vs agnostic discussion is for another post.) This is also important because he is pushing the “materialist ideology” theme – and the whole point of agnosticism is anti-ideology.

He also assumes that skepticism and atheism are the same, which is also not true. There is only about a 70% overlap between scientific skepticism and religious non-belief. And that works both ways – I know some atheists who I would not call skeptics. Egnor is content, in his typically intellectually lazy and sloppy manner, to clumsily paint this all with the same broad brush.

He also doesn’t bother to defend his accusation that I profess a materialist ideology. As I have explained multiple times in the past in this blog and elsewhere, skepticism (as with science) is about method, not belief.  But”materialist ideology” is the talking point of the DI so every issue will be shoe-horned into that theme.

Egnor then asks a question that is a setup to the main theme of his blog – why would I bother to tackle the “low hanging fruit” of Yeti? This is actually a legitimate question, if Egnor were actually sincere in asking it. I have also addressed this question in the past – skepticism is partly the study of why people believe strongly in things that are probably not true. Sometimes I take on demonstrably false beliefs as extreme examples of how the human “belief machine” goes awry. It is similar to presenting for teaching purposes an extreme medical case, where the pathology is far advanced. Such cases are easy to diagnose and will rarely be seen in practice, but they are useful for showcasing pathology so that it might be recognized in its more subtle forms.

But Egnor is not interested in skepticism, belief, or the philosophical differences between agnosticism and atheism. He is just setting himself up to completely misinterpret the recent Baylor religion survey. He writes:

Logan Gage explains why. Gage has a superb essay entitled, “Which Secular Superstition do you Believe?” Gage asks:

…[Who] is more likely to believe wild eyed superstitions these days, the religious or irreligious?

The answer, Gage observes, is unambiguous:

Unambiguous?  Perhaps that is what Gage concluded, but Egnor would have done well to go to the original sources rather than simply quoting Gage, who writes.

As Mollie Ziegler Hemingway reported in The Wall Street Journal, “While 31% of people who never worship expressed strong belief in these things, only 8% of people who attend a house of worship more than once a week did.”…”In fact, the more traditional and evangelical the respondent, the less likely he was to believe in, for instance, the possibility of communicating with people who are dead.”

Mollie Ziegler Hemingway misinterpreted the results of this survey, and Gage continued her error, which was then repeated by Egnor.  The error is in trying to make sense of the survey by only considering a single axis of variation – religious vs non-religious. And yet Hemingway and Gage present the information that shows how problematic such a simplistic interpretation of this data is. Hemingway reported:

Even among Christians, there were disparities. While 36% of those belonging to the United Church of Christ, Sen. Barack Obama’s former denomination, expressed strong beliefs in the paranormal, only 14% of those belonging to the Assemblies of God, Sarah Palin’s former denomination, did. In fact, the more traditional and evangelical the respondent, the less likely he was to believe in, for instance, the possibility of communicating with people who are dead.

So while 8% of people who worship more than once a week believe in the paranormal, 31% of those who do not worship regularly do, and 36% of those belonging to the United Church of Christ do. This is “unambiguous”? Further, of the 31% who do not worship regularly only the minority are actually atheists. In fact, the figures quoted by Gage and Egnor (31% vs 8%) were about frequency of worship – not religious beliefs.

Gage hints at a more consistent interpretation of this data – although still manages to come to the wrong conclusion, which Egnor laps up greedily. This is not about being religious vs being skeptical. This is about the particular belief systems of conservative Christians – which includes the belief that the occult is evil and from Satan. This is really reflecting competing religions – conservative Christianity and New Age occultism.

But Egnor concludes:

It is amusing that, despite the pretensions of atheist “skeptics” such as Novella, atheists are much more likely to believe pseudoscientific claims such as UFOs, Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, psychics, Atlantis, and astrology than are traditional religious believers. Four times as likely, to be precise (31% vs. 8%).

Wrong. First, Egnor is concluding that the members of the United Church of Christ are not “traditional religious believers.” Second the 31% was not among self-described atheists, but simply those who do not worship regularly – and the same survey shows that the vast minority of that group are actually atheists.

Also – Egnor’s conclusion (in addition to being factually incorrect) is logically absurd. Self-professed skeptics (certainly me, the majority of my readers, and members of the skeptical movement) demonstrably do not believe in UFO’s, Bigfoot, the Loch Ness monster, or psychics.  It is almost by definition that skeptics do not believe in such things because they are not adequately supported by scientific evidence. What Egnor is trying to argue, in a bizarrely twisted fashion, is that those who promote rigorous adherence to scientific methodology and the questioning of all claims credulously believe in the paranormal.

This partly derives from the fact that he is failing to separate “skeptics” from “atheists” – they are not the same thing. His statement is incoherent when applied to skeptics. When applied to atheists it is more complex. The data show that many (but not all) atheists are indeed skeptics. For those who are not, some accept New Age beliefs, or Eastern mysticism. Some atheists are atheists because they reject the religion of their culture.

But none of this is reflected in the data quoted by Hemingway, Gage, and Egnor. This survey shows only that conservative Christianity is an incompatible belief system with New Age occultism.

Also – this survey is not the only information to be found on the relationship between religious belief and the paranormal. The parts of the survey quoted use worship as a measure of religiosity, and belief in communication with the dead as a measure of superstitious belief – but these are imperfect and narrow markers.

Other and more thorough studies have shown a more complex picture. For example, this 2005 study showed:

Past research has shown the following correlations between paranormal and religious beliefs: firstly, Tobayck and Milford (1983) found traditional religious belief to correlate positively with belief in witchcraft and precognition, but negatively with belief in spiritualism and non-significantly with belief in psi, superstition, and extraordinary life forms.  Clarke (1991) found slightly different results with religiosity correlating positively with belief in psychic healing and negatively with UFO belief.  Finally, Hillstrom and Strachan (2000) reported negative correlations between religiosity and beliefs in telepathy, precognition, PK, psychic healing, UFOs, reincarnation, and communication with the spirits.  As indicated earlier, the mixed results are largely due to the different measurements of paranormal belief used. Moreover, the measurement of religiosity was performed either by a simple measure of attendance or via the Traditional Religious Beliefs subscale on the RPBS.  

So past studies show that religiosity (depending on how you measure it) positively correlates with some superstitious or paranormal beliefs, negatively with others, and non-significantly with still others.  The results from the new study concluded:

In summary then, this study showed that religious beliefs and paranormal beliefs are indeed associated, confirming initial exploratory studies that suggested some kind of relationship between the two (Goode, 2000; Haraldsson, 1981).  The other mixed results reflect the need for further research in both religiosity and in particular paranormal beliefs to see if a consistent pattern of results may emerge.

Hmm….so a more thorough study, far better designed than the Baylor survey, using accepted standardized measures of religiosity and paranormal belief, show a positive correlation.

So Egnor gullibly cherry picked bad data, which he then misinterpreted, to make the argument that he and his cronies are less gullible than those who profess the anti-gullible philosophy of skepticism.  That’s about par for the course for Egnor.

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41 responses so far

41 Responses to “Religion vs Superstition – Mande Barung Revisited”

  1. superdaveon 30 Oct 2008 at 9:47 am

    Steve I don’t have time to fully read this right now, but about the Yeti thing.. I see Egnor holds a rank as a professor, how is it possible that he fails to see how discussing “easy targets” is a teaching tool? It’s hard to imagine he can miss this point without accusing him of intellectual dishonesty.

  2. w_nightshadeon 30 Oct 2008 at 10:05 am

    Is it me, or would Dr. Novella’s adventures make an awesome superhero comic, with Egnor as his nemesis? I would subscribe. Heck, if I could draw better I would MAKE it.

  3. CrookedTimberon 30 Oct 2008 at 10:10 am

    This blog is better than coffee in the morning for getting the ‘ol synapses firing.

    It would be interesting to see how level of education and/or science education factors into such studies. Would level of education override religious affiliation or not?

  4. Steven Novellaon 30 Oct 2008 at 10:18 am

    Actually – education levels positively correlate with paranormal beliefs until you get to higher level science degrees. This is a bit counter-intuitive – but what it probably means is that being educated makes people open to beliefs that may at first seem strange. But standard education is not giving people skeptical tools – not unless they specialize in science to an advanced degree.

  5. DevilsAdvocateon 30 Oct 2008 at 10:32 am

    Egnorance is bliss.

  6. CrookedTimberon 30 Oct 2008 at 10:39 am

    That is interesting, thanks Dr. N. Your explanation does make sense, it is a bit like Shermers explanation that educated people are good at rationalizing beliefs even if the beliefs were reached for irrational reasons.

  7. Nevaron 30 Oct 2008 at 10:59 am

    Dr Novella,

    I really wish to ask, even though you said the atheist vs agnostic discussion is for another post. If “atheist” is defined as not having belief in a god or gods and “agnostic” is defined as not being able to say whether such god(s) exist(s) or not, why would you describe yourself as agnostic?

    Isn’t it simply: I do not have a belief in god and I’m agnostic toward the question of its existence, i.e. One would be an atheist with an agnostic perspective? Unless my definitions are actually wrong.

    If you were planning to write that post in the near future, I guess you can just ignore this question :)

  8. csbrownon 30 Oct 2008 at 11:14 am

    Another well reasoned post. One small point: I’m trying to get my head around what the phrase “vast minority” means. A small number or a large number but less than 50%?

    Charlie

  9. Jim Shaveron 30 Oct 2008 at 11:18 am

    Egnor’s arguments are almost beyond absurd. Paraphrasing:

    Egnor: “You skeptics believe in all these pseudoscientific things!”

    Skeptics: “Uh, no we don’t. Look up our definition of skepticism.”

    Egnor: “It’s true, because you’re atheists, and this survey says atheists are more likely to believe in weird things!”

    Skeptics: “Uh, no, some of us are atheists, and the survey refers to people who don’t go to church much.”

    Egnor: “Atheists don’t go to church, so people who don’t go to church are atheists!”

    Skeptics: “You have to be kidding now. We can’t believe you’re that stupid.”

    Egnor: “I’ll tell you who you are and what you believe! I have a survey!”

  10. Steven Novellaon 30 Oct 2008 at 11:31 am

    Sorry about “vast minority” – the same survey showed that 4% of the population are atheists. It is very likely that those 4% don’t go to church and are therefore probably in the 31% that do not worship, which means 27 of that 31% don’t worship but are not atheists.

    Regarding the whole agnostic vs atheist thing – this is an endless semantic discussion I did not want to get sucked into again. Very quickly – there are two broad uses of “atheist” – not believing in god, or believing that there is no god. I am a “weak atheist” of the former kind, and not a “strong atheist” of the latter kind, because philosophically I am an agnostic – meaning that god (as typically conceived as a being outside the constraints of the natural world) is an unfalsifiable concept.

    The point of all this – is that I do not profess to know nor do I profess faith that god does not exist. I simply acknowledge that such a notion is outside the realm of human knowledge and I choose not to have arbitrary faith – which is a maximally non-ideological stance to take.

  11. Scott D.on 30 Oct 2008 at 11:34 am

    While 31% of people who never worship expressed strong belief in these things, only 8% of people who attend a house of worship more than once a week did.”

    If Immaculate Conception, resurrection, faith healing, and intercessory prayer are included I think the number would go from 8% to nearly 100%, as far as paranormal beliefs go.

  12. Fifion 30 Oct 2008 at 11:49 am

    Scott D – Thanks for pointing out the obvious regarding religion’s innately paranormal beliefs. It kind of makes the whole point moot really – nicely pointed out :-)

  13. Nevaron 30 Oct 2008 at 1:16 pm

    Thank you for the reply Dr. Novella. I have exactly that same understanding and just wanted to make sure what exactly your position was. It has definitely been far easier for me to just say I’m agnostic and then launch into explaining “weak atheism” when questioned, than to start out by saying I’m an atheist. Although it is sometimes fun to do that too.

  14. dcardanion 30 Oct 2008 at 5:19 pm

    Scott D – I agree. I’d also like to know how, for example, praying to the virgin Mary, or various saints doesn’t count as believing you can communicate with the dead?

  15. tooth fairyon 30 Oct 2008 at 7:21 pm

    i tried having a discussion about this with a friend the other night and it was primarily focussed ont the point that nothing is impossible, even how seemingly unlikely it is never impossible because there is a chance that something exists outside of the known physical realm that might intervene, any ideas how to combat this argument? can you just dismiss that as non falsifiable so therefor we don’t really have to take it seriosuly?

  16. nextbretton 30 Oct 2008 at 11:06 pm

    Great post Steve!

    Coming from a communications perspective I’m fascinated with the lively debate. To me it really feels like the Discovery Institution are trying to frame the battle post “teach the controversy”

    Taking some lessons from the political world the proponents of anti-freedom of thought are framing those pesky material atheistic debunkers in a way that they hope will speak to the middle third.

    It’s by no means a new concept – check out “Don’t think of an elephant” (Lakoff) it’s a matter of understanding the values of your audience and framing the debate.

    Luckily in Australia we don’t have to deal too much with these unjust academic attacks from the religious. Go you rogues!

  17. GerryBeggson 31 Oct 2008 at 12:07 am

    Dr. Novella, you use the word “faith” when describing atheism.
    “…I do not profess to know nor do I profess faith that god does not exist.”

    I would use the word “belief”, not “faith”.

    I believe there is no god in the same way I believe Russell’s teapot doesn’t exist.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Celestial_teapot

    Knowledge of the teapot is by its definition outside of human knowledge, but that doesn’t justify sticking to the “agnostic” stance.

    As is knowledge of invisible pink unicorns, the flying spaghetti monster, or whether the universe was created 15 seconds ago by myself.
    It seems perfectly reasonable to me to believe all of these things don’t exist/didn’t happen rather than being agnostic about them.

    I know you’ve heard these arguments before, which is why it always strikes me as odd when people who understand these issues refuse to admit to being atheist.

    Obviously, being agnostic is reasonable since you could always come up with a definition of a god which is unknowable, but that doesn’t preclude you from also being atheist about it. (ie. the terms are not mutually exclusive)

    Thanks for the great blog sites and podcast that you produce.
    I’m a big fan.

  18. Militant Agnosticon 31 Oct 2008 at 3:46 am

    “Egnor gullibly cherry picked bad data, which he then misinterpreted, to make the argument”

    and dogs continued to chase squirrels.

    By attacking Egnor’s arguments, Steven Novella is going after low hanging fruitcakes. :)

  19. Ian Wardellon 31 Oct 2008 at 7:45 am

    Steven what do you mean by “scare” quotes? I have heard other materialists talk about “scare” quotes and I have no idea what they mean. Often a word is put in quotes because the word is being used in either an ambiguous or non-standard sense. Most people who label themselves as being “skeptics” are not in fact remotely skeptical in the original meaning of this term. They take it as a given that their metaphysical presumptions regarding reality are essentially correct with only the details needing to be filled in. In other words “skeptics” are not remotely skeptical about their own metaphysical beliefs.

    Being a “skeptic” in this modern sense entails being a physicalist. It does not entail atheism, but “skeptics” invariably tend to be atheists.

    Ian Wardell
    http://existenceandreality.blogspot.com/

  20. Steven Novellaon 31 Oct 2008 at 8:02 am

    I don’t think that Egnor was using scare quotes around “skeptic” because he understands the difference between classical philosophical skepticism with modern scientific skepticism. He put the word “skeptic” in quotes to imply that we are not really skeptical even in the sense that we ourselves mean.

  21. Jason Streitfeldon 31 Oct 2008 at 9:13 am

    Steven,

    I’d like to direct you to something relatively brief I wrote about the atheism/agnosticism issue on my blog. It explains why I choose strong atheism over your (and Dennett’s and Dawkins’) weak atheism:

    Why I Am Not A Teapot Agnostic.

    To sum up my position in a single sentence: Weak atheism gives notions of the supernatural more credit than they are due by failing to recognize their fundamental incoherence.

  22. Jason Streitfeldon 31 Oct 2008 at 9:32 am

    Ian,

    So, if you are skeptical about everything but your own metaphysical beliefs, then you are a physicalist?

    Or did you meant to say that, if you are a physicalist, then you are not skeptical of your metaphysical beliefs?

    Either way, I think you’re wrong. And I also think you should clearly define how you are using the term “metaphysical,” because the term is generally problematic.

  23. Steven Novellaon 31 Oct 2008 at 10:08 am

    Jason – being agnostic is a philosophical stance. It does not give any “credit” to any unfalsifiable notion, it simply recognizes that they are outside of scientific knowledge.

    This still leaves you free to make independent assessments of any such belief based upon their internal consistency, coherence, historical roots, etc. While I am philosophically agnostic toward the teapot, I can still say that it is an arbitrary and silly notion, clearly invented out of whole cloth to make fun of arbitrary and silly beliefs.

    One can also say that, because there are an infinite number of unfalsifiable beliefs that one could have, it is extremely unlikely that any random such belief will happen to be true, and therefore quite irrational to believe in them.

    My problem with strong atheism is that it focuses on belief – which I think is the wrong focus. Science is not about belief, it is about logic and evidence. It doesn’t matter what I believe – I prefer to believe nothing (hence agnostic). Rather, I make assessments of the probability that something is true based upon logic and evidence. Any factual claims that lie outside the realm of logic and evidence is worse than wrong – it is simply worthless.

  24. daedalus2uon 31 Oct 2008 at 10:47 am

    Dr Novella, if I might add my $0.02 on why ”Any factual claims that lie outside the realm of logic and evidence [are] worse than wrong,” If they are outside the realm of logic and evidence they have not been verified, they cannot be verified and can never be verified. Any claim or belief which derives from the unverifiable claim is also unverifiable, and so on, and so on.

    If you build your conceptualization of reality on unverifiable claims, your conceptualization of reality is unverifiable and everything that follows from your conceptualization of reality is unverifiable. That is akin to the Biblical parable of building on shifting sands rather than solid rock. However the solidity of the foundation must be verified with facts and logic, not by feelings.

  25. papon 31 Oct 2008 at 11:32 am

    I don’t think Dr. Egnor likes this post very much.

    Egnors arguments remind of an infamous (and not too successful) tactic by a pickup artist. A man tries to persuade a woman by stating that (paraphrasing)
    1) “I love the world.”
    2) Everyone loves a lover.
    3) You (target) are part of the world. Therefore..
    4) You love me.

    Such mimicry of logic can be funny. But I believe the real irony lies in the unambiguously triumphant attitude of the members of the Discovery Institute even when their arguments are being crushed. It’s hard to tell someone that their fly is down while they are breathing hard and running their “victory laps”.

    Good writing, Dr. Novella. I look forward to further back and forths with DI members, should they occur.

  26. Jason Streitfeldon 31 Oct 2008 at 3:34 pm

    Steven,

    I appreciate the attempt to correct what you believe to be my misunderstanding of agnosticism, but I don’t think your response addresses what I have written on the subject. Perhaps you have been too busy to read the link I posted, or maybe the argument in that link isn’t as clear as I thought it was.

    The point is that, yes, we can be agnostic about all sorts of unfalsifiable claims. We can be agnostic towards Russell’s teapot. But we cannot be agnostic towards a claim that is incoherent. “God exists” is incoherent. Propositions like “God exists” or “God doesn’t exist” or “God might exist” are meaningless.

    To be agnostic towards the existence of X is to grant the possibility that X exists. How can we grant the possibility of God’s existence, if we cannot understand what the term “God” means?

    Until “God” is defined in a way that is logically coherent, I see no choice but to remain a strong atheist.

  27. Nevaron 01 Nov 2008 at 7:59 am

    I have actually switched over to “strong” atheism, but I wasn’t able to argue it nearly well enough to be convincing, so I stuck to “weak” atheism in the meantime. This FAQ is rather well reasoned, in my opinion : http://www.strongatheism.net/faq/

    (Thx Jason, as I found the link to that site on your blog.)

  28. Nevaron 01 Nov 2008 at 8:45 am

    I was never really happy with the “strong” and “weak” tags though, and I have no idea how I missed this : If an atheist says that s/he does not believe in god as there is no evidence to support such a belief (“weak atheism”), surely s/he should then uphold that, seeing as there’s no evidence for god, there is no god (“strong atheism”). i.e. positive and negative arguments for the same thing. Atheist thus defined does not shift the burden of proof at all. Unless believers can show evidence of their claims, atheist have nothing to prove.

    Is there anything wrong with my reasoning here ?

  29. Jason Streitfeldon 01 Nov 2008 at 10:16 am

    Nevar,

    I’m glad you found that link useful.

    The problem with the reasoning in your last post is that “weak atheism” doesn’t only say that there is no evidence to support a belief in God. It also says that we do not know for sure whether or not God exists. It claims disbelief on the grounds of a lack of evidence, and not as a matter of logical certainty.

    “Strong atheism,” on the other hand, is the position that we can say, without a doubt, either that “God exists” is false or that it is an invalid proposition. In my view, it is an invalid proposition. This is a matter of logical certainty, not empirical evidence.

  30. Sastraon 01 Nov 2008 at 1:31 pm

    tooth fairy wrote:

    i tried having a discussion about this with a friend the other night and it was primarily focussed ont the point that nothing is impossible, even how seemingly unlikely it is never impossible because there is a chance that something exists outside of the known physical realm that might intervene, any ideas how to combat this argument?

    People who drag out the “nothing is impossible” argument never seem to do so in situations where they don’t like the conclusion. Technically speaking, there is a “chance” that Hitler did the world a favor when he tried to kill off the Jews: there really was an evil conspiracy and their blood really is tainted — you just couldn’t prove it through science. It is “not 100% impossible” that black people would have been better off as slaves, and that God created them for that purpose, but they rebelled and ruined the natural order. You can’t “completely rule out” the innate inferiority of women, nor can you decisively refute the claim that George W. Bush will turn out to have been the greatest president, evah. If you throw out science, allow supernatural causation working behind the scenes, and seriously consider alternative hypothetical universes where everything you think is true, turns out to be wrong, then sure — anything is possible.

    But when people use that picky little “argument” and demand that it be taken seriously, it’s always a one-way street. This kind of inconsistency seems to point to it being a deliberate rhetorical trick, and I’d point that out. If you won’t buy it when it’s used against you, don’t use it yourself.

  31. Nevaron 02 Nov 2008 at 7:46 am

    Ah yes I see. I agree that “god exists” is an invalid proposition :)

    My error in reasoning aside, I’m proposing that weak and strong atheism are two sides of the same coin and using the term “atheist” should suffice, as the two most popular definitions for the word (“without belief in god” and “there is no god”) are equally valid.

  32. massimoon 02 Nov 2008 at 10:25 pm

    ol’e doc egnor is tippling again. this is most absurd thesis yet. skeptics cast in the role of credulous cryptozoologists?

  33. tooth fairyon 03 Nov 2008 at 6:49 pm

    what is it to be a “strong athiest Jason? becasue you don’t believe anything is possible? i believe such things are impossible in our known physical realm but then i think of the satelite that is so far off it’s planned trajectory but no known phenomenon is yet to explain the reason why it is so far off course, this demonstrates new things are out there, history would show things have been proven that have radical ramifications on the we we perceive our world and known universe. with so much that we know we don’t know how could you definitively say that a god doesn’t exist. i think it is unereasonable to expect something that can only exist outside known materialistic possibility to be explained within it. and for athiests to say god definatley doesn’t exist well they are taking the burden of proof from the god sayers to themselves, now you have to prove that god doesn’t exist and now that you’ve gone and done that you’re F*(#^D becasue the existance of god is non falsifiable so now you Jason are caught up in your own universly negative paradox

  34. tooth fairyon 03 Nov 2008 at 6:52 pm

    agnostic as a phillosphical stance is far easier to argue and to reason, because as Steve said “it simply recognizes that they are outside of scientific knowledge.”

  35. kimmaon 03 Nov 2008 at 10:44 pm

    How can they analyse a survey like this and completely ignore the fact that being religious *is* believing in the paranormal? Egnor is trying to claim non-religious people are more likely to believe in the paranormal when that’s exactly what religion is! It’s so frustrating. I don’t know how you deal with a guy like that all the time Steven.

  36. Jason Streitfeldon 04 Nov 2008 at 5:50 am

    tooth fairy,

    I don’t expect that all discoveries will be explicable with our current theories. I don’t assume that we know everything.

    Again, I’m a strong atheist because I see no sense in claiming that X is possible, if there isn’t a coherent definition of X on the table.

    You may as well say you’re agnostic about the existence of pliffer.

    Are you agnostic about the existence of pliffer?

    By the way, pliffer is stuff that can only exist within the geographical confines of France, but which in fact only exists in Spain. But it doesn’t exist in Spain, because it is a piece of cheese lying at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. But it’s not cheese, because it has nothing at all to do with dairy. It’s actually salt, but it’s not salt, either. And it’s not on the bottom of the Atlantic. It’s out in space somewhere. Or not.

  37. Jason Streitfeldon 04 Nov 2008 at 6:15 am

    If you do say you are agnostic towards the existence of pliffer (and so still maintain that one can be agnostic towards the existence of the supernatural), then “agnosticism” is just another word for throwing up your hands in the air and saying, “yeah, whatever, I don’t know.”

    It is not a rational position to take.

    As a strong atheist, I simply say, look, if you want me to acknowledge the possibility of something, you’d better define it in a way any rational person can understand. If you can’t do that, then I will conclude you are confused and don’t really understand what you claim to understand.

    I will, in fact, reject your claim that “belief in X” amounts to anything at all, other than an assertion of a desire to conform to some ritualized performance that no doubt serves any number of purposes in your life, but which has nothing at all to do with whatever X you think you are talking about.

  38. tooth fairyon 05 Nov 2008 at 1:31 am

    Jason i simply claim to not have enough infomration and data to say god doesn’t exist, i’m not throwing my hands up in the air, you say he he actually doesn’t. can you back this sattement up?

    Although i can say with great conviction to anyone i speak to that i don’t believe in god, i generally don’t bother myself with religious folk as they have nothing new to present to me, no empirical evidence which would convince me that such an omnipotent being exists, i simply let them believe in what they wish considering i can’t prove them worng i have no alternative but to petty them for irrationally believing in such an implausible notion-but hey some people need something irrational to make a shitty life important, just like fisherman need superstition for that last bit of mativation to head back out and face a strong prospect of death.
    What i think is funny is that you are taking that burden of proof from the religious to yourself by saying god doesn’t exist and then you bounce back to asking for a rational logical explanation of what god is, well i don’t need to becasue i’m not saying he/she/it does, i’m simply been logical by allowing the chance she/he/it does. What is she/it/he, i’m sure you must have some understanding of what “god” is supposed to be-it doesn’t have to be rational, only rational if you were to accpet it. it would be illogical and irrational to say this almighty being doesn’t exist as much as it would be to say it does as there is no evidence either way. please build another strawman for me to stand next to while you move the goal posts and throw a hint a touch of a ad hominen.

  39. Jason Streitfeldon 05 Nov 2008 at 6:02 am

    tooth fairy,

    I will repeat myself, since you forgot to (or simply chose not to) answer my question: Are you agnostic towards the existence of pliffer?

    I don’t think you’ve quite grasped my perspective here, so I will clarify a few points.

    I am not saying “God doesn’t exist.” I’m saying, “God doesn’t exist” and “God exists” are both meaningless propositions. Neither one makes sense to me, because the term “God” is incoherent.

    I’m not asking for an explanation of what God is. I’m asking for a coherent definition of the term “God.”

    I’m not taking on the burden of proof here, either. The burden is not on me to provide a coherent definition of a term that other people demand I adopt. Rather, the burden is on people who use the term “God” to define it coherently. If they cannot do that, then they are at fault, not me.

    If there is no coherent definition for X, then how can I even suppose that one could believe or not believe in X?

    You say that surely I must have some understanding of what the term “God” is supposed to mean. On the contrary, I do not. In fact, theologians for ages have known that the term “God” is impossible to understand. (Have you not heard of negative theology?) By recognizing the lack of coherence here, I am simply pointing out what religious believers through the ages have willing acknowledged. They claim that the inability to understand the meaning of the term “God” is one of the main reasons why God must be embraced as a matter of faith.

    My perspective shows more respect for language. If you want to talk about some X, and you want people to grant the possibility that X exists, then provide a definition people can understand.

    Does that make things clearer for you?

    Now, you’ve said some rather contrary things about my argumentative tactics.

    You’ve accused me of making a straw man argument. Which of my arguments is, according to you, a straw man?

    You’ve accused me of moving goal posts. At what point, in your opinion, have I moved any goal posts?

    You’ve suggested that I am likely to respond with an ad hominem argument. What have I said, in your opinion, to give you the impression that I would resort to such fallacious tactics?

  40. tooth fairyon 05 Nov 2008 at 11:10 pm

    you write in your blog Jason,

    “So, the argument goes, there may theoretically be a God, just as there may be a celestial teapot, but there is no reason to believe it. This is what is called “weak atheism,” since it does not flatly refuse the possibility of there being a God” i inferred from this that to be a strong athiest would be to flatly deny the possibility of a god, and also reading other links on that site of FAQ’s about athiesm.
    So that is one point, then you shift to another “If there is no coherent definition for X, then how can I even suppose that one could believe or not believe in X?”
    which is your main premise, that there isn’t a god or a good enough explanation of “god” for you to accept as a possibility?

  41. Jason Streitfeldon 06 Nov 2008 at 3:40 am

    tooth fairy,

    I have made my position clear. I have not shifted positions.

    You are ignoring my arguments and my questions, and you are making false accusations about my arguments and my argumentative tacatics. This all adds up to a rather unpleasant discussion, from my perspective.

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