Limits to Arguments About Faith.

Yesterday’s post about the celestial teapot reminded made me of boundaries all of us should have, including me, in these arguments about faith.

The celestial teapot is about a hypothetical teapot circling the sun that, cleverly, was conceived of as too small for any telescope to ever see.  Proponents of its existence could then claim no one can deny it is there.  The proponents’ argument is ludicrous because they cleverly set up the proposition in a way that makes denying it is impossible.

The teapot proposition refers, of course, to the existence of a god.  If the god is defined as being invisible how can anyone deny it exists?

Those of us who have never seen evidence of a god need to respect the views of those who believe it exists.  Belief in its existence is important to millions of people.

At the same time, proponents of the existence of a god need to study the logical systems of debate and learn to understand the limits of their argument.  They should practice stating their argument in a way that puts its best foot forward–that reflects well on the argument and on the person putting the argument forward.

Saying skeptics cannot prove there is no god invites ridicule of the argument and the person making it.  The same for chiding the skeptic with his/her eternity in hell.  Heaven and hell are like the teapot.

The best argument is to say the god exists to you and that’s all you can be certain about.

Avatar of Jon Lindgren

About Jon Lindgren

I am a former President of the Red River Freethinkers in Fargo, ND, a retired NDSU economics professor and was Mayor of Fargo for 16 years. There is more about me at Wikipedia.com.
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35 Responses to Limits to Arguments About Faith.

  1. Adam Heckathorn says:

    One of the things that I came to realize is People say they believe something and honestly think They do, but Their actions often betray Their expressions of Faith and reveal what They really Believe even if They have not acknowledged it in Their own heart. Cognitive dissonance.

  2. Avatar of Mac Mac says:

    In the years I’ve read and enjoyed your blog, I can’t really recall a person of faith talking about much of anything beyond biblical ‘law’ as the reason they’re positive god exists.

    Nothing about prayer/meditation leading to a sense of peace and purpose; nothing about a deep connection with our brothers and sisters of humanity; nothing about the wonder and beauty of our world and a connection to what may lie beyond.

    What I observe is an interpretation of rules and lots and lots of discussion on how others are violating the rules; but not too much about how the writer is messing up, beyond ‘I was born in sin and I repent of my sin every day.’ I’d love to just once read ‘I sit in judgement of my fellow man every day, and have convinced myself it’s because I’m concerned of their eternal damnation.’

    Embracing the teachings of Jesus has made my life and interaction with those around me much more positive. It’s effect on the ‘next life’ is really secondary.

    Thanks for fostering discussion and the reminder this SHOULD be about discussion and not about attacks and trying to convince the other they’re wrong.

  3. Adam Heckathorn says:

    Henry would you feel I was more honest if I denied I ever was One of Jehovah’s Witness’s? I believe Martin Luther had valid points when He spoke about problems in the Catholic Church but That doesn’t make Me a Lutheran does it? At one time when I was still in Jr High I thought I had seen evidence for reincarnation. I was camping out with the Boy Scouts and was told second hand how when asked about his previous lives One Young Boy had talked about Living in England and Being a Teacher. This lead Me to investigate different forms of Buddhism. I discovered nobody practices it as The People did originally. Now I see the same could be said for all religion. Evolution does not care if what We believe is based on facts or if Our method of deciding what’s true makes any rational sense. I love The Movie Moonstruck with Cher and Nicholas Cage In My favorite scene, His character blames His Brother for The loss of His hand In finally telling Cher’s Character how it happened She realizes and states the obvious “But it wasn’t His fault” to which The Nicholas Cage Character responds while holding His prosthetic hand in the air and pointing to it with the other hand “I ain’t no monument to justice, I lost My hand He still has His Hand I lost My Girl He still has His Girl!” What I love about that is how it show’s how We so often think with Our feelings. I have tried to reason with People like that with the same comical results. Just as We have blind spots in Our vision and Our mind fills in The details of what We don’t see We also have blind spots in our thinking. As I’ve mentioned before I’m Dyslexic and yet I’ve been able to excel in certain areas including reading speed and comprehension In working with an expert in the field It was discovered I don’t actually read I look at the shapes of words, phrases and make assumptions. You could say I’m unencumbered by what’s actually on paper My mind automatically fills in what I assume is there. We all do this to some extent that is why We need the scientific method if We are going to be able to trust Our conclusions. Recently it was reported how, it was UPS or FedEx had studied the efficiency and safety advantages of avoiding left hand turns. You’ll never see the car You run into. I have a spotless record as a Bus driver when I am certain I can pull out I look one more time and all to often I slam on the brakes because there was a car in My blind spot. I’m aware that I have blind spots and it makes Me a safer Driver. Let Me put it plainly religion is Our blind spot. Science is that taking one more look when You’re certain it’s safe to cross the intersection but in fact it isn’t.

  4. Henry says:

    Adam:“Henry would you feel I was more honest if I denied I ever was One of Jehovah’s Witness’s?”

    My 11:21 comment referred to now, not then. No one is asking you to deny your JW past. That is somewhat of a strawman.

  5. Fr. James says:

    Jon, in other words you cannot prove there is no God by the same standards you demand of religious believers. Thank you for admitting that fact. I notice that this post did not deal with the issue of the use of metaphysics or univocity or the fact that we do not believe that God is a material being within creation. By dodging such issues you show that you either don’t understand them or are avoiding them on purpose.

    • Avatar of Jon Lindgren Jon Lindgren says:

      Fr. James 3:28 “Jon, in other words you cannot prove there is no God by the same standards you demand of religious believers.”

      I can predict with absolute certainty, you will go to your grave without ever understanding the point of the celestial teapot.

      • Fr. James says:

        Jon, I understand it perfectly. You do not understand my response. God is not within or part of creation at all! He is totally other and transcendent. There is no “teapot” and one can not use mere scientific method to prove or disprove a the “teapot.” You have to use other forms of reasoning.

        Science for example must have a material object one can test and measure. It can do nothing about something that is not material and cannot be measured. Do you get it yet?

    • entech says:

      … the fact that we do not believe that God is a material being within creation …
      A very sophisticated form of argument, place something outside of the known universe, outside, above and beyond knowledge, then say prove me wrong.
      I say I have something invisible and undetectable, something beyond reality. Any argument you can put up against it I can explain or add qualifications to the definition as a rebuttal to your so called proof. Therefore I win!

      By this method you hold on to your beliefs and claim they are true because they cannot be disproved, the method is to frame things in such a way that any proof is denied. It is dishonest, dishonest to yourself, to act like this, a desperate way of maintaining a belief system because you want or need it to be true.

      • Fr. James says:

        You are getting warmer. You can prove it, but you must use other ways of knowing to do so. Not everything is a scientific question.

        • entech says:

          If this god of yours is outside of time and space, separate from the universe that we live in and the words we use in this universe mean different things.

          Leave aside any talk of proof positive or negative. This question is really quite irrelevant until we can say how we can know anything about the entity that exists outside of our perception, beyond detection. At some time someone must have made it all up, as so many stories involve long periods in mountain caves and similar, in solo meditation, and chewing on the mushrooms that grow there, it is no more than interesting speculations and dreams.

          So undetectable and immaterial means that we need another method of proof, what would that be?
          Never mind proving that it is your particular and idiosyncratic version of a creator/deity, how about a method of ascertaining the possibility that such an entity exists.

          • Avatar of Jon Lindgren Jon Lindgren says:

            entech 11:45 The god of Fr. James live outside time and space, separate from the universe, but Fr. James knows all about him/her/it. This god came up relatively recently in human history, for 10,000 years or so, no one had heard of him. Then, government and dumb luck made millions think he/she/it is the “real” god. Have my doubts.

          • Avatar of Jon Lindgren Jon Lindgren says:

            Off topic–someone posted this on Face Book. It’s from a site called Philosophy and Reason:

            You don’t see faith healers in hospitals for the same reason you don’t see psychics winning the lottery.

          • entech says:

            Yes and the only ones to make money out of the infallible guaranteed to win gambling schemes, are the ones selling the schemes.
            Which reminds me, I have the perfect system for gunning money on the horses, I won’t tell anyone and I won’t use it in case anyone works out what I am doing, Prove me wrong :roll:

          • Adam Heckathorn says:

            It can’t be proved wrong therefore it must be true!

          • entech says:

            I didn’t know that, I was not aware that only two possibilities exist, either the God of the Catholic Church or no God at all. This doesn’t sound quite right to we Brahman for example, doesn’t seem right that all those millions of followers are wrong.
            Perhaps if I started to believe that there is but one and that one is Brahman, that the universe is one continuum going through different phases, different cycles of the waking and dreaming mind of Brahman. As this can’t be proved wrong then it must be true. But if this is true how can the God of Abraham be true.

            So confusing I wish I had multiple degrees it would help me work out this cognitive dilemma, this dissonance.

          • Avatar of Jon Lindgren Jon Lindgren says:

            entech 5:30 “I was not aware only two possibilities exist, either the God of the Catholic Church or no God at all.”

            Yes, this Brahman is such an imposter, could not be a real god:

            Brahman is like an infinite string upon which all things hang as pearls which are likened to individual Atman…The supreme Brahman is infinite. The infinite proceeds from infinite.

            This Brahman was just copied from Christianity, right?? Wait, Brahman was worshipped long before the God of Abraham. Then comes along the God of Abraham who sounds just like Brahman. Surely, the God of Abraham was not copied from Brahman??? Apparently, the Brahman has always been a fake god and people only realized it after the Bible was written. : )
            (The True Believers we have here, believing their is only a choice between their god and atheism can cause eyes to roll.)

          • entech says:

            Jon, Jon or have it wrong again, God set all these “prior” things in place so that when the real thing came along later the ideas would not be so outlandish and strange and different. As well as that they set up so that non believers could find something to scoff at and use as an argument against the Christians, this allows Christians to demonstrate their faith by finding specious reasons why they are right and the earlier stuff is wrong.

          • Fr. James says:

            entech, we can know things about God. However, we must use metaphysics and other means not just scientific. Jon demands only one form of knowledge be used. I point out that is false.

          • entech says:

            The methods that you have available are guess work and dreams, wishful thinking leading to a belief system that satisfies all those dreams and wishes. Then you have revelation which is only another way of saying “I made it up”.

            But seriously, HOW can you know things about your God? Everything you say is intended to put the existence outside of normal perception.

            Jon mentioned seeing the play Harvey a little while ago, the ending was good when his sister decided that if he was happy in his delusion that was all that mattered, I wish you well with yours but please don’t try to organise the universe as if it were true – when you want to raise it to that level, you need to prove it first.

          • Fr. James says:

            entech, that is also my point. You don’t know much about how to approach a metaphysical question. You think it is all imagining. In fact reason is involved. The Catholic Church has always taught that belief in God is reasonable. I posted some of Kreeft earlier that used reason. Get it through your head that there are other kinds of truths out there besides mere science.

  6. Nate H says:

    Jon, I regard this as one of your better articulated posts. The onus is on the believer to articulate and provide a reason for their belief, regardless of their theistic or atheistic position. Now what one might find reasonable is another matter all together.

    • Avatar of Jon Lindgren Jon Lindgren says:

      Nate H 12:42 Thanks, Nate. Glad to have you as a reader.

    • Fr. James says:

      Not Nate, it isn’t. I argue the burden of proof is on you.

      • Fr. James says:

        Pat on back. Ignore fact that neither understands the argument.

        • Adam Heckathorn says:

          Who does understand the argument? I think that supports the argument against a Deity. What would be the purpose of creating People to worship You and not giving Them The capacity to so?

          • Fr. James says:

            Adam, he is using a straw man type of argument and doesn’t seem to understand it.

        • entech says:

          Actually father, dear father, you don’t have an argument. You just have a bunch of assertions about something that it makes you feel good to believe. To avoid making it proper verifiable statement as part of an argument you tell us, it is not of this world. you must have a Ph.D. in BSology.

          • Fr. James says:

            Once again, the verification that you demand is false. One cannot verify by measurement something that is not part of creation. You are just falling back on the falsehoods. Another piece of evidence that you talk by me rather then talk to me. You simply don’t understand your own argument.

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