Friday, September 12, 2014

Proving the Negative?



Like many of my latest (sporadic) blog posts this is spawned by Twitter.  Specifically I saw this amusing picture on twitter:



This was in a tweet which was a response to this article by internet Christian apologist WinteryKnight, who is largely citing William Lane Craig.

This is a topic that comes up every so often in atheism, about whether or not we can “prove” god does not exist.

I’ve personally gone back and forth on my views on this question, and I currently find myself putting a foot in both camps.  Lately, it’s become a position among a good number of people I greatly respect and converse with to say that “of course we can prove god does not exist”, which is usually followed with a sensible amount of words that go on to qualify that with something to the effect of “for any reasonable definition of prove”.  This typically involves pointing out that we don’t need something incoherent like “absolute certainty” in order to say “we know there is no god”.

In many respects, I find this kind of argument by my fellow atheists compelling.  On the other hand, I feel this kind of discussion is misused by many apologists, and it glosses over the very real problem underlying the argument behind the idea that we can’t prove a universal negative like “god does not exist”. 

Let me first state that the very simply “you can’t prove a universal negative” is strictly false.  Universal statements like this are very hard to get correct, which is a precursor into this sort of problem.  Let's look at exactly why this is the case, per the article.

Is Limited Scope the key?

The first area that WinteryKnight/Craig point to is the idea of limited sample sizes or domains. The example here is that we can say “there are no Muslim US Senators” or “no microbes on earth have brains”.  Again I find this to be extremely disingenuous since even the article admits that in the case of god, such a being is defined in terms of the broadest kind of scope or sample size.  The god being discussed is described as the fundamental un-caused-cause of all of reality, the ground of all “Being with a capital B”, existing outside of space and time.

The article anticipates this almost immediately and points out that god may not fit into this paradigm, and then says we don’t need an exhaustive survey into all of existence to prove universal negatives.  If that’s the case, then this just proves the simple formulation of “you can’t prove a universal negative” is false, but that does nothing to the stronger form of the argument that “we can’t disprove a universal negative for poorly-defined entities”.

And that’s really what I think happens in these sorts of debates.  The term “god” or god’s supposed attributes simply get defined in such a way that it can’t be proven or disproven.  

Logical Contradictions

The next example WinteryKnight/Craig rightly bring up is that we can prove a universal negative in cases where we can show a logical contradiction is entailed.  This is usually followed up by alleging that many atheists have tried to do this with the god of classical theism (ie. omnipotent, omniscient, and omni-benevolent), and that they’ve failed.

There are two problems here when it comes to applying this to debates about the existence of god. 

“God exists” isn’t an analytic statement.

The first problem is with the example used in the article to point at analytic truths, or things that are true by definition such as “there is no water that is composed of CO2” or “there are no unmarried bachelors”.

This is a red herring when debating the existence of god.  

In any case where the atheist can attempt to show such a contradiction, they will immediately (and rightly!) be accused by the apologist of begging the question.  You see this often when the definition of “naturalism” is brought up, and many atheists try to define god out of existence. Atheists will similarly object to theists using forms of the ontological argument which simply define god as a necessary being, which by definition entails that the god must exist. Begging the question is bad, no matter which side does it.

That’s why this kind of example is a red herring in the god debate, because unlike “water” or “bachelors” we won’t ever really come to an agreement on what “god” means, let alone what god’s attributes mean, or such terms like “moral goodness”.  

A great example of this in action among Christians is a tactic we see among some evangelicals: “I hate religion too! Christianity isn’t a religion, it’s a relationship!”

The concept of god entails logical contradictions

The problem with saying atheists can prove god does not exist by showing a god or his attributes entail a logical contradiction is that when we’re talking about arguing about the god of classical theism such a god and his attributes are notoriously ill-defined.  

It’s almost always a case of shifting goal posts, and when we can show logical contradictions are entailed by basic concepts in say Christianity, apologists will simply bring in additional metaphysical assumptions to avoid the problem.  Any contradictions pointed out will merely be called “apparent” contradictions, and there’s almost always a way to harmonize such problems with theological concepts or the bible itself.

A great example of this would be the entire field of what’s known as “Christology” which is a theological field that attempts to explain away the “apparent” contradiction of Jesus being “fully man and fully god”.   The same thing happens when it comes to talking about the idea of “The Holy Trinity” and how there is one god in three persons.  

What happens here is that a truckload of metaphysical assumptions about what it means to constitute a “being” are simply brought in.   So long as those assumptions themselves don’t entail contradictions, and it’s not hard to come up with ones that don’t, there’s not much to be done other to call such assumptions implausible.  

In every case, there’s hardly a reason for non-theists to adopt said assumptions, but in these cases the apologist is just playing defense. All they need to say is that so long as it’s possible that those assumptions are true then they can avoid being proven wrong by showing logical contradiction.  
So if we try to use “logical contradiction” as a basis for “proving god does not exist” we get met with shifting goal posts.

The Final Dodge

The last part mentioned was an attempt to make it seem as if apologists are being specific enough in terms of the god they want atheists to disprove: they mean specifically the god of classical theism, or the god of Christianity. 

This kind of statement doesn’t really do anything to solve the problems described above, since what that kind of god is or what his attributes entail are very problematic to define.  This kind of move just pushes the problem back one step. 

Straw Men in the Article

Here WinteryKnight takes over from simply quoting William Lane Craig and makes a few egregious statements that I think prove my case.   In an attempt to show how atheists could prove god doesn’t exist he says:
“Look where you expect the thing to be evident, and show that the evidence is not there. For example, show evidence that the universe is eternal. You can’t have a Creator if you can show evidence that the universe is eternal.”

First of all, we can show scientific evidence that the universe is eternal.  Sean Carroll does it in his debate with William Lane Craig when he brings up the Quantum Eternity Theorem.  Other scientists do so when they get very specific what they mean about “time” as discussed in cosmology, specifically as a part of a 4-Dimensional “space-time”, which contradicts the metaphysical view of time arguments like the Kalam need in order to argue for the existence of a god.  

In these cases Craig (and I’m sure WinteryKnight) will point to metaphysical arguments saying that what science says about time isn’t definitive enough for them, and as such it becomes pointless to argue on such matters, or in what direction modern physics is trending with respect to our understanding of time.
Conversely, even if we could somehow force them to accept the deliverances of science and philosophy that shows material reality is eternal, that will do absolutely nothing to dissuade belief in the Christian god. Consider Catholic theologians who cite Aquinas, whose cosmological arguments assume an eternally existing universe, or Craig’s speculations on how if one accepts the B-Theory of time and it’s eternally existing universe one can still consider the universe to be dependent on god for its existence, even as it exists co-eternally with god. 

Consider the further evidence WinteryKnight gives us for arguing against Christian theism:

“I can imagine all kinds of data that would argue against Christian theism. Finding the bones of Jesus. The universe being eternal. Experimental evidence for the multiverse. A probable naturalistic scenario for the origin of life. Etc. Arguing against Christian theism is not hard, it just takes work.”

I’m always amused by the claim that if we found the bones of Jesus it would cause people to give up Christianity.  Even if we found a tomb dated to the first century that has a coffin inscription saying “here lies Jesus of Nazareth, crucified by Pontius Pilate” in Aramaic, what stops any Christian from claiming it was a hoax? Entire fictions have been written about the downfall of western civilization upon the “finding” of such evidence, only to have everything restored to order once the finding is revealed as a hoax.

I’ve already covered the universe being eternal.  

The multiverse isn’t something that is, or even could be (on the Many Worlds Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics) empirically proven.  The multiverse is not a theory; it is what happens when we apply our current best theories of fundamental physics to quantum mechanics (as we currently understand the laws of quantum mechanics).  What we do have going for the multiverse is that our current theories and understanding of quantum mechanics is extremely well proven empirically in many cases.  That’s why such a theory is taken seriously in physics, not because it solves some elaborate fine tuning argument used by apologists.

As far as the naturalistic scenario for the origin of life goes, we have experiments like the Miller-Urey experiment, which lets us combine things like water, methane, ammonia, hydrogen, and electricity to form amino acids, a building block of life.  

What’s the response to such advances in abiogenesis?  To insist that such experiments have “intelligent designers” in the form of scientists and laboratories. Never mind the point of such experiments are there to show it is possible, given certain conditions “non-living” chemicals can interact with their environment to form arguably “living” basic forms of life.  The point is that it is possible, and that somewhere in the history of the universe, things came together in such a way by natural processes that produced life, which then went through a process of naturalistic evolution.  We clearly don’t exactly know how life on earth started, but we at least show such a process can happen in principle, without appeals to a god.

Conclusion

The idea behind saying “I can’t prove there is no god” is to highlight that atheists don’t have to undertake such a process.  In almost all of these cases, the atheists stating them will not also say that they have no duty to refute religious apologetics. 

This is one of the “negative ways” of making a case for atheism, to simply refute all attempted apologetic arguments and then claim that theism is not established.  The goal here is quite simply to create more “not-theists” than it is to create explicit atheists.  There are arguments that the position of “agnosticism” is practically useless, since we don’t have to claim to be “agnostic” about the existence of other supernatural entities, like unicorns, leprechauns, or Flying Spaghetti Monsters.  We simply don’t believe they exist because they are implausible in light of our background experience, and because there is no evidence for their existence. 

For my part, I like to think of my goal as creating as many “not-theists” as possible, because I find theists as a group to be problematic in how they influence the rest of society (ie. the Religious Right).

Conversely, I don’t find much wrong with alternative approaches that DO try to argue for explicit atheism by using arguments that render god’s non-existence more probable than his supposed existence. This is your standard stuff like the problem of evil (or gratuitous evil), the problem of multiple exclusive religions, or historical miracle claims from contradictory religions, or issues like divine hiddenness and the argument from the existence of hell.

The problem there is that while these can be persuasive, and in fact useful as a way to cause believers to question their faith, they’re as flawed as the supposed arguments for god’s existence – there’s always a logical out.  

This is why I say I’m an atheist primarily because if I start from as neutral a position as I can, I find no good evidence to believe in the existence of such a being.

14 comments:

  1. I think the point that the "you can't prove God doesn't exist" claim seeks to make is that wether God exists cannot be demonstrated one way or another. Reason does not inclines us to believe or not in it. But we must necessarily make a decision because it is not possible to remain neutral on the issue. It being the case that reason is unable to settle this, can we then rely on some other criterion such as happiness to decide on the matter?

    If so, then the Christian may argue that compared to atheism, Christianity offers a superior view of life because it provides a better context for our hope and happiness when judged by this criterion. So it kind of becomes the most sensible choice.

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    1. Forgot to add: in other words, what it says is that atheism is not rationally justified anymore than theism is.

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    2. You'd be very wrong in terms of reason inclining us to believe or not believe it.

      The entire premise of the post is based on the idea of a neutrality on the issue, one we learn to take on controversial topics, that we withhold belief until there is such evidence to warrant belief. We do this with things like the Higgs Boson, and various other theoretical entities that we eventually find evidence for.

      Theists, and specifically Christians want others to have the positive belief that there is a god, Yahweh, and that his "son" or however that is supposed to work, died for us.

      If there's no evidence for said claim, or more in keeping with the spirit of my post, that we can prove all such attempts at "evidence" to be severely lacking, then we don't believe in such claims.

      So to say that "reason" doesn't incline us to believe or not in it is to similarly say that "reason" doesn't incline us to believe or not believe in other supernatural entities (fairies, spirits, leprechauns, etc).

      We have a significant amount of inductive evidence in terms of supernatural explanations being superseded by naturalistic explanations - and that gives us very good grounds for rejecting appeals to the supernatural for other areas that are not well understood.

      Now your last assertion, that Christianity offers a superior view of life because it gives a context of hope and happiness, that's laughable.

      First of all, there's the fact that classical Christianity entails that the vast majority of all humans that have ever lived have rejected Jesus/Yahweh and as such face eternal conscious torture in hell.

      Secondly, why exactly does atheism not entail anything for hope and happiness? We think those things are limited to us and this life, but we can certainly give reasons based on this life, the only one we know we'll have, as to why we are or should be happy. Or why we should have hope, or that we can use our hope in order to bring about actions that will fulfill those hopes.

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    3. You said: So to say that "reason" doesn't incline us to believe or not in it is to similarly say that "reason" doesn't incline us to believe or not believe in other supernatural entities (fairies, spirits, leprechauns, etc).

      My response: I have always found this comparison inadequate. God is a transcendent being not an object in the world like fairies, spirits, leprechauns, etc. Belief in God is not a proposition in the same way that those things are. It has a fundamental impact upon one's worldview and it is why one cannot truly remain neutral when it comes to it. You either live your life as he exists or not. So saying that you lack belief in God in the same way that you lack belief in those other things is misguided.

      You said: First of all, there's the fact that classical Christianity entails that the vast majority of all humans that have ever lived have rejected Jesus/Yahweh and as such face eternal conscious torture in hell.

      My response: Why does that matters when it comes to the hope and happiness offered in the gospel? That the individual rejects it does not takes away from it.

      You said: Secondly, why exactly does atheism not entail anything for hope and happiness?

      My response: Oh you can have hope and happiness alright but in the end it amount to nothing and whatever purpose you set for yourself achieves no real end. Such a view ends up in nihilism and involves a fatalistic outlook where not intrinsic value or purpose can obtain.

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  2. I like the way you're doing the responses here, so I hope you don't mind if I steal your format. :)

    You said: I have always found this comparison inadequate. God is a transcendent being not an object in the world like fairies, spirits, leprechauns, etc. Belief in God is not a proposition in the same way that those things are. It has a fundamental impact upon one's worldview and it is why one cannot truly remain neutral when it comes to it. You either live your life as he exists or not. So saying that you lack belief in God in the same way that you lack belief in those other things is misguided.

    My response: You're begging the question by trying to put god in some special category when such a move is unjustified. The scope of your claim isn't a get out of jail free card, since belief in animism or other kinds of spiritual entities would similarly entail a fundamental impact upon one's worldview in a way that you can't remain neutral on it. The problem for you is that you do need to live as if naturalism is true in your day to day life. You don't just pray when someone has cancer, you seek medical treatment, etc. So while you can't remain neutral in how you live your life in terms of the Christian god, that's only because of how the being is defined. You can remain neutral about the proposition however, and we can evaluate the Christian god in the same way we evaluate the claims of other non-physical entities that have the power to interact with the physical world in agent like ways. You're strictly wrong about god not being an object in the world, at least if you hold to Christian theism and belief in Jesus + the incarnation, etc.

    You said: Why does that matters when it comes to the hope and happiness offered in the gospel? That the individual rejects it does not takes away from it.

    My response: Because it certainly affects my hope and happiness to think that many people I love and care about face eternal conscious torture, let alone the billions of people I never knew. If one has any empathy, thinking that fact as true should have a profound effect on one's notion of "hope" and on "happiness".

    You said: Oh you can have hope and happiness alright but in the end it amount to nothing and whatever purpose you set for yourself achieves no real end. Such a view ends up in nihilism and involves a fatalistic outlook where not intrinsic value or purpose can obtain.

    My response: First off what do you mean "achieves no real end"? It certainly achieves a real end for me and on those people I have immediate access to while I'm alive, including possibly some future people I won't ever even know (likely any great grand-children). That my scope is inherently limited by what I am does nothing to take away from what I do achieve in that scope. You're simply asserting that it ends in nihilism, not providing an argument.

    What you're doing is effectively a form of special pleading, stating that the only entity which can give itself meaning and purpose is god, or you're stating that no being can give themselves meaning and purpose, in which case god has no meaning and purpose, and so must be a nihilist. I cover this in detail here: http://counterapologist.blogspot.com/2013/02/big-questions-02-meaning-purpose.html

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    1. Sure thing, feel free to follow the same format :)

      You said: You're begging the question by trying to put god in some special category when such a move is unjustified. The scope of your claim isn't a get out of jail free card, since belief in animism or other kinds of spiritual entities would similarly entail a fundamental impact upon one's worldview in a way that you can't remain neutral on it.

      My response: Sure, there are other religious views one can't have a neutral position towards.

      You said: You can remain neutral about the proposition however, and we can evaluate the Christian god in the same way we evaluate the claims of other non-physical entities that have the power to interact with the physical world in agent like ways.

      My response: Well, how would this be accomplished exactly? There is no objective empirical test that can be set out and used for evaluating God's activity in the physical world as you would those other entities. That is why God is mostly known by the negative way of St. Thomas. It is one of the reasons why I said that trying to equate the proposition "I believe/don't believe in God" with the same with regards to invisible unicorns, faeries and the like is misleading.

      You said: Because it certainly affects my hope and happiness to think that many people I love and care about face eternal conscious torture, let alone the billions of people I never knew. If one has any empathy, thinking that fact as true should have a profound effect on one's notion of "hope" and on "happiness".

      My response: That is why it is so important for the Christian to have an unconditional trust in God, believing that he will provide for everyone and that he will do what is just and right. The believer in heaven who sees someone he used to love in this life burning in hell will not despair but will recognize God's perfect justice.

      You said: First off what do you mean "achieves no real end"? It certainly achieves a real end for me and on those people I have immediate access to while I'm alive, including possibly some future people I won't ever even know (likely any great grand-children). That my scope is inherently limited by what I am does nothing to take away from what I do achieve in that scope. You're simply asserting that it ends in nihilism, not providing an argument.

      My response: If life has no intrinsic value and the universe no inherent purpose then that is a nihilistic outlook. You may make up your own purpose and meaning but such is no more objective and justified than the contrary which you may find yourself choosing at some point of your life. It is to no real end because once you are gone, you will not live to see the fruit of your efforts, whatever lives on be it your impact on other's people's lives and the like is not you.

      You said: What you're doing is effectively a form of special pleading, stating that the only entity which can give itself meaning and purpose is god, or you're stating that no being can give themselves meaning and purpose, in which case god has no meaning and purpose, and so must be a nihilist. I cover this in detail here

      My response: God does not needs to give himself purpose, his reason for being is own essence, that's why he is the necessary being, it is part of his nature. It is not really special pleading. Creatures on the other hand only have being by participation and thus do not have the reason for their being within themselves but own it to something else, such it is with purpose as well. Saying that a creature can give itself purpose is like saying that this same creature can cause itself into existence. It is a contradiction.

      I checked your video but I am not convinced on your take on heaven. Seems to rely on a very anthropomorphic view of it. Heaven will be quite simply the full enjoyment of the Good which we long for one this earth. That never gets tedious or boring no matter how long it lasts.

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    2. You said: Sure, there are other religious views one can't have a neutral position towards.

      Plus: Well, how would this be accomplished exactly? There is no objective empirical test that can be set out and used for evaluating God's activity in the physical world as you would those other entities. That is why God is mostly known by the negative way of St. Thomas. It is one of the reasons why I said that trying to equate the proposition "I believe/don't believe in God" with the same with regards to invisible unicorns, faeries and the like is misleading.

      My response: Much like the article in question, I don’t need an objective, empirical, exhaustive survey to dismiss the idea of a wide variety of fictional entities that fit in the same category as god (non-spatial/temporal, yet still able to interact with the physical world, including manifesting physically in it). Consider the invisible dragon in my garage analogy from Carl Sagan’s Demon Haunted World. It’s not misleading to compare this god to other kinds of mystical entities, especially not animism, since it would fit into the same kind of interactive category that your god does. Like you agreed to earlier, the “scope” of the claim is not a get out of jail free card. Sure I can’t disprove Aquinas’s conception of god in a definitive sense, but I don’t have to. All I need to do is show that such an assertion is superfluous to the existing system we both work in for our day to day lives: Naturalism.

      You said: That is why it is so important for the Christian to have an unconditional trust in God, believing that he will provide for everyone and that he will do what is just and right. The believer in heaven who sees someone he used to love in this life burning in hell will not despair but will recognize God's perfect justice.

      My response: You make my strongest point for me. Yes, if you abdicate any of your own judgment to simply say “well that must be what justice is” when a Hindu/Bhuddist/etc charity worker toils their life away helping and feeding the poor only to be sent to hell, while the convicted serial killer is sent to heaven after a death-row conversion to Christianity; well then I have nothing left to do but point out you have left any conventional understanding of “justice” behind. That you can consider happiness possible knowing billions are suffering for an eternity for whatever “sins” may have been committed during a finite life is to be a monster. I consider that the mildest way of putting the situation. If that is your view, I simply wish it to be preached from the mountain tops as loudly and as often as possible.

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    3. You said: If life has no intrinsic value and the universe no inherent purpose then that is a nihilistic outlook. You may make up your own purpose and meaning but such is no more objective and justified than the contrary which you may find yourself choosing at some point of your life. It is to no real end because once you are gone, you will not live to see the fruit of your efforts, whatever lives on be it your impact on other's people's lives and the like is not you.
      My response: Life has an intrinsic value to a certain subset of those who are alive. Value is inherently a relative term, even on your system where “value” is always relative to god or god’s nature. Your response seems to indicate that if we somehow could find a way to live forever biologically and avoid maximum entropy conditions (thought experiment) then we could achieve equivalent “value” to theism. Somehow I doubt that it is immortality that is your criteria (it’s often not), but simply because you define value relative to god’s nature.

      You said: God does not needs to give himself purpose, his reason for being is own essence, that's why he is the necessary being, it is part of his nature. It is not really special pleading. Creatures on the other hand only have being by participation and thus do not have the reason for their being within themselves but own it to something else, such it is with purpose as well. Saying that a creature can give itself purpose is like saying that this same creature can cause itself into existence. It is a contradiction.

      My response: Yes, it really is special pleading because you’re literally defining purpose/value/whatever in terms of god’s own nature, and then our value in terms of relationship to god. Notice that purpose/value is always relative to another individual.
      I can simply do much the same thing in terms of saying “human life has intrinsic value to living humans”.

      You said: I checked your video but I am not convinced on your take on heaven. Seems to rely on a very anthropomorphic view of it. Heaven will be quite simply the full enjoyment of the Good which we long for one this earth. That never gets tedious or boring no matter how long it lasts.

      My response: You’re defining heaven in terms of us just “always being happy” by having the same thing constantly, and that “thing” is defined as having “happiness” as if it was some sort of abstract object we can just receive. It’s like being hooked to a pleasure machine/drug induced state where your endorphins are always kicked off. If the pleasure machine/drug state scenario seems wrong to you, then heaven should as well, based on your own definitions of the place. Simply put, the only way to get to that state is to give up a significant portion of what makes you, you.

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    4. You said: All I need to do is show that such an assertion is superfluous to the existing system we both work in for our day to day lives: Naturalism.

      My response: First, I am not dismissing the rest of what you said prior to the above, it just makes no difference to me either way. The relevant part is the claim that God and the Christian context in particular is superfluous to our day to day lives. On what grounds is this said? Frankly Naturalism seems to give an insufficient account of the human experience. It has nothing to say about our most basic desires and urges (that of continuing to live after we die and our longing for faith and relation in and with something transcendent, as is evident from our history). Naturalism neglects this aspect of humanity.

      You said: You make my strongest point for me. Yes, if you abdicate any of your own judgment to simply say “well that must be what justice is” when a Hindu/Bhuddist/etc charity worker toils their life away helping and feeding the poor only to be sent to hell, while the convicted serial killer is sent to heaven after a death-row conversion to Christianity; well then I have nothing left to do but point out you have left any conventional understanding of “justice” behind.

      My response: I didn’t mention anything about actual card carrying and practicing Christians being the only ones who would go to heaven. I think it is more nuanced than that. Only God truly knows a non-believers actual state and conscience. With regards to this point there are to things to hold, that is the command to preach the gospel and seek the conversion of others and also that God’s mercy is not limited to our finite means of accomplishing this.

      You said: That you can consider happiness possible knowing billions are suffering for an eternity for whatever “sins” may have been committed during a finite life is to be a monster.

      My response: It may be difficult to conceive such without all the relevant information to make an informed judgement. But such is what it is believed we will have in heaven and in light of that knowledge, the punishment of the damned will not seem unfair.

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    5. You said: Your response seems to indicate that if we somehow could find a way to live forever biologically and avoid maximum entropy conditions (thought experiment) then we could achieve equivalent “value” to theism. Somehow I doubt that it is immortality that is your criteria (it’s often not), but simply because you define value relative to god’s nature.

      My response: Of course, we would still have the same problem sans God even if we were to find a way to live forever. Purpose and value do not suddenly become intrinsic because of that.

      You said: I can simply do much the same thing in terms of saying “human life has intrinsic value to living humans”.

      My response: And in so doing you would just end up with an infinite regress in the same way that you would in a series of contingent causes where each cause doesn’t has the reason for it’s being in itself.

      You said: You’re defining heaven in terms of us just “always being happy” by having the same thing constantly, and that “thing” is defined as having “happiness” as if it was some sort of abstract object we can just receive. It’s like being hooked to a pleasure machine/drug induced state where your endorphins are always kicked off. If the pleasure machine/drug state scenario seems wrong to you, then heaven should as well, based on your own definitions of the place. Simply put, the only way to get to that state is to give up a significant portion of what makes you, you.

      My response: I probably was unclear. What I meant is that the happiness of heaven is not in what we do but in what we posses in our intellect, namely, the beatific vision of God. Having that vision affects everything well in a ripple like manner and so no matter what it is that we end up doing in heaven without resurrected bodies, it will never lead to or end up in boredom, frustration, or any kind of in satisfaction.

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    6. You said: My response: First, I am not dismissing the rest of what you said prior to the above, it just makes no difference to me either way. The relevant part is the claim that God and the Christian context in particular is superfluous to our day to day lives. On what grounds is this said? Frankly Naturalism seems to give an insufficient account of the human experience. It has nothing to say about our most basic desires and urges (that of continuing to live after we die and our longing for faith and relation in and with something transcendent, as is evident from our history). Naturalism neglects this aspect of humanity.

      My response: Naturalism accounts for quite a bit of any desires to live forever as well as any supposed need for a relationship with the transcendent (which I disagree with as something that humans inherently want). It's called psychology.

      You said: I didn’t mention anything about actual card carrying and practicing Christians being the only ones who would go to heaven. I think it is more nuanced than that. Only God truly knows a non-believers actual state and conscience. With regards to this point there are to things to hold, that is the command to preach the gospel and seek the conversion of others and also that God’s mercy is not limited to our finite means of accomplishing this.

      My response: This ignores the objection that hell is an unjust punishment for any being to be subject to, at least by any conventional understanding of justice. Second, you're supplementing what the bible and Christian orthodoxy says about salvation with your own more palatable version. Appeals to "other infinite ways" to solve the problem is no answer either, it's just saying "well this is a problem but I'll just trust god to make it not a problem and go on as if it isn't one."

      You said: It may be difficult to conceive such without all the relevant information to make an informed judgement. But such is what it is believed we will have in heaven and in light of that knowledge, the punishment of the damned will not seem unfair.

      My response: Again, this is nothing more than a cop out. It's very much a problem, that you admit as much (ie. hard to conceive) and all you're doing is saying that somehow it won't be a problem in the future. That's not an answer, that's appeal to magic.

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  3. You said: Of course, we would still have the same problem sans God even if we were to find a way to live forever. Purpose and value do not suddenly become intrinsic because of that.

    My response: So everything ultimately passing away isn't the cause of what you say necessitates nihilism. You're just defining value and purpose in terms of god's nature, which is question begging/special pleading.

    You said: And in so doing you would just end up with an infinite regress in the same way that you would in a series of contingent causes where each cause doesn’t has the reason for it’s being in itself.

    My response: There's no infinite regress, the terminus point is in the inherent nature of life - ie. you must at least be alive to be able to value in the first place. You must also be alive to have a purpose. Both of those things are always relative to something else, even on your view. It is not nihilism to say that things have meaning and value, to me, nor is it nihilistic to say that I have purposes that I wish to fulfill while I am able. I have that, it's quite good, and I don't need another one imposed upon me.

    You said: I probably was unclear. What I meant is that the happiness of heaven is not in what we do but in what we posses in our intellect, namely, the beatific vision of God. Having that vision affects everything well in a ripple like manner and so no matter what it is that we end up doing in heaven without resurrected bodies, it will never lead to or end up in boredom, frustration, or any kind of in satisfaction.

    My response: So effectively "god is a hell of a drug". Your concept of heaven is no different than the pleasure machine or super-drug induced state. You're literally defining a set of "super-happiness" that is unlike anything we experience now in terms of your god. It's question begging.

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  4. Will reply to the rest later but would you mind elaborating on this?

    You said: Naturalism accounts for quite a bit of any desires to live forever as well as any supposed need for a relationship with the transcendent (which I disagree with as something that humans inherently want). It's called psychology

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    1. Sorry to delay, but I had my wife away all weekend and was in charge of my 2 year old, so responding to philosophy conversations takes a nose dive on the priority list. :)

      I also am not too sure as to what you'd want me to put there. In terms of living forever, we have an inherent fear of death. Such a fear has very clear benefits from an evolutionary standpoint, and it's not hard to extrapolate from that fear to a desire to live forever. We're built to actively avoid death. There's a ton of work on this in psychology.

      That said, many who reflect on the idea of living forever (that don't also buy your idea of a mindlessly happy-by-definition style heaven) see the concept as terrifying.

      As far as a relationship with the transcendent, I deny that we all innately have this kind of wanting. I certainly don't. I'd point to largely atheistic countries in Europe where such things don't even enter into the equation for most people - religion is largely irrelevant for those societies. In terms of why these kinds of things form, naturalists hold a solid explanation: overactive agency detection. This is a very well documented phenomenon.

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