I believe that the main problem for modern atheists is the null or default hypothesis (that is, the hypothesis which you believe, unless compelled to abandon it).
When the null hypothesis is doubt: i.e. that God does not exist, there is no soul, there is no meaning or purpose to the universe etc - then there is 'never enough evidence' to remove doubt; partly because each piece of evidence always has an alternative explanation, but mostly because each piece of evidence is regarded as weak - since, when doubt is the null hypothesis, then the evidence is itself subject to doubt.
So if you accept doubt as your default belief, you must doubt any possible refutation of that doubt; and therefore you get trapped inside your null hypothesis.
This is precisely the style of modern doubt: it has made the fatal (deadly: literally) error of accepting a nihilistic null hypothesis, which - because it is non-sensical - is irrefutable; and which because it is nihilistic - is intrinsically evil.
Modern doubt is the choice of evil as null hypothesis; and once made the choice of doubt is self-perpetuating.
To doubt a belief is to place the burden of proof on the belief -- it is scientific down to its core. Otherwise any crackpot idea is given as true until proven false, rather than the other way round.
@NF - You haven't understood the post - try again?
You didn’t say it, but I will: In a real, formal hypothesis test, the null hypothesis never contains the word “not.” The null hypothesis must be a positive statement of the identity of something because it is formally impossible to test a mathematical statement that the parameter is not equal to a value. In order to test, you must assume that the parameter has a definite value.
Thus, by analogy, man needs certainty in order to proceed. He needs certainty even to test among competing hypotheses, for in order to test, he must assume a definite value.
Which non-doubt hypothesis would you have me adopt? Jesus+God, Moses+God, Mahomet+God, Buddha+?, Thor, Zeus, the Indian pantheon, or the gruesome beliefs of the Aztecs?
Anyway, I think I spy an error: "each piece of evidence is regarded as weak" would not necessarily make me doubt a whole pattern of evidence; it's the lack of any such pattern that's persuasive.
@d - You have jumped ahead of the argument into specific revelations.
The proper order - and which always used to be the case until modernity - was to begin by accepting things like natural law, common sense reason and personal experience.
I mean things like that reality is real (and not a matter of opinion). That there is a basis of good and evil which is objective, and not just a matter of opinion. The existence of 'the soul' and its endurance (somehow or another) after death.
The idea that although people differ in their views about such matters, there is a reality independent of those differences of opinion.
When these kinds of things are doubted, then the coherence of intellect falls apart.
Specific religious revelations are not necessary for this; except if/ when/ after it is demanded *why* we should accept common sense and personal experience.
...Which happens to be our current situation - and this is why revealed religion (or the habitual persistence of its childhood ingrained habits, as in your instance) is *now* necessary for non-psychotic thinking; despite that it has not always been necessary nor in all places.
Once the habit of doubt as null hypothesis has been planted in society, taken-root, invaded and conquered the socialization processes - then revelation becomes absolutely necessary to restore sanity.
Your internal compass decides everything else. Choose doubt and one is always pointed towards doubt. That one can only look at all the religions of the world and despair, doubting them all, yet wishing for a bit of what they contain. Once the doubt is sorted the question of which-god becomes meaningless. These people suffocate a portion of their intuitive faculty of discernment and then question why they should be led your particular way. You cant be led ANY way, its equally dark for you...
In a criminal trial we instruct juries to do just this - to presume doubt of culpability as their default position (or the equivalent 'null hypothesis', if you prefer), and that they should err on the side of that doubt unless the evidence is proved at a very high standard, beyond a reasonable doubt, (beyond a mere preponderance) and not just as an average, but in fact on every essential element in the case.
It is an extraordinarily high burden, and the advantage is certainly given to the clever defense counsel, but it is one prosecutors meet everyday when they secure convictions.
The analogy is not exact, but it is certainly close enough. If the overall question is upon whom, or upon which side of the argument, the burden of proof should lie, then one can consider policy and social consequences.
But usually the burden is distributed to the person making a positive claim and who has the better capability of proving their side of the case, and we do the same things in civil liability cases - the burden is on the plaintiff. This is like the rule that ambiguities in written instruments are construed against the drafter.
It is typically much easier for the state to prove the defendant guilty than for the defendant to prove himself not-guilty. And the experience of past abuses of state power in the context of trials also lend weight to decision to place the burden there.
There is also the notion of Ip Resa Loquitor. When the evidence points so strongly in one particular direction, then you can switch the usual allocation of burdens. The defendant can rebut the presumption of their liability, but they better have a very strong case.
You could analyze religious claims about the nature of reality in this way. It is easier to prove the existence of a soul, and with particular properties as described in scripture, or to disprove it? I think it is easier to prove it - how does one disprove the existence of souls? So the burden is on the religious to demonstrate the case.
On the other hand, is it easier to prove the creation narrative, or disprove it? I think it is easier to disprove it. We have the fossil record, dating techniques, etc. and modern scientific knowledge makes it feasible for the materialist to demonstrate with fair degree of confidence that the world is not literally 6,000 years old, that Noah's flood never happened, that there were no animals on a boat, etc. And I think these kinds of details from the Abrahamic-religion creation narrative have indeed been satisfactorily disproven to the point where the burden appropriately falls on the faithful to demonstrate that they did happen.
None of this implies that there is 'never enough evidence' to remove doubt, or that one must always remain on the side of 'alternative explanations' no matter how unreasonable. I don't think you've shown at all that because new evidence may be subject to doubt, it will always be so doubted regardless of its strength or weakness. There is no trap.
@Handle - The analogy is false - because there are legal norms or conventions of what constitutes evidence.
But the question of what constitutes evidence is exactly what is at issue when nihilistic doubt has taken root in a mind or culture.
Our culture of doubt denies the objectivity of truth - all it has are conventions, and the conventions are set by those in power, and changed when required by those in power.
I infer that you fail to recognize the historically extraordinary, unique, nature of modern skeptical nihilism, and the way it has ramified throughout Western culture over the past century. This is new territory for mankind.
We have reached a point when the evidence of someone's eyes (i.e. their personal experience) counts for nothing, nothing AT ALL, when it contradicts the officially sanctioned truth which is taken as the null hypothesis.
And it does not matter at all how many 'someones' might be assembled to report the evidence of their eyes: they will be doubted and discarded one at a time as idiots, mad or evil.
Political correctness/ New Leftism originated as anti-Christian doubt which rapidly became nihilistic (i.e. denying of the reality of reality), and now uses the same method of argument in all its applications and domains.
Nihilistic doubt having destroyed Christianity (for most Western people) has gone on to destroy all other functional systems, including science - *especially* science.
So what would convince you that Christianity was false?
I can conceive of chains of evidence that might conceivably convince me that it was true but I doubt if there is any evidence that would convince a true believer that it is false.
@Anon - (Please use a pseudonym) You are jumping ahead.
Christianity can only be known by divine revelation, not by reason.
Christianity builds-upon the base of what can be known by a combination of innate/ spontaneous knowledge and common sense reasoning - i.e. the various types of paganism.
What I am talking about here is the kind of innate knowledge and common sense reasoning that would lead to some kind of paganism.
Paganism is the natural and spontaneous form of human religion.
Ah that will teach me to post when I am tired. (One "duh" point for me.)
So then, what is my Null hypothesis.
It is this, that exercising the scientific method with respect to ascertains of belief is the most reliable way of determining truth of a hypothesis.
It is not, "There is no God and all religious beliefs are false."
(Let's see if I can avoid another "duh" point, as now I am merely in a hurry to catch a bus.)
Forgive the additional note, (I find this place a bit addictive, and hopefully in a positive sense.)
Positive theism states, "There is a God." The problem with this is that God is defined in so many ways by so many people that the label is close to being a free-floating signifier for anything that a person wants to place within it. It also invites reduction of God to an idol, (i.e. a human projection.)
Negative theism states, "There is a God, but I cannot define it or understand it, but only through the negation of any of my beliefs about it can I possibly avoid the error of idolatry." (I have a certain sympathy for the Negative Theism, as it has a lot in common with Agnostic Atheism.)
Positive atheism states, "There is no God", as its null hypothesis, (and proving a negative is always problematic. If I said, "There is no oxygen anywhere in the Andromeda galaxy", I must exhaustively search the entire galaxy, and in the time spent it may crop up.) Hence positive atheism has a problem.
Negative atheism states, "I see no evidence that is sufficiently convincing to assert that God exists", and that is the null hypothesis of your article. It leaves the door open if only sufficient evidence is presented, but of course it seldom if ever is.
Agnostic atheism states, "I do not know, and it may not even be possible to know whether God exists or not." Taken to its extreme, the agnostic atheist has placed himself in a position of never deciding in absolute terms one way or the other. (I fall into this camp because as yet I have seen insufficient evidence to convince me of either the null hypothesis of Positive Atheism or the null hypothesis of Positive Theism. I could flip into a Negative Theist, for reasons already given.)
There's a problem with how both Dr. Bruce and most of the modern atheists he is criticizing are using the term "doubt." This is best seen by observing doubt's inverse, "degree of certainty" or probability of truth.
When we believe something, we assign a certain probability. 0.01 means not very likely, 0.5 means 50/50, 0.9 means very probable, 0.99999 means you can bet the farm on it. All "scientists must always have doubt" means is that the greatest probability of truth a fact can have for a scientist is 1-epsilon, where epsilon > 0 is a consequence of the reality that *we are not God*, at least in the sense of having worked out all the possible interpretations of all of the evidence (including divine revelation) at our disposal.
Evidence should move around these probabilities. Any atheist (with a God-exists probability of, say, 0.05) who sees something odd or hears a convincing argument for God needs to move his probability up some or he's just crazy. Similarly, any Christian who learns about Bible contradictions or other problems needs to decrease his "Biblical God" probability down somewhat.
Faith in the proposition "God exists for certain" is not necessary or wise. Faith in the proposition "God might exist" -- more critically, faith in the proposition "goodness may be possible" is enough.
Not only do you doubt any refutation of that doubt, but you doubt the doubt itself - any good doubter admits that what he doubts may, after all, be true.
It's interesting how so few people can simply be content with accepting that important parts of the universe are unknowable.
To doubt the refutation of any doubt is simply another way of saying that you find the evidence uncompelling - in other words to doubt the refutation of doubt seems to be a meaningful phrase but doesn't actually add anything to the phrase "to doubt".
To doubt means = to consider the evidence for an affirmation unconvincing.
To doubt the refutation of doubt means = to consider the evidence for an affirmation unconvincing after having reconsidered in the light of new evidence.
It's merely a reprise of the original act of doubting, in light of new evidence.
Bruce, you are often a subtle and original thinker, but do you really think that very basic philosophical questions of terminology and logic have the easy answers you give to them? This stuff has been debated for ages - if the answers were so simplistic, they wouldn't have been.
And of course, being a radical skeptic a la Berkeley, as few people are, is in fact irrefutable, but so what.
And of course the opposite extreme to having doubt as your null hypothesis is having certainty as your null hypothesis. Is that better?
Why can't we just be intelligent people who resolve to not affirm anything as true unless the evidence is sufficiently compelling to create a strong likelihood? Isn't this what having doubt as your null hypothesis - innocent until proven guilty - means? Isn't this the best position anyone can have who wishes to base his positions on logic?
Of course, it's perfectly fine to base one's positions on a recognition that logic is inadequate and that faith is necessary. But it seems to me that doubt as your null position is the most logical and reasonable position you can come up with if you wish to base yourself on logic, so this attempt to discredit doubt as a null position using logic seems feeble at best and doomed to failure.
Logic and belief might be two separate spheres - but to suggest that the best position dictated by logic, doubt as your null position (withholding affirmation until compelling evidence is adduced), is logically discreditable will convince no one.
Nihilism really is odd from a scientific standpoint. "Reality is real" is basically a hypothesis that we all get to interact with a shared objective reality. The consequences of this hypothesis are consistent with >99.99lots9 % of our data. Assigning a low probability to Objective Reality Theory, or denying that it is at least a good working hypothesis, would seem to be a bit nuts.
We can get by without the afterlife hypothesis. The real problem is denying Life(TM) after death, the idea that stuff of value and meaning will occur after we are gone. Moderns do seem to deny this, which is particularly odd since they observe value and meaning continuing to exist after the deaths of others.
@NF - "exercising the scientific method with respect to ascertains of belief is the most reliable way of determining truth of a hypothesis."
If you have read my mini-book Not Even Trying (now available free online - see the sidebar to the left) you will know that there is no 'scientific method' - just honest people working together to discover the truth.
@NF - You classification of atheism, agnosticism etc is a theory I do not accept. In practice most positions are unstable, and transitional - therefore moving one way or the other.
This applies to individuals, and to cultures.
It is the fundamental evaluation system which is primary - is a person/ society using a transcendental system (i.e. the objective reality of truth, beauty, virtue) or a hedonic system (i.e. based on the pleasure-pain axis - good = happiness, evil = suffering).
If someone is not using a transcendental system, they will become more and more hedonic over time.
A transcendental system of evaluation does not need to be underpinned by a religion at any particular moment of time (eg many of the best scientists were raised as Jews or Christians but abandoned their overt faith during life) but we now have plenty of data to show that lack of religion weakens transcendental commitments so that they are always trending to the hedonic - thus modern 'scientists' have become, and become evermore so, careerist bureaucrats because that makes them happier (wealthier, more approved, more powerful), here and now.
@RBII - Surely that is a nonsensical way to describe a person's fundamental existential situation?
It sounds like you are suggesting Bayesian stats is the ultimate bottom line of reality. Bayesian stats is just a flawed analogy hovering between a description of science and an assertion of how science ought to be done - meanwhile in the real world, when science was being done, it was nearly always/ always done in entire innocence of any kind of stats, but especially NOT Bayesian stats!
I doubt whether anybody ever thought that way - but if they did it was probably a pathology.
That aside, the point of my post was that a belief and the evaluation system are one and the same; therefore the evaluation system used to evaluate the belief may be disabled by its own nature.
Systematic doubt is not just an explicit belief, it is a way of evaluating things - including itself.
@M "It's interesting how so few people can simply be content with accepting that important parts of the universe are unknowable."
Indeed, but anyone who accepts that everything is unknowable is insane - we operate on the basis of what we DO know (and what we do NOT doubt).
As I have explained in other posts, I believe the proper analogy for *knowing* these fundamentals is like knowing your Mother loves you.
A person who continually doubts and tests whether his Mother loves him does NOT, in fact, believe she loves him. There is no end to the tests that might be done to evaluate a Mother's love, and at the end there is not a certainty of love, but rather the disbelief will have become habitual.
Love of Mother is supposed NOT to be doubted, but to form a basis for the rest of life.
We have to recognize that in many instances, the process of doubting the fundamental basis of human existence is self-reinforcing (a positive feedback process), which means it is evidently nonsense: an evil and destructive pathology, not a basis for life
@RBII - "Assigning a low probability to Objective Reality Theory, or denying that it is at least a good working hypothesis, would seem to be a bit nuts."
It is nuts, deeply psychotic - but that precisely is the mainstream and indeed mandatory assumption of modern Western culture, and especially its leadership.
(see my 2011 mini book Thought Prison, free online via the sidebar to the left).
What if the Love of Mother isn't there? Then the child must doubt in order to live. The atheist analogy is that the Truth of Church is deficient: the holy texts contain internal contradictions that undermine their credibility. To maintain integrity, a seeker of truth in this situation simply must doubt.
Modernism is here because the old religions were caught lying and attempted to hide this with force. The result is a class of very smart people who are permanently in rebellion (more than is justified by reason).
The solution to this mess may be a return to religion, but it cannot be the old ones unless they are fixed and made true -- not consistent with leftism, but at least internally consistent. This requires that the religions man up and admit how and why they failed.
@RBII - "What if the Love of Mother isn't there? Then the child must doubt in order to live. "
No, not doubt: decide. And proceed on that basis. To become an habitual doubter is a kind of suicide.
"Modernism is here because the old religions were caught lying and attempted to hide this with force."
Not so - because of lots of reasons (my different intellectual history can be found in Thought Prison and Not Even Trying).
But, in a sentence: Modernism is here because of sin (destruction of truth, virtue and beauty for short-termist and selfish benefits).
But one obvious fact is to compare the honesty of devout Christians with advanced modern secular people (including those who claim to be so ruthlessly honest with themselves that they could not *possibly* become Christians...); and, more importantly, to compare what they advocate with respect to honesty.
If modernity was about honesty we would be living in the most honest society in history, and one which was getting ever more honest...
"The solution to this mess may be a return to religion, but it cannot be the old ones unless they are fixed and made true"
They are true - or at least Christianity is true (and Judaism - for the remnant Jews); but the leaders of almost all the large and powerful churches have become corrupted by Leftism - hence secular modernity (CJCLDS is an exception since its leadership is not corrupt - but it is a relatively small large church [15 million]...)
If Christianity is true (with probability 1) then why does it contain contradictions? "Christianity contains at least some truth" is certainly sustainable, and more reasonable than "Christianity has some falsehood, therefore it is completely false."
If CJCLDS is not corrupt (agreed that the results seem to be pretty good) then why does the creation of the Book of Mormon seem to be such an obvious fraud?
If the general attitude was that the holy texts were true in the same sense that LoTR is true, things might make more sense.
@RB II - If biology is true, then why does (what people say about) it contain contradictions - loads and loads of them - and why do I spend so much of my life as a scientist trying to deal with them?
If you cannot tolerate contradictions, I'm afraid there is no place for you in this world - not even (since Godel) in maths and formal logic.
I have no idea what you know about the creation of the Book of Mormon - probably not much, becuase it is not an obvious fraud - it is only a fraud by default, if both supernatural origin and the genius of Jospeh Smith are ruled out as explanations. Fraud is then the only explanation left standing.
The BoM is - however - an extraordinary and 'scandalous' claim, calculated to outrage mainstream intellectual sensibility - as is true for Christianity in general:
If the general attitude was that the holy texts were true in the same sense that LoTR is true, things might make more sense.
But that IS the general attitude.
The general attitude: "LOTR is a work of fiction that the human author invented for his own profit and amusement, and the Bible is also a work of fiction that human authors invented for their own profit and amusement."
The difference is that with (honest) biology scientists are continually annoyed by the contradictions and constantly working to try and resolve them. You aren't going to claim that the current state of biology is Absolutely True(TM) at any time.
Take the physicists, as another example. They KNOW QM and GR are mutually inconsistent -- something must be wrong. So they spend tons of time and billions of taxpayer (oops) dollars to try and sort this out. They are going to keep at it until they get it right -- if it takes forever they'll work forever.
The biology and physics textbooks can be updated, the Bible cannot. Nobody is going to go back and fix stuff like the genealogy of Jesus, for example. The refusal to do this makes stuff like the Resurrection, Virgin Birth, etc. much harder to believe.
JP: My understanding was that LoTR was written to reveal true principles in a fictional context. The ideas are largely true and right, even if Aragorn never walked the earth physically.
The error the atheists make is that they assume that because there are bugs in the holy books and that religious groups are overrun with corruption that all of the principles are broke too. This is also irrational and leads to much chaos, as Dr. C has documented.
@RBII - There was a brief period, lasting maybe a century or so, and which ended a couple of generations ago - when Western European science and its outposts was an exemplary human activity. Now 'science' is the biggest fraud and most howling disgrace on the planet in the sense that so much is claimed and so little delivered, so many lies yet virtually no truth seeking, so much hype but near zero plain speaking - in fact scientific skill and knowledge is being destroyed wholesale, decade upon decade. It makes no sense nowadays to use science as a stick to beat religion.
Let me first say that I'm not a doubting atheist. I'm attracted toward the view of belief or moreso simple faith. Now, to respond to your post.
The null hypothesis is not a lack of God. It is simply reality as experienced from the human perspective, reality as whatever it is or will be discovered to be. The relationship to reality includes doubt along with truth-seeking, intellectual inquiry, curiosity, observation, scientific method, etc. But, no, doubt isn't the null hypothesis. The premise of your argument is incorrect.
An additional limit of this post's analysis is that there are an infinity of positive truth claims about reality. Many of those are just possible positive truth claims, but over history there have been at least millions of such claims and most of them are contradictory.
Likewise, revelations and other subjective experiences are dime a dozen. Atheist scientists are also basing their conclusions on experience (not doubt) and, in fact, they are cleaving even closer to experience than most believers.
By the way, I've never seen any evidence that most believers in God have had a revelation of God. I have come across research, however, that shows that when people have a spiritual/religious experience or paranormal belief they tend to attend church less.
That said, I have nothing against religion, organized or otherwise. If it didn't serve a purpose even if only a social purpose, it wouldn't exist across so many cultures.
As for reality, I tend to think it is more complex than both present scientific knowledge and present religious belief. The problem isn't that believers refuse to accept the limits of science but that they instead choose to force other arbitrary limits in their place.
@bds - I don't think you appreciate how extremely unusual and strange - in world historical terms - is the modern doubting mind set which you regard as natural. It isn't natural, it is a cultural artifact restricted to a small proportion of one culture which is itself a minority in the modern world and was absent from history until the past few hundred years.
And yet you are asking everyone else to justify themselves to this weird - and almost certainly temporary - cultural blip!
I find it strange that so many commenters don't seem to *get* the actual point of this post - but have gone off on all manner of tangents about 'science' and stuff.
Maybe I will need to have another shot at stating it.
Dear Mr. Charlton,
Can you give me some example of what kind of common sense or personal experience lead one to some kind of a paganism as a null hypothesis? Christianity at least can be abstract and impersonal sometimes, but Paganism is really personal, it's all about comics book figures like Thor having sex or fighting wars, and just what kind of common sense would say that?
My kind of common sense is entirely impersonal, says that personality is nonsensical, and I would much earlier believe in some kind of Mystic Force like in Star Wars that has no face than a god that has it.
What is common-sensical about personality?
I think many modern people would easily believe in God if he was not personal. As I said, a faceless Mystical Force like in Star Wars. Somehow it makes more sense to us. And to you?
@Shenpen - I have written quite a bit about paganism, because I used to be a neo-pagan (before I was a Christian) - so maybe the best idea would be to read some of those postings:
For me, the first step from being a pagan was to recognize that for life to be meaningful to me (which I could not help but feel was true) - the universe must be *related* to me, concerned by me; in what I could only envisage as a personal relationship:
So I went from a neo-paganism with a strong belief in synchronicity, to belief in a God (theism) then to Christianity - but it did take another several months after I declared myself 'Christian' before I really understood or felt the meaning of Christ - I suppose that was being 'born again' although I have forgotten precisely how and when it happened.
Thank you, did so, still don't understand it.
The way I see Paganism is an affirmation of biological instincts: warrior spirit, loyalty to the tribe, to family, and so on.
The ultimate goal of the Pagan warrior is to die surrounded by a large number of children and grandchildren, both him and the descendants having achieved great social status, honor, riches, fame, respect, and this his name and legacy lives on in respect.
Where does any kind if spiritual comes into this? Why would Pagan man care about gods or souls? Why can't he simply be an animal who won the evolutionary game, i.e. the reproduction game?
@Shenpen Well, it doesn't make any sense with your definition of a pagan!
I was using a much more general and much less specific idea of paganism which includes animism, totemism, Hinduism, Greek, Roman, Celtic, Norse, early Anglo-Saxon, popular (not Zen) Buddhism, ancestor worship, Amerindian religion and so on...
I am regarding these as specific cultural elaborations (Hinduism apparently the most elaborate) of natural no-necessary-revelation pagan religion - by contrast the monotheisms such Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam (and Mormonism if you don't think it is Christian) are something different.
I used to think Christianity was not true because I could not arrive at it by pure reason and experience; but that was a mistake. Christianity is not like that, it is necessarily a revealed religion - dependent upon divine communication.
Interestingly it was the (then secular) sociologist Rodney Stark that made me perceive my mistake - that I was assuming that divine revelation was impossible/ untrue/ nonsensical and then trying to derive Christianity from other things; which is of course impossible.
You must regard divine revelation as at least possible before you can evaluate Christianity - and whether divine revelation actually happened in this particular instance.
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