Could atheism be a properly basic belief?

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Could people have a properly basic belief that God does not exist, so that they do not need any other arguments or evidence for that belief in order to be justified in holding it?

A recent conversation reminded me of what is now a rather old argument in relation to the question of belief in God (old in terms of twentieth century arguments anyway). Essentially, the issue was this: If my purported experience of knowing God / knowing that God exists via some sort of intuition or any other sort of experience should count as a reason for me to believe in God, then why can’t somebody else’s atheist experience (or at least their testimony of it) count as a reason for me to not believe in God? I say that I have a direct knowledge of God’s existence (let’s say I do). But what about someone who has direct, intuitive knowledge of something like “there is nothing out there, there is no purpose at all to life”? Surely, it was suggested to me, what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. Continue reading “Could atheism be a properly basic belief?”

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Episode 038: Zeitgeist

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At the request of a couple of listeners, this episode is a response to the documentary: Zeitgeist.

As I promised in the episode, here are a few links.

First, a link to some astronomical illustrations: http://www.tracer345.org/zeitgeist.html

And here are the links to my three part blog series on evidence for the historical Jesus outside the New Testament, as promised:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

You might also find it helpful to check out my previous blogs on copycat theories about the life of Jesus of Nazareth.

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Do atheists know more about Christianity than Evangelicals?

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The short answer is: No.

You may have noticed a bit of buzz recently about a new survey that (so the buzz is saying) shows that atheists know more about Christianity than Evangelicals do. I’ve seen self professed atheists make this claim online before, and now their bias confirmation tendencies have kicked into overdrive with the release of a recent Pew Forum study.

Let’s do some checking (sorry infidels.org, it’s what some of us do). Continue reading “Do atheists know more about Christianity than Evangelicals?”

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The Great Pumpkin Objection

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In the last podcast episode on Plantinga and properly basic beliefs, I briefly discussed the “Great Pumpkin Objection.” As it’s a subject worthy of a blog post of its own, and given that I know some people prefer things in writing, I thought I’d add a blog entry focused on that objection.

Alvin Plantinga has hammered out and defended the notion that if God (the Christian God that he believes in) really exists, then a Christian’s belief in God can be construed as properly basic. A properly basic belief is one that is rationally held and yet not derived from other beliefs that one holds (this is another way of saying that it is not justified by what is often called evidence). We hold many such beliefs, for example, the belief that the universe was not created just five minutes ago, any beliefs based on memory, belief that other minds exist, the belief that we are experiencing a certain colour, and so on. Set aside, for now, the fact that a lot of Christians think that they can produce decent evidence for the existence of God. Plantinga argued – successfully in my view – that even if that’s true, theism can be construed as properly basic and hence suitably justified even without such evidence. God created us in such a way that when we function properly we believe in him. The normal epistemic response to creation is to believe things like “God created this,” or more fundamentally, “God is real.” For more details, check out the podcast episode.

One bandwagon that anti-theists have jumped on is to claim that if theists can claim that their belief in God is basic, then just anybody at all can do this in regard to their belief in just anything. Here’s one popular version of that objection: In the comic strip Peanuts, the character Linus believes that there exists a Great Pumpkin who rises from the pumpkin patch every Halloween and rewards good children with presents. If Christians get to think that belief in God can be properly basic, then why couldn’t a person (like Linus) think that belief in the Great Pumpkin is properly basic, and so claim the right to believe it even though he cannot produce evidence for the belief’s truth? Continue reading “The Great Pumpkin Objection”

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The Lottery Fallacy Fallacy

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Some arguments are like mosquitoes. They get slapped and well and truly squashed – unambiguously defeated in plain sight for all to see, obviously crushed. The smeared body is witnessed. But then as soon as you try to relax again, that familiar whining sound fades in again. You think, Didn’t I just squash you? Yes you did, and it’s back.

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, objections to divine command theories of ethics are a good example of arguments like this. But they’re not alone. Another is the Lottery Fallacy Fallacy. I know, calling something a “fallacy” is a bit of a rhetorical device, but I use the term because the argument that I want to rebut – again – is one that trades on using that word for rhetorical effect, so my use of the word twice must surely double the effect! Continue reading “The Lottery Fallacy Fallacy”

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Episode 035: Sam Harris, Science and Morality

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So-called new atheist Sam Harris maintains that moral values are really scientific facts, and that they have no connection to God (indeed, God does not exist, thinks Harris).

Episode 35 is an analysis of a recent talk given by Harris gave on science and human values. The talk was part of a TED conference, and you can see it here. Here I offer an explanation of how I think he has failed. In brief, I think his entire presentation is an exercise in circular reasoning.

Harris has a new book on the subject, The Moral Landscape, which is to be released later this year.

 Glenn Peoples

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Richard Dawkins on Pat Robertson on Haiti

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As many readers will know, shortly after the earthquake in Haiti that did so much damage and claimed so many lives, Pat Robertson (a somewhat notorious televangelist involved in what has been dubbed “Word of Faith” theology) said something (I suppose I should say that he said yet another thing) that Christians in general didn’t think much of. His claim is that in history, the Haitians of the time made a pact with the devil to obtain freedom from servitude to the French, and that because of this, they have suffered numerous travesties since then, including this earthquake. Here he is in action:

 

Unsurprisingly, the response to this from the Christian community has been fairly negative. Christian theology just doesn’t teach this. The idea that whenever something bad happens to a person or to a group it is the result of a wicked thing previously done by that person or group is not one that you can find in the work of any major Christian theologian in history, as far as I am aware (I am setting aside for now the obvious fact that in this case the people who suffered and died were not even the same people who allegedly swore this pact – a pact for which there’s really no evidence anyway). For that matter, it is not taught in the Bible either. In fact there are passages in the Bible that directly deny this view. Continue reading “Richard Dawkins on Pat Robertson on Haiti”

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Episode 020: The Argument from Atrocity

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Should we reject Christianity because of the harmful deeds done in its name? Some have said so. This episode explains what is wrong with that line of reasoning.

Glenn Peoples

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Episode 015: Why become an atheist?

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It’s back!

The last month has been pretty crazy for me: changing job and moving house being among the main culprits for this state of affairs. But after much ado, here it is, Episode 15! This time I’m asking a simple question: Why be an atheist? And if you’re not one, why become one? And if you are one, why try to persuade other people to become one?

I’ve started a new trend with this episode. Some previous episodes were just too long for a lot of listeners, so I’m making a fairly strict rule that episodes shall not exceed forty minutes. This one’s just under twenty eight minutes, so I’m off to a good start. Also, I’ll only be putting episodes up each fortnight rather than weekly, just because I don’t have quite as much time as I did before – plus with all these people downloading an episode every week I literally couldn’t afford the bandwidth!

So here it is, enjoy. As always, comments either here or by email to be discussed on the show are more than welcome.

Glenn Peoples

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Dennett. Yawn, says Jack Miles.

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Apparently, people other than conservative Christian scholars have noticed that Daniel Dennett’s analysis of the divide between religion and skepticism is shallow. See Jack Miles’ Review here.

Dennett sets out to tell us all that we need to break the spell of religion, and break it now. But so much of what he says ends up being more sauce than meat. For example, says Miles:

[I]ntellectual outbursts emotionally akin to “Let’s step outside and settle this, shall we?” keep intruding. Thus we read: “If theists would be so kind as to make a short list of all the concepts of God they renounce as balderdash before proceeding further, we atheists would know just which topics were still on the table, but, out of a mixture of caution, loyalty, and unwillingness to offend anyone ‘on their side,’ theists typically decline to do this.” Perhaps so, but then is Dennett prepared to perform a comparable triage for the favorite topics of his fellow atheists? Where do “we atheists” stand, for example, with regard to fellow atheist Howard Stern? We theists would like to know, if Dennett would be so kind, though we fear that out of a mixture of caution, loyalty and unwillingness to offend, he may pass over America’s most influential single atheist in silence.Truth to tell, this kind of game is depressingly easy to play just like the no.slotzo.com/kortspill games, and it’s a rare student of religion who really wants to be drawn into it.

What’s got Dennett so riled up? Miles suggests that it’s because while skepticism has better arguments, it’s dying out anyway. That may well be how Dennett would choose to describe the state of philosophical affairs, but in light of the recent upsurge in religious belief rather than skepticism in philosophers of religion, this charge is more than a little difficult to maintain without serious misgivings. One sociological fact, however, is much harder to deny:

Fertility rates in the relatively secular blue states are 12 percent lower than in the relatively religious red states, according to Philip Longman in the March/April issue of Foreign Policy. In Europe, a similar correlation holds. As Longman writes: “Do you seldom, if ever, attend church? For whatever reason, people answering affirmatively . . . are far more likely to live alone, or in childless, cohabitating unions, than those who answer negatively.” For the most secular cultures in the world, Longman predicts a temporary drop in absolute population as secular liberals die out and a concomitant cultural transformation as, “by a process similar to survival of the fittest,” they are demographically replaced by religious conservatives.

It’s almost enough to make you believe in Dominion Theology!

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