Sunday, March 22, 2009

A lack of imagination, or how a skeptic thinks

The Maverick Philosopher apparently also has his knickers in a twist over what it means to be "negative atheist", which seems to be the term he uses for what I would call a "weak atheist". He engages in a great deal of categorization about how atheism is a proposition. Still, after all this, he can't seem to find a way to give any other proposition than

If atheism and theism are worth discussing, then atheism is the view that God does not exist and theism is the view that God does exist.

At the end of the post, he queries, "So what's going on here? What am I missing?". I am only too happy to clarify this for Dr. Vallicella.

The proposition for the negative atheist would be, approximately, "There is no sound reasoning that leads to the conclusion God exists". This proposition certainly leads to a wealth of discussion over the topic, as theists and atheist discuss various arguments and why the reasoning is sound or not.

One of the most artificial assumptions in logic is the position that every statement needs to be assigned a value of true or false. Mathematicians,for the most part, are comfortable with this assumption because it is sufficient for mathematics. However, it is certainly not sufficient for reality. One of the features of skeptics is that we are comfortable saying "not enough evidence exists to make a decision". I see no reason to say God does not exist. I also see no reason to say God exists. So, I'm a "negative atheist". I'm not unsure about whether I believe in God, I don't believe in God, just like I don't believe in homeopathy, reiki, or theraputic touch.


Anonymous said...

One Brow said: "One of the most artificial assumptions in logic is the position that every statement needs to be assigned a value of true or false."

Ya think? It could possibly be the "excluded middle" position, I figure.

It's all semantics here. What the guy is responding to is what he sees as an attempt to exclude the middle, i.e., do away with the category of agnostic and reduce the distinctions to two simple categories: Either theistic, or atheistic.

He makes this clear in his response to a comment where he says: "It is clear that someone who finds fault with every single theistic argument need not positively assert the nonexistence of God. He could be an agnostic. There is no need for the phrase 'negative atheist.'"

One Brow said...

You mean, a philosophical discussion boils down to semantics? Say it isn't so!

Anonymous said...

Philosophy, it puffs the pudgy one, eh, Eric?

Torbjörn Larsson, OM said...

"it is certainly not sufficient for reality."

In reality, it depends. :-o

As for facts and theories, the situation is just as you described with additional states of for example "not known", and one can also add uncertainty, imprecision and other quantifiable measures on them.

But for tests we put up standards instead. (Say, 3 sigma for testing predictions from theory.) So we revert to something quite like the naive true-false dichotomy for fully tested theories, by way of repressing false positives.

Of course, even in philosophy and math there are non-overlapping areas of validity for different formal systems. Physics, operating at the greater and unified power of algorithmic systems, instead have the problem of emergent phenomena causing divisions between models, so again no universal naive "truth".

It is perplexing on the face of it - by way of category theory one can AFAIU prove that one can always fully learn about a mathematical (theoretical physics) object by throwing all possible operations on it - yet one fundamentally can't compare models because of incompleteness (Gödel). But it is the later that allow different models in the first place. "If there were no incompleteness, it would be necessary to invent it."

Not incidentally this affects my own characterization of atheism, since the philosophical divisions lack the power of expressing empiricism. I usually go close with Dawkins and Stenger to "naturalist", or "natural atheist" when the description reflects on the phenomena of religiosity.

One Brow said...

Torbjörn Larsson, OM:

I think we largely agree here, although to me it always weemed category theory was more about finding universal patterns and precepts that learning about the objects themselves. It could certainly be a reflection of my lack of experience with the subject matter, though.

Also, while we apply a true-false level to a single experiment, it sweems we also apply logics that use situational understandings, relative truths, and levels of partial confidence to the overall scientific picture.