Believe as well as rejection of unprovable as well as unfalsifiable assertions are equivalent metaphysical attitudes. You can not prove a negative (e.g. “there is no god”) and you can not falsify the statement “god exists” since it is neither a singular existential (e.g. “this is a white swan”) nor a universal statement (e.g. “all swans are white”).

Both, creationists as well as atheists reject the theory of evolution on the one hand and the existence of god on the other because of the perceived implications. The creationist position is summarized in the Evil Tree of Evolution with evolution as the root of all evil and the atheist perspective is summed up in the highly incendiary Fitna as the root of fundamentalism. Both positions are simplistic as well as wrong.

Interestingly the Catholic church just recently wholeheartedly embraced the theory of evolution and thereby branding the creationists and ID folks as what they are: the unorthodox fringe. The church will hold services celebrating Darwin’s theory, believe it or not. Additionally, religious fundamentalism on all sides is highly unorthodox and counter to the core values of all world religions.

Supposedly rational atheists should realize religion for what it is: an adaptation. Are fundamentalism and terrorism wrong? You bet! Is being compassionate evolutionary advantages? You bet!

The problem in the debate is that ironically theists as well as atheists alike ignore the voices of reason on either side and prefer to pick the low hanging fruits instead.

On the side of evolution from a rational scientific perspective:
David Sloan Wilson (Darwin’s Cathedral)
Stephen Jay Gould (multilevel selection)

On the side of myth and religion from a intuitive spiritual perspective:
Karen Armstrong (The Great Transformation, The Battle for God, interview with Bill Moyers)
Joseph Campbell (The Power of Myth, and countless others)

Another point: Kurt Goedel of ‘Goedel incompleteness’ fame, formulated Saint Anselm’s ontological argument for God’s existence in modal logic and proved it formally. Which of the 5 axioms in his proof do you happen to disagree with I wonder and why?

Do I believe in a god? No. Do I accept Goedels ontological proof? Yes. Am I becomming more and more spiritual? You bet!

20 comments on “Why I am not an Atheist

  1. Paul Kemp on said:

    Why I am an atheist.

    I am an atheist in the sense that I consider the existence of a god to be so unlikely that for all purposes I live as if none exists. As you say, you can’t prove that a god does not exist as you can’t prove a negative. However, this can be extended to attempt to justify belief in any mythological being: for example, you can’t prove that fairies don’t exist.

    I contest your assertion that the existence of a god is non-falsifiable based on it not being a singular existential: the existence of god is a singular existential which can be formulated as “There is a being that is a god, and this being has certain defining attributes (one of which is existence).” This is the basis of Anselm’s argument, that one of the defining attributes of God (capitalized, as he was talking about a particular one) is existence. He therefore asserts that in order for God to be God, He must exist. I contest this for the following reasons:

    it is circular logic;

    Anselm makes the assumption that something that is thought to be the greatest is greater still if it exists and makes the leap that it must therefore exist. This is very susceptible to reductio ad absurdum. For example: “I can imagine the best possible lover. This lover would be even better if he/she would exist. Therefore he/she exists.”.

    As Gödel’s argument is a reformulation of Anselm’s, I do not see a need to deal with it directly.

    However, the main reason for which I am an atheist is the lack of evidence for any god and the lack of necessity for positing a god as an explanation for the natural world. A god is not even a good explanation as it is unparsimonious: for example, suggesting that a god was the cause of the big bang is not a good explanation because a god is necessarily more complex than what it creates and because of the problem of infinite regression.

    Finally, let me ask you a question: you say that you accept Gödel’s ontological proof, so then why do you say that you don’t believe in a god?

  2. “However, this can be extended to attempt to justify belief in any mythological being: for example, you can’t prove that fairies don’t exist.”

    You see – this is the difference between understanding intrinsic unknowability and assigning likelihoods on which to base a particular personal choice on by which to live ones life. True – there is no evidence for the existence of god, however there is also no evidence for the non-existence of god so why fall into the trap of preferring one believe over another? This remains a personal choice.

    “I contest your assertion that the existence of a god is non-falsifiable based on it not being a singular existential”

    By doing so you would remove yourself from logical thought.

    “I can imagine the best possible lover. This lover would be even better if he/she would exist. Therefore he/she exists.”

    You do not understand the ontological argument: The ‘greater still’ trick only works on ‘the greatest that can be thought’ and breaks down for your greatest lover. Time to reconsider.

    “As Gödel’s argument is a reformulation of Anselm’s, I do not see a need to deal with it directly.”

    Well – now that you do understand the ontological argument, you do not get away that easily.

    Personally I find your position typical for the common atheist out there: Overly confident, yet unsophisticated when it comes to the nitty gritty of the rational argument. You hear about Goedel’s ontological proof, take 5 minutes to read it and in a stroke of unbelievable genius disprove Anselm as well as Goedel in a blink of an eye with a novel but unfortunately false objection. Oh the bliss!

    “Finally, let me ask you a question: you say that you accept Gödel’s ontological proof, so then why do you say that you don’t believe in a god?”

    Personally I do not see how how ‘something that is greater than anything else’ must necessarily be god – it could simply be infinity redefined – but then again Goedel’s proof incorporates ‘positive moral aesthetic properties’ which broadens the scope. I do not claim that I understand Goedel’s proof and am thus suspending judgment until I found the time to examine it in more depth and delved into Thomas Aquinas’ arguments a bit more.

    For all practical purposes however I do make the personal choice – which I acknowledge as not founded in rational thought – for not believing in any god in the religious sense of the term.

  3. Paul Kemp on said:

    “True – there is no evidence for the existence of god, however there is also no evidence for the non-existence of god so why fall into the trap of preferring one believe over another? This remains a personal choice.”

    So you saying that you would believe in a god despite the lack of evidence. Why a god and not whatever else you can imagine? Also, please tell me, what would evidence for the non-existence of a god look like? This is approaching the god-of-the-gaps argument.

    “By doing so you would remove yourself from logical thought.”

    How?

    “You do not understand the ontological argument: The ‘greater still’ trick only works on ‘the greatest that can be thought’ and breaks down for your greatest lover. Time to reconsider.”

    Why? You give no reason. My lover is the greatest lover of which I can think.

    You seem to fall into the trap that because you revere Anselm and Gödel, then it would take a “stroke of unbelievable genius” to disprove their arguments. They were just humans, you know.

  4. “So you saying that you would believe in a god despite the lack of evidence.”

    No – reread my post. Thanks.

    “How?”

    Because the statement “god exists” is in fact a singular existential statement. Nothing you can do about it.

    “Why? You give no reason.”

    I in fact did and you chose to ignore it. You have my argument now work on your understanding. The best of luck to you.

    “You seem to fall into the trap that because you revere Anselm and Gödel, then it would take a “stroke of unbelievable genius” to disprove their arguments. They were just humans, you know.”

    Goedel was ‘one of the most significant logicians of all time, Gödel made an immense impact upon scientific and philosophical thinking in the 20th century’ (see Wikipedia). Please go ahead and get your argument published. In a Journal. Your fame is virtually guaranteed. I however am at a lack of words in response to your nonsense. Please leave.

  5. Paul Kemp on said:

    Stefan, my argument has always been civil and polite. I have always stuck to the subject in question. I am guilty of no misconduct. Yet you seem outraged at my response and ask me to leave. Why? Do you resent people coming onto your blog, reading what you have written and then having the audacity to comment on it? Perhaps that explains why there is no one else posting here.

    I have kept a record of this thread. I have good mind to circulate it among my fellow transhumanists in order to demonstrate your utter unsuitability for any position within the movement.

    Have a good day, now.

    Paul Kemp

  6. Alain on said:

    Dear Stefan,
    I do not see why the publication of an argument supports in any way its validity…
    Likewise, I do not see why the length of an argument supports its validity (remember yesterday, it is enough to read the definitions of “morality” and of “evolution” to spot the distinguishing features). Simple (hence cannot be true?).
    Shrouding sentences with artificial complexity to hide/disguise a lack of comprehension and of novelty – plus dropping famous names here & there – does not impress me. The issue of shrouding ideas in complexity is unclarity, not profoundness. A clear and well mastered point can be summed up in *say* twenty words and/or in twenty seconds.
    I find your “argumentum ad verecundiam” fallacious. Furthermore, who is looking for fame here? Not me anyway. I also find your lines as being merely ad hominem attacks with no real reasoning as to the substance.
    Don’t worry, I am leaving as well as I am too busy dealing with the only relevant issue in transhumanism which is science.
    Best wishes,
    Alain

  7. Paul, feel free to do what you feel that you have to do. In the long run I can only hope that you realize how misguided you have been. I found your responses to my explanations not only ignorant as well as misinformed but at the same time argumentative and naive. You have been shown to be demonstrably mistaken and instead of admitting to it you choose to cry foul and threaten character assassination.

    That’s real mature of you. Go ahead.

  8. Alain, when you contacted me I took the time to write you a friendly and lengthy email and even offered to send you a free copy of my book to which you replied that you do not have the time to read my book, then asked me to summarize my theory, which I did. And now you accuse me of merely “Shrouding sentences with artificial complexity to hide/disguise a lack of comprehension and of novelty – plus dropping famous names here & there” Well – shame on you, Alain Michel. Shame on you. Yet my argument remains unresponded to. How is one to argue with that?

    “I find your “argumentum ad verecundiam” fallacious.”

    Wait a minute. I told Paul plain and clear that his greatest lover example is false because “The ‘greater still’ trick only works on ‘the greatest that can be thought’ and breaks down for your greatest lover.” Only after him dismissing this argument did I remind him of Goedel’s logical genius *as a hint that he might want to spend another minute reconsidering*. Did he do that? No. Is he still wrong? Yes.

    Yes – I admit ad hominim. AFTER your friend became irrational. Am not transhuman yet, you see? Tells you a thing or two about what a lousy politician I would make. Having been on a hair trigger patience after having discussed the exact same topic three times in the past week certainly did not help as well.

    Look guys, I wrote this post exactly because I have now repeatedly been attacked on purely irrational grounds for pointing out that claiming knowledge of the non existence of god is metaphysically equivalent to claiming knowledge of the existence of god. Believes and opinions allowed – knowledge in this particular case unfortunately not – sorry.

    “Furthermore, who is looking for fame here?”

    Timeout. Truth be told I have been asked to run for the WTA board by James Hughes to make it more international. Guess we all know how that turned out. Am not interested in fame, seriously. Although now that I am firmly in the sight of creationists as well as the atheist crowd alike I can at least not be accused of being mainstream. Thank Darwin!

    It is unfortunate that this whole thread exploded the way it did. Move on folks – nothing to see here.

  9. Paul Kemp on said:

    I also find it unfortunate that the “whole thread exploded in the way it did”. I merely wanted to have a discussion but apparently it was too much for you to cope with. Please try to look at things from my perspective. I did my best to give my arguments with clear reasoning. Perhaps I am wrong and perhaps this is obvious to you and you can demonstrate it with the greatest ease and elegance; however, it appears that you only decree from on high that I am wrong and you do not want to stoop to give clear reasons for your decrees. When I question this, you launch into an ad hominem attack, as Alain says and you admit. Why is this? Why can’t you just give clear reasons for your arguments? I am perfectly happy to accept that I am wrong if this is clearly demonstrated, but please consider that anyone else can be wrong, too.

  10. Yes – you are right. I should have been more patient and rereading this thread I realize that I was responding to the 10 guys that came before you and not to you. Then you walk in and get the heat :-) Sorry about that!

    Reconsider Anselm’s exact words. He actually avoids the problem of the unprovable statement of ‘god exists’ by giving god the property of:being greater than nothing can be thought:

    1. God is the entity than which nothing greater can be thought.

    See, he does not give him a property beyond ‘greatest greatness’. By doing so we can apply the logic trick of stating the axiom of:

    2. It is greater to be necessary than not.

    What he means by that is that it is even greater to really exist than merely existing in understanding or thought (in theory). So in the context of a great lover this logical trick would unfortunately not work:

    3. God must therefore be necessary.

    Or in plain English: Since god is the greatest entity imaginable and since an entity is greater by existing then by not existing (= existence is better than non-existing) it must therefore exist:

    4. Hence, God exists necessarily.

    Cheers,

    Stefan

  11. G. de A. on said:

    *Yawn*

    This…bores me.

    Get on with your life. Don’t worry about whether God exists or not.

    Even if he does exist, any intelligent person would be wise enough not to worship that muderous, callous tyrant. 😉

  12. Paul Kemp on said:

    The ten guys that came before me? Which ten guys? Or is that on another thread?

    Regarding Anselm’s argument: I do understand what Anselm is saying. I am simply saying that it applies to any other superlative. There is no reason to prefer the Christian God as the conclusion. However, as we can all imagine various superlatives for which we would have empirical evidence of their existence, but this evidence does not exist, then this argument does not prove the existence of God.

  13. Yup, the ten other guys are on other threads/mailing lists…

    “Regarding Anselm’s argument: I do understand what Anselm is saying. I am simply saying that it applies to any other superlative.”

    And this is the tough one, because the ontological argument precisely only works for this particular superlative of ‘that entity which none greater can be thought’ and for none other. It really is a logical curve ball. I find the explanation of the argument that you can find here pretty good:

    http://www.princeton.edu/~grosen/puc/phi203/ontological.html

    “There is no reason to prefer the Christian God as the conclusion.”

    The question if this god then has to be the Christian god is very different question again and not addressed in Anselm’s argument.

  14. Paul Kemp on said:

    Basically, what I am doing is challenging what is meant by “greatest”. It is something purely subjective. However, I will disregard that. Anselm considers this greatest thing to be even greater if it exists: “If something exists in the understanding alone, but can be conceived to exist in reality, then that thing can be conceived to be greater than it actually is.” As far as I can tell, this is just an assumption which you can either take or leave. Personally, I consider existence to be better than non-existence. On that basis, I can accept Anselm’s argument, but as I say, it depends on your own definition of “greatest” (hence why I use “the greatest lover”).

  15. “Basically, what I am doing is challenging what is meant by “greatest”. It is something purely subjective.”

    Very good point – what is greatness and why would we accept that god is in fact the greatest that can be thought? Here we are back to Goedel’s ‘positive moral aesthetic properties’…

    In regards to your ‘greatest lover’ example: I think if you would propose that ‘my lover’ is that which none greater can be thought you would run into trouble arguing for your lovers ultimate greatness, since your lover is not all knowing for example and thus an all knowing lover would be greater still thus since your lover is not all knowing (which god is claimed to be) she is not of ultimate greatness etc.

    In the case of the Virgin Mary on the other hand…. j/k

  16. To put this matter to rest (yeah right :-) ) I would like to bring forward two points:

    1) In an effort in understanding why the ontological argument is considered fallacious I posted it on the forum of RichardDawkins.net – arguably The center of neo-atheism to date. When filtering out the atheist rhetoric the result interestingly boils down to: the argument is sound within the made assumptions. However, Rob Hunter is quick to add – not every consistent and complete imagined (he means a priori) argument makes it so:

    “Imagining something does not created it except in the imagination, and there lies the fallacy.” (see http://tr.im/hOTN for the complete thread)

    Rob adds in a later comment that in the absence of evidence, scientists are not justified to belief in the existence of a god. Fair enough. But he failed to add that the absence of evidence is no evidence for absence. Ergo, the existence of god ultimately remains unknown. Me having been bruised in a number of previous bouts on the subject had no interest in another mud slinging contest and left it at that.

    2) Phil Plait, over at his discover magazine blog http://tr.im/hOUc meanwhile has now made the same point I am making in my post:

    “As most skeptics will agree, it’s not possible to prove God exists, and you certainly can’t prove a negative.”

    Hear hear. Well – actually there are some negatives that you can prove (e.g. “There is no crow in this box”, you open the box and there you go) however the specific negative of “There is no god” can in fact not be proven. He then goes on to point out that the points made on both sides against modern cosmology and the existence of god share the same weakness: what created god? vs. where did the multi verse come from? People tend to favor one argument over the other and people will rarely convince the other side. Deal with it. I am merely assuming the superposition of acknowledging this logic peculiarity and the inability of the fundis to come to terms with it. So sue me. If you make a point that can in fact be proven or find one that can in fact be disproven then great – I will be on your side every step of the way. Just don’t push your metaphysical claims and expect me to buy into them and call me names when I disagree or lack the patience to educate you. You (the reader) needs to remember that since you have not reasoned yourself (no matter how convinced you are that you did – you did not) into your position (there is no god/there is a god) I will not be able to reason you out of it. End of story.

    What else is there to say? Looks that as long as you believe in god you can in fact prove her existence by the mere power of inductive axiomatic reasoning. And if you don’t believe in god, well, then you can’t. Simple as that. And before I get another 15 posts on how this would be perverting reason and logic I humbly suggest to go read Goedel, Escher, Bach by Douglas R. Hofstadter.

    I do prefer science over superstition, truth over lies, but I also prefer wisdom over truth, For details see my posts titled Irrationalist’s edge http://www.jame5.com/?p=16 and Does Truth Matter? http://www.jame5.com/?p=13

  17. Ralph Kim on said:

    I’ve read through the original post (which is the one I want to discuss) and glimpsed at a few of your later arguments, which i will briefly mention.

    {You can not prove a negative (e.g. “there is no god”) and you can not falsify the statement “god exists” since it is neither a singular existential (e.g. “this is a white swan”) nor a universal statement }

    But do I need to? You can not falsify the statement “there is an invisible monkey on top of your monitor screen that you cannot smell or feel either”, but is it logical to believe such a thing? Of course, I cannot provide evidence for the existence of the monkey, and neither can theists for god(s).

    {Kurt Goedel of ‘Goedel incompleteness’ fame, formulated Saint Anselm’s ontological argument for God’s existence in modal logic and proved it formally.}

    This argument has been posed numerous times (I think it was Descartes that first proposed it) and can quite easily be debunked. It doesn’t matter if it was a famous logician that proposed it, he was human like you and I. Other famous logicians, like Bertrand Russell debunked the argument: first of all, since you insist, let us turn away from the perfect lover and use a different example. How about we imagine a perfect island? And what are the criterions for this island? Let’s just list some for arguments sake: room temperature climate at noon and humid/chilly at night, no poisonous plants or dangerous animals that might prey on me, trees that produce sushis, and of course, existence. Since I can imagine a “perfect” island whose criterion for perfection is existence, does that mean that it exists? You have to assume that such a thing as a perfect island (or god(s)) exists in the first place; circular reasoning at its finest. Another thing: one must also assume that existence is a quality that contributes to perfection, but what exactly is perfect in the first place?

  18. Ralph Kim on said:

    Addition to the last post:
    sorry, the ontological argument wasn’t first proposed by Descartes, but that variation is the one I’m most familiar with.

  19. I wish my second book “Touch of Metaphysics” would be quicker translated in English than my “Why is science Western?”

    For me there is enough reason to put your trust on faith of Sovereign Personal God. Already the rebirth of nation of Israel – after 2 milleniums – is something metaphysical. See Hezekiel 36 and Zachariah 12

    I do not need the argumentation of Anselm. He was – nou doubt – anyway a key person for opening the thinking of Europeans.

    Why Europe was drawn in such a darkness (from where Anselm was like “firstborn” – intellectual of the new Europe) – while Muslims took over intellectually? That is the question I have gone through in my “Why is science Western?” (which is still just in Finnish) – of which you will find an introduction in English.

    This darkness is the key for atheists to wreck the whole essence and signification of Christianity. If my hypothese is right, it will rise metaphysical meaning also for the question, why the Hebrews were once camped to live next to the Greeks. Following that – in late antique – the Jewish-Christian worldview was to draw thinking of mankind out of the prison of antique. After the paradoxal darkness – the “Western science” was finally born.

    Gerald Schroeder:
    The most powerful challenge to an atheist’s view of the world lies within the world itself: the simple reality of existence. Why is there existence? Forget things as complex as life. Just consider the being of anything: space, time, matter in any form. Is there some “law,” some axiom, that demands there be existence independent of an underlying force that brought it into being? Even if we posit that the universe and all existence is eternal, the question remains: why is there an “is”?

  20. Pingback: Rational Morality » The Charter for Compassion

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