Popular Atheist Argument: “You Can’t Prove a Negative” and the Burden of Proof

I may start a series addressing some popular forms of atheistic arguments because, like it or not, you’ll run into them frequently.  This is due to the popularity of guys like Richard Dawkins, Bill Maher, random Youtube atheists, etc.  These arguments are not exactly philosophically sophisticated, nor are they used by all atheists, but it is nonetheless helpful to discuss why they are mistaken and even flat naive sometimes.  In any case, I’ll start with the “You can’t prove a negative” complaint by many atheists.

Often, when one asks an atheist to present positive arguments for his worldview, he resorts to saying that proving a negative is impossible.  In other words, it is allegedly unreasonable to expect a positive case for atheism because it is not possible, in principle, to prove that God does not exist (a negative statement).  Because it is the theist who posits the existence of God, he is the one who has to present positive arguments while all the atheist must do is refute the arguments given by the theist.  There are a couple of reasons for this.  One, it is normally easier to refute a position rather than build a positive case for a position, and therefore it is advantageous, from a debating perspective, to avoid the burden of proof and place it on the opposition.  Second, it gives the impression that atheism is the default, rational position that one must take.  Many atheists think that this suffices to place the burden of proof squarely on theists while they can happily avoid giving positive reasons for their own worldview.  Atheists may also attempt to tell people to refute the existence of obviously absurd things like the Flying Spaghetti Monster to try to show that it’s an unreasonable thing to ask.

Though extremely popular, this sentiment is rather quite silly.  It is absolutely possible to prove a negative; in fact, we do it all the time.  Assuming any reasonable definition of “proof,” we can prove something does not exist either inductively or deductively.  For example, people do not disbelieve in Santa Claus merely because there is a lack of evidence for his existence.  They disbelieve in him because there is evidence against his existence, such as the fact that the person who ate the cookies in your living room and gave you presents was unmistakably your parents and not Santa Claus (among others).  Now, since conclusions from this type of evidence would be arrived at inductively, it would not be considered an absolute proof against things like Santa Claus, but it would nonetheless be considered rational to hold and irrational to reject.  Stronger proofs against the existence of entities would be concluded from deduction (where the conclusions are necessitated by the rules of logic if the premises are true), and while that is typically more difficult, there are many examples of this as well.  For instance, we know that there is no such thing as a round square or a married bachelor because those are logically contradictory notions.  Again, we do not disbelieve in the existence of round squares simply because there is a lack of good arguments for their existence, but rather we disbelieve in them because it can be logically shown that they cannot exist.

What is particularly amusing about atheists who duck their responsibility to make a positive case for their worldview is that atheist philosophers have long given both inductive and deductive arguments against the existence of God, quite clearly showing that it is possible, in principle, to prove the non-existence of something.  A deductive example would be the logical problem of evil, where the existence of evil is said to be logically incompatible with the existence of God.  With the dismantling of that argument by Alvin Plantinga, atheists have tried their hand with inductive arguments from evil, concluding that while God may not be strictly logically incompatible with evil, his existence is unreasonable to believe in given the evil that we see.  Of course, I do not think these arguments have been successful, but that’s because they ultimately weren’t good arguments, not because it is principally impossible to prove a negative.

Atheism is in fact not the default position many of its adherents want it to be because it makes a claim on reality, namely that God does not exist and nature is all that there is (I’m assuming atheists are naturalists, which is fairly standard for our time).  It is actually naive to believe in some perfect, neutral objectivity, but the closest thing to a “neutral” position would be a strong form of agnosticism, not atheism.  And I mean true agnosticism, the kind where one does not make conclusions and is ever open to new arguments and evidence.  Many atheists try to collapse the definitions of atheism and agnosticism in order to avoid the burden of presenting their own case, but this is either disingenuous because they’re purposefully equating two distinct positions or confused because they do not understand the distinction.  Atheists are not merely shrugging their shoulders about the issue of God and the supernatural; they are positively claiming that it is irrational to believe in God and that nature is all that there is.

In fairness to atheists, some theists have tried to use this same saying in a fallacious manner in order to avoid hard thinking.  They’ll tell atheists, “You can’t prove a negative, and therefore you can’t prove God doesn’t exist!” and think that’s a good enough reason to have faith.  This is a mistake (so don’t do it!).  Still, in my experience, this is not nearly as common as atheists who try to use this little bit of fake wisdom to absolve themselves of the burden of showing why exactly their naturalism is true.

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16 thoughts on “Popular Atheist Argument: “You Can’t Prove a Negative” and the Burden of Proof

    • Hi Joe, thanks for reading. I found your post very interesting, and I think I agree with parts of it. There are many beliefs that everyone has that are not arrived by some long reasoning process. I don’t even think most Christians arrive at faith in Christ and belief in God through some long reasoning process; that does not make their belief irrational at all, but instead they experienced God in a real manner. In other words, as Plantinga would say, they perceived God in a properly basic way, so they have warrant for their belief.

      However, my point here was more in the arena of debate as well as addressing atheists on their own terms. I’m not saying everyone must justify every belief through logical argumentation and evidence; that kind of naive evidentialist or logical positivist attitude has long been abandoned by philosophers, though many atheists still cling to it. Still, while not all personal beliefs need to have all this reasoning backing it up, when making a case for one’s worldview against another position, a positive case must be made, especially if one claims to be all about reason and evidence. Ducking that responsibility while trying to put the sole burden on the other party is disingenuous.

  1. Pingback: Refuting Popular Atheist Arguments #2: “I Just Believe in One Less God Than You” | leesomniac

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  3. I’m an atheist/empiricist and I don’t believe in the Christian God because under the Christian definition, God cannot be found by use of any of the 5 physical senses.

    There is no evidence whatsoever that we ever learn anything without making use of at least one of our 5 physical senses, which makes a prima facie case that we don’t learn genuine facts about the world outside of our mind, unless the information about them first traveled through at least one of our senses to our brains. Another way of saying that is that if we claim to have learned something new by means other than our 5 physical senses, then what we “learned” does not qualify as fact, but speculation.

    One great irony is that the Christians who insist that empiricism is fatally deficient, cannot demonstrate that to be the case, without speaking an argument (appeal to the empirical sense of hearing) or writing an argument (appeal to the empirical sense of seeing).

    If you use empirical evidence to falsify empiricism itself, that’s sort of like biting the hand that feeds you, isn’t it?

    So…what error do you say is committed by those who refuse to believe in things that their 5 senses are incapable of detecting?

    • Hi Barry, thanks for dropping by. I’m not quite sure that this directly deals with my post, but I will address your comment regardless. I believe the error you are committing is conflating a particular brand of empiricism, which I take that you are defining as the idea that everything we know must directly come from sensory experience, with the idea that the senses are important (if not indispensable) for the gaining of knowledge for human beings. These are not the same thing; after all, Thomas Aquinas had no problem advocating that the order of knowledge for humans started with the senses. However, this starting point does not exhaust knowledge, or else mathematics and logic would not be considered knowledge but just guesses.

      Christians (and non-Christians) have indeed demonstrated that empiricism is deficient by logic because it is self-refuting, not because empirical evidence says so per se, but because if truth can only come directly from the senses, then where on earth did this principle even come from? What confidence do we have of the reliability of our five senses? These things certainly cannot be proven by sensory experience alone, and therefore empiricism itself tells us to reject the principle of empiricism (small wonder why some empiricists go so far as to say that we don’t really have “knowledge” but useful guesses). If it is self-refuting, then it is clearly not a philosophy that is worth adhering to, though that does not damage the importance of empirical evidence itself. Merely appealing to the fact that we use our senses to hear or read arguments completely misses the point because we surely do not simply read or hear the corresponding ideas that the words convey. This also ignores how we can hear and read different things and then make new connections through reason with our minds, despite not having sensory experience of these new things. A classical rationalist might retort to your simplistic argument with, “One great irony is that empiricists who insist that rationalism is deficient cannot demonstrate the case without simply assuming the reliability of their senses and reason.”

      This error shows when you say that God cannot be found by the five senses; it depends on your usage of “found.” If you’re talking about seeing God himself physically, then no, Christians do not believe God can be “found” that way. But if you’re talking about using the five senses to detect God’s activity, then yes, we believe God can be found in that manner. There is nothing all that grandiose about that; a detective does not have to directly witness someone killing another to gather evidence and make a reasonable conclusion of that person’s guilt. You may say that the murderer, at least in principle, COULD have been witnessed in the act directly by sight, but that would miss the point; the fact remains that a reasonable conclusion was arrived at despite not having direct experience through the senses, though the senses were important for the arrival of that conclusion.

      • Barry: First, we should acknowledge that Rationalism and Empiricism are not boxed in concepts with rigidly delimited definitions, various people adopt these views in various forms of liberalism and extremism. Why are you typing your responses with an intent that I take in knowledge of them via my empirical sense of sight? Maybe because, in spite of your protesting to the the contrary, you actually do believe that presuming empiricism to be the fount of all knowledge-acquisition makes the most sense in this world, while using spiritual visions as a final check on whether our physical senses operate correctly probably isn’t a good idea?

        First, your comment about empiricism being self-refuting doesn’t make sense. You know perfectly well that all epistemologies start with axioms, which by definition do not prompt discussion about their origins, since axioms by definition ARE the starting point. All epistemologies have their weaknesses.

        Second, why you call it self-refuting remains a mystery. Self-refuting propositions contain their own denials. But the empiricist-proposition “All knowledge derives from sense experience” does not entail its own falsehood the way “there are absolutely no absolutes” does. The fact that empiricism, like any epistemology, must inevitably start with an axiom (by definition, having no prior justification), does not make it “self-refuting”. It just means it shares the same weakness that all epistemologies share: an axiomatic nature.

        Third, given that all epistemologies are axiomatic and thus by definition must have a starting point whose prior justifications cannot be known, expressed or argued, the real question is whether, among the competing marketplace of ideas, empiricism is the one that makes the most sense of the world. It does. What would the world be like if everybody had always been a fundamentalist Christian, and therefore used prayer and visions of god as the ultimate check on whether their physical sense-perceptions were in good working order?

        Fourth, I don’t understand your purpose in citing to math in your quest to expose the weaknesses of empiricism. You were not born with innate knowledge of math, you learned it from sources outside yourself (and probably with difficulty, like many others). Specifically, you learned math by allowing somebody else’s teaching to flow down your senses of sight and hearing and go into your brain. So how the existence of math is supposed to demonstrate the futility of declaring experience as the basis for knowledge-acqusition, is beyond me.

        Fifth, I also don’t understand your citation to logic. The existence of logic does not imply that the proposition “all knowledge-acquisition is sensory-based” is likely fallacious or weaker than other epistemologies. The law of non-contradiction is not a “law” in the sense that it is a thing that exists independent of our minds the way trees do. It is a conceptual construct that human intelligence draws in the shape of a conclusion based upon how the world reacts around it, with human language and the desire that it be consistent being a further corrective. If the world had taught us that married bachelors exist, we likely wouldn’t have a law of non-contradiction. If the Big Bang theory is true, and if its supporting scientists are correct that the physical ‘laws’ break down at the singularity, sounds like a good argument that the ‘laws’ of logic break down at that point too (if you insist logic exists external to our minds), which would not be possible if logical laws flowed from the nature of some other-dimensional intelligence unaffected by the physical properties of this universe. How could we be sure that “a cannot be non-a” within a universe to which our current physical laws do not apply? A universe not governed by the second law of thermodynamics does not sound like a place where logic works. Stars that just never burn out? What kind of fuel just keeps burning forever without end once it is set on fire? No overall loss of energy? Any attempt to sensibly describe the “reality” of the singularity-conditions would start sounding more like Alice in Wonderland than a place where ‘laws’ of logic reign. So even under your own belief that logic is a thing external to us, it bites the dust if you go too far back in time.

        Leesomniac: What confidence do we have of the reliability of our five senses?

        Barry: Suppose you were on a jury hearing a criminal case, and you heard the Defendant make that remark? Does he raise a valid point? Or is he clearly guilty and just engaging in desperate trifles to keep alive a possibility of avoiding prison?

        Leesomniac: These things certainly cannot be proven by sensory experience alone, and therefore empiricism itself tells us to reject the principle of empiricism (small wonder why some empiricists go so far as to say that we don’t really have “knowledge” but useful guesses).

        Barry: Empiricism is an axiom. Axioms by definition cannot be “proven”. Yet you act as if failure of empiricism to prove itself is some fatal weakness. No epistemology can prove itself. And your quoted empiricists are not wrong; even for ‘established’ truth such as the existence of trees, your own belief that our empirical sense of sight is not absolute, means that our conclusion that trees exist, because we can see them, is not an absolute but a relative statement (i.e., ‘useful guesses’). What I find disturbing is that the only context in which you people trifle about whether our senses are reliable, is when your defenses are on red-alert in a debate about the validity of your beliefs. Are you this worried about unreliability of your sense of sight, while you are driving a car?

        Leesomniac: If it is self-refuting, then it is clearly not a philosophy that is worth adhering to, though that does not damage the importance of empirical evidence itself.

        Barry: When is the last time you ever acquired knowledge of a fact without using any of your 5 physical senses? I’d say empiricism is superior to any philosophy that alleges the possibility of something that you have never experienced yourself. Indeed, if you never learned a fact wholly absent any involvement of your physical senses, then what convinced you that acquisition of new knowledge apart from the physical senses was ever even possible?

        Leesomniac: Merely appealing to the fact that we use our senses to hear or read arguments completely misses the point because we surely do not simply read or hear the corresponding ideas that the words convey.

        Barry: I think that is a desperate trifle and is wrong: What idea ever popped into your head, that cannot be traced back to something you detected previously with your physical senses? Even the world’s greatest inventors did not just magically come up with absolutely unprecedented things, but they took a prior existing idea they had learned by hearing and sight from somebody else, and infused innovations into it. Your attempt to distinguish the ideas from the objective sights and sounds that gave impetus to those ideas, is abortive. Typed words being different than neurons in the brain does not make your point.

        Leesomniac: This also ignores how we can hear and read different things and then make new connections through reason with our minds, despite not having sensory experience of these new things.

        Barry: this is difficult to understand. You keep wishing to show that hearing and seeing are not the ultimate keys to knowledge, but you keep resorting to examples in which having seen or heard something, is laying in back of and thus gave impetus to, some new idea.

        Leesomniac: A classical rationalist might retort to your simplistic argument with, “One great irony is that empiricists who insist that rationalism is deficient cannot demonstrate the case without simply assuming the reliability of their senses and reason.”

        Barry: that’s not ironic in the least. Trust in one’s senses and reason does not equal “rationalism”. Rationalism as a philosophy says reason is superior to sensory experience. If an empiricist is using reason+experience to refute the “reason only” ideology of Rationalism, he is not guilty of the circularity of using “reason only” to to attack “reason only”.

        You cannot use my above-logic to defend your critique of Empiricism. Empiricism says knowledge does not come to us from external sources unless it goes through one of our five physical senses. When you criticize that, you expect your audience to presume that their seeing and hearing capabilities are working properly when they detect your argument…in which case you are using empirical evidence to demonstrate that empirical evidence is not necessarily the best type of evidence. That is a major problem that will continue to plague you, whether empiricism is ‘self-refuting’ or not. If empirical evidence is not the best evidence, funny how you certainly think it is the best evidence when YOU need such evidence to make your case! Seems to me you should only use the BEST evidence you can possibly muster to make your case. So, is empirical evidence the best evidence you have to justify your critique of empiricism, or do you have non-empirical evidence that will do the job better?

        Leesomniac: This error shows when you say that God cannot be found by the five senses; it depends on your usage of “found.” If you’re talking about seeing God himself physically, then no, Christians do not believe God can be “found” that way. But if you’re talking about using the five senses to detect God’s activity, then yes, we believe God can be found in that manner.

        Barry: but when you dumb down “detect God” to “detect God’s activity”, you infuse the situation with more subjectivity. When you see for the first time a slender stack of dirt 4 feet high from a distance of 200 yards, are you detecting something created by natural erosion, or are you detecting the activity of ants? You would probably say it makes sense to continue using your sense of sight and not assume how it originated until you can compare it with similar phenomena whose origin is already verified by scholarly majority. Well then, if you insist the human eye is too complex to have evolved without intelligent design, I have the perfect right to demand that you compare the eye to other things that have already been positively identified by the scholarly majority as the work of God. We could have a very full debate on your inability to identify all minimal traits that all intelligently created objects share. Care to engage?

        Leesomniac: There is nothing all that grandiose about that; a detective does not have to directly witness someone killing another to gather evidence and make a reasonable conclusion of that person’s guilt. You may say that the murderer, at least in principle, COULD have been witnessed in the act directly by sight, but that would miss the point; the fact remains that a reasonable conclusion was arrived at despite not having direct experience through the senses, though the senses were important for the arrival of that conclusion.

        Barry: I don’t see your point. Empiricism does not say reason should never be employed, and you know perfectly well that Empiricists do not say only direct observation of the event will suffice. Indeed, how could experience be a reliable fount for knowledge-acquisition, if we just sit around letting the world affect us as it does, and never apply reason? We see somebody get a flat tire, and never think about it. We see and hear the crew member show us how to flip burgers, but we never give it a second thought (!?). Obviously experience and reason must work together, and Empiricism’s sole distinction is that experience is superior, since without it, reasoning doesn’t mean much. You must have data first, before you can reason on it. That much should be clear: what type of person has greater potential for securing employment? The person with less experience, or the one with more?

        A more direct reply would be that the detective would never have been able to reason out the hypothesis of a murder, had he never experienced the clues you say he did.

        I began my response to you by saying I don’t believe in the Christian god because I cannot detect him with any of my five physical senses. That holds true for every other part of my life. I do not believe in things that I cannot experience with my physical senses. Obviously, that doesn’t mean I don’t believe in things I never experience DIRECTLY. I don’t deny the reality of crime in Los Angeles merely because I don’t experience it directly. If I go into my house and notice that everything is out of place and my secret stash of money is gone, I have experienced a reality that based on my prior experience has far more in common with crime than purely natural disaster.

        You seem to be artificially distinguishing my statement about experiencing the world, with indirect contact with clues. No such distinction was intended.

        You will reply that my stated empirical basis for denying god cannot be true since, if I allow for indirect evidence, well then, maybe one can indirectly experience a true god, thus lack of direct experience is not fatal to theism.

        You would be in error: An empirical claim does not lose its probative force merely because it isn’t absolute. Yes, there could possibly be a god, but so what? How many times do you refrain from asserting an empirical fact merely because you could possibly be wrong? If you are sure men landed on the Moon, would you refrain from asserting it as fact on the grounds that you could possibly be wrong? Then neither do I refrain from denying your god’s existence merely because there is always that infinitesimally small possibility that god could be real.

        If you hadn’t committed the mistake of presuming that my confident denial of the Christian god was absolute, we probably wouldn’t be having this discussion. You are never going to persuasively demonstrate that limiting knowledge just to things that can be experienced, is a bad idea. The way you interact with the world every second of the day is a testimony that it is only the stuff you can experience, that counts toward knowledge.

        If empiricism’s allegedly self-refuting nature rationally justifies excluding it, then anti-empiricism’s absolute failure to show that anybody ever could or ever did gain knowledge wholly apart from their physical senses, constitutes equally rational justification to reject anti-empiricism. In the real world, it is obvious that the key to learning is experience. Any school or college will agree…you don’t just meditate your way to graduation.

      • I apologize for the delay in my reply; I had some things to do, and to be fair, yours was quite a long comment! I will try my best to reply.

        “First, we should acknowledge that Rationalism and Empiricism are not boxed in concepts with rigidly delimited definitions, various people adopt these views in various forms of liberalism and extremism. Why are you typing your responses with an intent that I take in knowledge of them via my empirical sense of sight? Maybe because, in spite of your protesting to the the contrary, you actually do believe that presuming empiricism to be the fount of all knowledge-acquisition makes the most sense in this world, while using spiritual visions as a final check on whether our physical senses operate correctly probably isn’t a good idea?”

        First, your comment about empiricism being self-refuting doesn’t make sense. You know perfectly well that all epistemologies start with axioms, which by definition do not prompt discussion about their origins, since axioms by definition ARE the starting point. All epistemologies have their weaknesses.

        “Second, why you call it self-refuting remains a mystery. Self-refuting propositions contain their own denials. But the empiricist-proposition “All knowledge derives from sense experience” does not entail its own falsehood the way “there are absolutely no absolutes” does. The fact that empiricism, like any epistemology, must inevitably start with an axiom (by definition, having no prior justification), does not make it “self-refuting”. It just means it shares the same weakness that all epistemologies share: an axiomatic nature.”

        I don’t believe I did this, and I agree: There are degrees of rationalism and empiricism. Based on your previous comment, I figured you situated yourself on the far end of empiricism. If this is not the case (though to be fair, I think some things you have said seem to lean towards this direction), then thanks for the clarification. This, however, does get into my contention that hard-line empiricism is a self-refuting position. You are right that most epistemologies start with axioms, but this does not mean that they cannot be self-refuting if those axioms entail their denial. A hard empiricist position dictates that no beliefs can be justifiably formulated without direct sensory experience, but this vitiates against the very principle itself because it is obviously something that is not sensed. If one then argues that it is arrived at inductively, not only may this cause problems for it as an “axiom” but it brings in the whole problem of induction that Hume brought up. This is why most empiricists tend to concede beliefs that are necessary and/or properly basic or they view empiricism more as the road to utility rather than knowledge per se.

        “Third, given that all epistemologies are axiomatic and thus by definition must have a starting point whose prior justifications cannot be known, expressed or argued, the real question is whether, among the competing marketplace of ideas, empiricism is the one that makes the most sense of the world. It does. What would the world be like if everybody had always been a fundamentalist Christian, and therefore used prayer and visions of god as the ultimate check on whether their physical sense-perceptions were in good working order?”

        You seem to be making wrong assumptions about Christians believe and then announce our beliefs to be mistaken. Christians do not need to pray or have visions of God to check whether our senses our in good working order (or, as Plantinga puts it, that our noetic faculties are properly functioning). This would simply be an integral part of the Christian worldview where God has created rational human beings in his image. It is really the materialistic empiricist who must merely assume that his senses are in good working order. Notice that this is not the same as the empiricist axiom that all knowledge comes from the senses. Someone could accept that premise but point out that empiricism has no way of assuring that those senses are all that reliable, and thus whatever “knowledge” we gain isn’t really knowledge at all.

        “Fourth, I don’t understand your purpose in citing to math in your quest to expose the weaknesses of empiricism. You were not born with innate knowledge of math, you learned it from sources outside yourself (and probably with difficulty, like many others). Specifically, you learned math by allowing somebody else’s teaching to flow down your senses of sight and hearing and go into your brain. So how the existence of math is supposed to demonstrate the futility of declaring experience as the basis for knowledge-acqusition, is beyond me.”

        Here you are clearly question-begging because this is PRECISELY what concerns the debate concerning empiricism and rationalism. You cannot merely assert that there is no innate knowledge of mathematical or logical concepts and then declare victory when that is the very thing at stake. The fact that math must be introduced or learned actually does not entail that its patterns are not innate or intuitive. Also, you once again confuse the mode of receiving ideas from other humans (via sight and hearing) with the ideas themselves while also discounting that new ideas can come from one’s own reasoning without sensory experience of these ideas. Furthermore, though you deny a hard empiricist position, your arguments sound much like classic “blank slate” empiricism, but such empiricist ideas neglect the presence of human cognitive faculties that automatically begin filtering and processing what they take in. Math would hardly be possible if innate ideas concerning concepts like contradiction were not innate in human beings.

        “Fifth, I also don’t understand your citation to logic. The existence of logic does not imply that the proposition “all knowledge-acquisition is sensory-based” is likely fallacious or weaker than other epistemologies. The law of non-contradiction is not a “law” in the sense that it is a thing that exists independent of our minds the way trees do. It is a conceptual construct that human intelligence draws in the shape of a conclusion based upon how the world reacts around it, with human language and the desire that it be consistent being a further corrective. If the world had taught us that married bachelors exist, we likely wouldn’t have a law of non-contradiction. If the Big Bang theory is true, and if its supporting scientists are correct that the physical ‘laws’ break down at the singularity, sounds like a good argument that the ‘laws’ of logic break down at that point too (if you insist logic exists external to our minds), which would not be possible if logical laws flowed from the nature of some other-dimensional intelligence unaffected by the physical properties of this universe. How could we be sure that “a cannot be non-a” within a universe to which our current physical laws do not apply? A universe not governed by the second law of thermodynamics does not sound like a place where logic works. Stars that just never burn out? What kind of fuel just keeps burning forever without end once it is set on fire? No overall loss of energy? Any attempt to sensibly describe the “reality” of the singularity-conditions would start sounding more like Alice in Wonderland than a place where ‘laws’ of logic reign. So even under your own belief that logic is a thing external to us, it bites the dust if you go too far back in time.”

        I find this paragraph to be surprising on many levels, and I also have to point out that you are merely assuming the very thing that is under debate (ie: whether the laws of logic are innate and/or independent of human beings). You are also confusing ontology and epistemology here. Furthermore, as I stated before, you seem to be advocating a tabula rasa philosophy where even the law of non-contradiction is arrived by induction through experience; I would actually argue that such a law is what makes rational analysis of experience even possible to begin with. This is why Aristotle argued that not only is the law of non-contradiction indispensable for any sound thinking, somebody cannot actually believe in a contradiction; even if someone said he did, one would quickly find that his behavior betrays the fact that he does not (which is why people do not walk off cliffs because they think a cliff is not a cliff at the same time).

        I would like to hear your explanation of a possible world where married bachelors, square circles, or colorless color exists. You are assuming the possible existence of something like a married bachelor, which even many empiricists would find astonishing, without dealing with modal logic. One does not need to survey the world and then inductively arrive at the fact that married bachelors do not exist; one can demonstrably and categorically deny that they can exist because it is a logically contradictory concept.

        Your argument that the physical laws of nature breakdown near the Big Bang can extend to the laws of logic is hopelessly flawed. We can easily conceive through our concepts of logic that physical laws of nature can be different than they are. We simply cannot conceive of a world where square circles exist or a and not-a can obtain at the same time. Again, I find this argument very surprising and I would be interested to see if any contemporary empiricist philosopher has dared to make it (and even if one did, of course, that wouldn’t make it right). In all my reading of philosophy, I have to be honest and say that I have never read anyone try to conflate physical and logical laws as this is clearly fallacious.

        “Leesomniac: What confidence do we have of the reliability of our five senses?

        “Barry: Suppose you were on a jury hearing a criminal case, and you heard the Defendant make that remark? Does he raise a valid point? Or is he clearly guilty and just engaging in desperate trifles to keep alive a possibility of avoiding prison?”

        I’m afraid that here you are merely trying to move the goalposts here, quite disingenuously. Of course I am not advocating that we should actually live our lives in extreme doubt of our senses (not even Descartes did this, contrary to what many people think). However, such thought exercises are helpful in testing the soundness of different positions. I may as well as accuse you above that you actually advocate that married bachelors or square circles exist, but that would be rather unfair, wouldn’t it? The point is that if it is so clear to us that our five senses are generally reliable, does empiricism account for this? And if it doesn’t, then clearly empiricism is not an adequate position to take.

        “Leesomniac: These things certainly cannot be proven by sensory experience alone, and therefore empiricism itself tells us to reject the principle of empiricism (small wonder why some empiricists go so far as to say that we don’t really have “knowledge” but useful guesses).

        Barry: Empiricism is an axiom. Axioms by definition cannot be “proven”. Yet you act as if failure of empiricism to prove itself is some fatal weakness. No epistemology can prove itself. And your quoted empiricists are not wrong; even for ‘established’ truth such as the existence of trees, your own belief that our empirical sense of sight is not absolute, means that our conclusion that trees exist, because we can see them, is not an absolute but a relative statement (i.e., ‘useful guesses’). What I find disturbing is that the only context in which you people trifle about whether our senses are reliable, is when your defenses are on red-alert in a debate about the validity of your beliefs. Are you this worried about unreliability of your sense of sight, while you are driving a car?”

        I never said axioms necessarily have to be “proven,” but they sure can be refuted if they entail their own defeater. I have already dealt with the contention of actually doubting the reliability of our senses above.

        “When is the last time you ever acquired knowledge of a fact without using any of your 5 physical senses? I’d say empiricism is superior to any philosophy that alleges the possibility of something that you have never experienced yourself. Indeed, if you never learned a fact wholly absent any involvement of your physical senses, then what convinced you that acquisition of new knowledge apart from the physical senses was ever even possible?”

        As I stated in my first reply to you, you are conflating the use of sensory experience with the allegation that knowledge cannot be gleaned beyond them. Furthermore, there are many things non-empiricist philosophers believe are known that cannot be gained from sensory experience alone. I have already discussed math and logic, which you simply glossed over. Another possible category is morality. If you disagree with them, where is your argument?

        “Leesomniac: Merely appealing to the fact that we use our senses to hear or read arguments completely misses the point because we surely do not simply read or hear the corresponding ideas that the words convey.

        Barry: I think that is a desperate trifle and is wrong: What idea ever popped into your head, that cannot be traced back to something you detected previously with your physical senses? Even the world’s greatest inventors did not just magically come up with absolutely unprecedented things, but they took a prior existing idea they had learned by hearing and sight from somebody else, and infused innovations into it. Your attempt to distinguish the ideas from the objective sights and sounds that gave impetus to those ideas, is abortive. Typed words being different than neurons in the brain does not make your point.”

        It actually does, which is why many empiricists such as even Hume concede a relations of ideas being something that human beings can intuitively conclude, though he differed on the certainty on which we can hold them. There is definitely something different about ideas than words spoken or on a screen. In addition, these ideas go beyond being mere descriptors of our sensory experience; moral knowledge, for example, is not simply what is right but about how things ought to be. The is-ought chasm is not one easily traversed by empiricists.

        “Leesomniac: This also ignores how we can hear and read different things and then make new connections through reason with our minds, despite not having sensory experience of these new things.

        Barry: this is difficult to understand. You keep wishing to show that hearing and seeing are not the ultimate keys to knowledge, but you keep resorting to examples in which having seen or heard something, is laying in back of and thus gave impetus to, some new idea.”

        Is it merely seeing and hearing that gives impetus to new ideas? How did the first ideas even come about without some way to process the experience that these senses brought in? There is quite a bit more that is required for the generation of new ideas, such as reasoning, which is a big reason why many philosophers reject empiricism as adequate.

        “Leesomniac: A classical rationalist might retort to your simplistic argument with, “One great irony is that empiricists who insist that rationalism is deficient cannot demonstrate the case without simply assuming the reliability of their senses and reason.”

        Barry: that’s not ironic in the least. Trust in one’s senses and reason does not equal “rationalism”. Rationalism as a philosophy says reason is superior to sensory experience. If an empiricist is using reason+experience to refute the “reason only” ideology of Rationalism, he is not guilty of the circularity of using “reason only” to to attack “reason only”.”

        No rationalist says “reason only;” heck, not all rationalists even say that reason is superior to experience, only that there are significant areas of knowledge that the senses cannot tell us about.

        “You cannot use my above-logic to defend your critique of Empiricism. Empiricism says knowledge does not come to us from external sources unless it goes through one of our five physical senses. When you criticize that, you expect your audience to presume that their seeing and hearing capabilities are working properly when they detect your argument…in which case you are using empirical evidence to demonstrate that empirical evidence is not necessarily the best type of evidence. That is a major problem that will continue to plague you, whether empiricism is ‘self-refuting’ or not. If empirical evidence is not the best evidence, funny how you certainly think it is the best evidence when YOU need such evidence to make your case! Seems to me you should only use the BEST evidence you can possibly muster to make your case. So, is empirical evidence the best evidence you have to justify your critique of empiricism, or do you have non-empirical evidence that will do the job better?”

        You keep criticizing positions that actually hold that our senses are unreliable, which nobody is holding to here. Again, the contention is that if empiricism cannot account for this as well as other types of knowledge, then there is something deficient about empiricism.

        “but when you dumb down “detect God” to “detect God’s activity”, you infuse the situation with more subjectivity. When you see for the first time a slender stack of dirt 4 feet high from a distance of 200 yards, are you detecting something created by natural erosion, or are you detecting the activity of ants? You would probably say it makes sense to continue using your sense of sight and not assume how it originated until you can compare it with similar phenomena whose origin is already verified by scholarly majority. Well then, if you insist the human eye is too complex to have evolved without intelligent design, I have the perfect right to demand that you compare the eye to other things that have already been positively identified by the scholarly majority as the work of God. We could have a very full debate on your inability to identify all minimal traits that all intelligently created objects share. Care to engage?”

        This is a bizarre paragraph that again shows how you lean towards a hard-line empiricist position, contrary to your claim. I did no such “dumbing down” but merely pointed out the ambiguity of the word “detect.” Not only do Christians believe it is possible to audibly hear the voice of God (though he cannot be physically seen), even if we were to set that aside for now, there is nothing wrong with detecting activity and using reason to conclude who or what is responsible for that activity, even if that entity is not available to the senses at the time. Furthermore, you simply presume that theists leap to conclusions based on small pieces of evidence, which I have not done, and then try to start an argument on intelligent design, which I again have not brought up. Please engage the topics at hand.

        “Leesomniac: There is nothing all that grandiose about that; a detective does not have to directly witness someone killing another to gather evidence and make a reasonable conclusion of that person’s guilt. You may say that the murderer, at least in principle, COULD have been witnessed in the act directly by sight, but that would miss the point; the fact remains that a reasonable conclusion was arrived at despite not having direct experience through the senses, though the senses were important for the arrival of that conclusion.

        “Barry: I don’t see your point. Empiricism does not say reason should never be employed, and you know perfectly well that Empiricists do not say only direct observation of the event will suffice. Indeed, how could experience be a reliable fount for knowledge-acquisition, if we just sit around letting the world affect us as it does, and never apply reason? We see somebody get a flat tire, and never think about it. We see and hear the crew member show us how to flip burgers, but we never give it a second thought (!?). Obviously experience and reason must work together, and Empiricism’s sole distinction is that experience is superior, since without it, reasoning doesn’t mean much. You must have data first, before you can reason on it. That much should be clear: what type of person has greater potential for securing employment? The person with less experience, or the one with more?”

        “A more direct reply would be that the detective would never have been able to reason out the hypothesis of a murder, had he never experienced the clues you say he did.”

        My detective example was merely to reply to the contention that no belief in God is justifiable because he cannot be physically seen, and the detective example sufficed to show why this is wrong. It is, after all, possible to be a theist and an empiricist at the same time, as John Locke was, though this is comparatively rare. Your last statement is quite odd too and rather irrelevant; hiring practices of different firms have no bearing on what we are talking about, and more importantly, “experience” on a job description and “experience” in the realm of epistemology are different animals. You seem to enjoy equivocation. Also, it seems like here you are making my point for me: After all, how can experience be reliable at all without the use of reason? But this shows the importance of rational faculties as the very filter that makes sense of experience.

        “I began my response to you by saying I don’t believe in the Christian god because I cannot detect him with any of my five physical senses. That holds true for every other part of my life. I do not believe in things that I cannot experience with my physical senses. Obviously, that doesn’t mean I don’t believe in things I never experience DIRECTLY. I don’t deny the reality of crime in Los Angeles merely because I don’t experience it directly. If I go into my house and notice that everything is out of place and my secret stash of money is gone, I have experienced a reality that based on my prior experience has far more in common with crime than purely natural disaster.

        “You seem to be artificially distinguishing my statement about experiencing the world, with indirect contact with clues. No such distinction was intended.”

        But once again, you are using the ambiguity of “detect” to rule out belief in God, which is why the detective example was brought up. I agree that God cannot be physically seen, but that does not mean he cannot be “detected” by the five senses through history, science, inspired texts, miracles, and other mediums that religious people have advocated. You may, of course, reject that the theists or other religious people have put forth adequate evidence, but that would be an issue with the evidence and not because God, in principle, cannot be detected.

        “You will reply that my stated empirical basis for denying god cannot be true since, if I allow for indirect evidence, well then, maybe one can indirectly experience a true god, thus lack of direct experience is not fatal to theism.”

        You would be in error: An empirical claim does not lose its probative force merely because it isn’t absolute. Yes, there could possibly be a god, but so what? How many times do you refrain from asserting an empirical fact merely because you could possibly be wrong? If you are sure men landed on the Moon, would you refrain from asserting it as fact on the grounds that you could possibly be wrong? Then neither do I refrain from denying your god’s existence merely because there is always that infinitesimally small possibility that god could be real.

        “If you hadn’t committed the mistake of presuming that my confident denial of the Christian god was absolute, we probably wouldn’t be having this discussion. You are never going to persuasively demonstrate that limiting knowledge just to things that can be experienced, is a bad idea. The way you interact with the world every second of the day is a testimony that it is only the stuff you can experience, that counts toward knowledge.”

        We are actually having this discussion due to several ambiguous statements you have made regarding empiricism and the word “detect,” seemingly vacillating between conceding the possibility of experiencing God but not buying the evidence and the notion that God in principle is outside the bounds of human experience. We are also having this discussion because you have continually confused my position as well as what Christian believe. I never said that one cannot make a conclusion without absolute certainty, or we would know very little. I was merely pointing out the problems with your bare assertion that God cannot be detected.

        “If empiricism’s allegedly self-refuting nature rationally justifies excluding it, then anti-empiricism’s absolute failure to show that anybody ever could or ever did gain knowledge wholly apart from their physical senses, constitutes equally rational justification to reject anti-empiricism. In the real world, it is obvious that the key to learning is experience. Any school or college will agree…you don’t just meditate your way to graduation.”

        You also just don’t “experience” your way to graduation either, as many college and graduate students have found out despite staying many years after the normal duration. Again, I find this analogy rather irrelevant to the discussion, just as yours was regarding hiring practices.

        I kind of feel like you were all over the place, but it seems our main areas of disagreement are whether the laws of logic and mathematics are at least somewhat intuitive or innate to us and/or whether there is enough evidence to justify belief in God (and, perhaps tangentially, whether a large empirical case is necessary to even have warranted belief in God). I think there is something to math, causation, and logic that is more than just mere concepts or relations of experiences; they are the very avenue in which we understand the world and tell us how the world must work. Empiricists disagree, as Hume made clear on his critique of causation, but you simply cannot assume that they are not innate without argument and then conclude an empiricist position. I do not think you have tried to adequately engage other viewpoints on this.

      • It should be clear that trying to engage each issue raised just makes the posts too long. Let’s stick to just your critique of my empiricism.

        If empiricism is “self-defeating”, then it is false.

        If empiricism is false, then sensory data is not always a necessary pre-condition to acquiring new knowledge.

        If sensory data is not always a necessary pre-condition to acquiring new knowledge, then it stands to reason that there would be at least one example of a human acquiring new knowledge without making use of any data processed by any of their 5 physical senses.

        If it stands to reason that there would be at least one example of a human acquiring new knowledge without making use of any data processed by any of their 5 physical senses…then…

        please present evidence that a human being ever actually did learn any fact about the world outside themselves without making use of any data coming to them from any of their 5 senses.

        If you admit that sensory data is tied, to one degree or another, to the possibility of acquiring new knowledge, then we don’t have much of a disagreement on epistemology, and our main disagreement is whether my interpretation of your alleged theistic evidences is correct.

        The following is a correct statement of my empiricism:

        “The full-fledged empiricist about our knowledge of the external world replies that, when it comes to the nature of the world beyond our own minds, experience is our sole source of information. Reason might inform us of the relations among our ideas, but those ideas themselves can only be gained, and any truths about the external reality they represent can only be known, on the basis of sense experience.”
        Source: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/rationalism-empiricism/

        As far as I can tell, all you’ve done is show that the extreme form of Empiricism which denies all utility of reason whatsoever, is flawed, but if so, that is a strawman fallacy on your part since I never advocated such extreme view.

        I also have problems with the idea that you think Empiricisnm is self-refuting. Please state that argument of yours in syllogistic form, so I can then appropriately attack its premises, its conclusion, or both. Bertrand Russell thought it self-refuting, but admitted that it could also be a non-demonstrable truth, when he said “While therefore, empiricism may be true, it cannot, if true, be known to be so”. Apparently, showing that empiricism is self-defeating, does not even entail its falsehood, so not even when you show empiricism is self-defeating, do you show its falsehood.

        And we aren’t debating whether I can SHOW that empiricism is true. We are debating whether it IS true. I doubt I can demonstrate it to be true since it is an axiom which by definition does not admit of any supporting argument, a plague upon all epistemologies. However, I certainly find that Empiricism provides the best explanation for the way humans acquire knowledge of the world outside themselves.

        Another philosopher once quipped that newborn babies know how to breastfeed before having any sensory experience of it, hence, external experience is not key. He was wrong: We aren’t debating whether humans can be born with certain knowledge already intact, as they clearly can be…we are debating whether humans can LEARN (i.e., ACQUIRE knowledge about truths outside of themselves) without making use of data coming to their brain from their 5 physical senses. Its pretty obvious the person who lacks all 5 physical senses, could never learn anything about the world external to themselves.

      • Hi Barry, sorry for the delay:

        I am well aware that you claim that you are not a hardcore empiricist, but like I said in my previous post, you continue to make use of arguments that make you sound like one, like when you presented the outlandish argument about the laws of logic conceivably being different like the laws of physics. Similarly, in this post, you state something quite shocking:

        “Apparently, showing that empiricism is self-defeating, does not even entail its falsehood, so not even when you show empiricism is self-defeating, do you show its falsehood.”

        If something is self-defeating, it is false. This is one of the most basic tenets of logic and philosophy. If we throw this principle out of the window, we might as well let anything go. This is why in logic, if you allow for a contradiction, you can basically prove anything. For example:

        Let A stand for “A monkey played a duet with a Smurf while playing checkers.”

        1. B (premise)
        2. ~B (premise)
        3. B∨A (addition, 1)
        4. A (elimination, 3&2)

        In other words, rational discourse would break down. I don’t know many empiricists who would dare say such a thing, frankly.

        As far as empiricism being self-refuting (at least the extreme type), the argument would go something like this:

        1. Only beliefs formed from direct sensory experience are justified.
        2. The proposition “Only beliefs formed from direct sensory experience are justified” is a belief that is not formed from direct sensory experience.
        3. Therefore, 1 is false.

        And we are absolutely debating whether or not you can show empiricism to be true, or at the least, show that you can neutralize the most common objections to it. You continue to use the axiomatic fallacy; stating an axiom does not make it immune to criticism or defeat. Axioms can be self-defeating or defeated by outside arguments. If we grant your methodology, I can only imagine your frustration if you were to debate against a presuppositional apologist.

        You might want to read that Stanford article again, as it gives a basic summary of the issues involved. It also even talks about how empiricism runs the danger of being self-refuting: “The general principles that provide a basis for the empiricist view, e.g. Hume’s overall account of our ideas, the Verification Principle of Meaning, are problematic in their own right. In various formulations, the Verification Principle fails its own test for having cognitive meaning.” The article admits that empiricists have a big problem when it comes to subjects such as mathematics and morality. We can (and do) learn new things about the world through mathematical reasoning (and this can come without even reading or writing such things on a piece of paper, in case you want to bring up the rather elementary point of us using our eyes to read).

        This, of course, does not mean that sensory evidence gets thrown at the window if one does not adhere to empiricism. It only means that there is significant room for non-empirical forms of knowledge. I don’t have a problem talking about evidences for God; I do have an issue when it sounds like someone is trying to say that belief in God is irrational unless one has direct sensory experience of him (either through voice or physical sight).

      • But you cannot come up with any examples where anybody ever acquired new knowledge without the aid of at least one of the five physical senses. So your attempt to keep making room for non-empirically based knowledge-acquisition is abortive.

        I wasn’t the one who drew the conclusion that showing empiricism to be self-defeating would not entail its falsehood, that was Bertrand Russel. Here is what I said:

        “Bertrand Russell thought it self-refuting, but admitted that it could also be a non-demonstrable truth, when he said “While therefore, empiricism may be true, it cannot, if true, be known to be so”. Apparently, showing that empiricism is self-defeating, does not even entail its falsehood, so not even when you show empiricism is self-defeating, do you show its falsehood.”

        If all you were doing was trying to show that the absolute extreme form of empiricism (which denies assistance from rational thought) is false, then we were talking past each other, since I don’t hold that ridiculous extreme form, and neither does anybody else. What good is “experience” if there is no rational thought applied to it?

        I heartily agree that simply experiencing does not result in knowledge-acquisition, since the experience must be reflected on before it can impart new knowledge to the brain. Indeed, how many parents have scolded their kids for repeating past conduct that hurt them, in which case they should have already “learned the lesson”?

        How does refuting the most extreme form of empiricism make the empirical basis of my atheism irrational? I told you that I don’t believe in God because I find no empirical evidence for he/she/it.
        Your attacking the most extreme form of empiricism does nothing to disturb the reasonableness of that reasoning. You don’t have any examples of anybody ever gaining new knowledge without first having that information travel along one of their five physical senses to their brain.

        Fundamentalist Christians would make horrible crime-scene investigators or jurors…their openness to “satan fabricated this evidence/the devil made me do it” would prevent them from drawing ultimate conclusions about what happened and whether a suspect is guilty or not guilty. If the Defendant says the devil made him kill his wife, you can never positively disprove that excuse…so, consistent with your expectation that atheists remain open to God’s existence, you too, as a juror faced with “the devil made me do it”, must likewise remain open to that possibility and thus refuse to declare the defendant guilty. Correct?

        But if the mere possibility that Defendant is telling the truth need not slow you down from declaring that he is lying (i.e., that he is guilty) given the lack of evidence that he was ever possessed by the devil, then the mere possibility that God exists need not slow me down from declaring that he doesn’t exist. At some point in the real world, lack of evidence for an excuse starts wearing people down and making them suspicious that there is a lack of evidence precisely because the alleged thing does not exist…they do not just sit on the fence forever all because there’s no such thing as absolute proof or disproof.

        Until you can demonstrate that refusal to believe in something due to lack of evidence, is an irrational thing (and when you do, you render irrational all criminal investigators, detectives and jurors who, on the basis of lack of evidence, refuse to believe that certain people are guilty), then you are implicitly agreeing that the presence or absence of empirical evidence is what makes or breaks a case. That being true, all your stuff about “Atheists cannot account for logic by empirical means!” goes right out the window.

        Do you often wonder what the justice system would be like, if the only people that were allowed to be jurors, were fundamentalist Christians who believed the devil has the power to make people commit crimes?

        Your hatred of practical empiricism appears to be premised on absolutely nothing more than a fear that its truth would justify unbelief in the God who refuses to make himself known today in the radically empirical way he allegedly did in the bible. So instead of giving that empirical evidence for your message (God), you attack the messenger (empiricism) as inadequate…something you NEVER do when the lack of evidence respects something other than god.

        Your appeal to logic and math is unconvincing, since logic by definition is the axiom behind all rational discourse. You need to look up the definition of axiom…they are self-evident truths, which means attempts to “account” for them are abortive with the exception of showing that an axiomatic statement is self-contradictory. I think you’ll agree with me that it doesn’t make sense to get behind the starting point. If that could be done, the starting point wouldn’t be the starting point, would it And you cannot “account for God” since you define him is the starting point. So you cannot have difficulty with atheists who have their own starting points. If God’s existence can be a brute fact admitting of no origin, so can the laws of logic.

        You will claim the laws of logic are an extension of God’s mind, but that doesn’t make sense for a number of reasons. First, you don’t have any evidence that a mind can exist apart from a physical brain in the first place, so the whole idea of immaterial mind is a problem all by itself. Second, even if immaterial mind was a reality, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to say that the reason the law of non-contradiction holds true is because that’s how an immaterial mind necessarily thinks. Yes, a married man is not a bachelor, but who says that is true because that’s how an immaterial mind thinks? Don’t we rather say it is true because we have chosen to define “married” and “bachelor” in terms of their respective opposites? Third, you don’t have any evidence that the laws of logic are the way God’s mind works, you just attribute them to “god”, apparently solely because you don’t know of a naturalistic explanation for them…in which case you are simply employing the fallacy-ridden tactic of “god-of-the-gaps”. Fourth, if the god of the bible is real and there are no errors in the bible, then god himself is a logically contradictory entity, which means you cannot posit him as the basis for the laws of logic.

        Another problem we might discuss when you get tired of empiricism is that god-talk is usually an exercise in futility, since according to you, god’s ways are so mysterious, that he cannot be nailed down with sufficient clarity that rationally justified predictions can be made about him and tested. For example, you say God “loves” sinners, but when we depend on the sense of human love to argue that God is unloving for allowing child rape (exactly what a loving person would never allow if they had safe power and opportunity to prevent it), you immediately retort “God’s ways are mysterious”. Why are you expecting people to rationally discourse with you about your various stated attributes of your god, when in fact those propositions, according to you, admit of not even possibly being falsified?

        You seem like an intelligent person. Why are you expecting rational discourse with unbelievers on the subject of god being “loving”, if you refuse to allow “loving” to function like it does in normal rational discourse, and place the person doing the loving in a box whereby we can safely predict certain extremes of suffering that they won’t allow, within their ability, to happen to the loved person? Words have meanings, application of those meanings functionally delimits the attributes those words describe. If God can allow children to be raped while also “loving” them, you are talking about a definition of love that is so close to sadism and hatred, that you cannot blame most unbelievers if they snort and write you off as soon as you dare mention god’s “love” for them. People who play word games could also prove that Hitler’s sending the Jews to death camps was consistent with “love”, but word games have no place in rational serious discourse, agreed?

      • Barry, you seem to have trouble keeping track of the discussion and not moving the goalposts.

        First, you clearly interpreted Bertrand Russell wrongly. I would disagree with him on many points, but I respect his ability as an analytic philosopher (and really, he’s considered one of the forerunners of it), and he would not make such an elementary mistake as thinking that something that is self-refuting can be true. Something being a non-demonstrable truth is not the same thing as something that is self-defeating being true. Also, Russell’s opinions on this matter are not simple; he had empiricist leanings, but he rejected empiricism, as an overarching theory of knowledge, as self-refuting and gave room for non-empirical forms of knowledge, such as induction. There are many examples that philosophers have brought up that are good candidates for acquiring knowledge from beyond experience, such as reasoning out moral truths like justice (empiricists often have to punt to the idea that morality is merely based on emotion), understanding geometry, and even toddlers beginning to form sentences that they have never heard before or were never taught to construct. Many of these, of course, are debated, but you cannot simply announce that nobody has given examples of this type of knowledge without addressing them.

        Again, you claim to reject extreme empiricism, and oddly enough, start advocating ideas that would not classically be even considered empiricism (non-empiricists might be quite happy with your concession that logic is the foundation on which we understand experience; you sound like a rationalist there!), but then make some bizarre arguments about logic. You also don’t understand what an axiom is; ideally, they are self-evident truths, but often, what is self-evident is in the eye of the beholder and axioms are challenged all the time. Also, nowhere here did I state that God’s existence is a brute fact that needs no supporting argument. You made that part up. Of course, a Christian very would could state that as an axiom, and then it’d be quite interesting to see how you would deal with that given your attitude towards axioms.

        As far as so-called “fundamentalist Christians,” many Christians can make great investigators; check out Jim Warner Wallace, author of Cold Case Christianity, who is an actual detective. This point on alleged “fundamentalist” Christians, in any case, was rather irrelevant.

        A bunch of other things you typed amounts to nothing more than straw-grasping because they have nothing to do with our original discourse, nor did I say anything here like that. For example, I never even went into the discussion about where logic comes from; it’s enough to show that logical truths are considered necessary truths and, even according to you, is prior in importance to experience because without it we would not be able to make sense of experience. There is your innate idea right there. You are confused about what empiricism is.

      • leesomniac said: Barry, you seem to have trouble keeping track of the discussion and not moving the goalposts. First, you clearly interpreted Bertrand Russell wrongly. I would disagree with him on many points, but I respect his ability as an analytic philosopher (and really, he’s considered one of the forerunners of it), and he would not make such an elementary mistake as thinking that something that is self-refuting can be true.

        Barry responds now: then you apparently haven’t read the source for my quotation of him, because that is exactly what he admitted. He first said empiricism is self-refuting, then conceded that, if it be true, it cannot be known to be true. So the problem of him admitting the self-defeating nature of a theory that he yet still allows for the possibility of being true, remains. You are having a problem with his words, not my representation of them. See it all at “The Wisdom of Bertrand Russell: A Selection”, Citadel, 2002, page 29.

        You said: Something being a non-demonstrable truth is not the same thing as something that is self-defeating being true. Also, Russell’s opinions on this matter are not simple; he had empiricist leanings, but he rejected empiricism, as an overarching theory of knowledge, as self-refuting and gave room for non-empirical forms of knowledge, such as induction.

        I reply: so do I. Like Christianity, empiricism is not a boxed in absolute concept. You can be an empiricist without advocating the most extreme form of it, just like you can be a Christian without feeling the need to wiggle around on the floor in front of bunch of whooping fools.

        “Rationalism and empiricism, so relativized, need not conflict. We can be rationalists in mathematics or a particular area of mathematics and empiricists in all or some of the physical sciences. Rationalism and empiricism only conflict when formulated to cover the same subject. ”
        Source: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/rationalism-empiricism/#1.2

        So when I said I was an empiricist, your philosophical training should have given you pause before deducing that I took the most extreme form of it. I’m an empiricist because I find that the lack of empirical evidence is fatal to any claim of new knowledge-acquisition. You had to dig pretty deep to come up with your admittedly “debatable” examples of non-empirical knowledge-acquisition, and I will show later that some of them have nothing to do with the subject of knowledge-acquisition in the first place.

        Either way, what I meant precisely by empiricism is quite beside the point, since you let out of the bag a few standard apologetics arguments that are demonstrably false, as I will show in a moment.

        You said: There are many examples that philosophers have brought up that are good candidates for acquiring knowledge from beyond experience, such as reasoning out moral truths like justice (empiricists often have to punt to the idea that morality is merely based on emotion),

        I reply: morality is not in the category of “truths”, because it necessarily derives from subjective values held by the speaker, which values differ from speaker to speaker, so that morality is about as absolute as the price of a pair of shoes in a city with 10 shoe stores. Morality stuff, like whether the death penalty is fair, has no analogy whatsoever to other propositions that are obviously about “truth”, such as whether 2+2=4. Worse, you cannot even develop a moral system without empirical experience. How do you figure children eventually learn the morality that stealing is wrong? Meditation alone? Or their empirical experience of discipline by adults when caught stealing?

        You said: understanding geometry,

        I reply: you lost me there. You cannot provide any references to back up your claim that anybody ever discovered any geometric truth without some degree of assistance from at least one of their 5 physical senses.

        You said: and even toddlers beginning to form sentences that they have never heard before or were never taught to construct.

        I reply: that doesn’t make sense. Toddlers beginning to form sentences without prior experience of sentences does not constitute “obtaining new knowledge”, and I am only contending that nobody has ever “obtained new knowledge” apart from the assistance of at least one of their 5 physical senses.

        You said: Many of these, of course, are debated, but you cannot simply announce that nobody has given examples of this type of knowledge without addressing them.

        I reply: well sure! The bible says Paul learned the truth of Jesus in a vision (Acts 26:19) and learned about another’s plight solely by telepathy (Acts 16:9). So? I claim that these assertions are false because a) the whole idea of learning some truth without any help from at least one of the 5 physical senses, is impossible if experiences that humanity can agree are part of the real world, are any indication, and b) inability of the gainsayers to produce what they themselves think is evidence that is within the realm of possibility: evidence that somebody ever came to discover a truth about the world external to themselves without any assistance from at least one of the 5 physical senses. Since you cannot come up with even one concretely established case of new-knowledge acquisition with no part played by any of the 5 human senses, I don’t see why you find my empiricism so faulty. There’s probably a very good scientific reason why you cannot demonstrate that anybody ever acquired knowledge wholly apart from their 5 physical senses.

        You said: Again, you claim to reject extreme empiricism, and oddly enough, start advocating ideas that would not classically be even considered empiricism (non-empiricists might be quite happy with your concession that logic is the foundation on which we understand experience; you sound like a rationalist there!),

        I reply: do you seriously maintain that an “empiricist” is necessarily the person who takes the most extreme form of empiricism? If the philosophical literature is replete with statements that empiricism comes in different degrees and flavors, then why did you jump to the conclusion that being an empiricist means I deny the part that reason and logic play in learning?

        you said: but then make some bizarre arguments about logic. You also don’t understand what an axiom is; ideally, they are self-evident truths, but often, what is self-evident is in the eye of the beholder and axioms are challenged all the time.

        I reply: I never said an axiom could never be challenged. Obviously logical inconsistency would be a fatal flaw in an axiom. I said that axioms are self-evident truths, and they are. I have no idea why you think empiricism is not a self-evident truth. You have no basis to believe anybody ever learned a new thing outside themselves without assistance from at least one of their 5 physical senses, yet you talk like such a possibility is entirely within reason (!?).

        You’ll excuse my digression into psychoanalysis, but it is very clear that given your inability to prove your point, the only reason you continue harping on non-empirical knowledge acquisition despite absolutely nothing to back it up, is because you are a Christian who thinks bible-based epistemology is reasonable, and therefore, have a natural aversion to any epistemology that accounts for the real world without making room for the biblical view. When you deny that is the case, you deny the biblical basis for your salvation. Your first priority is not philosophical consistency, but “bible”, and the fact that you don’t prioritize consistency anywhere near the level you pretend to, may be inferred from bible-based beliefs you hold which are inconsistent with themselves, such as the Trinity. I can buy three persons who share the same goals and attitudes, what I cannot buy is that a “person” can have the exact same thoughts as somebody else, which is exactly what the bible teaches when it says the Son cannot do anything except what the Father wills. Why use “person” to describe the trinity, if the entities are so far above us that “person” does not accurately convey what’s really going on in there?

        For example, our five physical senses are axiomatic, since you cannot demonstrate that anybody ever acquired new knowledge without some assistance from them. You would have to employ at least one of the five physical senses in order to try and show that there is a starting point to reasoning that is earlier than the five physical senses.

        You said: Also, nowhere here did I state that God’s existence is a brute fact that needs no supporting argument.

        I reply: you didn’t need to. If your god is real, there is no such thing as a “reason why” he exists, he just DOES exist, so you are in trouble with your own theories and the bible if you think your god is like any other proposition and needs supporting argument before commanding our attention. So pointing out that you never actually stated that which is obviously true about one of your beliefs, does not advance the discussion. Well then…if it be true that your God has simply always existed and thus had no ‘origin’ to argue for, then you cannot complain that the statement “logic is just a brute fact of existence” is necessarily a failure. But that brings us to new horizons: If brute facts are true, then apparently, logic could be one of them, in which case my failure to provide an origin for it is no more a problem than you failure to provide an origin for ‘god’.

        You said: You made that part up. Of course, a Christian very would could state that as an axiom, and then it’d be quite interesting to see how you would deal with that given your attitude towards axioms.

        I reply: Correction, it would be interesting to see how I deal with apologists who cite god as an axiom, given that axioms by definition are self-evident, and the extreme disagreement between atheists and Christians on god’s existence would prevent all but absolute fools from asserting that God’s existence is a self-evident fact. An axiom is a self-evident truth. God cannot be an axiom because before something can be “self-evident”, it has to be at least “evident”. I can argue that God is not even “evident” (i.e., stuff you think points to God, doesn’t) therefore it is incorrect to view god as “self” evident. In other words, I can attack what you call an axiom, by providing evidence that it isn’t really an axiom in the first place, you have simply mislabeled it as such.

        You said: As far as so-called “fundamentalist Christians,” many Christians can make great investigators; check out Jim Warner Wallace, author of Cold Case Christianity, who is an actual detective. This point on alleged “fundamentalist” Christians, in any case, was rather irrelevant.

        I reply: You aren’t rebutting my problem with Christian investigators, for whom consistency demands that they draw conclusions in accord with their own alleged reasoning processes in apologetics. The fact that Jim Warner is a detective as well as an apologist does not argue that his standards of evidence are consistent. If Warner seriously believes the old apologetics face-saving canard “but absence of evidence is not evidence of absence” and uses it the way apologists typically use it, I can rightly accuse him of inconsistency, since as a detective, he obviously does not respond with that canard whenever he finds that there is no empirical evidence supporting a proposition related to a criminal investigation. Failure to find supporting empirical evidence in a criminal investigation is typically fatal to the proposition that the suspect is guilty. Maybe you can email Warner and ask him, if he demands that atheists merely sit on the fence the rest of their lives on the god-issue, given that ‘absence of evidence is not evidence of absence’, why he too doesn’t just sit on the fence forever when faced with propositions about a suspect’s guilt, for which he can find no supporting empirical evidence, since the lack of supporting evidence for their guilt, according to him, doesn’t necessarily mean that evidence doesn’t exist. Why does he not hesitate to call somebody not guilty when there is no evidence supporting their guilt, but he expects atheists to hesitate to declare god non-existence on the same basis of lack of evidence.

        When does the lack of evidence become a safe basis upon which to found a negative verdict? After we deliberate on it for several minutes? Several years? Several centuries?

        You said: A bunch of other things you typed amounts to nothing more than straw-grasping because they have nothing to do with our original discourse, nor did I say anything here like that. For example, I never even went into the discussion about where logic comes from;

        I reply: yes you did. When I told you I don’t believe in things that cannot be empirically demonstrated, you immediately cited to math and logic as things I believe in but which don’t have supporting empirical evidence, so you were parroting Matt Slicks “Atheists cannot account for logic!” stuff whether you recognized it or not.

        You said: it’s enough to show that logical truths are considered necessary truths and, even according to you, is prior in importance to experience because without it we would not be able to make sense of experience. There is your innate idea right there. You are confused about what empiricism is.

        I reply: my concession that logic and reason play a part in knowledge-acquisition neither contradicts my stance on empiricism, nor opens the door to the possibility that knowlege can be acquired apart from the 5 senses. You incorrectly require that a person is not an empiricist unless they take the most pure extreme form of it that prioritizes experience so much that reason and induction have nothing to do with the acquisition of knowledge, which is of course stupid. Experience will not teach much to a person totally devoid of reason, case closed, amen? You cannot point to any standard philosophical texts that say empiricism is this absolute boxed-in concept that displaces logic or reason. They all admit that there are different degrees, all of which equally deserve the title “empiricism”. I simply told you I don’t believe in things that cannot be empirically demonstrated. That did not commit me to arguing that reason and induction play no part in new knowledge-acquisition. I am an empiricist for the original reason I told you, there is no such thing as knowledge-acquisition without experience.

        The reader is apt to get lost, so I remind them: the real world does not give the mature adult any reason whatsoever to believe that anybody can gain new knowledge about anything without assistance from at least one of their 5 senses. So it should be obvious that for people who believe knowledge can be acquired solely by telepathy (Acts 16:9) or visions (Acts 26:19), they will naturally and immediately scoff at any epistemology that doesn’t allow any room for their rather fantastic view. So when you say empiricism is self-defeating, I detect that you either don’t believe this, or that it is NOT your main reason for disagreeing with it. If your Christianity is bible-based, then biblically, you cannot have “consistent philosophy” as your criteria of truth, you can only have “what the bible says”.

        You cannot deny that bible-believing Christians would bring the justice system to a grinding halt if their investigation and fact-finding methods in the secular world were consistent with their bible-based beliefs. Atheist jurors have no problem realizing that the Defendant is lying by denying he committed the murder, when it is recorded in video and his fingerprints are all over the house where the deceaseds were found, which house he denies ever being in. But Christian jurors? Well, doesn’t the book of Job say that Satan has power to manipulate physical reality?

        Why do you suppose Christians who believe the book of Job is inspired by God, really don’t care about its depiction of Satan’s abilities to manipulate physical reality, when they are sitting as jurors in a criminal case and hearing the Defendant say “the devil made me do it”?

        The post was long and shall be my last in hashing back and forth with you about trifles concerning empiricism.

        I wish to move the discussion forward by asking you, now that you know my empiricism is a modified form and not the most extreme or pure form, what exactly is my “error” in saying knowledge-acquisition cannot occur without the help of at least one of the 5 physical human senses.

      • “Barry responds now: then you apparently haven’t read the source for my quotation of him, because that is exactly what he admitted. He first said empiricism is self-refuting, then conceded that, if it be true, it cannot be known to be true. So the problem of him admitting the self-defeating nature of a theory that he yet still allows for the possibility of being true, remains. You are having a problem with his words, not my representation of them. See it all at “The Wisdom of Bertrand Russell: A Selection”, Citadel, 2002, page 29.”

        I have seen that work, and once again, my problem is not with Russell here but with your interpretation. You should do more than look at a work where he ever so briefly touches on subjects in alphabetical order but actually look at journal articles that he has written, such as “The Limits of Empiricism.” Here is the full quotation from the work you cited:

        “I will observe, however, that empiricism, as a theory of knowledge, is self-refuting. For, however it may be formulated, it must involve some general proposition about the dependence of knowledge upon experience; and any such proposition, if true, must have as a consequence that itself cannot be known. While, therefore, empiricism may be true, it cannot, if true, be known to be so. This, however, is a large problem.”
        Clearly, Russell is NOT saying that thoroughgoing empiricism can both be self-refuting AND true at the same time. He is stating his opinion that it is self-refuting. However, even if it is granted to be true, then it cannot be known to be true, which in his mind still gives it grave problems. You seriously misunderstand Russell if you think he ran around saying that things that are self-refuting can also be true.
        “So when I said I was an empiricist, your philosophical training should have given you pause before deducing that I took the most extreme form of it. I’m an empiricist because I find that the lack of empirical evidence is fatal to any claim of new knowledge-acquisition. You had to dig pretty deep to come up with your admittedly “debatable” examples of non-empirical knowledge-acquisition, and I will show later that some of them have nothing to do with the subject of knowledge-acquisition in the first place.

        “Either way, what I meant precisely by empiricism is quite beside the point, since you let out of the bag a few standard apologetics arguments that are demonstrably false, as I will show in a moment.”

        My problem was not my philosophical training but your inconsistent statements regarding your empiricism. First you said that you did not believe in God because God “cannot” be found by the senses, a statement that smacks of extreme empiricism. Then you attempted to relate the laws of logic with the laws of physics and claim that they could be different in another possible world, a bold and extreme claim. You then first inconsistently stated that the laws of logic were derived by our observation of patterns but then later, when pressed on this issue, admitted that some a priori knowledge of logic is needed to even make sense of sense-experience. In which case, it is bizarre that you endeavored to push this matter when that’s all I pointed out in the first place. Your inconsistency here makes your position very unclear.

        Also, I do not have to “dig” very deep to find examples of knowledge-acquisition that are not exclusively dependent on sense-experience because Bertrand Russell himself brings some of them up. If your position is merely, “To gain knowledge of the world, human beings probably need some sense input along with their natural powers of reason to make conclusions on this input,” then I probably will concede this much for purposes of debate with an atheist because I understand you do not share our worldview. Again, though, if this is all you wanted to say, it makes your above statements that I enumerated above especially puzzling.

        “I reply: morality is not in the category of “truths”, because it necessarily derives from subjective values held by the speaker, which values differ from speaker to speaker, so that morality is about as absolute as the price of a pair of shoes in a city with 10 shoe stores. Morality stuff, like whether the death penalty is fair, has no analogy whatsoever to other propositions that are obviously about “truth”, such as whether 2+2=4. Worse, you cannot even develop a moral system without empirical experience. How do you figure children eventually learn the morality that stealing is wrong? Meditation alone? Or their empirical experience of discipline by adults when caught stealing?”
        This is question-begging reasoning. You essentially argued that because there are no objective moral values, morality cannot be found to have truth value. You also flatly stated that you cannot develop a moral system without empirical experience. Do you mean ONLY empirical experience? Are you here denying, inconsistently once again, that people cannot reason upon experience? But again, if sense-experience is able to be reasoned upon (including communication of ideas), then there is no problem with coming up with objective morals. Even many atheists insist on believing in objective moral values and argue for it. It’s a different discussion if you think morality is purely subjective. I merely pointed out that morality is a very common example in philosophy of truths that can be derived without the sole use of empirical data, something that that Stanford article you keep bringing up makes quite plain. And yet you accuse me of “digging deep” for examples that are well-known.

        “You said: understanding geometry,

        “I reply: you lost me there. You cannot provide any references to back up your claim that anybody ever discovered any geometric truth without some degree of assistance from at least one of their 5 physical senses.”

        You continue to be vague about your empiricism. For example, I can easily say that the formula for degrees of any n-sided polygon is true based on reasoning; the best response you have come up with so far is, “Well, you need to use your ears or eyes to hear or read instruction on geometry before you come up with that.” However, this is quite beside the point for the purposes of empiricism; what really matters is that we can know this formula to be true without ever seeing such n-sided polygon. This is clearly knowledge that can be acquired without direct experience or even an expanded survey of all sorts of polygons; if all you want to say is that some instruction may be needed for this, then that is quite a weak form of empiricism that would be almost indistinguishable from certain forms of rationalism and, again, makes your contention and previous statements on this topic all the more curious.

        “You said: and even toddlers beginning to form sentences that they have never heard before or were never taught to construct.

        “I reply: that doesn’t make sense. Toddlers beginning to form sentences without prior experience of sentences does not constitute “obtaining new knowledge”, and I am only contending that nobody has ever “obtained new knowledge” apart from the assistance of at least one of their 5 physical senses.”

        Now why wouldn’t that constitute as new knowledge? Surely they have now gained knowledge of how to construct these new sentences.

        “I reply: well sure! The bible says Paul learned the truth of Jesus in a vision (Acts 26:19) and learned about another’s plight solely by telepathy (Acts 16:9). So? I claim that these assertions are false because a) the whole idea of learning some truth without any help from at least one of the 5 physical senses, is impossible if experiences that humanity can agree are part of the real world, are any indication, and b) inability of the gainsayers to produce what they themselves think is evidence that is within the realm of possibility: evidence that somebody ever came to discover a truth about the world external to themselves without any assistance from at least one of the 5 physical senses. Since you cannot come up with even one concretely established case of new-knowledge acquisition with no part played by any of the 5 human senses, I don’t see why you find my empiricism so faulty. There’s probably a very good scientific reason why you cannot demonstrate that anybody ever acquired knowledge wholly apart from their 5 physical senses.”

        First of all, if Paul saw Jesus in a vision, then clearly he utilized one of his five senses. Secondly, I have already given several examples of knowledge that can be gained beyond the senses, and your responses to them have been very inconsistent.

        “I reply: do you seriously maintain that an “empiricist” is necessarily the person who takes the most extreme form of empiricism? If the philosophical literature is replete with statements that empiricism comes in different degrees and flavors, then why did you jump to the conclusion that being an empiricist means I deny the part that reason and logic play in learning?

        “you said: but then make some bizarre arguments about logic. You also don’t understand what an axiom is; ideally, they are self-evident truths, but often, what is self-evident is in the eye of the beholder and axioms are challenged all the time.
        “I reply: I never said an axiom could never be challenged. Obviously logical inconsistency would be a fatal flaw in an axiom. I said that axioms are self-evident truths, and they are. I have no idea why you think empiricism is not a self-evident truth. You have no basis to believe anybody ever learned a new thing outside themselves without assistance from at least one of their 5 physical senses, yet you talk like such a possibility is entirely within reason (!?).”

        Again, my issue is not with the literature but your own statements. You cannot claim to not be an extreme empiricist and make such arguments about the laws of logic. And once again, you merely question-beg by asserting empiricism to be self-evidently true.

        “You’ll excuse my digression into psychoanalysis, but it is very clear that given your inability to prove your point, the only reason you continue harping on non-empirical knowledge acquisition despite absolutely nothing to back it up, is because you are a Christian who thinks bible-based epistemology is reasonable, and therefore, have a natural aversion to any epistemology that accounts for the real world without making room for the biblical view. When you deny that is the case, you deny the biblical basis for your salvation. Your first priority is not philosophical consistency, but “bible”, and the fact that you don’t prioritize consistency anywhere near the level you pretend to, may be inferred from bible-based beliefs you hold which are inconsistent with themselves, such as the Trinity. I can buy three persons who share the same goals and attitudes, what I cannot buy is that a “person” can have the exact same thoughts as somebody else, which is exactly what the bible teaches when it says the Son cannot do anything except what the Father wills. Why use “person” to describe the trinity, if the entities are so far above us that “person” does not accurately convey what’s really going on in there?

        For example, our five physical senses are axiomatic, since you cannot demonstrate that anybody ever acquired new knowledge without some assistance from them. You would have to employ at least one of the five physical senses in order to try and show that there is a starting point to reasoning that is earlier than the five physical senses.”

        Then you will excuse me of some psychoanalysis as well; it seems that when your extreme empiricism was called out for what it was, you digressed and claimed that that was not what you were espousing… which makes your previous statements all the more puzzling. Also, it seems that your inconsistent harping on this topic is borne from the fact that you do not wish God to exist, so you try to adopt a philosophical position that makes that proposition impossible from the outset.

        Furthermore, and this cuts right into your position, if I were to claim to have a spiritual experience of God, why would that make me all of a sudden irrational? You claim not to, and in your experience, you find empiricism to be true. However, if Christianity is in fact true, then it makes sense to gain knowledge at least in this spiritual manner. See Alvin Plantinga’s Warranted Christian Belief. What you are essentially doing is universalizing your own experience to cover everybody else’s; however, on what basis, according to empiricism, can you possibly make this conclusion? You simply assert that the whole of human experience is on your side.

        “You said: Also, nowhere here did I state that God’s existence is a brute fact that needs no supporting argument.

        “I reply: you didn’t need to. If your god is real, there is no such thing as a “reason why” he exists, he just DOES exist, so you are in trouble with your own theories and the bible if you think your god is like any other proposition and needs supporting argument before commanding our attention.”

        You completely confused epistemological bases for knowing God’s existence, such as arguments for God’s existence, and ontological bases for God’s existence. This is another example of your confusion of the philosophical topics at hand.

        “So pointing out that you never actually stated that which is obviously true about one of your beliefs, does not advance the discussion. Well then…if it be true that your God has simply always existed and thus had no ‘origin’ to argue for, then you cannot complain that the statement “logic is just a brute fact of existence” is necessarily a failure. But that brings us to new horizons: If brute facts are true, then apparently, logic could be one of them, in which case my failure to provide an origin for it is no more a problem than you failure to provide an origin for ‘god’.”

        You tried to point out an origin earlier in one of your statements, as I mentioned above, and failed. And once again, you are completely confused on what Christians mean about the necessity and aseity of God. There are reasons offered by Christians why we can know God is this way.

        “I reply: Correction, it would be interesting to see how I deal with apologists who cite god as an axiom, given that axioms by definition are self-evident, and the extreme disagreement between atheists and Christians on god’s existence would prevent all but absolute fools from asserting that God’s existence is a self-evident fact. An axiom is a self-evident truth. God cannot be an axiom because before something can be “self-evident”, it has to be at least “evident”. I can argue that God is not even “evident” (i.e., stuff you think points to God, doesn’t) therefore it is incorrect to view god as “self” evident. In other words, I can attack what you call an axiom, by providing evidence that it isn’t really an axiom in the first place, you have simply mislabeled it as such.”

        You continue to state that axioms are “self-evident,” concede that they can be challenged, and yet still assert that yours are self-evidently true. It is remarkable how question-begging your whole method is. Axioms are starting points of reasoning; of course it is preferable that they are self-evident, but given the massive literature on this, such agreed-upon axioms are few and far between. This is why many philosophers reject foundationalism.

        Also, your argument that something has to be “evident” to be “self-evident” is bizarre. What is your definition of “evident” here? That it can be directly experienced by the five senses? Then you put yourself in a hopeless contradiction of an extreme empiricist, a position that you deny despite many curious statements. Furthermore, you do realize that there are several distinctions on what self-evident means, right?

        “I reply: You aren’t rebutting my problem with Christian investigators, for whom consistency demands that they draw conclusions in accord with their own alleged reasoning processes in apologetics. The fact that Jim Warner is a detective as well as an apologist does not argue that his standards of evidence are consistent.”

        You asserted that you have no idea how so-called “fundamentalist Christians” can operate in a court of law, and I gave you an example. The fact that you yourself simply think Wallace is being inconsistent with his standards of evidence only has to do with your confusion on epistemology.

        “If Warner seriously believes the old apologetics face-saving canard “but absence of evidence is not evidence of absence” and uses it the way apologists typically use it, I can rightly accuse him of inconsistency, since as a detective, he obviously does not respond with that canard whenever he finds that there is no empirical evidence supporting a proposition related to a criminal investigation. Failure to find supporting empirical evidence in a criminal investigation is typically fatal to the proposition that the suspect is guilty. Maybe you can email Warner and ask him, if he demands that atheists merely sit on the fence the rest of their lives on the god-issue, given that ‘absence of evidence is not evidence of absence’, why he too doesn’t just sit on the fence forever when faced with propositions about a suspect’s guilt, for which he can find no supporting empirical evidence, since the lack of supporting evidence for their guilt, according to him, doesn’t necessarily mean that evidence doesn’t exist. Why does he not hesitate to call somebody not guilty when there is no evidence supporting their guilt, but he expects atheists to hesitate to declare god non-existence on the same basis of lack of evidence.”

        Maybe he actually believes there is good evidence that atheists stubbornly reject? You seem to merely assert the truth of your position and wonder why everyone else just doesn’t agree with you. Wallace would never tell atheists to do what you accused; you simply made more stuff up.

        “You said: A bunch of other things you typed amounts to nothing more than straw-grasping because they have nothing to do with our original discourse, nor did I say anything here like that. For example, I never even went into the discussion about where logic comes from;

        I reply: yes you did. When I told you I don’t believe in things that cannot be empirically demonstrated, you immediately cited to math and logic as things I believe in but which don’t have supporting empirical evidence, so you were parroting Matt Slicks “Atheists cannot account for logic!” stuff whether you recognized it or not.”

        Again, your confusion is astonishing. You were the one who originally brought up the argument made by some Christians that logic is a part of God’s nature or mind. I merely pointed out that I never brought this argument up and told you to stick with the issues. Now you’re telling me that my citing of logic as a necessary means to even make sense of sensory experience, in response to your outlandish arguments about the laws of logic, is somehow doing what you randomly brought up? It is even more bizarre that you later came to agree that logic is necessary for this.

        “I reply: my concession that logic and reason play a part in knowledge-acquisition neither contradicts my stance on empiricism, nor opens the door to the possibility that knowlege can be acquired apart from the 5 senses. You incorrectly require that a person is not an empiricist unless they take the most pure extreme form of it that prioritizes experience so much that reason and induction have nothing to do with the acquisition of knowledge, which is of course stupid. Experience will not teach much to a person totally devoid of reason, case closed, amen? You cannot point to any standard philosophical texts that say empiricism is this absolute boxed-in concept that displaces logic or reason. They all admit that there are different degrees, all of which equally deserve the title “empiricism”. I simply told you I don’t believe in things that cannot be empirically demonstrated. That did not commit me to arguing that reason and induction play no part in new knowledge-acquisition. I am an empiricist for the original reason I told you, there is no such thing as knowledge-acquisition without experience.”

        More confusion. You keep trying to claim that you hold to a rather weak form of empiricism but then go on and say things like, “I don’t believe in things that cannot be empirically demonstrated.” You do realize that that proposition cannot be empirically demonstrated, right? Nor can the laws of logic.

        “The reader is apt to get lost, so I remind them: the real world does not give the mature adult any reason whatsoever to believe that anybody can gain new knowledge about anything without assistance from at least one of their 5 senses. So it should be obvious that for people who believe knowledge can be acquired solely by telepathy (Acts 16:9) or visions (Acts 26:19), they will naturally and immediately scoff at any epistemology that doesn’t allow any room for their rather fantastic view. So when you say empiricism is self-defeating, I detect that you either don’t believe this, or that it is NOT your main reason for disagreeing with it. If your Christianity is bible-based, then biblically, you cannot have “consistent philosophy” as your criteria of truth, you can only have “what the bible says”.”

        Why can’t I have a consistent philosophy? Have you read Plantinga’s Warranted Christian Belief? Furthermore, you once again simply assert your worldview then declare victory, while also doing some bad psychoanalysis.

        “You cannot deny that bible-believing Christians would bring the justice system to a grinding halt if their investigation and fact-finding methods in the secular world were consistent with their bible-based beliefs.”

        Um, yes I can. You seem to have a very inaccurate view of biblical beliefs.

        “Atheist jurors have no problem realizing that the Defendant is lying by denying he committed the murder, when it is recorded in video and his fingerprints are all over the house where the deceaseds were found, which house he denies ever being in. But Christian jurors? Well, doesn’t the book of Job say that Satan has power to manipulate physical reality?”

        Now who is trying to accuse others of so-called “extreme” positions? I would argue that Christians actually have a much better worldview for the practice of science and evidence-gathering, which is why the history of science is replete with theists. You seem to think that merely granting the possibility of spiritual beings means that Christians cannot ever trust our senses, but no Christian holds to this view. Where is your argument for this?

        “Why do you suppose Christians who believe the book of Job is inspired by God, really don’t care about its depiction of Satan’s abilities to manipulate physical reality, when they are sitting as jurors in a criminal case and hearing the Defendant say “the devil made me do it”?”

        You really need to understand Christianity more and also the Book of Job. Suffice it to say, while there is not space to get into the Book of Job here, Satan is not portrayed in that book of taking control of people like puppets such that they lose all volition; in fact, he is not even shown to influence anyone. Interestingly enough, I think materialistic atheism is the one with the severe problems here given that physical determinism seems to deny freedom of choice. Small wonder why Clarence Darrow tried to get defendants off the hook by arguing that they had no free will and were determined by past necessary causes to do what they did. Current atheists like Sam Harris also argue that free will is an illusion. So please tell me, how can an atheist account for moral responsibility here if these atheists are right?

        “I wish to move the discussion forward by asking you, now that you know my empiricism is a modified form and not the most extreme or pure form, what exactly is my “error” in saying knowledge-acquisition cannot occur without the help of at least one of the 5 physical human senses.”

        Your error is that you are vague. What does “help” mean? If you merely mean reading or hearing concepts, then that is trivial to the highest degree, and I would see no sense in going further into that. In fact, even though I believe as a Christian that knowledge can be gained independent of the senses (like the Holy Spirit), I would be fine with addressing questions on the evidences and reasons for God’s existence for people who do not believe, as I would find this to be common ground. If you think God cannot be “detected,” IN PRINCIPLE, by any experience or evidence, then I have a big issue with that. If you merely do not find evidence or argument for God convincing, that is a different matter.

      • Mr. leesonmiac,

        I don’t have the time to parry every single thing we’ve already tossed back and forth.

        Obviously, when I say I’m an empiricist, that is no evidence that I meant the pure form that nobody believes in, namely, that experience without reason can lead to acquisition of new knowledge. You tried to to falsify empiricism by citing to math and logic as truths that could not be empirically demonstrated. But the only reason math and logic works is because of the definitions we given to the words involved.

        It doesn’t matter who brought up logic and math first. As I already explained, the answer to the question “where does logic come from” is “the way we define words”. If you define a bachelor as “not married”, and if you define married as “not bachelor”, then it is your choice of word definitions that forbids the two concepts from being true about one person at the same time. You are never going to show that logic exists apart from language, matter and energy.

        And I wasn’t saying Satan in Job was making people into puppets. I was simply pointing that IF the bible account is true, and Satan does indeed have ability to manipulate physical reality, one such example being causing Job to endure boils, then you as a bible-believing Christian cannot ever find BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT that the suspect is indeed guilty, after he has lodged some sort of “the-devil-has-fabricated-false-evidence-against-me” excuse. Your bible opens that possibility, and since you claim evidence of absence of not absence of evidence, you cannot capitalize upon the lack of evidence for Satan’s involvement, any more than you permit me to capitalize upon the absence of evidence for God. And your God’s mysterious ways insures that rather stupid door remains permanently open. YOu might like to think God would never permit Satan to manipulate evidence and frame innocent people, but then again, we’d also like to think that a loving deity doesn’t send wild animals to eat children alive (Leviticus 26:22), but apparently, what we think should be the case, ain’t necessarily so when it comes to the God of mysterious higher purposes reflected in the bible.

        I think it is best, now that I’ve clarified for you that one can be an empiricist without taking the most extreme form, for us to debate my reason for denying God’s existence. I see no evidence for the existence of any ‘god’.

        It might help if you define what you think god is. Fair?

      • I clearly don’t have the time either, given how it takes days for me to respond. I have school and work to do… and honestly, college football started too.

        Barry, I already know that one can be a moderate empiricist. My issue is that it remains unclear whether you are really what you claim, based on several statements you have made. In fact, you went ahead and stated this:

        “It doesn’t matter who brought up logic and math first. As I already explained, the answer to the question ‘where does logic come from’ is ‘the way we define words’. If you define a bachelor as ‘not married’, and if you define married as “not bachelor”, then it is your choice of word definitions that forbids the two concepts from being true about one person at the same time. You are never going to show that logic exists apart from language, matter and energy.”

        I find it ironic that you misquoted Bertrand Russell previously when he addresses this issue in other works. Sure, whether or not “married” or “bachelor” are contradictory depends on their definitions, but that is NOT the same thing as saying that law of noncontradiction itself is dependent on language. Why believe that what is contradictory is automatically false? Why can one not believe that a and not-a obtain at the same time? Language itself actually does not tell us this because we can easily construct all sorts of self contradictory sentences. It actually does not matter how you define a or not-a; what matters is the innate idea that two things that are contradictory cannot be both true at the same time. Thus, something that is SELF contradictory is automatically false. As Russell contended, understanding that something has feline features is not the same as labeling it a “cat,” for one can call it all sorts of things in all sorts of languages. Regardless of what one calls it, it clearly is not also a non-(insert name here).

        Your argument from the Book of Job is hopelessly confused. You claim that you weren’t arguing that Satan makes people into puppets in the Book of Job, but yet you tried to apply exactly that way: “Why do you suppose Christians who believe the book of Job is inspired by God, really don’t care about its depiction of Satan’s abilities to manipulate physical reality, when they are sitting as jurors in a criminal case and hearing the Defendant say ‘the devil made me do it’?”

        Frankly, your argument here is pretty disingenuous given this statement. It’s also incredibly flawed; you seem to be arguing that just because a being can manipulate physical reality, it means that Christians cannot conclude that someone is guilty by their own volition. Where on earth is your argument for this, especially if you concede that Satan was not directly controlling anyone in the Book of Job? This is such a massive leap that it is almost amusing. All sorts of things can manipulate physical reality, including, well, human beings, but that does not mean that we think that this automatically inhibits our judgment of people’s decisions except in extreme situations. In addition to this, how do BOILS on someone’s skin mean that judgment of crime is somehow jeopardized? I find it incredibly ironic that you rail against an extreme empiricist label, make curious arguments about the laws of logic, and then try to pigeon-hole all Christians (and theists) into a crazy position that if we allow for the possibility of spiritual beings with causal powers, it means that we can never trust our senses or reason, including in criminal cases. Again, I would love to see you try to construct an argument for this.

        “since you claim evidence of absence of not absence of evidence, you cannot capitalize upon the lack of evidence for Satan’s involvement, any more than you permit me to capitalize upon the absence of evidence for God.”

        This is spurious and question-begging reasoning. First of all, I never said that there was an absence of evidence for God; clearly you think there is, but I find that to be your problem, not the evidence’s. Secondly, I also never stated that principle and actually find it confused; you seem to have this interesting habit of trying to throw popular-level apologetic arguments you may have heard at me and seeing what sticks. I think what you have in mind is “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” What you stated, “evidence of absence is not absence of evidence,” is bizarre. It actually is trivially true in the sense that if there is actual evidence for absence, then obviously that is not absence of evidence because there is, well, evidence there. Third, charitably granting you the correct formulation of that principle, that principle does not mean that one cannot reasonably make conclusions based on the evidence on hand. Christians and theists operate like this regularly.

        “And your God’s mysterious ways insures that rather stupid door remains permanently open.”

        Again, where is your argument? You just assert this. This is like me saying that if someone believes in quantum physics, he can never make reasonable conclusions on criminal cases because some other person could have quantum-tunneled into the room, framed him, and quantum-tunneled out. This is, after all, POSSIBLE. Furthermore, where in the Bible does it say that God’s mysterious ways entail that people cannot be held responsible for their decisions? You have a lot more unfamiliarity with Christianity than you think.

        “You might like to think God would never permit Satan to manipulate evidence and frame innocent people, but then again, we’d also like to think that a loving deity doesn’t send wild animals to eat children alive (Leviticus 26:22), but apparently, what we think should be the case, ain’t necessarily so when it comes to the God of mysterious higher purposes reflected in the bible.'”

        That actually wouldn’t be my argument; it would simply be that, without divine revelation or evidence, it is not reasonable to conclude that direct demonic activity occurred. This is a perfectly consistent option for a Christian. Once again, you keep trying to pin beliefs on Christians that we do not hold, as if merely granting something to be possible means that we have to suspend judgment on all situations, a standard that nobody in any worldview would survive.

        Also, I would like to hear you response to the atheist problem here, which I think is actually significant. You seem to make a lot of Satan and his ability to affect the physical world. What about people like Clarence Darrow, Sam Harris, and others who deny free will at all?

        In any case, I hold to the standard, Judeo-Christian view of God. I know this is general, but I think that suffices for purposes of discussion.

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