Why Theists call atheism a Rejection of God

Discussion in 'General Philosophy' started by aaqucnaona, Jan 20, 2012.

  1. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    Did you read my reply to Rav above?

    Only a forced option (ie. one where the hypotheses we choose from are in complete logical disjunction to eachother) can be a genuine option.
    An avoidable option cannot be a genuine option.

    I don't see anything in his writing to suggest that.
    James might have been a Protestant Christian, but his theory of belief is not.

    It seems that you are conflating your own ideas about what a genuine option would be for you, and other people's ideas about what constitutes a genuine option.

    Genuine options exist for individuals as these individuals are.
    Genuine options are not some objectively definable, abstract situations that would exist regardless of people. (Which is what you seem to think.)

    Some people surely don't see James' approach as a genuine option.

    This is just how it is ...
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  3. Sarkus Hippomonstrosesquippedalo phobe Valued Senior Member

    Yes, thanks.
    Exactly. And I don't agree with him that religion is a genuine option, as it is avoidable.
    It is specifically taken from his argument, that religion affirms:
    1. That the eternal things are the better things;
    2. That we are better of believing 1 than not;
    and then stating, as to why he considers it a forced option:
    "We cannot escape the issue by remaining sceptical and waiting for more light, because, although we do avoid error in that way if religion be untrue, we lose the good, if it be true, just as certainly as if we positively chose to disbelieve."
    I.e. specifically that we lose the good if we don't believe in religion.
    This equates to Pascal's lack of middle ground: either believe in God or don't get rewarded.
    (I admit my previous statment muddled the two (Pascal and James) with regard God and religion, so I hope this has clarified.)
    No more so than James does in his own essay, insisting that the issue of religion is a forced, and thus genuine, option. Yes, he addresses this only to those who consider the matter to be a living option, but he insists that for those people that religion then be considered a forced option.
    It might be, for some, but his essay tries to state it objectively through an argument similarly constructed as Pascal's.

    Certainly, but the issue is not with regard the subjective nature of genuine options but the his argument that seems to suggest that, once considered a living option, religion is then a forced option - i.e. that it is not possible to be avoided.
    Perhaps you can provide an example where it might be forced, so that I can understand more clearly, but at the moment I am disagreeing with James that religion is (always) a forced option (once it is accepted by an individual as living), which is how I understand his argument.
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  5. aaqucnaona This sentence is a lie Valued Senior Member

    I dont know deep cosmology, sorry. But a God of the Gaps is not a sensible belief.

    Of course, I was merely pointing out the irrationality in doing so.
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  7. Xotica Everyday I’m Shufflin Registered Senior Member

    Isn't that regimen a bit dated? I don't know of anyone who attributes dark matter/energy to God.

    The problem with employing a simplistic metric, is that billions of people are consigned as irrational. Not a very satisfying methodology.
  8. Grumpy Curmudgeon of Lucidity Valued Senior Member


    Because no theist has ever presented any, and if they had it they would announce it from every tall building in the world. Instead all they present is convoluted argument with no basis in facts. It really doesn't make any difference(as theists seem to believe)how sophisticated or logical those arguments are, they fail from the beginning. Like castles built on sand it doesn't matter how fine the castle it will crumble because it has no base.

    Well, so do you, or are you a secret accolate of Pele the Volcano God, or Thor, God of Thunder? You just select a certain set of these agencies that you make an exception for. Not very consistent or logical of you.

    The difference is that theists leave out a crucial step that science includes: evidence. Then they fail in another crucial step, comparing the conclusions with the evidence(falsification). I know, without evidence one cannot falsify those conclusions, therefore mundane science cannot help the theist at all.

    It is not popular belief, it is fact that the burden of proof is always on those making a positive claim in trying to convince, regardless of the desire or lack thereof of the person being convinced. This is the reason the thoughtful Atheist cannot make the positive claim that god does not exist and the most that can be said is, given the lack of evidence, is it is unlikely(no byzantine arguments necessary).


    And vice versa.

    Science does not have as it's goal the disproof of gods(despite any theists claims), to the extent that it does is a side effect of it's real goal, understanding the reality around us. Any non-theist who tries to disprove a god's existence is practicing the same falacies of logic that many theists are guilty of when they insist that he does exist. I would argue, however, that the one place a god could possibly exist is on the other side of that singularity, safely beyond scientific investigation.

    We can't with any precision or confidence, however we can get hints by examining what came out on this side of the hose. That's why there is a thing called Theoretical Physics(String theory, Branes, M Theory, etc.)but these do not produce things we can really have confidence in. Strangely enough it is Quantum Mechanics(the study of how the very small acts)that gives us the best information about the largest thing of all, the Universe. This is because what we call the Big Bang started in the Quantum realm(to the best of our current understanding).

    True, and as long as they don't try to assert that what they believe is real and try to impose that upon those who dissagree I would have no beef with them. But that is not the history of theists, even to our present day.


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  9. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    For some people this is so, but not for everyone.

    If you don't go to the bus station to wait for the bus, you thus won't be able to obtain the benefits from being able to get on the bus and travel in the direction it travels.

    To be sure, this refers to the reward promised in the hypothesis for Catholicism. It doesn't refer to all possible rewards.

    For Pascal, Catholicism was a living hypothesis; Pascal was choosing between either becoming a Catholic or remaining as he was.

    Pascal wasn't choosing between Catholicism, Protestantism, Buddhism, Islam and Humanism, for example.

    James' criteria for an individual to recognize what is a genuine option for him or not, is a decision-making heuristic.

    Suppose a person finds themselves in a situation where they feel they need to decide, that they need to take a particular course of action - but they don't know how to decide.
    James' heuristic can help one to conceptualize one's situation in such a manner that decision-making becomes easier: namely, by framing the hypotheses one finds pertinent in such a manner that one ends up with a genuine option. A genuine option can be acted upon; a non-genuine option cannot be acted upon.

    James does criticize agnosticism. And I think for good reason - see the bus station example.

    For example, "You either become a Christian, or you don't." There is no middle way. This is a forced option; "being a Christian" and "not being a Christian" are mutually exclusive.
    This is a forced option regardless whether one thinks being Christian is a living hypothesis or not. An option is forced when the hypotheses of which it consists are mutually exclusive.

    That an option be forced is crucial for decision-making: if we experience something as non-necessary, as avoidable, we won't be able to make an actionable decision on it.

    "Take the umbrella with you when you go outside; or don't take the umbrella with you when you go outside" is not a forced option, as you can avoid it by not going outside at all. If you don't go outside at all, you also avoid any decisions about whether to take the umbrella with you or not. - Suppose the umbrella in question would be in bright colors, and as a decent middle-aged man, you would indeed be concerned about whether to risk being seen with it or not, and might even consider it might be better if you got wet by the rain than be seen with a pink umbrella. But if you don't go out at all, you don't have to wreck your head deliberating about that.

    A genuine option in such a situation may be the choice between
    "Wait for the rain to stop, be late for the meeting or miss it altogether, but keep a respectable public image by neither being seen wet nor with a pink umbrella"
    "Go out despite the rain, take the pink umbrella, risk public derision, but come to the meeting on time."

    If the meeting is the most important element in all this for you, you'll do what it takes to get to the meeting on time, risking all else; if your public image is more important than the meeting, you'll stay in (provided that the pink umbrella is the only one and there is no other means of transportation available to you).

    For purposes of directing our actions, it is feasible to focus on genuine options. Genuine options don't wrap us up into millions of maybes, the way dead, trivial or avoidable ones do.
  10. aaqucnaona This sentence is a lie Valued Senior Member

    No, but God usually is in this stressful and unknown part of our paradigm - like superstition is more among batters than pitchers, or people atribute unknown events to God or unwanted things to destiny - they seem to form a belief group of false postives and anthrophocentric projection of our desires and fears and so on - a group of phenomenon probably related - desire, stress, fear, hypnosis, placebo, mystery, faith, religion and God. Like I suggested elsewhere -

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    I mean it in a pruely descriptive sense, no value judgements - its irrational to believe something unless there is enough reason or evidence for it. The more you are sure something is true and the more detail you believe in without evidence, the greater the irrationality - hence the statement that religious fanatics and fundamentalists are highly irrational while scientists and naturalists [including all non-theists*] are highly rational. Its a generalisation, but a good one at that.

    *Non-theist - moderate pantheists or metaphorists, deists, spinozists, non-deity faith-followers, irreligious, agnostics, atheists and apatheists.
  11. Sarkus Hippomonstrosesquippedalo phobe Valued Senior Member

    Why not? There is the option of walking, of taking a taxi, a bicycle etc? And the benefits may come to you, or are achievable online etc.

    The only way I see such being a forced option is if your a priori requirement is to do exactly what the option offers.
    I.e. you already want to go in that direction and you want to go on a bus.
    But then your decision is already made, so it defeats the purpose.
    Pascal's wager, perhaps, but the criticism is the same when James starts claiming that religion is a forced option precisely because of the rewards of religion.

    Sure, I don't dispute it if you have already conceded that an option is forced, but I would question the decision making process that leads one to concede that such an option is indeed forced.
    And I still feel, from my understanding of his essay, that his claim that religion is a forced option is flawed, for the reasons I have said.
    But as a useful tool for decision making it has merit, although his examples (i.e. religion) confuses the issue for me.
    His criticism of agnosticism I also find somewhat poor. He says "a rule of thinking which would absolutely prevent me from acknowledging certain kinds of truth if those kinds of truth were really there, would be an irrational rule."
    Sure - but then the question is how one determines what is the truth?
    With his line of thinking you abstract yourself from acknowledging the truth to acknowledging mere claims of truth. i.e. he fails to address how one becomes non-agnostic with regard the truth he feels that agnosticism prevents him from acknowledging.

    Ah, okay - that's clearer, thanks, but this is not his specific argument as to why it is a forced option: "we lose the good, if it be true, just as certainly as if we positively chose to disbelieve."
    To me this is only true if one considers the option also to be momentous. I.e. one may hold that religion is actually unimportant and that it is ones actions that matter... so belief/religion is no longer momentous.

    So again, I would disagree with his analysis of religion, but I accept that this is (more likely) a result of my views on the matter, although his essay clearly shows his own position.

    Sure - no disagreement.
    I guess he and I differ on our views of religion, and so his examples using religion to describe how his thought process works I am struggling to accept.
  12. Xotica Everyday I’m Shufflin Registered Senior Member

    Then you must apply the same criteria to all groups to remain consistent. Using your own evidence yardstick, I can think of a thousand reasons why many scientists should then be labeled irrational. I'll toss one out... Multi-verse.
  13. michael_taylor Registered Senior Member

    Things that don't stop existing just because you stop believing in them would be a start. Claims that correspond to objective and reproducible observations of the material universe would be another aspect. Claims that don't directly contradict established fact are also more likely to be true.

    Should I take it from your appeals to incredulity and ignorance that you define it differently?

    Are you willing to give any details?
  14. Grumpy Curmudgeon of Lucidity Valued Senior Member


    Ah, but the scientist says up front that the Multiverse hypothesis may or may not be true. If you find one saying "I know there are Multiple Universes" you would have a point. Most theists do say "I know there is a god". But they don't.


    But there is no evidence there is a bus to ride, noone has seen one gumming up traffic, in fact noone has yet seen any of these claimed busses. Doesn't sound like a reliable transportation system at all. This is the Kool-Aide argument in other terms, if you don't drink the magic Kool-Aide you can't see the pretty colors. I stopped falling for that one in the late 60s.


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  15. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    The context of that option is that your only means of transportation is the bus.
    You either go to the bus station and wait for it, and give yourself the chance to get the benefit of traveling by bus; or you don't go there and don't give yourself that chance.

    AFAIK, religion is the only one offering immense rewards.
    No brand of humanism, materialism, pragmatism, nihilism, etc. offers a happiness that would not be subject to birth, aging, illness and death.
    The rewards that religions offer are extreme, unique. Because of that, they have the potential for being forced options.

    Again, it depends on how you conceptualize your situation.

    Perhaps the term "forced" suggests for you that it is forced upon you, by someone else. This is not the case, though.

    I found his essay as I was looking for general, neutral reading material on religious diversity and religious choice. I immediately appreciated James' approach.
    I took to it with the intention to figure out how to choose between religions, not with the intention how to approve of or argue for a particular religion.
    Eventually, with the help of his heuristic, I realized that currently, no religion is a genuine option for me, and I also worked out my personal reasons why - and those reasons have nothing to do with the religions per se, but everything with my current situation, intentions, resources. This was quite difficult - embarrassing - to accept, given that I had already spent so many years in what seemed to me like a serious enough religious pursuit, and that I had taken for granted that after all these years, it should be clear which religion I should join.

    If one knew what exactly the truth of the matter is, or how to arrive at truth, one would not vaccilate and one would not be in a decision-making situation: one would have already decided.

    Decision-making heuristics are what we use when we don't know what the truth of the matter is, but we nevertheless feel compelled to make a decision and act one way or another.

    I don't agree with this interpretation, I think it is too far reaching, ie. it misses several steps.

    According to your interpretation the option would be, for example,
    "Either accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior, or burn in hell for all eternity."
    Perhaps there are people for whom this is or was a genuine option; I don't know any, and cannot imagine the mindset necessary in which this would be a genuine option. So I can't say anything more on this.


    Of course, but in that case, the question is what are you doing spending time and energy on discussing things that you don't consider momentuous for your life?

    The bane of religious aspiration is that people often engage in it or discussion on it while not actually being interested in religion.

    People end up in cults - not because of their interest in religion or spirituality (even if one the surface, it may appear so), but because they are trying to escape their difficult psycho-socio-economical situation and they want to do so in a quick fix.

    Here's an interesting passage from David Allen's "Getting things done":

    I have discovered over the years the practical value of working on personal productivity improvement from the bottom up, starting with the most mundane, ground-floor level of current activity and commitments. Intellectually, the most appropriate way ought to be to work from the top down, first uncovering personal and corporate missions, then defining critical objectives, and finally focusing on the details of implementation. The trouble is, however, that most people are so embroiled in commitments on a day-to-day level that their ability to focus successfully on the larger horizon is seriously impaired. Consequently, a bottom-up approach is usually more effective.

    Getting current and in control of what's in your in-basket and on your mind right now, and incorporating practices that can help you stay that way, will provide the best means of broadening your horizons. A creative buoyant energy will be unleashed that will better support your focus on new heights, and your confidence will increase to handle what that creativity produces. An immediate sense of freedom, release, and inspiration naturally comes to people who roll up their sleeves and implement this process.

    You'll be better equipped to undertake higher-focused thinking when your tools for handling the resulting actions for implementation are part of your ongoing operational style. There are more meaningful things to think about than your in-basket, but if your management of that level is not as efficient as it could be, it's like trying to swim in baggy clothing.

    Many executives I have worked with during the day to clear the decks of their mundane "stuff" have spent the following evening having a stream of ideas and visions about their company and their future. This happens as an automatic consequence of unsticking their workflow.

    In practice, this can mean that instead of pondering on and on which religion is the right one, one would be better off if one would finally brush one's teeth, clean the house, resolve a conflict with a coworker, defrost the refrigerator or any of the thousand mundane but important things that are on one's mind, waiting to be done.

    Discussions about religion easily slip into a kind of dreamland, where religion is talked about in ways that are extraneous to how we actually live our lives.
  16. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    I guess it comes down to how serious you are about your life, your happiness.
  17. aaqucnaona This sentence is a lie Valued Senior Member

    Again, I included moderates on the sane side because dogmatic claims are irrational, weak beliefs backed up by only some evidence are just baised. And yes, scientists can be irrational, I guess the rationality must be determined among memeplexs, not people and the greater trend be descriptive of a person.
    Last edited: Jan 29, 2012
  18. aaqucnaona This sentence is a lie Valued Senior Member

    New age alert! So you are willing to clutch at straws, make elaborate strawmen out of them [no skeletal support of evidence] and then describe the ontology of the universe based on that? Thats the stuff new agers do wynn, like the cleansing of the the 12 strands of triangular DNA [inherited from atlantis] to make them feel happy or joining nature clubs to be one with everything - its good experience, but it is not a sane way to determine ANYTHING about the world/universe.
  19. Sarkus Hippomonstrosesquippedalo phobe Valued Senior Member

    That's the point, though, that there are other options - unless you come to the starting point with a priori limitations. It is those limitations that decide whether an option is genuine, and those limitations that one should equally focus on as well as the genuine option itself... i.e. are those limitations genuine.
    And in the case of this example, one should question why the bus is the only means of transportation.
    Potential for, perhaps, but even then you are loosening James' position.
    I've always held that if it works then use it, and even better if you can understand why it works.
    If you don't mind me asking, have you applied the same approach to the question of belief in God?
    If one does not know how to arrive at the truth, why should one make a guess based on promises of reward?
    And decision-making should surely be used in conjunction with whatever means we do use of establishing our personal "truths". And that is what agnosticism is... a situation where the options just do not result in a conclusion. James sees agnosticism as a cutting off from a possibly means of establishing truth. I don't hold to this idea.
    Is this addressed to me personally or a rhetorical question?
    But one can be interested in warfare without wanting to kill someone.
    Another good find, which I can certainly relate to in the work environment.
    Are you not concerned that in focussing on the small things that one forgets about the larger issues entirely? While one could argue that the larger issues might very well "take care of themselves", there is the risk that they are just forgotten about, and thus shown by default to be irrelevant.
  20. Rav Valued Senior Member

    That's not actually how I think. I do not 'automatically' discount the possible validity of such claims, as there's no way for me to be absolutely certain that there isn't some kind of truth to them. What I can say however is that the further you go back in history, the more examples of inaccuracy you find (thunder comes from Thor, lightning bolts are thrown down by Zeus etc). So what I said is true (unless, of course, Zeus and Thor are actually real), and your response (aside from being tangential) doesn't follow.

    Wynn, 'intelligent order', in the context I used it, is synonymous with God. You're not on the same page with me, unless you're actually saying now that you believe the scientific method can lead one to a knowledge of that sort of 'intelligent order'.

    Again, we seem to be on a different page.

    Such things can and do (mostly in fact) happen over time. So you can cast aside the false impression you have of the assumptions I am working from.

    I've read some quotes from it, and some commentaries on it, but no, I haven't read the essay in it's entirety. But I might get around to it at some point.

    However since you are the one who is making arguments based on it, why stop now? Tell me how he addresses this objection. Explain to me how a genuine option, given that there is apparently more than one, can also be representative of some sort of objective absolute truth.

    What, you don't think I would defend your right to live your life the way you see fit; to embrace a philosophy that seems right for you?

    And I wasn't referencing Voltaire. Just because someone shared a sentiment a few hundred years ago doesn't mean that anyone who shares the same sentiment now is just regurgitating it. As a human being I am just as qualified as anyone else to practice the art of determining what aspects of my own humanity (as well as that of others) are worth holding dear.

    Once more we are not on the same page. I'm starting to find this discussion rather frustrating because you keep exiting out of the established context and reframing everything with respect to your own struggle with determining which theists you should be listening to. In other words, you desire to be convinced, but the desire to be convinced is not what I was talking about. I was talking about the fact that unless you address the relevant epistemological issues associated with an assertion about what the absolute truth is, for all intents and purposes your assertion is nothing more than a subjective opinion.
    Last edited: Jan 30, 2012
  21. Big Chiller Registered Senior Member


    Who said theists aren't generally moderate?
  22. aaqucnaona This sentence is a lie Valued Senior Member

    I didn't, I included "moderate pantheists or metaphorists" which includes all moderate theists. They rightly belong among naturalists. I said fanatics and fundamentalists are highly irrational, everybody can be irrational, but to be as irrational as evangelicals or literalists, it takes a breathtaking amount of stupidity and loss of brain tissue.
  23. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member


    It is a fact though that sometimes we end up in situations where our choices are extremely limited.

    I don't think so. For me, religion is a momentuous and forced, just not a particularly living option.

    Sure. But like I said above, sometimes, an option seems momentuous and forced, but one's current life situation is such that one just can't do anything about that option, at least not directly.

    On what else should one make guesses, at all, if not on promised rewards.


    When your agnostic brother attends to mass and communion, does he think, right there as he is standing there with hands together and opening his mouth to receive communion - "I don't know if any of this is true or for real. I am agnostic about Jesus and Jehowah" -?
    I don't think he does.

    I think agnosticism is often treated too superficially, or too generally, or seen as the middle between two positions, or indecisiveness, fence-sitting.
    I think agnosticism is far more complex than that, and that also for an agnostic, there exist genuine options - but they are conceptualized differently than the standard position and opposition conceptualize their genuine options.

    For a theist, a genuine option may be "Be a Christian, or don't be one."
    For an atheist, a genuine option may be "Be an atheist, or don't be one."

    For an agnostic, a genuine option may be "Focus on what you find meaningful right here and now; or become a Stepford wife."
    But generally, agnostics themselves don't present their views like this. Instead, they say "I am agnostic about the gods of traditional religion" or something like that. And for such a conceptualization, James' critique of agnosticism does apply.

    You can take it as both.

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    Not that I'm not guilty of it.

    Warfare is hardly just about killing.
    There is that old Eastern book on warfare, "The Art of War," and it is now hyped in some circles as the business manual.

    Not if one follows Allen's methods for productivity.

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    You will have to read his book to understand this.

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