Why god isn’t really a teapot.

by Lisa Furberg

Russell’s teapot is an analogy intended to refute the idea that the burden of proof lies upon the sceptic to disprove the existence of god. The argument roughly goes something like this: If I were to claim that there is a teapot revolving about the sun and then further suggest that because my claim cannot be disproved there is no reason to doubt it, then I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense.
In line with Russell’s analogy, some atheists have “invented” more things in which belief seems just as ridiculous as that in a an orbiting teapot: a flying spaghetti monster, an invisible pink unicorn -to mention a few. This kind of criticism, often coming from people who are self purportedly “scientifically minded” seem to use variants of the original analogy into an argument that seem to have little resemblance to Russell’s original one. This new argument has considerably more “bite” to it, suggesting that belief in god is something of an absolute “no-no”: If you are a rational person who believes in the methods of science, the critics seem to say, you simply ought not believe in the existence of god (or gods) any more than you should believe in an orbiting teapot. So, does a belief in god transgress any of the principles of (good) science?

Both sides to the debate seem to agree with the following claim: Science has (currently?) no way of establishing the existence or non-existence of a god (or of many gods). However, the fact that one cannot prove the existence of something (or that the burden of proof is on one or the other party) does not in itself exclude the possibility that one can be justified in believing in that very same thing.  Although a solipsist would be sceptical of my belief in the (independent) existence of fellow human beings, it still seems as if though I can be justified in my belief. The question is then, I suppose, whether or not one can be justified in holding a belief in the existence of god. Without going into the theory of justification it might perhaps suffice here to say this: What some atheists seem to claim is that you can no more be justified in believing in god than you can be justified in believing in a spaghetti monster or a pink invisible unicorn.

So, why does it seem so utterly ridiculous that one could have a justified belief in a cosmic teapot, a spaghetti monster or in a pink, invisible unicorn? Well, the most apparent answer (apart from them being made up to make an argument) is that as far as we know no one has ever seen any of these beings, and that there is nothing in our view of the world that suggests that we should expect to see either of them any time soon. In other words: The belief in spaghetti monsters or pink invisible unicorns seems to lack (any form of) justification. Now, if this is how the analogy of the spaghetti monster and the belief in god is supposed to work, it simply seems to be mistaken. The belief in god is not utterly ridiculous -at least not in this sense. This is so because there are persons who claim to have experienced god and who believe that he exists because of this experience (and there is at least no apparent reason why we should think that they are trying to deceive us). Now, to me (a person who has not had any such experience), the fact that some people say that they have “seen” god does not provide any sort of proof that good exists (but we already agreed we had none), nor am I sure that their purported experience is something that provides me with any reason (or justification) for holding a belief in god. But, nevertheless, the existence of people who purport to have had some experience of god must – particularly to an empirically minded scientist – at least make a difference when it comes to the “degree of justification” of any belief.

Now, someone might argue that this is not the correct interpretation of the analogy with the flying spaghetti monster. What makes the analogy appropriate is not the contingent fact that there is no (serious) empirical justification for believing in the spaghetti monster. It is rather that the idea of a spaghetti monster and a pink invisible unicorn are so ridiculous in themselves that even if people were purporting to see them on an everyday-basis we should reasonably question the sanity of these people rather than our firm belief that there are no such things. Well then, by what standards should we judge that certain things (or ideas) are such that they are “too ridiculous to believe in” while others are not? One answer to this question might be that god, like the spaghetti monster and the pink invisible unicorn, has a combination of properties that we believe to be highly unlikely. Pasta can’t really fly, right, and how can a unicorn be both pink and invisible?

The thing is that a belief in god need not, as far as I know, include specific beliefs about his/her/its particular properties. We must have a crude idea, perhaps, about what his/her/its properties are (otherwise it would be difficult to claim that some people are justified in their beliefs via experience) but the rest might be mere hypotheticals. I could believe that something exists that matches the idea of god, say, and yet believe that we cannot know about all of his particular properties. Perhaps I would propose that god is good (because this might be what my experience of him/her/it tells me) yet have doubts as to whether he is also omnipotent. Might it be this “trick”, then, of not knowing the exact properties of what we believe to exist that upsets the “scientifically-minded” atheist? It might very well be, but I suspect I would be no more at fault in my (supposed) belief in god than I would be if I said I believed in such a thing as dark matter. And if I did have this belief I would, as far as I know, be in good company, seeing as many scientists believe that there is such a thing -even though we are still far away from understanding its nature.

The problem with trying to answer the question of what ideas are just “too ridiculous to believe in” and which are not, it seems to me, is that many of the things of which we know (or at least that we believe ourselves to know) has at some point in time been “too ridiculous to believe in”. In fact, history of science holds countless examples of new discoveries that people living at that time though to be just so ridiculous – that the earth is a sphere and not flat is just one such example. (Just imagine how absurd it must have sounded, given their current beliefs, that animals and people supposedly were walking around topsy-turvy under the earth!). Although this question is now settled, scientists are constantly looking for new ways to challenge our view of the world – and this is, or at least so I believe, just as it should be! Perhaps there is no such thing as dark matter or a Higgs particle and perhaps it is just a great mistake to even suggest that there are more than four dimensions or that there were once “hobbits” in Indonesia, but even so, history of science shows us that science is not static and that it is not unreasonable to believe that it greatly benefits from open mindedness, curiosity and imagination, not to mention the work of scientists with enough stamina not to dismiss any ideas on the basis of people finding them “ridiculous”.

It thus seems to me that a belief in god is not necessarily the “scientific no-no” some people would want us to believe – neither is it necessarily as ridiculous as believing in an orbiting tea-pot or a spaghetti monster. As somewhat of a Huxlian agnostic (believing that we should not pretend conclusions are certain that are not demonstrated or demonstrable), I do however believe that it might very well be the case that all people who believe in god or gods (justified or not in so doing) are wrong. My main concern with certain people’s belief in god is not, however, that they don’t have justification enough nor is it that they might be mistaken. My main concern is that the illusion of absolute certainty (be it in the existence of god, the belief in a particular religious doctrine or in any particular ideology) more often than not brings with it a tendency to disrespect other people’s different beliefs and ways of life. And if there is any lesson that people of any “gnosis” might learn from “science” it is, I believe, that there are really rather few things about which we can be absolutely certain. Unfortunately, however, this kind of critique might just hit a little too close to home to be advanced against anyone by people like Dawkins and his disciples.

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24 Responses to Why god isn’t really a teapot.

  • This seems a little straw-mannish. I’m not aware of anyone who claims to be “absolutely certain” that there is no god. After all, we can’t even be “absolutely certain” that there isn’t a teapot orbiting Pluto. The point, in either case, is that it’s most reasonable (for reasons of parsimony, or Occam’s razor) to have very low credence in either claim.

  • Jean Kazez says:

    The belief in god is not utterly ridiculous -at least not in this sense. This is so because there are persons who claim to have experienced god and who believe that he exists because of this experience (and there is at least no apparent reason why we should think that they are trying to deceive us)

    I don’t see how someone’s saying they experienced God does anything at all to show whether the concept of God is ridiculous or not. They say they experienced God, but surely they haven’t experienced any of the features that are alleged to make the whole concept ridiculous. They don’t experienced his being immaterial and having the power to move mountains, just by willing it, for example.

  • Jean Kazez says:

    First paragraph of my comment was supposed to be a quote.

  • Acie Skeptic says:

    “The belief in god is not utterly ridiculous -at least not in this sense. This is so because there are persons who claim to have experienced god and who believe that he exists because of this experience (and there is at least no apparent reason why we should think that they are trying to deceive us). Now, to me (a person who has not had any such experience), the fact that some people say that they have “seen” god does not provide any sort of proof that good exists (but we already agreed we had none), nor am I sure that their purported experience is something that provides me with any reason (or justification) for holding a belief in god. But, nevertheless, the existence of people who purport to have had some experience of god must – particularly to an empirically minded scientist – at least make difference when it comes to the “degree of justification” of any belief.”

    It does not follow that because people believe something, it must be true. The entirety of your argument hinges on this faulty logic. It is this error that claiming belief in the flying spaghetti monster tries to illustrate. The two beliefs are, in no uncertain terms, exactly as ridiculous.

    Some people believe in god because of their experiences: the same reason some believe in ghosts, u.f.o.s, and the divine status of Charles Manson.

    In all cases, until evidence exists, it is a scientific “no-no”.

  • Peter Wicks says:

    I fully agree with Lisa here. I am often bemused by the emotional intensity with which militant atheists such as Dawkins lobby against faith in God, particular when (like Dawkins) they have a strong scientific background. The whole point of the scientific method is that *whatever* we believe in – including the non-existence of God – must be open to empirical scrutiny. So we should welcome people expressing beliefs that conflict with our own.

    At the same time, this also raises an issue, which I have addressed in earlier comments, regarding the status of beliefs that are neither falsifiable nor verifiable. Belief in the existence, and belief in the non-existence, of God are arguably examples. My own position is that while *false* beliefs should generally be avoided in order to prevent maladaptive cognitive distortions, beliefs that are neither falsiable or verifiable can be very helpful. I have also argued in response to previous posts that belief in God plays a positive role in many people’s life.

  • G. Owen Schaefer says:

    “…the existence of people who purport to have had some experience of god must – particularly to an empirically minded scientist – at least make difference when it comes to the “degree of justification” of any belief.”

    I’d be very uncomfortable taking reported religious revelations, visions and the like as actual evidence in themselves, i.e., as in themselves being able to provide justification. Reported evidence usually grows in justificatory strength when more reports are filed; I have more reason to believe that there are pink-spotted Dodo birds in Mauritius when tens of thousands report sightings to me, compared with a couple dozen so reports. However, more religious reports on their own will not provide extra evidence for the tenets of that religion. Consider: it would seem very odd to say that Zoroastrians are less justified in their beliefs than Muslims because there are more reported revelations supporting the latter beliefs. Indeed, as one should rationally accept the theory for which there is the strongest current evidence or justification, the justificatory power of revelations on their own would mean we should probably just believe the tenets of the global majority religion. This is good news for Christians, but given that Christianity was not always in the majority, I doubt it’s a move they’d be comfortablee making.

    On the other hand, *within* a religious tradition, additional revelations can sensibly take on additional justificatory power. Thus, the Catholic tradition of Papal elections could be sensibly justified by the evidentiary power of multiple individuals’ revelations and divinely-inspired judgments. This, however, implies we need something else before such things can be taken as evidence: some independent reason to accept a given tradition. Most commonly, I expect this will be provided by faith (though as Peter Wicks suggests, it could also come from the positive influence such beliefs have on one’s life). But then the real answer to the teapot-skeptic is not to say ‘many people have had revelations concerning God, almost none concerning a teapot; thus there is more reason to believe in God than the floating teapot’. One can *only* say that once the skeptic has been converted – otherwise, one would be committed to an absurd majority-rules form of religious belief. But then, of course, someone shouldn’t need evidence for the existence of God once they’ve already been converted!

  • Anthony Drinkwater says:

    In reply to the second half of Peter’s comment (I leave aside his bemusement at the emotional intensity of militant atheists) : I don’t see how beliefs that are non-falsifiable / non-verifiable can be justified simply because they are helpful to certain people.
    Pyschoanalysis clearly plays a positive role in many people’s lives, at least they say it does. But I do not see any contradiction in stating that, overall, belief in the theory of psychoanalysis is not useful, and is indeed often harmful. And that its non-verifiability is a large part of the problem.

  • Peter Wicks says:

    Hi Anthony,

    I’m a bit sceptical as to whether psychoanalytical theory is really unverifiable (or indeed unfalsiable). It probably depends which version you are talking about. I would guess that some psychoanalytical theories are fallible, and most probably false.

    But to be clear: I’m not suggesting that non-falsiable /non-verifiable beliefs are always helpful, just that they sometimes are. The ones I find most helpful in this context are positive, self-fulfilling ones. For example, here’s one I came up with the other day: “We will fulfill our dreams if we can agree on concrete goals and remain attentive to risks.”

    From that perspective I’m rather neutral with regard to belief in the existence of God.

  • Peter Wicks says:

    The word “falsifiable” got mistakenly autocorrected to “fallible” in the above comment.

  • Acie Skeptic says:

    Hi Peter,

    While some individuals feel that belief in god helps them, a counter-case can be argued that faith and religion are social maladies. This line of thought can only clarify whether god is a helpful or unhelpful teapot.

    However, scientific thought requires an open mind. This means that it is important to consider and scrutinize arguments for the teapot, but recognize when no valid evidence or arguments yet exist.

  • David Shipley says:

    It seems to me that one could create a hierarchy of orders of belief, based on various factors including the internal logic of the belief system and evidence of different kinds for and against.

    At one level, we seem to have a binary choice: a) did the universe (s) start spontaneously with a big bang, or b) was there some external agent which we could choose to call god? Either option presents us with difficulties – on the one hand, how did all the matter emerge and differentiate, and on the other who or what made god? The answer one chooses, a), b) or don’t know/won’t guess, is surely a matter of personal taste. The god in this scenario is not called upon to do anything more than light blue touch paper and retire.

    Next down we have teapots and spaghetti monsters, absurd and unlikely but hard to disprove. In a lower category I would place most religious beliefs as promulgated by the major religions or their adherents. The problems with these thought systems are so pervasive, going far beyond the problem of evil, that it is hard to see how a person with a capacity for analytical thought could support them. Any intervention such as that pleaded for in prayer requires a disconnection of cause and effect, rendering science inherently unreliable rather than merely inexact. According to core Jewish, Christian and Muslim beliefs these interventions are arbitrary and capricious, suggesting that if such a god exists, he/she/it, if omnipotent, is as Randolph Churchill famously said, a sh*t. It’s not just the existence of evil that is the problem, it is god’s complicity in it. At individual believer level there are huge variations in beliefs, rendering it vanishingly unlikely that any one set of beliefs is a viable approximation to the reality of such a god. For all these reasons I would say that the deified teapot is an order of magnitude more likely to exist than a god as described by any particular individual’s personal belief system.

    Some commentators with religious beliefs have chosen to argue within the first category, as if their third-category belief system is an inescapable corollary of the existence of some external creator, and surprisingly both Dawkins and Hawking appear to have overstretched themselves by taking them on on their chosen ground.

  • Peter Wicks says:

    Still we need to have some kind of criteria for deciding what beliefs to take seriously, and in what context, and from this point of view I still agree with Lisa: while there doesn’t seem to be any good justification for contemplating the possible existence of orbiting teapots, except of course that it’s kind of fun, the different kinds of theistic belief that exist in the world are worthy of attention precisely because they play such important roles in the lives of so many people.

    I think it’s also only fair to note that Lisa did not claim that because people believe in something it must be true, or even that it’s more likely to be true. Only that this must – in her words – “at least make a difference when it comes to the ‘degree of justification’ of any belief”.

    With regard to the idea that faith and religion are social maladies, I think to address this coherently it’s necessary to consider firstly what kind of future we actually want, and then assess the role of faith and religion against that objective. I don’t think there’s a “right answer” to this kind of question (which is why I’m a moral subjectivist and not a moral realist). Personally I’m fine with people believing in God as long as their faith takes a tolerant, peace-loving, open-minded form.

  • Peter Wicks says:

    My previous comment was in response to Acie Skeptic, not in response to David Shipley, whose comment I had not seen. I’d actually be interested to see Lisa’s response to the latter, which seems to make a good case for claiming that traditional theistic beliefs are both falsifiable and false.

  • Acie Skeptic says:

    Peter,

    The conflict of this article is nicely summarized:
    “The question is then, I suppose, whether or not one can be justified in holding a belief in the existence of god. Without going into the theory of justification it might perhaps suffice here to say this: What some atheists seem to claim is that you can no more be justified in believing in god than you can be justified in believing in a spaghetti monster or a pink invisible unicorn.”

    I think when addressing “the degree of justification” of theistic belief, a few details should perhaps be clarified for ease of conversation.

    One can be fully justified in believing in god, in so far as any person can be justified in adopting a belief which helps them, though it might be in error. It follows that, because there exist justifications to believe things which might not be true, the existence of justification alone does not lend to the plausible truth of an idea.

    The argument of Russel’s teapot attempts to point out a parallel in the plausibility between god and a magic teapot, and does not need to address the reasons for believing in either beyond that point. If the existence of god cannot be demonstrated to be more plausible than Russel’s teapot, then God really is a teapot (metaphorically speaking).

    The criteria for determining what ideas to “take seriously” are fairly clear within the scientific method, if by “take seriously” you mean “consider might be true.” Scientifically, the idea of god cannot be considered because it implies the supernatural, cannot be tested, and cannot be used to make useful predictions. It does not have to disprove the idea in order to show that belief in the idea is irrational. Keeping in mind, one might still justify irrationally believing the idea, and the idea might still be true.

    However, i agree that religion is an important factor in many people’s lives, and thus is it as worthy of attention as all other pervasive social phenomenon. However, to “consider what kind of future we want” is a bad basis for determining the social effects of religion. A more coherent basis would be historically analyzing the social and political effects of various religions on standard of living.

    The confusion, i think, comes from Lisa implying in the title that god is more plausible than Russel’s teapot, but then arguing that theism is more justifiable than the teapot. These are different things, but the two concepts are commonly jumbled. I believe that the supposed atheist assertion “you can no more be justified in believing in god than you can be justified in believing in a spaghetti monster” is false. However i don’t see any argument which suggests that god is more likely to exist than Russel’s teapot.

    Personally, I’m also fine with tolerant, peace-loving, open-minded faith. It is unfortunate that such a beneficial personal trait is so often, and effectively, manipulated on large scales by those who pretend to share the same values.

  • Peter Wicks says:

    Thanks Acie, I think we’re more or less saying the same thing. I guess there are three possible meanings of the phrase “take seriously”: (i) consider might be true, (ii) consider believing oneself, (iii) study the effect of such a belief.

    On the third meaning, I agree that it’s important to look at history, but still I think we need some idea of what kind of future we want, i.e. what we value. This is related to my “moral subjectivist” position on meta-ethics: I don’t believe that issues of right or wrong are absolutes, we have to decide what we value. Only then can we assess whether social (such as religion) or other phenomena are good or bad.

    The distinction between the first two meanings is an interesting one. On the one hand, to believe something is to think it’s true, so these two meanings could be thought to be identical. But they are not, because while the proposed destination (believing something) may be the same, the process is different. In the first case, one is looking at the evidence and assessing the extent to which, on the basis of the evidence available, belief seems to be justified. In the second case, one might consider that it’s justified to believe something even if one is currently sceptical. There are various ways to get oneself to believe something even in the face of evidence to the contrary. In the case of “truth-apt” statements I think this is unwise – you’re basically blinding yourself to evidence – but in case of nonverifiable/nonfalsifiable beliefs I think this can be very helpful as a means to live a satisfying life.

    What I found interesting in David’s comment was that it made me realise the extent to which many traditional religious beliefs (even excluding the most obviously superstitious ones) are actually falsiable, and pretty convincingly disproved by available evidence.

  • Lisa Furberg says:

    Ok. I have been following the debate and since my comment was called for I will make a few.

    I am well aware that I have only written on a “general” belief in god (this is really due to the limited space in a blog). I think, personally, that as soon as you try to give god any particular properties, you are faced with a new set of problems (the problem of evil would be one) and a believer would run into even further problems when trying to say something about what the existence of god would imply when it comes to human behaviour, e.g. when it comes to morality etc.(I think you are really into deep water here!) As I would like to talk about it, however, this has more to do with religious belief (or religious framework), than with a belief in god. (People might oppose to this distinction but for me it actually is a useful one because it seems to me that you can both be religious without a belief in god (or gods) – as would be the case with some buddist beliefs for examle, and you might also have a belief in god without agreeing with any particular “religion”.) So, when it comes to the following:

    “At individual believer level there are huge variations in beliefs, rendering it vanishingly unlikely that any one set of beliefs is a viable approximation to the reality of such a god. For all these reasons I would say that the deified teapot is an order of magnitude more likely to exist than a god as described by any particular individual’s personal belief system.”

    I would say that I am also certain that many of those variations (of which I believe there is about as many as there are “believers”) are, in fact, wrong. However, this diversity in beliefs only shows that we cannot really have knowledge about any such particular properties. This, however, doesn’t seem to exclude the possibility that there is a truth to the matter and I don’t really understand the logic behind the argument that such huge diversity makes it “vanishingly unlikely that any one set of beliefs is a viable approximation to the reality of such a god”. Believeing, as I do, that all these beliefs systems are mere guesses (or rather belief influenced by culture and other things) it seems more likely the greater diversity there is, the more reason to believe that one of them is a rather close match to the truth. But perhaps I’m missing something about David’s argument here?

    I would also like to comment on the following because it somehow summerizes my whole point:

    “Scientifically, the idea of god cannot be considered because it implies the supernatural, cannot be tested, and cannot be used to make useful predictions”.

    I don’t know what it means really that something is considered “supernatural”- other than it being beyond the current limits of science. So to say that something cannot be considered “scientifically” because it is supernatural – seems to be saying the same thing twice and does not seem to provide any reason as to why one shouldn’t believe that something exists. It’s this “strangeness” idea all over again – and as I said in the blog: things that might have been said to be “supernatural” a thousand years ago, might not be so strange to us now. If there is a god it is at least possible that humans in the future will have a clearer understanding of this metaphysical entity than we do now.

  • Acie Skeptic says:

    Thanks Peter, I’m glad we are more nearly on the same page. Consider this about your first two definitions of “take seriously”: An idea which might be considered to be true should naturally be an option for believing oneself. However, some ideas are worth believing believing in oneself, but should not be considered to be true. As an example, I believe in god because of feelings i have had, and the comfort the idea brings probably helps keep me sane. However, I know that I am probably wrong, and feelings, being products of neural activity, are not evidence. So, in my interactions with the world, i should act under the assumption that there is no god.

    Lisa,

    When i say god must be considered supernatural, i mean that god must either obey or not obey natural laws (allowing that he may obey a set of laws yet undiscovered). Science can only address the natural world. If god supersedes all natural law, he is, by definition, supernatural. If god is subject to natural law, is he really god?

    It is possible that “god” exists, and is bound by unknown laws. However, if these laws exist, they should be subject to experiment. Whenever evidence is collected which suggests our laws may be wrong, or incomplete, they can be amended. Until any evidence is provided suggesting that any force exists capable of breaking natural laws, the laws should be assumed to be ubiquitous. It has nothing to do with excluding an idea based on strangeness, and everything to do with following evidence and logic. If i were to tell an ancient Mesopotamian about the light bulb, he would be right to disbelieve it because the evidence had not been provided. If i then demonstrated the light bulb, he must then assume it works according to natural laws he has not learned, and try to learn them. So until there exists a shred of evidence for the existence of god, he might as well be Russel’s teapot.

    Though i will concede that being supernatural is so closely tied to being untestable, it may be redundant.

    Also, i think David was trying to say that if you hold a single belief, but there are an infinite number of possible beliefs to hold, each just as plausible as yours, the odds of you being completely correct are effectively zero. I would expand this idea to suggest that if the human race is capable of producing only a finite number of unique ideas, with infinite unconsidered alternatives, then it doesn’t matter how many guesses we make, the probability of every single one being wrong is 100%.

  • David Shipley says:

    Thanks Acie your probabilistic suggestion is exactly what I was trying to say, and very neatly put.

  • Peter Wicks says:

    Nice discussion. I’m tempted to extrapolate Acie’s last comment and say we are 100% likely to be wrong about everything, and not only about God. One could also start to question what we actually mean by the term “exist” here. Existence has a clear meaning when one is talking about physical objects, but what about Platonic concepts? Does Beauty exist? I think we perhaps need to consider whether by asking whether God exists we are even asking ourselves a meaningful question.

    One comment though Acie on the following: “I believe in god because of feelings i have had, and the comfort the idea brings probably helps keep me sane. However, I know that I am probably wrong…”

    I’m not sure what definition of “believe” you are using here, but to me if you know you are probably wrong then you don’t really believe, yet. Which is why I said in my earlier comment that “destination” of the first two meanings are the same. The difference is that in the first case you first consider the evidence, and adjust your beliefs accordingly, and in the second case you decide what you think is most helpful to believe, and then use whatever psychological tricks you can to convince yourself that it is true.

    In summary, perhaps a better question to ask than, “Does God exist?” would be, “What definitions of God are logically coherent and consistent with available evidence?” It’s in the context of this second (and imo better) question that I think David makes a strong case for saying that most traditional religious beliefs are either logically incoherent (because they contain inherent contradictions) or inconsistent with available evidence.

    On the other hand, I still think that an even better question is whether theistic beliefs are *helpful*, and if so in what sense, under what circumstances, and what criteria those beliefs must satisfy in order to be helpful. After all, even physics is logically incoherent (general relativity and quantum theory can’t both be right), but that doesn’t mean it isn’t useful…

  • Spencer says:

    So if 80% of the world’s population came believe in Russell’s orbiting teapot(without any empirical justification), would that belief still be ridiculous? It appears to me that you’d say ‘no.’

  • Mat Witts says:

    Very nice work everyone. Just here to lend some support to the discussion. “My first mistake was in thinking that some of the most open and reliable sources of discussion about whether or not “The Hand of God” actually exists would not be with an ordained priest, monk or other member of the clergy that already has a vested interest in a particular belief framework but rather the many atheist discussion groups that exist online today”. Yoga and “The Hand of God” (Living Outside the “Spectrum of Theistic Probablility”)

    http://yoga-eu.net/bin/view/Yoga/YogaMatters

    I am now working on a thesis, based on the work of Derrida and Stcherbatskys Buddhist Logic that the higly nuanced interplay of negative judgement cannot escape paradox when conceived within a holistic mindset.

  • Lisa Furberg says:

    This has indeed turned out to be a very ineresting debate! I really enjoy reading all comments! Thanks! (And although I decided not to make any further comments I really cannot stop myself for making just a few more 😉

    Acie,

    “When i say god must be considered supernatural, i mean that god must either obey or not obey natural laws (allowing that he may obey a set of laws yet undiscovered). Science can only address the natural world. If god supersedes all natural law, he is, by definition, supernatural. If god is subject to natural law, is he really god?”

    It seems to me that if your idea of something supernatural is something that (might?) exist yet doesn’t “obey” natural laws it seems you are referring to something of a logical contradiction. Such a thing cannot exist, at least if we by natural law speaks of laws that apply to everything in the universe. As soon (if ever) we find something in the universe that doesn’t “obey” a natural law – be it god or some other thing – the law which this thing doesn’t “obey” , suddenly turned out to be something else than a natural law. This, of course, as you point out, doesn’t exclude the posibitity that there are “real” natural laws (that all things in the universe “obey to”), but neither does it exclude the posibility that there are existing things that are in conflict, so to speak, with the laws we now have good reason to believe to be (proper) natural laws.

    Peter,

    “I’m tempted to extrapolate Acie’s last comment and say we are 100% likely to be wrong about everything, and not only about God.”

    Nice point, and so am I. (However, I just might not agree with the thing about “each just as plausible as yours”- thing. Some belifs are more plausible than others, I think, but I am not sure what this would imply regarding the rest of the argument.)

  • GNZ says:

    I think, in regard to David’s comment, it now matters what we care about.

    If you believe in a god that requries you to do exactly what they require (camel through the eye of a needle…), then the implication of his position is that you cannot achieve your aim of salvation (let us say) because you can only pick one of an infinite set of paths most of which dont lead anywhere you want to go.

    If you believe in a god with few requirements I suppose it is OK to not be ‘right’ but instead be ‘vaguely in the ballpark’.

    One might therefore choose to ignore the former sorts of philosophy.

  • tempo dulu says:

    hasn’t religion already been proven false on the premise that prayer has no effect on unwished for outcomes such as disease, accidents, disasters etc?

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