Wednesday, September 26, 2007

On Theism and Proofs

Someone needs a course in binary logic and proof theory.

It all sounds so wonderful. I do not believe that god does not exist. I just don't believe that god exists. I am all rational, but also do not have any burdens of proof. Act of faith vs rationality, and all that. Amazing, right?

Wrong. Let this be cleared once and for all. All scientific/logical theories are by definition only explanations/observations of the truth and not the truth themselves (the map is not the territory and all that jazz). Thus, the statement that "Gravity exists" is logically the same as "I believe that gravity exists". The reasons for your beliefs and your ability to justify them will qualify the strength of this belief. Hence, a rational person will have no qualms stating that "gravity exists" but will need to qualify his belief in god by saying that "I believe that god exists". "Belief" is a qualifier to the strength and justification of your theory - it doesn't change your assertion of the truth value of your theory. Knowledge is only a representation of the truth, not the truth itself.

Hence, I believe that god does not exist and I do not believe that god exists are logically one and the same. Any attempts to try to prove otherwise miss the important distinction between the truth and the representation. What is wrong with these modern day atheists? Don't they even have the balls to say "God is dead, and has always been" (or something like that)? Come on people, you have Richard Dawkins as your intellectual fountainhead. Show some bloody guts.

There are exactly three major logical positions to take w.r.t the existence of god. "I believe that god exists", "I don't know and the world will in all probability never know", and "I believe that god doesn't exist". (Actually there are four - one can always say "I don't bloody care".) There can be variants within these major positions, but to try and get out of committing yourself to one of them broadly is just intellectual dishonesty.

If all you want to talk about is the burden of proof, here's how you frame it - proofs are either constructive or by contradiction, but can never be by assumption. A positive assertion ("God exists") will typically need to have a constructive proof or a strong reductio ad absurdum. As long as you can thrash the positive proof, it will be considered a good enough negative proof. An example of this is the god of the gaps rebuttal given by atheists.

When it comes to God, or the final explanation, the absence of evidence is pretty much the evidence of absence, irrespective of what Carl Sagan says in the preface to A Brief History of Time. All we need to remember is that the evidence need not necessarily be a positive empirical observation. Counterfactual reasoning is often the only way of determining causuality.


doubtinggaurav said...


I am at unfamiliar territory here and frankly don't know what I am talking about, but you start explaining about binary logic, but later on use terms like "qualifier" which I believe goes into territory of fuzzy logic (or at any rate semantics, once again ! hey bhagwan).

Now just to defend his eminence (against precocious managers like you), may be there is a feeble and "qualified" distinction between statement A "I believe there are no Gods" and B "I don't believe there are Gods"

A possibly means that the speaker has worked through logic, quantum mechanics, probability, statistics, (substitute your favourite science here) to "convince" himself to a "reasonable degree" that entity called God (with certain "attributes") can not exist (because it contradicts some even more basic axioms perhaps).

However statement B to me implies that the speaker has not found any evidence which is "convincing" enough for him to prove God's existence. In absence he chooses not to "believe" in existence.

1. I am a believer (as you may know it already)

2. The case I presented essentially is weak atheism vs. strong atheism

3. As I said said case is feeble.

4. I doubt his eminence realizes what he means, I have found him to be intellectually lazy and too much of Aym Gramd.

zen babu said...


You are right on almost all counts. I do know about Dawkins spectrum of beliefs, but notice that all of Dawkins classifications still make statements about the existence of god or otherwise - they do not say anything about not believing in existence as distinct from believing in non-existence.

Fuzzy logic builds upon binary. Whether you are strongly convinced or weakly convinced about the existence of god, you are still convinced. For the sake of a 'major position', binary logic does just fine. Very involved analysis will go into fuzzy logic.

Typically, if a person is not convinced about the existence of god but has no claims to the contrary either, he/she should claim to be an agnostic, the "I do not know and no one else knows either because their logic is quite feeble" variety. That would be perfectly fine. But it's strange to see such fine distinctions being made by someone who claims to take an atheistic stand.

Essentially, if you treat god as one of the alternatives in the 'final explanation', then anyone who rejects all the pro-god arguments made until now and claims to be an atheist is basicaly asserting that a pro-god argument is rather unlikely, and hence a no-god scenario is much more possible. Removing the complexities of probability and fuzziness from this equation, the two statements presented by Amit then turn out to be logically same.

For example, do you see any difference whatsoever between "I don't believe in gravity" and "I believe there is no gravity"? The assertion that "I believe there is no gravity" seems to require some alternative theory (your example of probabilty/quantum mechanics/whatever based convincing). I am saying that w.r.t God, this burden of proof does not exist. All an atheist needs to do is absolutely rebut all the various arguments made by theists. Amit's distinction seems to be inspired from a need to escape the burden of proof - I'm saying that this burden does not even exist in the first place.

Have you ever read/heard a single atheistic argument that is not a direct rebuttal to a particular line of theistic thought?

As for Amit, I don't know about intellectual laziness. But I am definitely pained by the "oh look here's a fallacy" and "My rationality is superior to your ratioanlty" approach to argumentation.

As I had once pointed out to the desi John Galt, an unfailing belief in various logical fallacies can also qualify as the logical fallacy of appeal to authority. One is only appealing to the supposedly superior logic of the manwho first proposed that fallacy!

doubtinggaurav said...


Interesting points my two cents.

# 1. Reg Fuzzy vs Binary. I guess depends on the perspective. You think Fuzzy builds on binary. I beg to differ. Essentially binary to me implies that distinct alternatives exist. However Fuzzy means that "distinct" alternative do not exists, because perhaps the clear cut criteria do not exists.
Again this is different from probability where the problem is in accurate prediction/observation of the system. For me Binary is an approximation of the Fuzzy.

#2. With the earlier caveat the what I proposed is rather feeble yes I do see there is difference in "I don't believe in gravity" and "I believe there is no gravity"? (If by gravity you mean theory of gravity).

The former may arise when one doesn't find the proof for theory convincing compared to the alternative, latter is the "stronger" statement arising perhaps because there is alternative theory which convinces the speaker. Now come to think, this is a matter of semantics.

#3. Reg rebuttal of theism, actually Buddhism and perhaps even Nietzsche have systems which make positive statement (sort of )

#4. Well resorting to rhetoric and sophistry is the telltale sign of intellectual sloth.

#5. Our John Galt has been seduced by Ayn Rand, he is beyond redemption.

zen babu said...


I don't think we differ all that much on fuzzy vs binary. You say that binary is an approximation of fuzzy. I say that fuzzy builds on binary, it is binary along with probabilities and degress involved.Both of us basically meant that it is a superset of binary, a generalization.

As for semantics, I would have agreed with your stand but for the first few pages of A Brief History of Time that keep coming back to me. Hawking convincingly distinguishes between a theory and the truth that it claims to narrate, and creates a mapping between the two. From this perspective, the two statements are the same. The theory is our only key to the truth - rejection of a theory is pretty much equivalent to the rejection of the truth value of its claim.

Haven't read much of Buddhism, and never interpreted existentialism that way. Of course, I have never actually read Nietzsche - only comments/critiques and descriptions. So much to do, such little time.

Sanjuro said...

For a believer the fact that he believes in god means a lot, but for a non-believer the fact that he "doesn't believe in god" doesn't really matter much. It is just one of the many things which he doesn't believe in or care for (like invisible pink unicorn or twelve headed monsters..)
If you understand this you will realize why
1)I believe that god does not exist and
2) I do not believe that god exists
are two different things. In the first case one is putting some weight on the so called concept of "god". In the second case "god" is just one of the many things which he doesn't really care about or not believe in. Hope that clarifies.

doubtinggaurav said...

Actually Sanjuro that doesn't clarify things even a little.

Sanjuro said...

1)I believe that god does not exist - It puts a lot of weight on the concept of god. The sentence revolves around "god".
2)I do not believe that god exists - Instead of god, it puts its weight behind "I". God is just one of the many things which "I" doesn't believe in.

zen babu said...


Unless one wants to brook no discussion for one's beliefs, there must be rational reasons for one's belief in no god and for one's non-belief in god. I claim that these reasons are almost exactly the same and hence there is no difference.

The importance around the word 'I' is not very relevant, if you ask me. And the 'I don't care' position is simply not an atheistic stand. There are many believers who believe in god, but do not really care, atleast not until the final exams!!

Sanjuro said...

One doesn't need to have a new set of rational reasons for non-belief, if he finds "believing in god" as irrational.
As I said before, "I" is very important here. I consider myself as an atheist. If someone asks my stand on belief, I wouldn't say "I don't believe in god", instead I would say "I know that god doesn't exist. As you can see, I is very important here (at least for me, may be not for the other person).
Again.. The "I don't care" you talk about is different from the one I mentioned in one of my previous reply.