Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Whoopin' up on Theism



In reviewing a new, popular-level book by John Allen Paulos, the reviewer gives a pithy summary of the burden of theism:

"The hypothesis that a deity created the universe and somehow still intervenes in it is, on the face of it, an extravagant, inelegant, and superfluous supposition. It lacks any support from our direct experience of the world, nor even from the subtle and indirect inferences of modern science. Therefore, in order to make it plausible, let alone convincing, requires arguments that are clear, direct, and compelling. An enormous burden of proof lies heavy on the proponents of theism."[1]

It is just these kinds of clear challenges that I wish theologians would address. Alas, they usually just degenerate into a collection of metaphors and Euro-mush, meta-narrative talk. Of course one can just still hear the 17th-19th century deists saying, "So?"


O.

REFERENCE

[image] "Make Abstract Illustrations" eyesOnTutorials (Accessed 5/21/2008)

[1] "Gimme that Old Time Religion" eSkeptic May 14, 2008 (Accessed May 21, 2008)

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5 Comments:

At 11:22 PM, Blogger Daniel Wesley said...

I would say there are many out there tackling that challenge, and from a multitude of disciplines. There is quite a bit to be said about theism from both a physical and metaphysical standpoint.

I believe one large problem is that many who engage in discussion do so without a clear definition of what constitutes evidence for Theism, and in that case no meaningful discussion is possible.

Cheers!

 
At 9:10 PM, Blogger Roger said...

"The hypothesis that a deity created the universe and somehow still intervenes in it is, on the face of it, an extravagant, inelegant, and superfluous supposition. It lacks any support from our direct experience of the world, nor even from the subtle and indirect inferences of modern science."

The problem is, there's so much loaded into that snippet that it's hard to know where to begin in answering it.

Responses range from as broad a scope as claims of individual miracles (and addressing questions of what a miracle may be - itself another looming question) to the intelligibility of nature (Nature as the product of a rational mind/minds? Who would have thought) to proposals of creation/design itself mirrored in our own capabilities (Creating a universe has no indirect support in our sciences? Inform our programmers).

All this before addressing the alternative - that our universe is the stuff of eternal purposelessness, or just popped into existence from nothingness unbidden and undirected, and it just so happens to be rational. Theism probably sounds exceptionally unlikely, until you start considering the alternatives.

In other words - the hypothesis is not as the author describes, nor is the evidence in the state he suggests it's in. The biggest problem with the modern discussions of theism and atheism isn't that those darn theologians just aren't willing to step up to the plate, but because the entire fight is largely a proxy battle for other social and political concerns - and thus, for an atheist, any good argument for theism must be cut down. If not by reason and logic, then by smears. (And the same goes for the reverse.)

 
At 12:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Obviously, the two guys above are theologians. For example, I like the part of the quote which says, "..nor even from the subtle and indirect inferences of modern science." A year or two ago, there was this huge study on prayer by some rich guy named Templeton, and it was an excellent study that didn't make the stupid mistakes of virtually all of the prayer studies that preceeded it. Well, anyway, it turned out that prayer didn't do krap for helping sick people with heart problems.

Also, the Daniel guy above already falls into the trap about meta-talk when he complains about 'clear defintion' stuff. That was exactly Montgomery's complaint. Nobody need argue for clear definitions of evidence in science. We already know what they are, or know them in such ways as these are used everyday in investigating reality. What an idiot. Always make the definition charge when you know good and well the argument is against you. This is why Christians are such intellectual weaklings -- they will not dare think outside the box of their own wish fantasies. And they always want to change the rules of science and logic when it moves against their pet fantasies.

Whatever

 
At 2:02 PM, Blogger Roger said...

"A year or two ago, there was this huge study on prayer by some rich guy named Templeton, and it was an excellent study that didn't make the stupid mistakes of virtually all of the prayer studies that preceeded it. Well, anyway, it turned out that prayer didn't do krap for helping sick people with heart problems."

"This is why Christians are such intellectual weaklings -- they will not dare think outside the box of their own wish fantasies."

1. Prayer doesn't do anything? Completely untrue - even if you want to call it 'placebo effect' or otherwise, it does have an effect in the right conditions. I believe the test in question was seeing if double-blind tests where random groups of heart patients matched with random groups of people praying for them could influence their exams.

2. So, Christians are intellectual weaklings who won't question their beliefs - and in the same comment you post about Templeton (Do you know who John Templeton is? Do you know what the Templeton Foundation is?) funding a study that showed the flaws in 'all the previous prayer studies'. Sure, Christians don't question their beliefs - that's why there is such a wide variety of Christian sects, and interfaith debates and arguments and viewpoints.

3. I'm no theologian, just someone who enjoys reading up on these topics.

 
At 3:23 PM, Blogger brinticus said...

My, such a chatty bunch on this topic!

 

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