Talk:Arguments for the existence of God
Draft in question
Talk:Arguments for the existence of God/Combined article draft This content is now at Existence of God.
Combine the articles?
I realize this has probably been proposed before, but is there any reason why “Arguments for the existence of God” and the “Arguments against the existense of God” articles shouldn't be combined? I would suggest redirecting both articles to a single article called either “Arguments about the existence of God” or “Arguments for and against the existence of God”.
This is how I would structure the combined article: Firstly, discuss the God vs. god issue. Then a discussion about Occam's Razor, which would appear to place the burden of proof on the Theist side of the argument. Cover the Weak Atheist position, which states that the existence of God can't currently be disproven, but also can't be proven, and therefore His non-existence should be assumed. Discuss fideism. Briefly discuss Pascal's Wager, which attempts to justify a reasoned belief in God, even if God hasn't been conclusively proven to exist.
Then list the Theist arguments, with counterpoints if necessary.
Finally, the Strong Atheist arguments, again with counterpoints.
Comments? I'm crossposting this to both articles' talkpages. crazyeddie 17:17, 30 May 2005 (UTC)
The issue is of enough importance to warrant a rather long article. Combining the articles would eliminate much shared discussion. There is a lot of background issues that both articles have to cover - God vs. god, fideism, Pascal's Wager, etc. Proving the Theist position depends on disproving the Strong Atheist position, and vice versa. I think it would be better to have a single unwieldy, but only slightly longer article than two articles that are unwieldy in their own right. crazyeddie 17:36, 30 May 2005 (UTC)
- I disagree — but, more importantly, so does every other encyclopædia, reference work, and even introduction to philosophy. If anything, I'd hope to see the articles fracture further, as decent articles develop on the individual aspects (some of them already exist, of course). Mel Etitis (Μελ Ετητης) 19:14, 30 May 2005 (UTC)
Every other encyclopedia, reference work, and introduction to philosophy are generally dead-tree format, so that discussions for and against the existence of God occur fairly close together. But I suppose we are going to have to agree to disagree, unless somebody can cite a relevant Wikipedia policy - which puts us at one-to-one, voting wise. Does anybody else want to weigh in? crazyeddie 19:41, 30 May 2005 (UTC)
Specific arguments and positions (fideism, "strong" Theism, Weak and Strong Atheism, etc) generally already have an article to themselves. What I am proposing is a single overview article. crazyeddie 19:43, 30 May 2005 (UTC)
Consider this - which article should cover "argument from evolution"? Argument from evolution isn't so much proof of God not existing as it is a counter to "argument from intelligent design". But is this argument really irrelevant to the discussion of arguments against the existence of God? Instead of trying to figure out which article arguments like this belong to, why not just combine both discussions? crazyeddie 19:52, 30 May 2005 (UTC)
- It's not clear to me what you mean by this, but in any case I was including on-line and disk-based encyclopædias.
- Much of what you mention isn't strictly relevant to either article. Your earlier claim ("Proving the Theist position depends on disproving the Strong Atheist position, and vice versa") is simply not true, incidentally; proving one position would be to disprove the other, it doesn't depend on the other.
- There is no "argument from evolution" — at least not one that deserves more than a sentence or two. Evolution does nothing to prove or disprove the existence of god (and little to counter any moderately sophisticated form of the design argument), any more than does Boyle's Law or the Planck Constant. Mel Etitis (Μελ Ετητης) 22:02, 30 May 2005 (UTC)
Well, I for one do support a merge of these two articles. I don't think it matters what other encyclopedias do, I just think that this is a question of NPOV; dividing material among two different articles along the lines of "pro" and "con" seems inherently unstable. It's like how I argued against having a separate articles for criticism and praise of Mother Teresa way back when - when the two subjects are separated you get two POV articles, but keeping them together makes for one NPOV article. The current "arguments" pages aren't that bad but it still seems to fit the philosophy IMO. Bryan 04:47, 31 May 2005 (UTC)
Here is a rough (very rough) draft of what a combined article might look like: Talk:Arguments for the existence of God/Combined article draft. In the word processor I wrote it with, it took 7 pages vs 4 pages for the "against" article and 5 pages for the "for" article. crazyeddie 06:09, 31 May 2005 (UTC)
- Unlike Mother Theresa, the current case has a history of over 2,000 years in which the arguments have been very definitely separate. There is very little overlap or even connection between the different sets of arguments, in fact. Bryan's comments involves an internal tension; the claim that the division of the two is inherently unstable, in so far as I understand it, is empirically testable — and the place to look is in other reference works. They have no problems separating the two sets of arguments. Mel Etitis (Μελ Ετητης) 16:34, 31 May 2005 (UTC)
- I agree with Mel on the point that the articles are both quite long already, and will no doubt become much larger over time. I do like crazyeddie's draft though. Perhaps as a compromise, "There are also Arguments for the existence of God", and "There are also Arguments against the existence of God" could be at the very top of each article, so if someone wishes to compare arguments, they have no difficulty in finding the opposing article. --Silversmith Hewwo 18:26, 1 Jun 2005 (UTC)
- It's funny that crazy eddie should ask me to opine on this subject. I visited the discussion yesterday, started to type a comment, and then decided it was better for me to keep quiet. I can see reasonable aspects of both sides, and I wouldn't get bent out of shape either way. There is a certain allure to combining the articles, or at least carefully coordinating them, and yet a combined article would be rather long. At the moment, I wouldn't know which way to recommend. Tom Haws 19:27, Jun 1, 2005 (UTC)
Eddie had the kindness to remind me of my thoughts on the subject (you rock, eddie!). Here goes:
- I would like to create some unity on the for/against God pages. I think we can find our way to agreeing on the best way to quantify and categorize the debate thru premises. IMO if one accepts certain premises they will be atheist, and with others a theist. This assumes proper reasoning of course ;).There is also obviously the opportunity for poor reasoning leading to either conclusion. Experience clearly affects the premises a given person chooses to accept. Some turn away from theism due to tragedy, and others turn toward God after a personal revelation. But always there is some basis for their belief or lack thereof, if not logical than cultural, emotional, psychological etc...
To sum up, the wiki in general needs more standardization of content, an dthis article is far from an exception. So... lets make it 2 halves of a whole, instead of one behomath, or worse, one halfway good summary of both. Thoughts?
Sam Spade 20:47, 1 Jun 2005 (UTC)
- Hmm. I'd like to hear more. Tom Haws 21:20, Jun 1, 2005 (UTC)
Basically covering the same arguments in both, likely to differing extents. Clearly some arguments for get very little air time among atheists, so they'd only be mentioned in passing on the against page. Similarly, arguments like "burden of proof" get very little emphasis amongst theists, and therefore should only be mentioned in passing here. The point is, we should discuss each and its rebuttels (if any) on both articles. Sam Spade 21:49, 1 Jun 2005 (UTC)
I have now thought about this for a couple of days and I feel that the benefits of combination far outweigh those of separation. The idea that the combined article will be too long seems specious. This is a complex subject and splitting it into two parts is likely to involve duplication and inconsistency. To my mind, the problem with the existing divided structure is that it emphasises polarization and leaves no room for an effective discussion of the "maybe". Article length is an important consideration but it should not be at the expense of comprehensiveness. I am sure that intelligent use of summaries of the various models that have their own articles will enable us to generate an article of appropriate length. --Theo (Talk) 11:17, 2 Jun 2005 (UTC)
- I really like that, particularly the last idea. There probably should be one hub article, and then many articles for the more in-depth discussions regarding particular arguments. I am now open to the idea of merging, in that spirit. Sam Spade 12:39, 2 Jun 2005 (UTC)
- My feeling about this is that rather than having one page, or two pages, there should perhaps be three pages. Most of the major arguments for or against have pages of their own.
- I would propose a starting page on The existence of God. Issues common to both articles would belong here, with sections on 1./ The definition of a god; 2./ Number of deities; 3./ Epistemological issues; 4./ Faith, reason, and fideism. --- as well as whatever other headings may be considered appropriate.
- The arguments for and arguments against pages would then become lists or catalogues with the several arguments listed, brief synopses given, and categorised according to type. -- Smerdis of Tlön 14:26, 2 Jun 2005 (UTC)
- I'd like to hear from Mel. Tom Haws 22:00, Jun 2, 2005 (UTC)
I must admit that I'm still unconvinced by the need for (or the benefits of) this, but if there's otherwise general consensus, as there seems to be, then I don't want to hold things back. Unless there's anyone else who's still against it, I'll go along with consensus. Mel Etitis (Μελ Ετητης) 22:11, 2 Jun 2005 (UTC)
Mel said "I'd hope to see the articles fracture further" and I agree. Further, both the fracturing and the combining can both be done, and done incrementally one argument at a time. In both articles where a similar subject is looked at create an article on that argument, its debate, and so forth; then refer to that article in both the for and against god articles. Repeat one argument at a time until the for and against hold what is truly unique to their individual perspectives which deserve articles in themselves. Arguments against God will be all about Occum's razor, evidence, logical positivism, human delusion and psycology. Arguments for God will be all about the creation of definitional structures with objective provable results no different than the definitional structures of science but with Occum's Rasor's "unneccesarily multiplied entities". The against God need only make the occum's rasor argument once. Every pro-God argument is multiplied entities in a different guise. 18.104.22.168 23:16, 2 Jun 2005 (UTC)
The proposed combination begins "Many arguments for and against the existence of God have been proposed over time. This article lists some of the more common ones. In this context, the term God is used to mean the monotheistic concept of a singular Supreme Being. The common definition of God assumes omnipotence, omniscience and benevolence." which illustrates the difficulties because there are many conceptions of god, each with their own pro and anti arguments. Every believer is a disbeliever in some conceptions of god and eevery atheist would agree the "universe" exists which is the definition of God for some people who wish to emphsize a feeling of awe in themselves towards the universe. 22.214.171.124 23:28, 2 Jun 2005 (UTC)
- That's an important point. The ontological argument fits the intro., but the cosmological arguments are concerned with a first cause, explanation, mover, etc., the design argument with a designer, the argument from morality with a being who can help us to achieve the summum bonum, etc. — none of them mentioning or implying omnipotence, omniscience, or benevolence. Mel Etitis (Μελ Ετητης) 09:50, 3 Jun 2005 (UTC)
I like 4.250's suggestion, but I wouldn't be comfortable wrapping up "the term God" exactly how he has done. And this opens up another issue about the subject of the article in question. Would it really be "Arguments for and against the existence of God" or "Arguments about God"? Of course the former is more interesting. But unless I am mistaken, we are intending that this article or series of articles be about how theism vs. atheism has been discussed, and not about the reality of some provincial deity. So rather than 4.250's last two sentences, I would expect to see something like "In this context, the term God is used to mean a Reality transcendent of the physical universe. Common definitions of God assume some combination of benevolence, omniscience, and omnipotence." Tom Haws 17:08, Jun 3, 2005 (UTC)
The proposed draft is just that - a draft. I wouldn't get too worked up over the details until it's clear we are going to use it. If it looks like we are going to use it, I would suggest having a shakedown period to work out the major bugs before going primetime with it. crazyeddie 08:28, 4 Jun 2005 (UTC)
Back to the topic (or insert new heading here)
Eddie asked me to comment here, so I will. As exists, the pair of articles is fairly NPOV because they clearly point to eachother and have very paralell structure (I made a few minor edits to make their interconnection more paralell.) Combining them might make the article a bit long and unwieldy. Still, I support combining the articles for the following reasons:
- It will make NPOV easier. NPOV is harder when a topic is split by opinion, as coordination across articles is more difficult than coordination within an article.
- The agnostic arguments are currently in the "against" article, and that seems a little inaccurate.
- A combined article will allow the issue to be covered more fully than the sum of the two articles currently covers it.
- Combining the articles will aid in creating a decent definition of the topic. Currently, the header of the "for" article states, "Many arguments for the existence of God exist," so it's not very informative. The header of the "against" article does a little better, but it is still lacking. Combining the articles into Arguments regarding the existence of God (or The existence of God) would allow for a more effective summerization of the topic.
Similarity in language structure is not evidence of similarity. "I have a comb" and "I have an idea" have apparent similarity but not real similarity. So too with "The wind blows", "I blow out the candles", "She blows". Arguments against God are really not arguments against God at all, but are arguments against ANYTHING that adds nothing testable to the existing set of scientific (ie testable) data (sometimes called "theories"). Arguments for God are all dependent on "What God are you talking about?" The unknowable God? THe universe itself? The creator whatever that turns out to be ? The most powerful thing in the universe, no matter what that turns out to be? That which you worship, no matter what that is for you? The God of Abraham? What talks to you in your head? ("He lives! He lives! I know he lives today! He walks with me. He talks with me. He lives within my heart!" - Christian song) 126.96.36.199 22:27, 3 Jun 2005 (UTC)
It seems to me that the current, two-article structure is inherently POV, but probably not for the reasons y'all are thinking. It seems to me that we are assuming that there are only two possible POVs on this issue - either God exists, or He doesn't. As I tried to outline in the draft, there is actually (at least) four POVs, and currently, only two are receiving proper attention.
- Theistic Rationalism - God exits, and this can be proven by either reason or evidence.
- Strong Atheism - The definition of God is logically inconsistent, therefore, the existence of God can be ruled out a priori.
- Weak Atheism - Unlike Strong Atheism, Weak Atheism admits the possibility of God existing. However, this POV states that Occam's Razor places the burden of proof on Theism. Weak Atheism can be justified by rebutting all of Theistic Rationalism's arguments.
- Faith-based Theism - Like Weak Atheism, Faith-based Theism (my own term, might be a more offical one) believes that the existence of God can not (currently) be proven. However, unlike Weak Atheism, this POV either disagrees about how Occam's Razor applies, or believes that other considerations override Occam's Razor. What those other considerations are is outside the scope of this (set of articles|article), but we probably should mention Pascal's Wager, at least in passing.
Under the current structure, the "for" article focuses on Theistic Rationalism, and the "against" article focuses on Strong Atheism. The other two POVs are more-or-less orphaned. Faith-based Theism gets a mention in both articles, but in both cases, it's towards the bottom, as kind of an afterthought. The "for" version is more fleshed-out, maybe because that article receives more attention from Theists in general, or maybe because the "for" version is more mature than the "against" version.
Currently, the Weak Atheism POV is only mentioned in the "against" article, under the slightly-misleading heading of "Argument justifying atheism in general". One thing I find disturbing is this sentence: "The above argument depends on one's ability to disprove arguments for the existence of God. Critiques of some of the more common arguments are found below; more detailed critiques are included within their corresponding articles."
If taken to its logical conclusion, this approach is going to lead to replicating the entire "for" article within the "against" article, along with counterpoints! And I'm pretty sure that this is pretty much the only approach to take when representing the Weak Atheism POV.
The main objection to combining the articles is that the resulting article will be too long. How long is too long is a question I can't answer - it's a matter of taste. All I can say is is that the draft is 7 pages long, compared to the current 4 and 5 page articles. Compare this also to the 11 page FOX News article. I didn't remove any information - in fact, I added a paragraph each from the Strong Atheism and Weak Atheism articles. I personally don't feel that the length is out of line. crazyeddie 08:28, 4 Jun 2005 (UTC)
Hmm, I wrote the above under the impression that the consensus was leaning towards keeping the status quo. Upon rereading, it seems like the consensus is leaning towards combining. (I'm reminded of that one scene from O Brother, Where Art Thou? "Well, I'm voting for me!" "I'm voting for me too!" "I'm with you guys!") Which is it? crazyeddie 08:28, 4 Jun 2005 (UTC)
I strongly disagree with "The main objection to combining the articles is that the resulting article will be too long." I think it makes sense to make one change at a time and see where that leads. So long as each individual change makes sense and is small enough to check (diff) to make sure nothing was lost or distorted it qualifies as standard wiki style editing and no one needs permission to either try that (or revert it if something is lost). Maybe in the end the anti god article turns into a pro science-antisuperstition page, all the defintions of God people seriously agrue about that aren't in god (if any) get added there with a reference to a page giving all the points of view that are encyclopedic on the existence of god as defined by THAT definition - ie one pro-anti-other-existence-arguments per definition to be defended-attacked-other. The pro-God article then becomes a list of the articles just mentioned and gets retitled list of arguments about god's existence. Or maybe not. My main point here is just do it one small JUSTIFYABLE edit at a time rather than trying to get people to sign on to a pig in a poke. 188.8.131.52 14:20, 4 Jun 2005 (UTC)
In a way, you prove my point. Anti-proving God exists is not the same as anti-God. Anti-proving God does not exist is not the same as pro-God. By breaking up the topic into two articles, we are placing focus on the two radical POVs, Theistic Rationalism and Strong Atheism. We are ignoring the two moderate POVs of Weak Atheism and Faith-based Theism. One or the other of the two articles could be turned into an omnibus article on the issue, but only at the cost of wandering off the declared topic of the article.
I'm not selling a pig in a poke - the draft is up for everybody to see and to edit. I realize that this is a big change - which is why I'm trying to gather consensus in the talk page as opposed to doing direct unilateral editing. crazyeddie 18:06, 4 Jun 2005 (UTC)
Do you really want to fit all this and more in one article?
I'm guessing not. But why the heck are you bringing up this strawman argument? crazyeddie 18:00, 4 Jun 2005 (UTC)
It's only a strawman if you expect to put all the arguments for and against the existence of God into one article and NOT include the below arguments. This list is to disabuse anyone of the notion that adequate justice can be done to the subject within the confines of a single article. And that is the least of my concerns with trying to combine the two articles in question. 184.108.40.206 06:46, 5 Jun 2005 (UTC)
- Religions demand faith and discourage attempts to verify their claims through test and experiment, and this fact is less surprising under atheism than theism.
Rarely, if ever, do religious evangelists win converts by presenting the evidence for their faith in a rational manner. Instead, they largely appeal to emotion and the bandwagon, encouraging others to join their belief system because it feels good to do so, regardless of whether it is supported by the facts. New members are then taught to maintain their belief not through continual testing, but through faith, which can be defined as belief in a proposition without sufficient justifying evidence. Indeed, not only are believers not encouraged to test their faith, but they are generally taught that it is outright wrong to do so - that it is a sin to carry out an experiment whose results would enable them to distinguish whether their belief was true or untrue. [I was never told this.] Such activities are generally grouped under the label "putting God to the test", ["Putting God the the test" is to demand proof of his existence by demanding a miracle from him, not by demanding proof in a non-miraculous way.] and most holy books carry stern warnings against attempting it. Some religions go even further by commanding their followers not to read arguments critical of the faith or have any contact with people who were once members but have since left the church. (For more on these and similar tactics, see "Thoughts in Captivity"). [I was never told this. When this is done, it goes against Jesus' instruction. He taught by example, and dined with sinners.] If a particular religion was true, this is not what we would expect. On the contrary, a belief that was true would obviously pass any test it was subjected to, and therefore would have every reason to welcome people to test it so that they could see this for themselves. A belief that was true could be defended purely by recourse to the facts, without demanding its adherents believe in something of which they have no experience. A belief that was true would not need to fear its followers investigating opposing viewpoints for themselves. On the other hand, a belief system that was false, in order to protect itself, would most likely want to discourage its followers from doing things that would lead to them finding that out. Therefore, the anti-empirical attitude of most religions is less surprising under atheism than theism, and thus gives us reason to believe that atheism is more likely to be correct.
- Science is a very effective means of gaining knowledge whereas revelation and scriptural study is not, and this fact is less surprising under atheism than theism.
Throughout human history, people have believed a great many ideas that in retrospect turned out to be wrong. However, what is most striking is the source of many of these incorrect ideas: with few exceptions, they ultimately emanated from religious scripture. The geocentric theory of the solar system; the Noachian deluge as an explanation for the geological record; the age of the Earth estimated as 6000 years old; the separate ancestry and simultaneous appearance of all species; the belief in epidemic diseases as caused by human sin rather than poor hygiene; the intellectual inferiority of non-European races; all these and many more mistaken ideas trace their origins to religious beliefs arrived at through faith without testing (see the previous item). There is not one single fact about the world that has been proven true in the long run and that is both non-trivial and non-obvious for which we ultimately owe credit to religious scripture rather than painstaking empirical examination. [But if God wishes for us to have faith in him, rather than certain knowledge, we should not expect the Bible to contain modern scientific knowledge. If it did, that itself would constitute undeniable proof of God's existence. Scientific truths require that work be done. To have the answer without the work ever having been done would be a miracle, violating conservation laws.] Of course, this is not to say that people following the scientific method have not made mistakes as well[, nor that many great scientists have been Christians.]. Science is primarily a way of studying the world, not an infallible oracle for gaining knowledge. However, science's self-correcting nature enables us to discover these mistakes and fix them, whereas the nature of religious dogma offers no comparable way to correct errors. The result is that all the major advances in our knowledge over the past few hundred years are owed primarily to scientific study of the world; on the other hand, beliefs which were first arrived at through mysticism or faith almost always turn out to be wrong. If any particular religion were true, this is not what we would expect. The effectiveness of science can be explained regardless of whether there is a god or not. [Really? Where does truth come from?] However, if there was a being that had a role in creating the natural laws of the universe, and if some religious belief system was an effective way to contact and communicate with that being, it is reasonable to expect that revelation, either through written texts or personal experience, might occasionally provide genuinely new knowledge. [No it's not. That would be a miracle, as explained above.] But this does not happen. This fact is far less surprising under the assumption of atheism than under the assumption of theism.
- Many religions attempt to suppress outside examination and criticism, and this fact is less surprising under atheism than theism.
Not only do most religions command their own followers not to put their beliefs to the test, many have gone further in taking action even against outsiders who attempt to critically investigate or speak out against them. The medieval European inquisitions that attempted to crush other faiths and silence scientists whose findings ran contrary to church dogma are the most obvious example, but there are many others as well: for example, many Muslim countries today are repressive theocracies where censorship is pervasive and sentences of exile and death are routinely issued against authors whose works are deemed to be blasphemous against Islam. Even in the United States of America, the deluge of threats of impeachment, boycott and even physical harm that instantly and predictably springs up in response to any opinion that is perceived to differ from the prevailing dogma has resulted in few if any nonbelievers being given a platform by major public institutions. Evidently, there are a vast number of religious believers who see nothing wrong with silencing speech whose content they disagree with. [And the same things occur under atheist regimes. The problem is authoritarianism, not the belief system.] As in the first example from this essay, this is to be expected if atheism is true. The church establishments that have accumulated vast amounts of money, power and influence have a vested interest in protecting those assets, and if their beliefs are not in fact true and cannot withstand criticism and investigation, it is to be expected that they would attempt to stifle such criticism if they feel it may be a serious threat. On the other hand, any belief system that is true should have nothing to fear from even the most searching outside examination, and should welcome scrutiny accordingly. This would be doubly true if there did in fact exist a god who would ensure his chosen people triumphed over all adversity. [The meek do inherit the earth ... in the long run.] If God is truly on their side, what are so many faiths so afraid of?
- Many religions have histories of intolerance and violence, and this fact is less surprising under atheism than theism.
Throughout history, religion has been used as a justification for countless crimes against humanity. [Even worse than this has been the oppression and crimes under the atheist regimes.] Some of the most readily recalled examples include [millions who died and were tortured in gulags, killing fields, purges..., ] the medieval Crusades that pitted Christians against Muslims in bloody combat; the witch hunts that led to the torture and unjust execution of thousands of innocents; the Holocaust ([some] Nazi soldiers wore belt buckles that said "God With Us" [as if they believed it!]); the ongoing acts of terrorism waged by Muslim fundamentalists; the creation of tyrannical divine-right monarchies and theocratic [and atheist totalitarian] regimes throughout Europe, Asia and Africa; the long-enduring oppression and unequal treatment of women; and the trans-Atlantic slave trade that persisted for centuries, whose painful legacy of racism and bigotry persists to some extent even today [and abolitionists were mostly Christian, too]. Although religions usually plead for tolerance and freedom of conscience when in the minority, given the chance those same religions often attempt to gain civil power, force the public to support them and oppress or wage war on other faiths. This pattern is far less surprising under atheism than theism. Religious apologists will usually claim that the actions of sinful humans are not evidence against the existence of God, but an atheist can reply that if there was such a being, we would have every right to expect him to prevent such things, or at least clearly show that they were in contradiction to his will. [Why should we have such a right? In order to have truly free will, we must be free not to believe. Undeniable intervention by God would destroy that freedom.] But neither has happened. Nor does belief in any particular religion seem to improve human beings' sense of morality enough to keep them from committing such atrocities. If religions are composed solely of human beings, lacking divine moral guidance, [or if the Devil exists and is active in tempting mankind into sin,] this is to be expected.
- Many religions have cruel or morally unacceptable doctrines, and this fact is less surprising under atheism than theism.
The vast majority of religions postulate that the power that created the universe is benevolent and good, morally worthy of humans' worship and devotion. [God, being God, defines what is good. We don't. God simply demands to be worshipped, regardless of whether we find him "morally worthy", but gives us the freedom not to do so.] In light of this, it is [not] surprising that almost all of these religions also claim that this power has on various occasions commanded, condoned, or directly caused acts of terrible cruelty, [and] violence, and [permitted] evil [to exist]. Foremost among these is the doctrine of Hell, which states that those who fail to worship the creator as he commands will, upon their death, be cast into a realm of agonizing, never-ending suffering. This idea is a vicious and evil absurdity, particularly because it is so often claimed that a merciful and loving god created such a place and desires to send some people there. [However, it is usually claimed that he does not wish to send anyone there, but allows people to choose it by disobeying Him or denying His existence.] (See "Infinite Punishment for Finite Sins" for more on the idea of Hell.) However, this is not by any means the only morally unacceptable doctrine put forth by some religions. As another example, many holy books contain approving records of past genocidal wars waged by the self-proclaimed chosen people against their enemies. [However, since these wars were directed and aided by of God, and God, being God, can choose to do what he wishes, to compare them with human-originated genocides is wrong.] Many others set cruel and disproportionate punishments for the most trifling crimes, or acts that are not crimes at all. For several examples of this pattern from the Bible, see "A Book of Blood". If these religions truly were inspired by a morally good deity, it is bizarre that they contain so many stories approving of bloodshed, violence and torture. Such an outcome is too implausible to believe. [However, since these stories, which could be considered embarassing, have been left in the holy scriptures, shows that they are not trying to hide anything.] On the other hand, if these books were written by human beings alone, in an era where humanity's understanding of morality was still primitive and poorly developed, [or at a time when God necessarily treated humans as children due to their moral immaturity] it is not surprising at all that they contain verses that we today understand to be completely unacceptable.
- Religious societies reflect the prejudices of their time, and this fact is less surprising under atheism than theism.
If a religion was inspired by a consistent and unchanging god not limited by what human beings believed at any particular time, it is [nonetheless un]reasonable to expect that that religion would not merely mirror the changing beliefs of the cultures it passed down through, but would stay essentially the same through time. However, this is not what we find. For example, take slavery. Today, this practice[, especially as it was practiced during the colonial period] is widely recognized as immoral and universally condemned by Western nations of the Judeo-Christian tradition. However, the Jewish and Christian scriptures, which were written in a milieu where slavery [aka involuntary servitude] was common, do not condemn it, but rather accept it and even work it into their teachings as though it were the most normal thing in the world [which it was, for a morally immature, childish people]; and for many centuries the societies that relied on these scriptures accepted it without question. However, with [maturity of the human race, based on widespread acceptance of Jesus' teachings, and] the [subsequent] rise of the abolition movement, these religions' beliefs on the morality of slavery underwent a huge and dramatic shift. Similar reversals have occurred throughout history in many religions regarding many different issues. This is not to say that no churches or religious individuals have ever been at the forefront of movements for social change. But rather than being a unanimous voice for moral progress, [many members of] religious groups [with vested interests] often sustain immoral practices for decades or centuries until the push for reform begins [or is initiated], and even then tend to be deeply split by such disputes. This is what we should expect assuming atheism is true.
- There is a vast amount of religious confusion and disagreement between many different belief systems, and this fact is less surprising under atheism than theism.
Among human cultures both past and present, there is an enormous number of different and incompatible religions. Virtually every society from every era and every region of the planet has had its own pantheons of deities, its own mythologies about the origin of the world and humanity, its own set of rules for how the gods expect us to behave, and its own views about the nature of the afterlife and the fate of the universe. While some of these belief systems bear some resemblance to each other, in general their similarities are far outweighed by their profound differences [though all of them speak to a deep need in the human psyche for a relation to the source of all that exists]; and the further separated by time and space they are, the more different they tend to be. Apologists for these various belief systems have been arguing over which is the correct one for millennia, and yet the dispute is not nearing resolution; there is no end in sight. If anything, many of these belief systems are drawing further and further away from each other rather than nearing a point of unification. If atheism is correct, this is to be expected - if [the majority of] religions spring from human creativity and imagination rather than a common wellspring of revelation, it is hardly surprising that people from a diverse variety of different cultures, times and places have created many different ones. It would be extraordinarily unlikely for many different people who had no contact with each other to independently invent the exact same belief set. On the other hand, if there is a god, it is strange and unexpected that there would be so much religious confusion among humanity. Why would God, if such a being exists, not dispense his message to all people equally? [But then again, why would he if he wants us to have free will? For that matter, why shoudn't he have chosen a people, prepared them for their role in salvation, become incarnate in the world...] For more on this argument, see "The Cosmic Shell Game".
- Religions are fragmented into sects that cannot agree on key issues of doctrine or ethics, and this fact is less surprising under atheism than theism.
Continuing the previous point, even within any particular belief system where all the members agree on the same basic theological principles and teachings, there is a vast diversity of opinion on how to interpret those teachings. The spectrum of interpretations within any given religion runs from extreme liberal to extreme conservative, from figurative to literal, from wide-open ecumenicalism to ardent fundamentalism. As above, the debates between the various points of view within a given religion have in most cases been going on since that religion existed, with the same arguments repeated endlessly by both sides, and with no resolution in sight. Though all participants in such a debate usually agree that they want to follow God's will and are continually asking him to reveal to them what that will is, they are rarely if ever able to reach agreement. This is expected under atheism. If there is no supernatural deity that reliably informs seekers of what was actually meant by a given teaching, it is no surprise that different people cannot agree on what those meanings are, nor is it surprising that these unresolvable arguments continue to lead to the fragmentation of existing religions and the formation of new sects. On the other hand, if there is a god that guides his followers, it is unexpected that this process would be allowed to continue. Why would God not clearly inform all believers what a disputed verse was intended to mean, particularly if holding a correct interpretation of that verse was a requirement for salvation? [The answer, again, is free will.]
- Religions emerge in isolated areas and only then spread in space and time, rather than appearing in every society at once, and this fact is less surprising under atheism than theism.
Given that all human beings are fundamentally the same at the genetic and cognitive levels, it follows as a consequence that any god that desired to communicate with us would probably desire to communicate with all of us. Likewise, given the inherent unfairness of God's directly speaking to only some people and leaving others nothing but indirect and second-hand evidence, especially if there is a penalty for nonbelief, it is to be expected that a religion truly founded by divine revelation would appear in every culture at once. [It would also have to appear repeatedly or continuously, for every generation.] There is no reason to expect God to play favorites. [But there is also no reason that he shouldn't choose to do so, if he decided that that was what he wanted to do. Besides, such revelation, in as much as it occurs, eliminates free will.] But of course, this is not what we find, and that is to be expected if atheism is true. Instead, we find religions that emerge in specific places at specific times, often with specific "chosen" nations or ethnicities, and that only gradually spread via human evangelism. To postulate that any particular religion is true means that millions of people throughout thousands of years of Earth's history lived and died without ever hearing of it. [Though if a religion is inclusive, they need not have heard of it.] For more on this topic, see "The Argument from Locality".
- The mind has a physical basis, and this fact is less surprising under atheism than theism.
[Something that has often been portrayed as] A central part of the doctrine of many religions is that there is an immaterial component to the human mind, called the soul, that provides us with our identity, personality and sense of self and that survives the physical death of our bodies. [However, in Western cultures, this belief was due to infiltration of Greek dualism into religious thinking. Christianity, for example, has emphasized the resurrection of the body.] This claim can now be conclusively disproven by the science of neurology, whose findings have revealed that the fundamental aspects of our consciousness all arise from and are unified with the physical structure of our brain. Damage to specific regions of the brain can fragment our sense of identity, splitting the mind up into distinct spheres of awareness, or erase it entirely by destroying the ability to form new memories, leaving a person caught in an endless mental loop. It can alter one's personality and beliefs - including religious beliefs - in dramatic ways, or exert an uncontrollable influence over behavior, to a point where a person's closest friends and relatives believe they are no longer the same person they once were. Such changes are very strange and surprising under a theistic hypothesis of the [independent] soul, but not at all surprising if we assume the atheistic position that the mind arises purely from the functioning of the brain. See "A Ghost in the Machine" for more information.
- Gratuitous evil and unnecessary suffering are abundant, and this fact is less surprising under atheism than theism.
It has long been recognized, even by theists, that the one fact about the world that is most unexpected and difficult to explain under the assumption of a benevolent creator is the existence of evil. But it is not just the mere fact of suffering that should give theists pause, but rather its magnitude and its distribution. There is not just a small amount of suffering in the world, but a vast, horrendous amount, stemming not just from acts of evil committed by human beings against each other, but also from natural disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis, droughts and epidemics. And evil is not distributed fairly, afflicting only those who deserve it, but rather seemingly by chance, striking the bad and the good alike. In fact, often suffering seems to avoid the truly evil while concentrating on the undeserving innocent. If there is a powerful being overseeing the world whose attributes include goodness and justice, it should be surprising in the extreme that evil occurs as it does. On the other hand, if there is no higher power other than the impersonal natural laws that do not take human needs into account, it is not surprising at all that suffering exists. Therefore, when it comes to explaining evil, atheism has by far the superior explanation, and this gives us strong reason to think that atheism is true. For more on the argument from evil, see "All Possible Worlds". [But there is also a rich apologetic tradition. See Theodicy.]
- Naturalism is the norm, and this fact is less surprising under atheism than theism.
This point can best be summarized as "miracles don't happen". Obvious supernatural events are nonexistent, although the holy books of most religions assure us they were common [or, actually, occurred only in extraordinary circumstances, in order to prepare the way for, or through, Christ] in the distant past. Claims of miraculous occurrences invariably turn out to be either trivial, anecdotal, spurious, or based on arguments from ignorance (i.e., "We don't understand the cause of this, so it must be a miracle"). Science, the human enterprise which seeks to explain the universe by the operation of natural laws without invocation of the supernatural, has been resoundingly successful at this goal; so far a huge variety of phenomena have come into the sphere of our understanding, and none have been found that resist natural explanation. These facts are, of course, to be expected under atheism. If the supernatural does not exist, then everything that happens must have a natural explanation, and it is no surprise that we do not observe any unambiguous miracles. Conversely, it is most unexpected under theism that God does not perform them more often, especially since a significant number of positive effects would probably result. See "One More Burning Bush".
- There is no clear evidence of the existence of any gods, and this fact is less surprising under atheism than theism.
Not only are there no obvious miracles, human beings do not possess any clear communication from God even in ways that are not obviously supernatural, such as the simple, basic ways we relate to each other. Nor does God perform any activities in our daily lives, not even simple, ordinary activities, in a way that can be reliably attributed to him. Although most religions assure us it is well within God's power to disclose his existence and speak to us and interact with us in such a way that we could be sure that the message was genuine, this does not happen. Instead, believers claim to be assured of God's existence based on mere inward conviction, which is not a reliable guide to the nature of reality regardless of how strong it is, and on documents written, interpreted and approved by human beings. Any clear communication or activity from God would obviously be a death blow for atheism, but no such thing has happened [or so they believe]. On the other hand, if atheism is true, we would fully expect that this would be the case. We would fully expect that believers would rely solely on subjectively acquired feelings inaccessible to outside verification, and that apologists and evangelists would go around telling each other that they have discovered the truth about God, although every single source the various factions cite[, except Jesus,] would, ultimately, be a human source. We would fully expect that, although theists claim that "God is love", he would never appear and show that love to us in the way a parent shows love to their children. We would expect that careful and painstaking examination of every aspect of the world would uncover a grand web of cause and effect, but not the slightest trace of influence of a power that stands above it all. [Again: free will.]
- Religious texts contain many contradictions and historical inaccuracies, and this fact is less surprising under atheism than theism.
If a particular book was dictated to humans by a perfect and self-consistent deity, it is to be expected that that book would likewise be free of internal error and contradiction. Similarly, if a book was the product of a being that was present when the events narrated in that book took place, we would expect it to contain an accurate account of those events. However, when examining religious texts, this is not what we actually find [because the Bible is generally held to be inspired by God, not "dictated" by Him.] Instead, [because of this,] we find books that contain many mutually contradictory or incompatible verses. In addition, when it is possible to independently verify these books' historical accuracy through archaeological or other scientific investigation, we often [or, more accurately, sometimes] find that they contain many passages which are implausible or false[, though it is typical for the passages to be confirmed]. For examples of such contradictions in the holy texts of two major religious traditions, see "Foundation of Sand" and "Much Incongruity". For examples of historical inaccuracies in these traditions, see "Let the Stones Speak". This observation is less surprising under atheism than theism. Contradictions or errors in a given religious text, of course, do not prove that that text was not divinely inspired, but it is much more surprising that a text inspired by a god would contain errors than that a purely human-written one would. Similarly, the errors in any one text do not mean that all religions are false, but the more we examine and find to contain such errors, the more confidence we can have in an inductive generalization that all of them are probably the same way.
- Arguments for God's existence suffer from irreparable logical flaws, and this fact is less surprising under atheism than theism.
Throughout the ages, theologians and philosophers have been attempting to devise rational proofs of God's existence; and without exception, all such efforts have fallen short [because God refuses to be pinned down, because it would eliminate free will]. Not only do these arguments ultimately fail, many of them are actually premised on fundamental logical fallacies. For example, the classic pro-theistic argument known as the ontological argument suffers from circularity, while the cosmological argument is built on special pleading, and the argument from design is really just a disguised argument from ignorance. The moral argument for God's existence has been dogged for centuries by the insoluble Euthyphro rebuttal, while the more recent presuppositional arguments rely on the fallacy of the false dilemma. For more detailed refutations of these and other pro-theistic arguments, see "Unmoved Mover". Granted, it is possible for God to exist and for there also to be no irrefutable arguments proving that fact. However, this outcome is still less surprising under atheism than theism. If theism is true, it is not at all unreasonable to expect that God might have structured the universe so that reason would enable us to detect that fact. On the other hand, if atheism is true, then the ultimate failure of all pro-theistic arguments is the only possible outcome (assuming, of course, that logic does bear some correspondence to reality). Certainly the failure of many intelligent people throughout the ages to conclusively prove the existence of God should tell us something[, such as that God is smarter than they are].
- There are moral, fulfilled, happy people from all religious backgrounds and also among nonbelievers, and this fact is less surprising under atheism than theism.
Many religions claim that genuine satisfaction in life can only be found by belonging to that religion and worshipping its deity, and that all attempts to acquire happiness any other way will ultimately end in misery and frustration. Were any particular religion true, we might well expect to find that this was indeed the case. But this is not what we find. Instead, even a cursory search will reveal that there are a vast number of wise, virtuous, spiritual and happy people from every religious background and from atheism as well. No religious belief system's adherents are substantially better at dealing with life's ups and downs, on the average, than members of any other [religious] belief system[, although there is data that shows that religious folk are generally happier than nonreligious]. This is exactly as we would expect if no one religion had a monopoly on the truth, giving further support to atheism. 220.127.116.11 06:46, 5 Jun 2005 (UTC)
First, why does anyone for a moment feel occums razor might justify atheism? Isn't the simplest possible answer to any question "because God wills it thus"? Every explained and unexplained phenomena can be ascribed to God w prescious little asumptions whatsoever. Just because assuming there is an omnipresent God requires an assumption doesn't mean its not a simpler explanation that essentially any other argument for any given state of affairs. For example, what is the simplest explanation for the existence of life?
- Ockham's Razor says that one shouldn't multiply entities beyond necessity. We already have the entities of the world (mental and physical), so unless we need to introduce other kinds of entity (gods, ghosts, fairies, chimæras, etc.) in order to explain the world, we shouldn't. This approach is sometimes referred to as "Stratonician atheism". Mel Etitis (Μελ Ετητης) 19:25, 4 Jun 2005 (UTC)
It is curious and revealing that you would bring Dualism (mental and physical being the two types of entities in your paradigm) into this. It is as tho theists "introduced" God as some sort of unified field theory or Theory of everything, and perhaps that is so. But, for the sake of argument, assuming it is, isn't science a similarly introduced concept, albeit vastly more complex in its assumptions, and limited in its capabilities? Philosphy again is a similarly contrived concept, which you seem to be suggesting should be done away with as "excess". Unless, as I'm sure you do, you feel a need for these concepts. While you may not "feel a need" for the concept of God, I find your argument that he is in any way a more assuming explanation for any matter than any other... as sophistic as Strato's machinations. Sam Spade 19:54, 4 Jun 2005 (UTC)
- As I haven't given an argument for dualism (or indeed for anything else), I'm not sure what you're talking about. You asked a question and I was trying to be helpful. Silly me. Mel Etitis (Μελ Ετητης) 20:16, 4 Jun 2005 (UTC)
You gave an argument for the usage of occums razor by atheists as an excuse for rejecting God. I provided a rebuttel. Your dualism simply seems to be a byproduct of that. Anyway, the fact is athiests do use such an argument, whether I think it is absurd or not, so it continues to be encyclopedic. Sam Spade 20:24, 4 Jun 2005 (UTC)
- I explained the argument in response to your question as to why anyone would think that Ochkam's Razor led to atheism. I'm not sure what you think my dualism is a byproduct of, but never mind. Mel Etitis (Μελ Ετητης) 22:00, 4 Jun 2005 (UTC)
In Occam's Razor we find: "When deciding between two models which make equivalent predictions, choose the simpler one," makes the point that a simpler model that doesn't make equivalent predictions is not among the models that this criteria applies to in the first place.  18.104.22.168 03:52, 5 Jun 2005 (UTC)
The source quoted says:
Interpretations of Occam's Razor
The principle of Occam's Razor is very subtle and has been interpreted in several different ways. Here we discuss the main interpretations we know of and highlight the differences between them. At the end, we describe two distinct underlying principles that we believe are at the heart of these various interpretations.
1. When deciding between two models which make equivalent predictions, choose the simpler one.
This rule tells us which underlying model to favor when more than one will produce the results we want. (If you're not clear on the difference between a model and a classifier, see the section on philosophical foundations.)
The idea here is best seen in a historical example. Galileo showed that gravity pulls objects downward with a constant acceleration. Kepler separately observed that the planets follow nearly elliptical orbits around the sun. Then Newton showed that both of these laws could be derived as corollaries from his universal law of gravitation. Once this was shown, it was preferable to adopt Newton's unified theory, rather than the combination of Galileo's and Kepler's. The motivation for this preference comes from interpretation 1 above: better to assume one model which explains both observations than a separate model for each phenomenon. (In fact, Newton's theory turned out to match the astronomical data better than Kepler's, but it would have been preferable even if it had only been equivalent.)
In other words, this rule tells us to assume only what we need to assume for our observations to make sense. Once Newton's assumptions are shown to account for both astronomy and mechanics, Kepler's and Galileo's assumptions become redundant and, the principle tells us, should be discarded. Atheists often use a similar argument to undermine theism. God was as good an explanation for man's existence as any, they say, until Darwin showed that the fundamental laws of life could account for our evolution. This does not disprove the existence of God, but to the atheist it goes a long way towards making the assumption of His existence redundant, and consequently - by Occam's Razor - expendable.
2. If two decision rules classify the existing data equally well, the simpler one is more likely to classify future data correctly.
3. Given a simple decision rule A, and a much more complex rule B which classifies the existing data only slightly better than A, A is likely to classify future data better than B.
Both of these interpretations are really just special cases following from a more primitive claim, which holds that when assessing the likelihood of future success of different classifiers, we should consider not only their performance on existing data but also their relative simplicities. In other words:
4. Simpler classifiers are more likely to be correct.
Consider the example of the three chili/tomato classifiers from the introduction. In any typical circumstance we prefer the simple quadratic curve (B) over the complicated curve (C) - that is, we think B is more likely to correctly classify future data than C. This is because we believe the smooth shape of B probably reflects some reliable property of the data, whereas the squiggles of C depend only on random noise in the existing sample. But where does this belief come from?
Interpretation 4 above is the answer. If simple classifiers were no more likely to be correct than complicated ones, we would prefer C over B, since it agrees better with the available data. It is only the bias for simplicity that motivates us to choose B.
The Two Underlying Principles
We claim that all standard interpretations of Occam's Razor derive their force from one or both of two separate principles, exemplified by 1 and 4 above.
The first principle (1) states that one should favor the simplest model which explains the observations. So, assume the minimal assumptions of Newton, rather than the combined asumptions of Galileo and Kepler. We will refer to this principle as Occam's Razor proper, since it is closer to the principle formulated and applied by William of Ockham. Note that this is a claim about what we should believe - an epistemological principle.
The second principle (4) states that simpler classifiers are more likely to be correct. So, all else being equal, we favor a simpler classifier over a more complicated one. We even prefer simpler classifier B over classifier C despite a small decrease in agreement with the training set. This is essentially a metaphysical claim, positing a general (probabilistic) property about the world, and we will refer to it as the Rule of Simplicity to distinguish it from Ockham's more epistemological principle.
The relationship between these principles is nuanced and deserves treatment at greater length than we can afford here. Consider the Rule of Simplicity. Is it a contingent property of the world, or is it in some sense a necessary property of any imaginable world? Can we imagine a world in which the Rule of Simplicity does not apply? Or alternatively, might the Rule in some way be an a priori consequence of Occam's Razor proper? These are profound and difficult questions, which deserve to be struggled with by the scientists and philosophers whose work they underlie. 22.214.171.124 04:03, 5 Jun 2005 (UTC)
Thanks for asking 126.96.36.199 04:03, 5 Jun 2005 (UTC)
The current draft looks promising. Its NOT putting everything in one article. And it IS addressing important issues/points of view not adequately dealt with currently. My question at this point is why not launch the draft now or when ready as a new article WITHOUT deleting the existing two, at first anyway. Wikipedia editing is about open editing on regular article pages, and this is an end run around that. Maybe there is a good reason for those choices. In any case, the quality of the draft is its best selling point; especially as it's addressing the very concerns brought up here. It's looking promising. Very promising. 188.8.131.52 07:13, 5 Jun 2005 (UTC)
My plan is to link to the draft from the talk pages of both articles. When there is consensus that the draft is ready for primetime, I plan to replace the current version of the "for" article with the draft, move the "for" article to a new name, probably "Arguments for and against the existence of God". I would then redirect the "against" article to the new page. Moving the "for" article will preserve the history. I picked the "for" article because it seems to be more mature, should have a longer history.
AFAICT, the above process should be reversible by any contributor, no administrator rights required.
Does anybody object to the plan? If not, I'll go ahead and link to the draft from the "against" talk pages as well. crazyeddie 21:51, 5 Jun 2005 (UTC)
And no sooner than I put it there, but what do you know someone adds his two cents (and worth two cents). Well, this will be an interesting experiment. Don't delete the draft version too soon, it may yet prove to be the more useful strategy... Or not... As I say, an interesting experiment. 184.108.40.206 04:33, 6 Jun 2005 (UTC)
- Not I. Tom Haws 16:12, Jun 18, 2005 (UTC)
Okay, looks like there is a consensus for the merger both here and over on the "against" page. Merger notice going up. crazyeddie 03:44, 25 Jun 2005 (UTC)
"Objective Observer" website may be satirical
I was looking at articles at the Objective observer website, (specifically [God as "super" evolved life]) and I am becoming suspicious. Some of the arguments are so farcical that I think It very well may be a website of satire or parody (of weak creationist arguments for god). I've emailed the creator of the webiste and I hope to get a response on its status soon.
Clarification: Last I checked, there was a pretty clear consensus in favor of the merger. So I'm not actually asking "Is this a good idea?", but "Should we do this now or wait a bit?" crazyeddie 6 July 2005 18:27 (UTC)
(One revert later...) Okey dokey, I'll ask it again. Is there anything that still has to be done (aside from removing the links back to the original unmerged articles, which need to stay up until the merger is complete) before we make Arguments for the existence of God and Arguments against the existence of God redirects to Existence of God? crazyeddie 08:50, 20 July 2005 (UTC)