Metro State Atheists

Promoting Science, Reason, and Secular Values

Vice President’s Commentary On Bob Enyart’s Interview Of Joel

By Chalmer Wren, VP of Metro State Atheists

Yesterday at 3:00pm Metro State Atheists’ President and co-founder, Joel Guttormson, was interviewed by Bob Enyart on AM 670 KLTT.  While I was not interviewed, I did have a great deal to say regarding the content of the interview, so I thought I would share my thoughts with all of you.  If you didn’t catch the show, check it out at http://kgov.com/bel/20090107.  Before getting into things, though, I would like to mention that I accompanied Joel to the studio and had the pleasure of meeting Bob myself.  Bob was polite and accommodating.  Joel and I both had a great time, and we are both very grateful to Bob for inviting us to appear on the show.  Also, Bob, if you read this please let me know if I misrepresented you or the points you made.

Near the beginning of the interview, Bob asked Joel why he is an Atheist.  Joel gave some information about his background, but never specifically answered the question. Firstly, we believe that there is insufficient evidence to reasonably conclude that God(s) exist.  We feel that the burden of proof is on the believer, and unless the believer can produce good evidence, we have no reason to agree with them.  Secondly, we think it is reasonable to conclude that God(s), or at least most of the ones that have been presented to us, probably do not exist.

We hold to the improbability of God(s) for several reasons.  Many of the God(s) presented to us have logically inconsistent definitions.  Epicurus first introduced what is generally referred to as the problem of evil in the following quotation:

Either God wants to abolish evil, and cannot; or he can, but does not want to. If he wants to, but cannot, he is impotent. If he can, but does not want to, he is wicked. If God can abolish evil, and God really wants to do it, why is there evil in the world?

This is only one example at an attempt to reconcile the conflicting attributes often assigned to God.  For more examples, you might try David Hume, one of my favorite philosophers.  These sort of objections to God'(s’) existence are not at all uncommon, and should not be hard to find.  Click here for more information on the problem of evil. I don’t want to get into the details of these arguments right now, but would be glad to expand on any of them if asked to do so.  I should clarify that we are not absolutely certain that no God(s) exist, we simply think that the most reasonable conclusion, given our present evidence and understanding,  is that God(s) probably does not exist.

Joel mentions that he is an empiricist; as am I.  Within the scope of epistemology,  three main groups exist which are empiricism, dualism, and rationalism.  None of these epistemological positions necessarily restrict one from or force one to believe in God(s).  Empiricism is the position that knowledge comes exclusively from the senses.  David Hume was an empiricist and, while some might disagree, I believe that Immanuel Kant was an empiricist as well.  Rationalism is the position that knowledge is is not acquired from experience, but that it is innate.  Dualism, as the name implies, sits right in the middle of the aforementioned views.  Dualism is the position that some knowledge comes from experience, and that some is innate.  Rene Descartes and Plato, for example, were dualists.  For more on dualism, click here.

Now, based on the discussion between Joel and Bob, I suspect that Bob is a dualist.  This is not at all surprising.  Though dualism does not necessarily lead to theism, or the converse, philosophical dualism is the prevailing outlook in western religion (not to say that it isn’t prevalent else were).  I can only speculate that this is becuase dualism, if presumed accurate, makes believing in God(s) a great deal easier becuase it allows for the existence of a non-physical aspect of our reality.

Joel mentions he is a theoretical math major early on, which later prompts Bob to challenge the basis of Joel’s empiricism by appealing to the non-physical nature of the principles expressed in mathematics.  The objection that I believe Bob is making  is essentially that concepts are of a non-physical nature.  He goes on to give a clever analogy, stating

“If you rubbed your hand on a  piece of paper over an equation could you feel that its valid”

Though this is a valid point, I does not refute the notion that mathematical concepts are non-physical.  We hold that concepts, ideas, notions, and other cognitive occurrences are a manifestation of physical interactions in the brain.  Though we can not observe a principle in the way we can smell flowers or hear music, principles and concepts must stem from observation.  Our concepts of depth, color, or even complexity are abstract derivations that we reach by thinking about our observations.  I challenge anyone reading this to find within themselves a concept that neither describes a direct observation or that can be abstracted from an observation.  I see no reason to conclude that conceptual understanding is not an emergent property of the natural human mind.  For more on this topic, please see The Mind Body Problem.  This particular topic is far to extensive for me to cover it in this post, but anyone interested in more details should ask.

Bob goes on to claim that reason, or rather our ability to apply reason to our observations, precede our observations.  The ability to reason can not be observed, and I agree with Bob on this.  However, the ability to reason could just as easily be attributed to the natural human mind as it could to a spirit or soul.  Reason, we believe, is an intrinsic function of the physical human brain, just as acceleration is a property of a functioning automobile.

Well that’s all for now.  I could talk about epistemology for days, so I will refrain from further elaboration unless someone asks for it.  Once again, thank you Bob Enyart and KGOV for having us.

- Chalmer Wren

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January 8, 2009 - Posted by | atheism, god, Interview, Mathematics, Metro State Atheists, News, Newsletter, religion | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

8 Comments »

  1. [...] Chalmer’s Commentary [...]

    Pingback by Joel Guttormson on Bob Enyart Live 1/7/08 « Metro State Atheists | January 9, 2009

  2. [...] Chalmer’s Commentary [...]

    Pingback by Joel Guttormson debates radio show host Bob Enyart (AM 670) « Metro State Atheists | January 9, 2009

  3. Nice blog. I subscribed to it immediately. I’m somewhat of an empiricist as well, though a show I watched on Discovery threw a wrench into my beliefs. It was a documentary about a matter that exists only at temperatures approaching absolute zero, Bose-Einstein condesate (see wikipedia). Bose and Einstein used math to predict this condensate and it took scientists years to actually create it, but they did. Now without math, this feat would have never been accomplished. I’m having trouble grappling with cause and effect and whether or not math created such a substance. Obviously since it happened it is a naturally occurring substance, but no math, no substance.

    Comment by Paul | January 9, 2009

  4. Great article. Very well thought out and deftly written. As for the quote from Epicurus and the problem of evil, I would say that God is in the process of abolishing evil. He is abolishing evil while preserving freewill. Even in our own existence, we experience this battle. Paul describes this well in Romans 7:22-25–

    “For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.”

    Comment by Prisca | January 9, 2009

  5. Paul, thanks for the info. I’ll check up on it immediately.

    Comment by Metro State Atheists | January 9, 2009

  6. It’s my understanding that theorists start with the work of experimentalists. It’s tempting to say that because the theorist ‘works’ purely in theory that his accomplishments have no empirical basis. But that’s not the case. Instead, these guys are working on describing a logically coherent system from established experimental (or at least empirical) data. The final part of the process is when some time further down the line, the theorist’s work is in turn given back to the experimentalist for verification — as in the Bose-Einstein condensate. Math is just the tool for extrapolation used by the theorist; it has no generative effect on reality. As far as I know anyhow.

    Comment by Weston Beecroft | January 9, 2009

  7. KGOV is not a radio station, it’s Bob Enyart’s website, http://www.KGOV.com. Joel was interviewed on the Bob Enyart Live Show on AM 670 KLTT in Denver.

    Comment by Scott Evans | January 19, 2009

  8. Thanks Scott

    Comment by Metro State Atheists | January 19, 2009


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