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
January 8, 2009 Posted by Metro State Atheists | atheism, god, Interview, Mathematics, Metro State Atheists, News, Newsletter, religion | AM 690, atheism, Bob Enyart, Bob Enyart Interview, Brain, Chalmer Wren, David Hume, Dualism, Empericism, Epicurus, Epistemology, god, Gods, Hume, Immanuel Kant, Joel Guttormson, Joel Guttormson Interview, Kant, KGOV, Logic, Metro State Atheists, Mind Body Problem, philosophy, Plato, Problem of Evil, radio, Rationalism, Reason, Rene Decarte, Theism, theology, Vice President | 8 Comments
Metro State Atheists is an affiliate of The Center for Inquiry (CFI), Secular Student Alliance and American Atheists; Which are not-for-profit organizations uniting freethinking, skeptic, secularist, atheist/agnostic, and humanist students and student organizations.
Our purposes are:
- To encourage freedom from superstition, irrationalism, and dogma;
- To further the acceptance and application of science, reason, and critical thinking in all areas of human endeavor;
- Advancing the public understanding and appreciation of science;
- To challenge misrepresentations of non-religious convictions and lifestyles;
- To create a campus community for freethinkers and skeptics.;
- To counter all forms of religious political extremism;
- To defend religious freedom, promote freedom of thought and inquiry concerning religious beliefs, creeds, dogmas, tenets, rituals, and practices, and, to advocate, labor for, and promote in all lawful ways the complete and absolute separation of state and church;
- To defend individual freedoms and civil liberties for all persons, regardless of race, sex, gender, class, creed, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and disability and Fighting racism, sexism, ethnocentrism, and heterosexism;
- To unite freethinkers, skeptics, and humanists and consolidate campus resources to engage in such social, educational, legal, and cultural activity as will be useful and beneficial to the members of Metro State Atheists and to society as a whole;
- Exposing pseudoscience;
- Investigating claims of the paranormal;
- Safeguarding the freedom of expression and opposing censorship;
- Defending academic freedom;
- Challenging academic fads and orthodoxy;
- Debating the philosophy of science, skepticism, and theism;
- Exploring secular and humanist ethics;
- To collect and disseminate information, data, and literature on all religions and promote a more thorough understanding of them, their origins, and their histories;
- To encourage the development and public acceptance of a humane ethical system stressing the mutual sympathy, understanding, and interdependence of all people and the corresponding responsibility of each individual in relation to society;
- To develop and propagate a social philosophy in which humankind is central and must itself be the source of strength, progress, and ideals for the well-being and happiness of humanity;
We are also a member of College Atheists of Colorado.
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