Thursday, May 09, 2013

How to Be a Morally Responsible Skeptic MP3 Audio by Dallas Willard

Philosopher Dallas Willard makes the case that disbelief is not a stance to be taken lightly. Individuals have a responsibility to assume the burden of proof for their disbelief. Dallas Willard died on May 8, 2013 and will be missed by many. Find his books here.

Full MP3 Audio here. (from Veritas)

Enjoy.

18 comments :

Da Bomb said...

I have not listened to it but I can tell kinda what he may say.

To me there is no such thing as a dis-belief.
I may be wrong on this?

Everyone objectively believes something and their worldview is based on that belief.

Eg. Atheism believes (has faith) in no God therefore having faith that this universe was not made or guided.
Even if it is agnostic atheism, I bet that even though they say they don't know if there is a God...they will live as if there is no God :) Therefore acting out the belief of atheism.

The Bible says that faith is evidence of things unseen.

It is unseen that there is a God but there is evidence for Him.

It is also unseen that there is no God even if there is evidence against Him (I said evidence not proof).

Aaaaahhh NE way, just throwing out some thoughts.

I appreciate your blog Brian!

blessings

DB

P.S. I am no philosopher as you can probably tell...it's all about learning though LOL

Brian said...

There are a few preliminary notes on the Veritas link above.

I agree that whatever view one holds, it is a positive belief. Every negation of one view entails an affirmation of another. Which is why I think the definition of atheism as "lack of belief in God" is a cop-out. I might as well define my theism as "lack of belief in the non-existence of God!"

For those who have not listened yet, check it out for yourself and see if Da Bomb got it right! : )

Thanks for your comments, DB.

Thomas said...

Haven't had a chance to listen to this yet, but was wondering: Has anyone here had a chance to read Willard's new book "Knowing Christ Today"? From what I've heard, it addresses this topic of skepticism. I've also heard its quite good!

Looking forward to both this lecture and the book!

Lee said...

"Philosopher Dallas Willard makes the case that disbelief is not a stance to be taken lightly. Individuals have a responsibility to assume the burden of proof for their disbelief."

OK, Dallas et al - let's here the proof for the non-existence of the fairies at the bottom of my garden.

Or perhaps, the invisible blue unicorn?

No no, I want to hear the evidence against the teapot in orbit around the Sun.

Sorry, make a claim and the burden of proof is with that person.

I just don't have a belief in gods, the only evidence I need to provide is that I don't believe in the evidence for gods.

It is my only claim.

I can however provide more evidence and reason why I don't believe in the Christian God - but first I need someone to define that God, otherwise I will be chasing shadows.

Lee

Brian said...

Lee,
Are you saying you are an agnostic then?

Lee said...

Hi Brian,

Define atheist and agnostic.

If atheist is defined as knowing for certain there are no gods – then that is a faith position and not where you will find me. With this definition, I am NOT an atheist, so does that make me agnostic?

Don’t think so, I am not in the middle of is there or is there not a god. (You might have noticed)

What I will say though is all the definitions of the theistic God have even failed or remain unproven in my view. So, I see the theistic god like I do the Loch Ness monster, fairies at the bottom of the garden, Bigfoot, alien abductions etc etc.

They all might be true, but I would like too see the evidence, reason and logic first.

Does that help?

Maybe I am just an unbeliever - a sceptic?

Lee

Brian said...

If atheist is defined as knowing for certain there are no gods – then that is a faith position and not where you will find me. With this definition, I am NOT an atheist

If you knew something for certain, how would you there be faith involved? It is when you don't know something for certain that you need some faith! Therefore, atheism (without certainty) and theism are both faith positions because they don't rely on certainty.

...I am not in the middle of is there or is there not a god.

You either believe God exists or you believe God doesn't exist or you don't know.
So you are not a theist. You are not an agnostic. So you are an atheist. But why quibble over definitions?

Well, if I asked you the question: "Do you believe God exists?" what would your answer be?

A theist says "yes."
An atheist says "no."
An agnostic says "I don't know."

Lee said...

Hi Brian,

If you knew something for certain, how would you there be faith involved?

Good point.

So do you place faith higher than evidence?

When there is no evidence one way or the other - I will sit on the fence.

When the evidence that we have points in a particular direction - I will place bets on that.

Funny really though all this.

I thought if I were to ask most Christians if they are certain about God’s existence, they would say yes. So this isn't a faith position?

So can I really be an uncertain atheist then?

I'm happy with that.

It is when you don't know something for certain that you need some faith!

That doesn’t make much sense.

I don’t know for certain whether the Loch Ness monster exists or not, I don’t have much faith that it does, and I think I need even less to think that it doesn’t.

So maybe a hint of faith, but not in the same order as religion suggests.

Therefore, atheism (without certainty) and theism are both faith positions because they don't rely on certainty.

Why do theists so much want to place atheism into the faith camp?

I have faith that the sun will raise tomorrow, you have faith that Jesus rose from the dead after 3 days.

Not really in the same league are we :-)

You either believe God exists or you believe God doesn't exist or you don't know.

Let’s play a little word game… I will change just the one key word.

“You either believe that Bigfoot exists, or you believe Bigfoot doesn't exist or you don’t know”

Now, where do you stand?

I assume in the “don’t know” camp – but this then seems to place the existence of Bigfoot as 50/50, I doubt you believe that.

I don’t know for certain, but I am fairly certain that Bigfoot doesn’t exist.

So your options seem to place me into a corner that I don’t really belong.

So you are not a theist. You are not an agnostic. So you are an atheist. But why quibble over definitions?

I don’t mind being called an atheist – it is just a label, and saves a lot of time. However, it does create confusion (as we are finding now)

Some Christians think that an atheist is certain that there is no God. As I pointed out - this is not my position. Never has been. (If it was, why would I talk so much about the subject? No one debates whether apple when dropped from a tree will fall to the ground. On the subject of God, there is uncertainty)

So again, I do not know for certain God does not exist – if you are happy still to call me an atheist, then that is fine we me, really it is.

Well, if I asked you the question: "Do you believe God exists?" what would your answer be?

A theist says "yes."
An atheist says "no."
An agnostic says "I don't know."


None of the above :-)

I am almost certain that God (as defined by most Christians) does not exist :-)

I cannot say, will not say, that 100% you might notice. Never do I feel it is a 50/50 choice of yes or no.

Anyway, define your God so I can examine Him – then I will tell you whether I believe or not.

It is that simple… define a load of negatives as many do i.e. God is without this, without that, not this and not that., then I actually have nothing to examine, and therefore nothing to reject or believe.

Make sense?

Lee

Brian said...

So do you place faith higher than evidence?

I would say that faith is based on evidence. Faith is the necessary step one must take when one does not have certainty. It is a placement of trust based upon reasons.

The theist has reasons to place faith in God. Faith in God doesn't start with certainty. I would also say the position of atheism (however defined) is also a conclusion or stance based upon reasons and not certainty. Therefore, it requires a certain amount of faith (trust) to say a position is true when you don't have certainty.

When there is no evidence one way or the other - I will sit on the fence.

That stance would be understandable if there were no evidence. But there is evidence that points in both directions. (Evidence being reasons to believe a certain view is the way things are in reality.)

Wouldn't it more accurate to say that there is evidence for God but you reject it for whatever reason? In addition, it seems to me that what you are looking for is not evidence, but certain proof. As if you must have proof that can't be doubted in order for you to accept God's existence.

Brian said...

When the evidence that we have points in a particular direction - I will place bets on that.

Now here we could talk about the evidence for atheism, which is exactly what Dallas Willard is talking about in his talk (which is how this discussion got started way back when!) Even if you rejected Christianity in particular because it seemed untenable to you, you would still need to provide some good reasons to believe that atheism is true. Or naturalism would be something that, if you held that as a view, you would need to provide some reasons for... not just assert it.

I thought if I were to ask most Christians if they are certain about God’s existence, they would say yes. So this isn't a faith position?

But if you asked most Christians if they have evidence that is certain, they would say no. It is possible to know something with certainty without having certain proofs. (that my wife loves me, for example) I would bet my life on it. But no way could I prove it. Moreover, that is a relationship that entails trust, which is experiential knowledge.

So can I really be an uncertain atheist then?
I suppose you could say that you were an atheist but wasn't certain. But as I see it, that would be like saying simply that you were atheist/agnostic. That is, if you had to make a choice on how to live your life, you live it believing there is no God. But when pressed to justify it, you would revert to agnosticism.

Brian said...

"It is when you don't know something for certain that you need some faith!"

That doesn’t make much sense.


That doesn't apply to the agnostic position. But it doese apply to theism and atheism, because both make a truth claim. Theists would hold that "God exists" is true. But without proof that is certain, that position requires faith. Atheism holds that "God does not exist" is true. But again, without proof that is certain, that position requires faith.
That is what I mean by that.

Why do theists so much want to place atheism into the faith camp?

Simply because their position cannot be proved demonstrably until death when we meet our maker and judge.

“You either believe that Bigfoot exists, or you believe Bigfoot doesn't exist or you don’t know”

Now, where do you stand?


I believe that bigfoot doesn't exist. I aknowledge that I might be wrong. However, it's not an issue that I need to stake my life on. Theism is different because it is one of the most fundamental metaphysical questions at the core of our existence. It determines how we will live in this life, how we view reality, and our ultimate destiny. Even if I was not sure about whether God existed or not, I would sure be trying to find out. Big foot... not so much.

I am almost certain that God (as defined by most Christians) does not exist :-)

So would you say that atheism is almost certainly true?

Before we get into describing God for you (which you are already certain does not exist), let me ask you this:

Do you think naturalism is true? (naturalism is what Carl Sagan believed -- "the universe is all there was, is and will ever be?"

Lee said...

Hi Brian

Thanks for the reply – you have given me more than I can reply to this morning – my train awaits as always.

Also, I might not have much time this week, as my PC is giving me trouble and I am planning to rebuild it.

SO, just a few comments.

Wouldn't it more accurate to say that there is evidence for God but you reject it for whatever reason?

Please define this God first, then I will see if the evidence points to this God.

All you have done, it would seem, is claim everything to be evidence for God and thus proving to yourself your own belief.

A belief you had before you started investigating critically.

I have no reason to reject good evidence, if it were presented, that pointed to the Christian God.

Whether I like that particular God is another matter and isn’t important when it comes to the truth about the existence of God.

I might chose to deny the Sun, but the evidence is a little overwhelming and I cannot reasonable do that.

Not so with God.

The best the theist has is a lot of unknowns.

Tell me please, logically, how to you go from not knowing something, to then knowing it is God?

Makes no sense to me.

Before we get into describing God for you (which you are already certain does not exist)

Now Brian, I repeatedly said I am not certain that God exists or not – so please, if we are to continue with our discussions. Less of the assertions.

I am pretty certain that all the definitions of the Christian God I have heard does not exist, you may have the perfect definition for a perfect God. I will wait in judgement on that.

Do you think naturalism is true? (naturalism is what Carl Sagan believed -- "the universe is all there was, is and will ever be?"

Brian, before we investigate anything – we have to make a few assumptions? Agree? (This is my first assumption about assumptions for example)

I could assume that I was a brain in a jar – but not sure how far this will get me, so I will assume that what I see around me is real and not a trick of some mad Matrix scientist.

Can we both agree that the universe exists as well as nature?

If we can, let’s move on from there.

Let's keep our assumptions to a minium

Lee

Brian said...

Now Brian, I repeatedly said I am not certain that God exists or not – so please, if we are to continue with our discussions. Less of the assertions.

Oops, totally sorry, really... I MEANT to say "almost" before the word certain, as I was quoting your previous comment -- but I left the word out. My mistake and that was unintentional, really.

As for defining God, you are already rejecting the Christian God (almost certainly), so are you just asking me to redefine that again? At the most basic level, God is creator. Why don't we start there.

Can we both agree that the universe exists as well as nature?

Yes, of course. We both agree that the universe exists as well as nature. Moving on from there: Do you believed that nature is all there is?

Also, I might not have much time this week

Understood. That's ok. This stuff can be time consuming. :-) It's my birthday today, so just know that you meant that much to me that I spent an hour of my birthday talking to my favorite atheist/agnostic/unbeliever/skeptic/brit/aussie friend! :-)

Lee said...

Hi Brian

It's my birthday today

Happy Birthday!!!!

so just know that you meant that much to me that I spent an hour of my birthday talking to my favorite atheist/agnostic/unbeliever/skeptic/brit/aussie friend! :-)

My label is getting a little long isn't it.

So how many "atheist/agnostic/unbeliever/sceptic/brit/aussie" friends do you have, I just want to know how many I am beating to be your favourite :-)

Just kidding. Thanks :-)

Have a good day/evening.

Oh, I have a reply - but take your time and enjoy your day first.

Lee
PS
I hate computers, I wanted to reinstall windows and I cannot since XP does not recognise my hard drive and it turns out, after 6 years of not using my floppy drive, that isn't working so i cannot install the drivers for my harddrive for the windows install GRRRRrrrrr.

Not happy... time to buy a new PC?

Lee said...

Hi Brian,

Oops, totally sorry, really... I MEANT to say "almost" before the word certain

Fair enough – sorry that I came down hard on a typo

At least we got that cleared up.

As for defining God, you are already rejecting the Christian God (almost certainly)

I don’t believe in the Christian God as normally defined, and so find the claims rather unbelievable.

This is not to say without enough good evidence, I could change my view.

so are you just asking me to redefine that again?

Just so that we are clear – yes.

“God” is just a label as it stands without definitions being provided.

There is much I (and science) don’t know – I just call this ‘unknown’ which is a label also.

If you chose, you could have defined “God” to be this “unknown” (many theists have mistakenly done this is the past. The problem, as you know, is this just becomes the God of the gaps. Bad theology surely?)

At the most basic level, God is creator. Why don't we start there.

Is that it?

OK – with such a definition, we can only lead ourselves down the path of the first cause argument.

You know my feelings and thoughts on this already surely – it gets us nowhere.

At best (for you) the conclusions might lead us to a deistic god, but nothing more.

However, I would argue (as you know) that philosophically this isn’t the most reasonable conclusion.

You will be left with special pleading that god (lowercase g for deistic right?) is required, but with no more justification than if I said it was just the universe that was “self-caused” (if that even makes sense)

Most importantly, this basic definition is not your Christian God. Don’t you want to say ‘personal’ somewhere in your definition?

Want to try again to define the God you believe in?

We both agree that the universe exists as well as nature. Moving on from there: Do you believed that nature is all there is?

Excellent – you are with me so far :-)

I believe nature is all that I have observed to date.

There might be a ‘supernatural’ out there, but I am not sure how you could prove/show that to anyone.

How could someone falsify any claims of the supernatural?

Thinking about the history of science for a moment... if you said 120 years ago that light was both a particle and a wave and neither at the same time – people would be thinking that you need medical attention.

Such an idea would be crazy talk.

However, as you know, scientists went on to prove just that – and proved the world really is crazy :-)

My point here is that it is possible to make crazy and wacky claims (from the stand point of ‘common sense’ and what is agreed by the majority at the time -as my above example I hope shows) and IF true, you should be able to back this up via repeatable experimentation/observations.

Now, with supernatural claims, this is what we have – crazy and wacky ideas – this is NOT to say it isn’t true, BUT it is for the person making the claim to back it up. It is with them the burden of proof surely rests?

So I have seen no such evidence for supernatural claims. I feel justified today in being sceptical about them. This is not to say remember that it doesn’t exist, but I might as well go on with life believing that it doesn’t until new evidence comes in.

Just like I get on with life believing that I am not a brain in a jar as I am sure you do

Lee

Brian said...

Or you could go for a Mac... that could be an even greater debate!

Lee said...

Or you could go for a Mac... that could be an even greater debate!

That is what the wife wants... NEVER!!! :-)

Have to go

Lee

Brian said...

OK – with such a definition, we can only lead ourselves down the path of the first cause argument.

That is one argument among a number. And even that argument has various variations, both scientific and philosophical.

You know my feelings and thoughts on this already surely – it gets us nowhere.

But I haven't made any arguments!

At best (for you) the conclusions might lead us to a deistic god, but nothing more.

As I have said in other comments, the first cause argument is one among a number of cosmological arguments that sits nicely into a cumulative case for God -- no one argument proves the Christian God. What is more, I have made no claim that a first cause argument alone proves the Christian God specifically, so relax.

However, I would argue (as you know) that philosophically this isn’t the most reasonable conclusion.

And this is where I would ask: What is the most reasonable conclusion for the beginning of space and time, in your book? Remember, you need to back up your claims to. How it is more reasonable to think the universe is uncaused rather than caused?

You will be left with special pleading that god (lowercase g for deistic right?) is required, but with no more justification than if I said it was just the universe that was “self-caused” (if that even makes sense)

If I were to posit a first-cause argument, the most basic of all, by saying that it is more reasonable to say that the universe needs a causal agent rather than just popping into existence uncaused, how is that special pleading? Remember, if I use the first cause argument all I am trying to show is that it is more reasonable to infer a causal agent rather than nothing causing everything.

By the way, would a deistic 'god' be more appealing for you?

Most importantly, this basic definition is not your Christian God. Don’t you want to say ‘personal’ somewhere in your definition?

You are assuming a few things here. First, you are assuming my arguments before I make any, which smells of straw. Second, you are telling me what I am trying to prove with the arguments you say I am using. Like I said before, I would not rely on one argument to prove my case. All that one argument would show is that a causal agent is a reasonable inference from the data. More reasonable than self-causation or nothing-causing-everything, in my book. If you want to talk about special pleading, we can talk about self-causation and nothing-causing-everything.

it is for the person making the claim to back it up. It is with them the burden of proof surely rests?

Finally something back to the original topic of this blog post! The point of this blog post is that if you claim, say, that there is no first cause -- then, you ought to show why it is more reasonable to believe self-causation of the universe, or nothing-causing-everything, or the eternality of the universe.

But I am not going to ask you to do that right here. I am spending more time on these comments than I have intended, and they have strayed far from their original point. Be sure to listen to the audio if you haven't already! :-)

For philosophical treatments of the first cause arguments, go here.

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