I’m getting way behind on my posts, but I’ve noticed two things. One, this blog is turning out to be more about religious topics. So if you’re more interested in logic as it applies to business, finance, relationships, or health, then visit my sister blog over at clearthinkingconsulting.com.
The other thing I’ve noticed is I keep wanting to come back to conversations about God. So I’ll come back to the question about identifying single causes to single results, my discussion of proving Buddhas, and a question I received about free will. But for now, I want to talk about an article a friend commented on Facebook, “Top 10 Most Common Atheist Arguments, and Why They Fail.”
Before discussing any particular points in the article, the first point I want to make is what I commented to my friend:
“Heya Frank; there are some talking points here, but by and large this article wasn’t so useful… I’m not sure what he means by “argument.” He appears to think that if he has a rebuttal that’s the end of the matter. The beauty of Tibetan logic is that you take a syllogism and if you can disprove it, you have to posit one yourself–which then they can try to tear apart. But it only works if you keep to the structure; western or Tibetan there’s no structure to any of these “arguments” which makes “debate” mostly meaningless.”
Without structure, an “argument” becomes just that–in the negative connotation of the word, it degenerates to “Is so! Is not! Is so! Is not!” and again, for all intents and purposes, becomes meaningless. So in the monastery (and I would encourage anyone actually interested in pursuing developing thinking logically as a skill to do the same) you have to stick to the structure–it could be Platonic logic, or formal mathematical logical symbols, or whatever you prefer–but find a structure and stick to it.
My training is in Tibetan logic, so I’ll try to apply that here, and I’m going to take the author to task a bit, because at the beginning of his article he bemoans that the debate between atheists and monotheists has gotten stale. But if he wants to improve the quality of the debate, he has to use some structure to his arguments or again, the “debate” will just degenerate into “You’re wrong! No, you’re wrong!”
But for the record, I am not an atheist–unless you mean by atheist someone who denies an unchanging creator God. Again, definitions are important, and we have to be clear. So when you say “atheist,” what do you mean? Someone who denies Christianity? Someone who denies a creator God? Or someone who denies that higher powers could exist at all?
Since no definition was given in this article, I’ll assume by “atheist” the author means someone who denies God as defined by Orthodox Christianity. That being said, let’s look at “argument” number one:
1. There is no evidence for God’s existence.
Okay, so if I’m going to debate this, I need it in the correct structure. So that structure for me is a syllogism that includes a subject, assertion, and reason. So maybe something like this:
He does not exist,
Because there is no evidence for God’s existence.
That’s a pretty big claim. From Mr. Atheist’s side I’m assuming by “no evidence” he/she means no scientific evidence; that is, there’s no experiment that can prove God’s existence. If you really mean “no evidence” that’s a much bigger discussion, because then you would be denying that anyone had ever had any personal direct experience of God–a thing which would be very difficult, if not impossible, to prove logically. Muslims believe Mohammed met an angel who gave him God’s word, Tibetan Buddhists believe the five books of Maitreya were given by him directly to Master Asanga, Moses and the burning bush–there are many examples in scripture of direct contact between human beings and divinities. Maybe you don’t believe those stories, but logically proving those stories to be false would be difficult. (Were you there? Or please refer to the chapter in my book on using negative reasons.)
In any event, the author has two “arguments” against this line of reasoning. His first is, a Christian doesn’t have to answer this question. “For the Christian who believes in a transcendent God, he can offer no such evidence; to produce material evidence for God is, ironically, to disprove a transcendent God and cast out faith.”
So basically, to use our structure, the author is saying “kyabba ma jung” (SKYAB PA MA BYUNG)–not necessarily. In other words, it fails test number two: just because there is no [material] evidence for God’s existence, that doesn’t mean God does not exist.
And that’s actually a quite good argument, because, although the author doesn’t seem to know how to acknowledge it, in Tibetan logic there are two ways to know if something is true; two ways to establish something as a correct perception (TSAD MA): direct and indirect. Direct perception is what we can see with our senses; indirect perception is using deduction (logic). So that’s what we use to argue the importance of studying logic: if you can deduce correctly that something exists, then it does–it has the same ontological status as something you can see (for example).
So, the answer “not necessarily” to this syllogism is correct: just because there is no [material] evidence for something does not mean that it does not exist–because there is another way to establish the existence of something: to use deduction. (Take, for example, Buddhas.) So for Mr. Atheist, sorry, this argument doesn’t work.
But to stay in the structure of the debate, if our author says “not necessarily,” then the atheist should answer:
“So, just because there is no material evidence for God’s existence does not mean that he does not exist?” and our author says “Yes, that’s true.”
Then Mr. Atheist should say:
“It is so true that if there is no material evidence for God’s existence he does not exist, because you have no correct perception of his existence.”
The definition of existing in Tibetan logic is “that which is established by a correct perception.” If you have no correct perception of a thing, you cannot say it exists. Do horned rabbits exist? No. Why; how do you know? Because you haven’t seen one, nor can you prove that one exists.
So this has become a bit complicated; I hope you can follow it. I try to avoid doing this in my book; I’ve noticed whenever a debate depends on background information that is not common knowledge I lose people. But to understand this, you just have to know that you can’t say something exists unless you can perceive it directly or prove it exists logically. Otherwise, anything would be true: we have to have some basis logically to posit the existence of something or you can just believe whatever you want. (The moon is made out of cheese. Why? Because I think it is.)
So the author’s answer to this “argument” doesn’t make any sense (avoiding the irony, for a moment, that Mr. Atheist is wrong): to the syllogism “It is so true that if there is no material evidence for God’s existence he does not exist, because you have no correct perception of his existence” the author answers, “For the Christian who believes in a transcendent God, he can offer no such evidence; to produce material evidence for God is, ironically, to disprove a transcendent God and cast out faith.” So to the question you have no proof for God’s existence the author is basically saying, “I don’t have to prove God exists, because that would deny my faith.”
What kind of debate is that? Prove God exists. No, I don’t have to, because I believe in him on faith. Good for you, but how is this any answer to the question?
If you going to use faith as an answer that’s fine. I’m not here to challenge anyone’s faith. But if you are going to give faith as an answer, then don’t try to give me “reasons” why my arguments fail. If you’re in the faith business, you’re not in the logic business. Pick one or the other, you can’t have it both ways. (Actually, faith can be based on reasoning, but reasoning can’t be based on faith.) I posted on Facebook:
“I respect everyone’s beliefs (as long as they don’t hurt anyone), but it’s funny to me that you’re using reasons to try to prove logic is not valid. You can’t have it both ways; either God is faith or God is reason–chose one. If your belief in God is faith based, then you can’t use reasons why logic isn’t valid. But you’re on the right track; if Jesus is the truth, the way and the life, then you should try to inspire by example, let your relationship with his Presence be your guide to others.”
Again, this is fine. But then don’t tell me you have “reasons” why you are correct. Faith is not a correct reason; here it’s just an excuse to not provide a good reason. (Again, the irony being there is one.) If I were to write it out as a syllogism, it would look something like:
It is not a valid reason,
Because it’s not based on a correct perception.
His second “argument” gets me back into discussing some of the issues I’ve discussed before, so I’ll save that for my next post.