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Thread: I can easily prove that God does not exist, but...

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    Industrial Grade Linguist Copernicus's Avatar
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    I can easily prove that God does not exist, but...

    Yes, I can prove that God does not exist, but it is also true that other people can prove that he does not. That's because "proof" in the context of such an argument is usually about whether or not God or deities are likely to exist, not whether there is some absolute logical proof of existence. (Exception: philosophical debates in the sense of scholasticism, which I am not interested in here.) We believe or don't believe because the concept of God seems credible to us, and we establish credibility on the basis of evidence. In my experience, most believers think that they have sufficient evidence to find God credible.

    But how is it possible for me to prove something to exist, if someone else can prove it not to exist? Proof is always an exercise in logic. One starts with a conclusion that can be either true or false and then shows that it follows logically from a set of premises. The catch here is that the premises must themselves be true in order for the conclusion to be true. A conclusion that merely follows from premises is valid, but not necessarily true. A valid conclusion that follows from true premises is necessarily true. That is, the proof is sound.

    Debates over the existence of God always seem to go nowhere. People on both sides of the debate are almost never persuaded to a conclusion that is opposite the one they started with. My point here is that the debate is never over the truth of the conclusion. It is almost always over the truth of one or more premises. The only way to win such a debate is to stipulate that all the premises leading to the conclusion are true.

    So what is my "easy" proof that God does not exist? Right here:

    1. God is a disembodied spiritual agency.
    2. Disembodied spiritual agencies do not exist.
    3. Therefore, God does not exist.


    Too simple? Of course it is. Most people believe in the existence of disembodied spiritual agencies, so they reject the second premise right off the bat. Very few theists will deny the first premise, although I have rarely come across some who do. It is part of Mormon doctrine, I believe, that God does have a material body, although one would need to check on that with the individual Mormon, I think.

    What about the second premise? Is it true or false? I believe that it is true. All agencies, whether you want to term them "spiritual" or not, require material brains in order to exist. The evidence for my belief comes from the observation that agents cease to exist when the brains that they depend on are destroyed. We know this, because consciousness is impaired when the brain is damaged, and consciousness is a key component of volition or agency. Now don't tell me that you disagree with that belief, or we'll have to have a debate over it, before we come back to my original ironclad proof that God does not exist.

    I could obviously go on, but I invite others to comment on or critique my thesis: I can easily prove that God exists, but there are others who can easily prove he does not. The argument is almost always over the soundness of the proposed proof, not the validity. So the real debate is never really over whether the conclusion is true. It is really over whether other beliefs that the conclusion depends on are true.

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    Raspberry bilby's Avatar
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    Whether or not disembodied spiritual entities exist, we now know (as well as we know any scientific facts) that there is no possible mechanism for such entities to influence physical objects on a human scale.

    There are no unknown particles or forces at energies conversant with live human beings. And we can detect all of the known particles and forces, and there are no unexplained ones that could possibly be the vectors of divine intervention.

    Gods are as plausible and as real as perpetual motion machines. People who believe that either are possible simply don't understand fundamental physics.

    http://www.preposterousuniverse.com/...aning-of-life/

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    Industrial Grade Linguist Copernicus's Avatar
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    I've seen reports that roughly half the population believes that ghosts exist. The real driver behind such beliefs is an intuitive belief that thoughts and emotions exist independently of physical reality. This belief persists across all human cultures that I am aware of, and it exists despite the fact that people also seem well aware of the connection between brains and mental processes It is obvious that brain damage impairs mental functions, not to mention the ability to control one's physical body. Nevertheless, people seem to feel that there is a kind of parallel spiritual body that might be liberated by the death of the physical body.

    The point of the OP is that we don't really debate the existence of God. The debate always comes down to something other than the reality of God, and those premises that we use to justify god belief tend to be far more tractable and subject to debate than claims that we can't somehow really prove or disprove God's existence.

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    Raspberry bilby's Avatar
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    People believe all kinds of things that are not only untrue, but easily tested.

    It's no great shock that they believe untrue things that are hard to test.

    Lots of people believe that the sun is yellow; or that the moon is only visible at night.

    When people are able to be wrong about things that are constantly in their face on a regular basis, we must expect a lot of wrongness about a lot of things.

    Substance dualism is hugely popular; but it remains completely nonsensical.

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    I accept the invitation.

    Quote Originally Posted by Copernicus
    Yes, I can prove that God does not exist, but it is also true that other people can prove that he does not. That's because "proof" in the context of such an argument is usually about whether or not God or deities are likely to exist, not whether there is some absolute logical proof of existence. (Exception: philosophical debates in the sense of scholasticism, which I am not interested in here.) We believe or don't believe because the concept of God seems credible to us, and we establish credibility on the basis of evidence. In my experience, most believers think that they have sufficient evidence to find God credible.
    Close. Usually, the claim is (roughly if not exactly) that one can establish beyond a reasonable doubt (i.e., conclusively) that God exists/doesn't exist. The arguments are not always or mostly deductions, but arguments in the sense of "arguing a case". They may and often involve a combination of deductive arguments, empirical evidence (i.e., observations), moral argumentation, appeals to authority, etc.

    I think equivalently (or close to that), it's to provide information so that it would be epistemically irrational for a person that gets that information to fail to believe that God exists/does not exist. Here, there is an implicit reference to certain epistemic position of the persons in question, since information that is rationally compelling to a rational agent may not be rationally compelling to another one with a different epistemic starting point (e.g., DNA evidence may contribute considerably to establish beyond a reasonable doubt in the eyes of a present-day jury that a defendant is guilty, but it would have had no effect on a rational jury from 100 years ago; further evidence - about what DNA is, why tests are reliable, etc. - would be needed. Even if the present-day jury also requires expert testimony, the 1918 jury would require a lot more, just to establish the credibility of the experts in that weird thing called "DNA", etc.). Also, some information that part of the the intended audience already might be meant to be ignored, so perhaps other arguments and pieces of information are left aside for the sake of the argument.

    In philosophical discussions, by the way, this sort of argumentation is also very frequent, even if it's not called "proof" usually, and it's of higher quality than in ordinary debates (usually, i.e., in most cases).

    Quote Originally Posted by Copernicus
    But how is it possible for me to prove something to exist, if someone else can prove it not to exist?
    The same way ou can establish beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty while someone else can establish that he is not. Most of the time, it is not doable. But it might be doable, for reasons such as:

    1. What is rationally compelling information (i.e., it would be unreasonable/epistemically irrational to fail to believe what is being argued for) to a person may not be so to another (see 1918 jury example above).
    2. Even rationally compelling information only increases the probability to a point, but not to 1, and further information might go in the other direction - though it would be unreasonable to expect so in a given case!

    Quote Originally Posted by Copernicus
    Proof is always an exercise in logic. One starts with a conclusion that can be either true or false and then shows that it follows logically from a set of premises.
    Not in the sense of "proof" you are talking about, which is about establishing stuff conclusively. Even going by what you say in the first paragraph, except in the "Exception: philosophical debates..."), etc., also except in those cases, it's not about showing that it follows from a set of premises, at least not mostly. The premises and conclusion might help, but that's just the formal argument, which in this context is usually extremely simple. The real argument is the argument in the sense of "arguing a case", which is the part in which the arguer intends to establish some of the premises (usually, at least half the premises are obvious, so there is no need to argue for them), by providing information as explained above.

    Quote Originally Posted by Copernicus
    So what is my "easy" proof that God does not exist? Right here:
    That is not a proof that God does not exist in the sense of "proof" described above.

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    Zen Hedonist Jobar's Avatar
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    There's a major problem here with defining the central term.

    I'm reminded of something from Robert Green Ingersoll:

    In the Episcopalian creed God is described as follows:

    "There is but one living and true God, everlasting, without
    body, parts or passions."

    Think of that! -- without body, parts, or passions. I defy any
    man in the world to write a better description of nothing. You
    cannot conceive of a finer word-painting of a vacuum than "without
    body, parts, or passions." And yet this God, without passions, is
    angry at the wicked every day; this God, without passions, is a
    jealous God, whose anger burneth to the lowest hell. This God,
    without passions, loves the whole human race; and this God, without
    passions, damns a large majority of mankind. This God without body,
    walked in the Garden of Eden, in the cool of the day. This God,
    without body, talked with Adam and Eve. This God, without body, or
    parts met Moses upon Mount Sinai, appeared at the door of the
    tabernacle, and talked with Moses face to face as a man speaketh to
    his friend. This description of God is simply an effort of the
    church to describe a something of which it has no conception.
    One reason to be an atheist can be called non-cognitivism- "I do not understand what believers mean when they use the word 'God'." We can try and try to come to some common understanding with believers, but instead of a more precise mutual definition, things get more and more blurry; instead of converging on a single idea, it diverges.

    The same is true for believers in different faiths; even very slight differences in dogma are nearly impossible to mend.

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    Industrial Grade Linguist Copernicus's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Angra Mainyu View Post
    I accept the invitation.

    Quote Originally Posted by Copernicus
    Yes, I can prove that God does not exist, but it is also true that other people can prove that he does not. That's because "proof" in the context of such an argument is usually about whether or not God or deities are likely to exist, not whether there is some absolute logical proof of existence. (Exception: philosophical debates in the sense of scholasticism, which I am not interested in here.) We believe or don't believe because the concept of God seems credible to us, and we establish credibility on the basis of evidence. In my experience, most believers think that they have sufficient evidence to find God credible.
    Close. Usually, the claim is (roughly if not exactly) that one can establish beyond a reasonable doubt (i.e., conclusively) that God exists/doesn't exist. The arguments are not always or mostly deductions, but arguments in the sense of "arguing a case". They may and often involve a combination of deductive arguments, empirical evidence (i.e., observations), moral argumentation, appeals to authority, etc.

    I think equivalently (or close to that), it's to provide information so that it would be epistemically irrational for a person that gets that information to fail to believe that God exists/does not exist. Here, there is an implicit reference to certain epistemic position of the persons in question, since information that is rationally compelling to a rational agent may not be rationally compelling to another one with a different epistemic starting point (e.g., DNA evidence may contribute considerably to establish beyond a reasonable doubt in the eyes of a present-day jury that a defendant is guilty, but it would have had no effect on a rational jury from 100 years ago; further evidence - about what DNA is, why tests are reliable, etc. - would be needed. Even if the present-day jury also requires expert testimony, the 1918 jury would require a lot more, just to establish the credibility of the experts in that weird thing called "DNA", etc.). Also, some information that part of the the intended audience already might be meant to be ignored, so perhaps other arguments and pieces of information are left aside for the sake of the argument.

    In philosophical discussions, by the way, this sort of argumentation is also very frequent, even if it's not called "proof" usually, and it's of higher quality than in ordinary debates (usually, i.e., in most cases).
    In trying to wade through all of that, I searched in vain for something that was substantively different from what I had said. Maybe I just missed the point you were trying to make, but it seemed to me that you had missed what I was trying to say. I did explicitly say that I wasn't interested in an "absolute logical proof" but a proof of credibility. I was talking about proof beyond a reasonable doubt, i.e. empirical proof. My point was that the syllogism constructed to conclude God's likely nonexistence was never an adequate basis for reaching the conclusion, because credibility really rests on some premise, which turns out to be an argument that theists and non-theists are better able to come to terms on. You never want to actually directly conclude that God exists or doesn't exist on the basis of a high level argument. The real disputes invariably lie hidden at a deeper level, e.g. the question of substance vs property dualism. Almost all belief systems involving deities are ultimately based on substance dualism. If I start out arguing with a theist over God's existence and don't make clear my rejection of substance dualism, then I am arguing about the wrong area of disagreement. I would certainly agree with theists, if I accepted all of the assumptions that they were making to support their belief.

    Quote Originally Posted by Angra Mainyu View Post
    But how is it possible for me to prove something to exist, if someone else can prove it not to exist?
    The same way ou can establish beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty while someone else can establish that he is not. Most of the time, it is not doable. But it might be doable, for reasons such as:

    1. What is rationally compelling information (i.e., it would be unreasonable/epistemically irrational to fail to believe what is being argued for) to a person may not be so to another (see 1918 jury example above).
    2. Even rationally compelling information only increases the probability to a point, but not to 1, and further information might go in the other direction - though it would be unreasonable to expect so in a given case!
    From this, I conclude that you are in basic agreement with my point--that people who fail to agree on the premises (or factual evidence) are wasting their time unless they can agree on what the facts are. So the argument is always at a lower level, and it is imperative to take the argument there rather than to just leave it at the 'guilty/not guilty' level, where everyone just assumes a common understanding of the premises. Guilt or lack thereof follows after there is an agreement on priors. So when someone says "Prove that God does not exist", I can easily prove it, based on the premises that I hold to be true. But that kind of superficial proof is uninteresting and beside the point. Arguments over the existence of God are always less interesting than those over issues that bear on stepping back to premises.

    Quote Originally Posted by Angra Mainyu View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Copernicus
    Proof is always an exercise in logic. One starts with a conclusion that can be either true or false and then shows that it follows logically from a set of premises.
    Not in the sense of "proof" you are talking about, which is about establishing stuff conclusively. Even going by what you say in the first paragraph, except in the "Exception: philosophical debates..."), etc., also except in those cases, it's not about showing that it follows from a set of premises, at least not mostly. The premises and conclusion might help, but that's just the formal argument, which in this context is usually extremely simple. The real argument is the argument in the sense of "arguing a case", which is the part in which the arguer intends to establish some of the premises (usually, at least half the premises are obvious, so there is no need to argue for them), by providing information as explained above.
    This is where I remind you that I wasn't interested in establishing stuff conclusively. I am interested in establishing it as credible. I was always talking about proof beyond a reasonable doubt, not shadow of a doubt. See that in the last sentence of the first paragraph that you quoted. When you step back to arguing over a critical premise--the place where theists and non-theists really have a substantive disagreement, you still use logic to make the case. Logic exists at all levels of an argument, even when one is arguing on purely empirical grounds.

    Quote Originally Posted by Angra Mainyu View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Copernicus
    So what is my "easy" proof that God does not exist? Right here:
    That is not a proof that God does not exist in the sense of "proof" described above.
    Now you've lost me. Or perhaps my argument went completely over your head. You may have a very different idea of what you think I meant by "logical proof". I was very clear that a "logical proof" is not necessarily a sound proof. You have to establish the truth of all prior premises before you can reach a sound conclusion. IOW, we aren't ever really arguing over whether God exists. We are arguing over the premises necessary to reach such a conclusion.

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    Industrial Grade Linguist Copernicus's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jobar View Post
    There's a major problem here with defining the central term.

    I'm reminded of something from Robert Green Ingersoll:

    In the Episcopalian creed God is described as follows:

    "There is but one living and true God, everlasting, without
    body, parts or passions."

    Think of that! -- without body, parts, or passions. I defy any
    man in the world to write a better description of nothing. You
    cannot conceive of a finer word-painting of a vacuum than "without
    body, parts, or passions." And yet this God, without passions, is
    angry at the wicked every day; this God, without passions, is a
    jealous God, whose anger burneth to the lowest hell. This God,
    without passions, loves the whole human race; and this God, without
    passions, damns a large majority of mankind. This God without body,
    walked in the Garden of Eden, in the cool of the day. This God,
    without body, talked with Adam and Eve. This God, without body, or
    parts met Moses upon Mount Sinai, appeared at the door of the
    tabernacle, and talked with Moses face to face as a man speaketh to
    his friend. This description of God is simply an effort of the
    church to describe a something of which it has no conception.
    One reason to be an atheist can be called non-cognitivism- "I do not understand what believers mean when they use the word 'God'." We can try and try to come to some common understanding with believers, but instead of a more precise mutual definition, things get more and more blurry; instead of converging on a single idea, it diverges.

    The same is true for believers in different faiths; even very slight differences in dogma are nearly impossible to mend.
    There is no major problem with defining the central term unless you reject the truth of premise #1. If you accept its truth and the truth of the second premise, then the conclusion is inescapable. If you want to argue over premise #1, then that just means that the real argument is not over my proof. It is over a low level premise. That is where the substantive argument exists. However, at that point, we are just having a terminological dispute, not a substantive one. Most atheists are not non-cognitivists. They know perfectly well what most believers mean by their use of the word "God", IMO. But we can always have an argument over that.

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    Member excreationist's Avatar
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    The idea that we are in a simulation is kind of compatible with the Christian God. His mind could exist in a physical world outside of the simulation.

    Quote Originally Posted by Copernicus View Post
    ...I can easily prove that God exists, but there are others who can easily prove he does not....
    How can it be a genuine "proof" if the opposite can also be "proved".

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    Quote Originally Posted by Copernicus
    In trying to wade through all of that, I searched in vain for something that was substantively different from what I had said. Maybe I just missed the point you were trying to make, but it seemed to me that you had missed what I was trying to say. I did explicitly say that I wasn't interested in an "absolute logical proof" but a proof of credibility. I was talking about proof beyond a reasonable doubt, i.e. empirical proof.
    As I said, it was close, so mostly I was agreeing with that. But a key difference is that an argument (in the sense of "arguing a case") intent on showing something beyond a reasonable doubt does not need to be limited to empirical data. It may involve a number of different lines of argumentation. In the case of arguments for the existence of God, some of them are empirical, but not all of them are , and some are not empirical, even if they do not attempt a logical proof, either. For example, sometimes, the argument is a moral one, centrally if not entirely. Also, some other times, they try to make an argument from contingency, which appeals to both modal and probably moral intuitions. And so on.

    That aside, I didn't get the impression that when you said "likely" you meant likely enough to be beyond a reasonable doubt, so there may have been a misunderstanding on that part.

    Quote Originally Posted by Copernicus
    My point was that the syllogism constructed to conclude God's likely nonexistence was never an adequate basis for reaching the conclusion, because credibility really rests on some premise, which turns out to be an argument that theists and non-theists are better able to come to terms on. You never want to actually directly conclude that God exists or doesn't exist on the basis of a high level argument.
    I'm not following that part. Could you clarify, please?

    Quote Originally Posted by Copernicus
    The real disputes invariably lie hidden at a deeper level, e.g. the question of substance vs property dualism. Almost all belief systems involving deities are ultimately based on substance dualism.
    Often, sure, but also, very common arguments from suffering, moral evil and/or hiddenness do not rely on any assumptions against substance dualism. And I have argued for the nonexistence of God even granting the assumption that there is an omnipotent, omniscient agent. I conclude that the probability that he is God (i.e., omnipotent, omniscient and morally perfect) is negligible. I don't make any assumptions against substance dualism in that context, of course.

    Quote Originally Posted by Copernicus
    This is where I remind you that I wasn't interested in establishing stuff conclusively.
    You do not need to remind me. What I'm saying is that your claim that

    Quote Originally Posted by Copernicus
    Proof is always an exercise in logic. One starts with a conclusion that can be either true or false and then shows that it follows logically from a set of premises.
    is false, in the sense of "proof" you used in the first paragraph.

    Quote Originally Posted by Copernicus
    Now you've lost me. Or perhaps my argument went completely over your head.
    I don't think so. I'll further clarify below.

    Quote Originally Posted by Copernicus
    You may have a very different idea of what you think I meant by "logical proof". I was very clear that a "logical proof" is not necessarily a sound proof.
    Indeed, that it was (well, not a proof, but an attempted proof). My point is that a "logical proof" is not a proof in the sense of "proof" in the first paragraph of the OP.

    Quote Originally Posted by Copernicus
    IOW, we aren't ever really arguing over whether God exists. We are arguing over the premises necessary to reach such a conclusion.
    We are arguing about whether God exists. One of the way of arguing over that is arguing over the premises in question, though it's not the only one. One does not need to give premises and come up with a syllogism in order to make a case.

    Quote Originally Posted by Copernicus
    I could obviously go on, but I invite others to comment on or critique my thesis: I can easily prove that God exists, but there are others who can easily prove he does not.
    No. In the sense of "proof" in question (i.e., what is usual in these sort of debates), in order to prove that God does not exist, you would have to establish that he does not beyond a reasonable doubt. I do not know whether you can.
    On the other hand, a theist would have to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that God does exist. I'm pretty sure she cannot.

    By the way, regarding philosophy, I understood you weren't interested in those arguments involving a purported "absolute logical proof" of existence. But were you ruling out the rest of the arguments used in Philosophy of Religion? Most of those arguments intend to show beyond a reasonable doubt, or at least to show it's probable, or at least to persuade a person to change their credences to some extent, etc., that God exists or does not exist (or whatever they want to argue for, but we're talking about those two).

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