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Is it reasonable to believe in a god?

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  • Is it reasonable to believe in a god?

    Occam and I have agreed to the following debate format:

    Resolution: "Resolved: It is reasonable to believe in a god."
    Affirmative: Perplexity
    Negative: Occam

    Speeches:
    1. Affirmative Opening Statement: Perplexity gives a 1,500 (or less) word defense of the resolution.
    2. Negative Opening Statement: Occam gives a 1,500 (or less) word attack on the resolution.
    3. Affirmative Rebuttal: Perplexity gives a 1,500 (or less) word rebuttal.
    4. Negative Rebuttal: Occam gives a 1,500 (or less) word rebuttal.
    5. Affirmative Closing Statement: Perplexity summarizes the debate and explains why he won in 1,500 words or less.
    6. Negative Closing Statement: Occam summarizes the debate and explains why he won in 1,500 words of less.

    Time: One week or less per speech.
    "So it seems at any rate that I am wiser in this one small respect: I do not think I know what I do not." - Socrates

    "At times one remains faithful to a cause only because its opponents do not cease to be insipid." - Nietzsche

  • #2
    Affirmative Opening Statement

    I. Intro

    Thanks for the invite Occam, I look forward to a stimulating exchange.

    I think it’s reasonable to believe in a god because there are logically valid arguments for one with premises that don’t seem implausible to me.

    I’ll present such an argument here. Note that you needn’t find the argument convincing to agree with me. Suppose no gods existed, but that our best evidence mistakenly indicated one did. Here, belief in a god would be reasonable but false. So, you may very well think that no gods exist—and therefore that the conclusion of the argument is false—but the question before us is whether reason permits or forbids acceptance of the premises.

    For the record, I sympathize with those of you who will find the conclusion false. I have yet to find a truly satisfying argument for theism, perhaps because I have buried deep within my mind a suspicion that the supernatural is just not realistic. So, I understand. Let’s just keep things in perspective. The argument, without further ado:

    II. The Argument
    1. If all true propositions are known, then a god exists.
    2. All true propositions are known.
    3. Therefore, a god exists.
    Let’s consider each premise in turn.

    Premise (1): If all true propositions are known, then a god exists.

    The idea here is that if every true proposition is known, then there’s something that knows every true proposition. This something could be a single mind, or a group thereof: either way, something would have to do the knowing. It may already be listed on our inventory of things that exist or it may not. Regardless, what I'll argue is that due to the theoretical costs we'd incur by identifying this as something other than a god, it’s reasonable to identify it as a god. The upshot is that the state of affairs in which every true proposition is known would imply the existence of a god, just as (1) suggests.

    The theoretical costs you'll get slammed with in identifying this 'knower' as something other than a god will depend on the ‘non-god’ you're working with.

    Suppose, as I imagine the overwhelming majority of non-theists will, that minds depend upon brains. Consequently, if every true proposition is known, it's embodied minds that know every true proposition. But, clearly we don't know every true proposition. In fact, lumping every human being that has ever existed in with us doesn't really help: there are still unfathomably many true propositions we're ignorant of. Consider just how many left hind leg hairs every 4 1/4 polar bear had on Nov. 5, 1910 at 6:03 P.M. Central Time, or whether Ceasar Augustus felt hungry on the eve of August 9th, 38 B.C.E. Certainly, there are true propositions reporting on these matters: there were after all, a definite amount of polar bears of this age and at this time, and as inscrutable to us as it may be, surely they had a definite amount of left hind leg hairs. And the same goes for Mr. Augustus: he was either hungry at this time or he was not. But, we're simply not privy to these facts, nor does it seem will we ever be.

    What other embodied minds exist that can help us out? Well, the only other embodied minds on Earth are those of lower animals—or so we think! (cue Twilight Zone theme)—and they're certainly not able to pick up our slack. So, at this point, I'd wager that the overwhelming majority of non-theists will have run out of embodied minds to summon. They will therefore have to posit the existence of further embodied minds in order to account for every true proposition being known.

    But, they'd have to embrace delusion in order for this to work, for it would take an astronomical amount of embodied minds with remarkably unlikely cognitive abilities to account for only a fraction of true propositions. We're not just talking about the nearly insurmountable conditions that need to be satisfied for life nearly as complex as our own to evolve given that there is life out there. There'd also have to be innumerable planets of appropriate ages within the right range from heat sources complete with amenable bioshpheres, etc. And all of these would be posited, not because any of them were observed, but so that we could account for every true proposition being known. Can you imagine NASA announcing the discovery of fleets of planets teeming with life at least as advanced as our own simply because every true proposition is known and only embodied minds know them? No telescopic observations or any of the appropriate bases for such announcements! I find the idea humorous.

    "Okay, okay", you might say, "so we should at least throw some disembodied minds in there. Still, why should any of them be a god?" The problem again lies in the numbers. If you only posit one of these disembodied minds, or perhaps a handful, they're gonna be gods. They'd be disembodied minds with unfathomable greatness. If that wouldn’t qualify them for divinity, I’m not sure what would.

    Knowledge is invaluable, and to possess as much of it as they would merits the deepest of revere: they'd be the greatest minds in existence. They'd know every answer to every question scientists salivate over, and every cure to every disease we've trembled before. That’d be…amazing. And besides, what sort of disembodied minds would you posit here if not a god? Ghosts? Genies? Really?

    So, it doesn’t strike me as unreasonable to suppose that if every true proposition is known, a god exists.

    Premise (2): All true propositions are known.

    But, is every true proposition known? Well, all you have to think in order to be committed to premise (2) is that it's possible that every true proposition is known. I'm not kidding! Nor am I relying on suspicious rules of logic here (such as S5): we can deduce by uncontroversially sound rules of inference that every true proposition is known from the mere possibility that they are. The proof is commonly known as the Fitch-Knowability paradox: "paradoxical" because despite being logically rigorous and containing only a single and weak premise, its conclusion is taken to be unbearably implausible.

    And if I was so sure that gods didn't exist, I guess I would find the conclusion that every true proposition is known to be unbearably problematic as well. But, I don't. As I've characterized them, gods are far too non-descript to fall prey to what have traditionally been regarded as the best arguments of atheism: without any specified moral character, they're impervious to problems of evil.

    Perhaps you find these gods unpalatably implausible because they'd be disembodied minds. "Since minds are likely to have brains", one might suggest, "minds are unlikely to be disembodied." But, the problem with saying that minds in general are likely to have brains is that only certain kinds of minds would be likely to have a brains, namely those that are products of evolution. Existing above the fray of the evolutionary process, there's just no reason to expect minds that weren't products of evolution to look as if they were. Besides, the god we're concerned with will have preceded biological life, and all of the innumerable evolutionary events it will have had to have undergone in order to become anything near as complex as a brain, by billions upon billions of years.

    Without naturalistic considerations or problems of evil, I don’t see any good reason for thinking disembodied minds are so unlikely that it's impossible for every true proposition to be known.

    So, the plausibility of our final premise boils down to how reasonable it is to believe that it’s possible for every true proposition to be known. And let me just put it this way: we accept more controversial claims on less evidence all the time.

    That there is a possible world in which every true proposition is known shouldn’t sound all that problematic. The most widely endorsed theory of mind today—i.e. functionalism—allows for things like computers to exhibit knowledge. So, just imagine a super-computer going rogue, and modifying itself until it knows every true proposition. We’ve seen the archetype in science fiction before. I can even see it declaring itself ‘God’ at the end! What’s so impossible about that?

    Or again, consider a possible world in which the B-theory of time holds. There just so happens to be an infinite amount of cognizers distributed over time, and when considered as the community they form, every true proposition gets accounted for. (You could even throw in a weaker super-computer to pick up the slack).

    I can do this all day. There are innumerable possible ways for every true proposition to be known. And let’s not forget about the possible worlds in which a god accomplishes this task. In case you’re worried about S5, restrict the gods you imagine to contingent ones.

    III. Conclusion

    So, I don’t know if the argument is sound but, surely, it's not unreasonable. Is it?
    "So it seems at any rate that I am wiser in this one small respect: I do not think I know what I do not." - Socrates

    "At times one remains faithful to a cause only because its opponents do not cease to be insipid." - Nietzsche

    Comment


    • #3
      Negative Opening Statement

      I'd like to begin by thanking Perplexity for agreeing to have this debate.

      My overall argument will be as follows.

      1. Any reasonable belief is either a properly basic belief or supported by a cogent argument.
      2. The belief that a god exists is not a properly basic belief.
      3. The belief that a god exists is not supported by a cogent argument.
      4. Therefore, the belief that a god exists is not a reasonable belief.

      The conclusion follows deductively from the premises, so the question is whether the premises are true.

      1. "Any reasonable belief is either a properly basic belief or supported by a cogent argument."

      The first premise of my argument is relatively self explanatory, but let me clarify what a properly basic belief is. A properly basic belief is a belief that it is reasonable to hold in the basic way, unsupported by another belief. There are a lot of beliefs like this, like "one plus one equals two" or "there are minds other than my own." To be clear, a properly basic belief is not necessarily unsupported by anything, just unsupported by another belief. A properly basic belief can still be supported by, for example, direct experience of the object of the belief.

      2. "The belief that a god exists is not a properly basic belief."

      Some theists believe that theism can reasonably be accepted without any evidence or argument at all. The idea here is that we have a lot of beliefs that are accepted without independent evidence, like those listed in section 1. According to these theists, belief in a god falls into this category.

      The first problem with this argument is that a basic belief still has to do some explanatory work. The material the belief is explaining does not need to consist of other beliefs, but it is still there. For example, in the case of the belief "there are minds other than my own," the belief explains a number of subtle observations about how people move and speak. These observations cannot be formulated as beliefs, but they are still explained by the belief in other minds.

      The second problem with this position is that in the age of science, we have learned not to trust in basic beliefs that were not arrived at by a reliable methodology. The methodology that the theist relies upon to form a basic belief in a god will invariably be religious experience or the testimony of Scripture, both of which have been discredited as sources of information.

      Religious experience has been discredited by the conflicts between the various religious experiences that different people have reported and by neuroscientific discoveries about the origin of religious experience. We could say that the differences between different religious experiences cancel one another out, leaving only a core consisting of belief in some kind of god, but surely such a procedure would also entail lowering our confidence in religious experience as such.

      The testimony of the various scriptures has been discredited by secular, scholarly research into religious texts. Scholarly research into the Bible, for example, has revealed inconsistencies between different parts of the Bible and interpretations of the Bible that are more plausible than traditional interpretations, like the Documentary Hypothesis. In addition, religious texts typically originate in primitive, credulous cultures - surely not a reliable source of information!

      Since a basic belief in a god has no explanatory power and cannot be arrived at by a reliable methodology, a basic belief that a god exists cannot be a properly basic belief. However, this only establishes that belief in a god must be supported by a cogent argument if it is to be rational, not that belief in a god is not rational. So, is belief in a god supported by a cogent argument?

      3. "The belief that a god exists is not supported by a cogent argument."

      Perplexity has presented an unconventional argument for the existence of a god, but before I address that, I feel that I need to address the conventional argument as well to establish premise 3. Richard Swinburne is the best argumentative theologian of our day, by universal acclaim, so I'll make a few general points about his argument for the existence of God before turning to Perplexity's.

      Richard Swinburne summarizes his argument for a god's existence as follows.

      Why believe that there is a God at all? My answer is that to suppose that there is a God explains why there is a physical universe at all; why there are the scientific laws there are; why animals and then human beings have evolved; why humans have the opportunity to mould their characters and those of their fellow humans for good or ill and to change the environment in which we live; why we have the well-authenticated account of Christ‟s life, death and resurrection; why throughout the centuries millions of people (other than ourselves) have had the apparent experience of being in touch with an guided by God, and so much else. In fact, the hypothesis of the existence of God makes sense of the whole of our experience, and it does so better than any other explanation that can be put forward, and that is the grounds for believing it to be true.

      There are a number of problems with this line of reasoning.

      First, Dawes' optimality condition undercuts Swinburne's argument. The optimality condition says that if we are going to use some phenomenon as evidence for a god's existence, then we have to specify a goal that the god would have had in creating that phenomenon. But if the god we're positing is omnipotent and perfectly moral, then that goal must have been achieved by morally best route possible. Since none of the goals people posit for gods have been achieved in the morally best way possible, nothing is evidence for the existence of a perfectly moral god.

      Second, it's not clear that Swinburne's conception of God is coherent. As Herman Philipse points out in his book God in the Age of Science?, we attribute personhood to an entity because it exhibits certain bodily behaviors. I attribute personhood to you because I see that you move in such and such a way and speak in such and such a way. If we didn't have these cues, then we could never conclude that an entity was a person, only that it was a mysterious force.

      Third, to borrow again from Philipse, it's not clear that Swinburne's conception of God has explanatory power. To use God as an explanation, we have to have some way of predicting what God is more or less likely to do. The way Swinburne chooses to do this is by positing the existence of objective morality, and then saying that God always does the most moral thing, but morality is probably not independent of human evolution, which scraps Swinburne's argument.

      Now let's turn to Perplexity's argument. Perplexity admits that his argument depends upon the claim that it is possible that all truths are known. But this is a rather implausible claim. How, exactly, could all truths be known?

      Perplexity invites us to imagine a supercomputer going rogue and learning every true proposition. This is a good illustration of why it is not possible for all truths to be known. There is no way to build a supercomputer that can know every true proposition, because it would have to store data, and then it would have to store data about what data it had stored in addition to storing data about the external world. No matter how subtle the computer's data storage mechanism is, it will never be able to store all the data about the external world, plus all the data about itself.

      And what about the data about the data about the data about the world? We seem to end up with an infinite regress of layers of data! How is any computer going to store an infinite amount of data?

      The only way it would be possible for all truths to be known is if we eschew rational explanation for how all truths are known and say that a god does it in some way we can't understand. But that would be question begging! Instead, we should just reject the supposition that it is possible for all truths to be known, which can only be supported by bizarre and implausible thought experiments that conflict with our scientific knowledge.

      I conclude that my argument against the rationality of theism is sound. Thanks for reading.
      "There is no singular thing in nature that is more useful to man than a man who lives according to the guidance of reason."
      ~ Spinoza, Ethics, 4p35c1

      Comment


      • #4
        Affirmative Rebuttal

        Occam has formulated a very challenging argument. It’s simple, straightforward and open to numerous lines of support. He states it as follows:
        1. Any reasonable belief is either a properly basic belief or supported by a cogent argument.
        2. The belief that a god exists is not a properly basic belief.
        3. The belief that a god exists is not supported by a cogent argument.
        4. Therefore, the belief that a god exists is not a reasonable belief.
        Rather than waste everyone’s time and just try to poke holes in it, I’m going to do the opposite. Pretend, with me, to be a mechanic. Occam’s argument is a vehicle deposited in our garage from a very high profile individual. Our task is to find imperfections, fix them and pimp his ride out, if possible. In the end, Occam’s argument will either pass (and perhaps be even stronger than before), or it will fail and not be road worthy. We’ll proceed premise by premise.

        1. "Any reasonable belief is either a properly basic belief or supported by a cogent argument.”

        By its own lights, our belief in (1) will be reasonable only if it is properly basic or supported by a cogent argument. While one might argue their belief in (1) is properly basic because (1) is self-evident, analytically true, or known via intuition; since I already believe there is a cogent argument for (1) we needn’t delay in considering that option.

        The argument falls out of the following question: how does a belief get its reasonableness? Well, according to the law of excluded middle, in only one of two ways: it either derives it from something, or it doesn’t.

        If a belief derives its reasonableness from something, then it is supported by a cogent argument; for there will be propositions that describe this state of affairs, thus standing in the appropriate relations to capture the ‘derivation’, forming a cogent argument for the belief.

        If a belief does not derive its reasonableness from anything, then it has its reasonableness inherently or in a basic way. And that’s just to call it a properly basic belief.

        Thus, every reasonable belief is either a properly basic belief or supported by a cogent argument. Premise (1) is true.

        2. “The belief that a god exists is not properly basic.”

        Occam supports premise (2) by arguing that a basic belief in a god has no explanatory power and does not arise through reliable mechanisms.

        As to the first argument, it’s unclear to me why a basic belief in a god cannot have explanatory power, nor why it should. Recall that Occam said: “[a] properly basic belief is a belief that is reasonable to hold in the basic way, unsupported by another belief.” I’m not sure where to fit the ‘explanatory power’ requirement into this, I don’t think Occam needs this argument.

        As to the second, Occam argues that basic belief in a god invariably arises by religious experience or testimony of Scripture, both of which have been sufficiently discredited.

        One immediate problem that arises is what about a god’s belief that a god exists? Presumably, that’d be properly basic. Thus, (2) seems to presume that no gods exist. Let’s avoid this problem by restricting (2) to the beliefs of non-gods.

        I think Occam is right about one thing here: basic belief in a god will invariably arise by religious experience because if it’s not caused by an experience, it won’t be basic, and if the experience is not taken to be of a god, then the basic belief it causes will not be in a god.

        But, I don’t think such belief can arise by the testimony of Scripture. If testimony causes a belief, then that belief is supported by other beliefs, such as the reliability of the testimony or that the testimony was delivered through some medium, etc.

        So, how has religious experience been discredited? Occam says religious experiences conflict with one another, and that neuroscience has discovered the origin of such experiences.

        But, religious experiences aren’t the only experiences that conflict with one another. It’s precisely because sensorial, and memorial experiences conflict with one another that we’re so cautious with eye-witness testimony in court. If this conflict has only led us to be cautious with eye-witness testimony, why should it lead us to disregard religious experience altogether? Seems like what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

        And, how exactly have religious experience been in conflict? When one person has an experience of “Allah”, and another an experience of “YHWH”, what’s in conflict? The experiences, or the associated religious beliefs? Perhaps the beliefs should be revised in light of the experiences, a revision we’d make under any other circumstance.

        Occam doesn’t much elaborate on the discoveries of neuroscience, and I don’t want to speculate too much, but I’m guessing the idea is that religious experiences have been observed to arise in regions of the brain not associated with veridical experiences. But, as an objection, this seems to beg the question as it wouldn’t cause us to change our minds if we already thought religious experiences were veridical.

        So, it seems we’ve found a malfunction in the vehicle. How might we fix it? Well, we could order some new parts, and try to replace the arguments Occam gave against the reliability of religious experiences, or we could modify the support for (2) and install an entirely new argument against theistic basic beliefs. I’ll try the first option as it seems more promising than anything I could up with for the second.

        I think we can effectively argue against the reliability of religious experiences as follows:
        5. If religious experiences are reliable, then polytheism is probably true.
        6. But, polytheism is not probably true.
        7. Therefore, religious experiences are not reliable.
        Since basic belief in a god will invariably arise from religious experience, this argument would secure premise (2) of Occam’s argument.

        Premise (5) of my sub-argument seems highly plausible: folks have been claiming to have religious experiences of different deities for ages now, and Occam seemed to concede this when he argued religious experiences were in conflict with one another.

        The interesting thing about premise (6) is that the only people who will deny it are polytheists, and hardly anyone is a polytheist nowadays. So, I’ll conclude that Occam’s second premise is true.

        3. “The belief that a god exists is not supported by a cogent argument.”

        The best way to argue for (3) is by making a presumptive case on its behalf, that way you don’t need to defeat every single argument that could be formulated for a god.

        Occam seems to do this by arguing that if the most formidable arguments for theism are not cogent, we shouldn’t expect the others to hold water either.

        He begins by addressing the conventional arguments for God. This supports (3) because God is practically the only deity taken seriously nowadays. While this strategy is wide open to different lines of support, I don’t recommend making a case against gods at this point as it would render the argument superfluous. Short of sampling the best arguments for God out there and defeating them, I think Dawes’ optimality condition is probably the most promising route. While I’d prefer the former method, I simply haven’t the space.

        Occam then moves on to the argument I gave in my Opening Statement. His objection is basically that the argument’s crucial assumption—the possibility that all truths are known—is “implausible”, and relies on “bizarre” thought experiments that conflict with our scientific knowledge. So, what’s so implausible about this assumption?

        Well the problem—as best I can tell—is that because we can’t form an infinite collection by successive addition, nothing could come to know all of the infinitely many true propositions by successively acquiring data. But, our only rational explanation of how truths are known involves successively acquiring data. So, accepting my argument’s crucial assumption requires us to eschew our rational explanation of how truths are known.

        Let’s suppose for the moment that infinite collections cannot form by successive addition. Then, imagine a god that instantaneously intuits every true proposition and retains this information over time. Does that strike you as impossible? I guess I see nothing impossible or in conflict with science here. But, perhaps I should defer to the more scientifically informed at this point.

        Conclusion:

        So, our diagnostic of Occam’s argument might look like this: this is a very strong argument with a lot of potential. We tuned it up a little after finding some unnecessary baggage, adjusting the scope of premise (2) and installing a new argument against the reliability of religious experiences. Unfortunately, we ran into a problem with (3). Unless it's shown that it’s impossible that all truths are known, this argument doesn’t seem to work.
        "So it seems at any rate that I am wiser in this one small respect: I do not think I know what I do not." - Socrates

        "At times one remains faithful to a cause only because its opponents do not cease to be insipid." - Nietzsche

        Comment


        • #5
          Negative Rebuttal

          Perplexity has presented a friendly and sympathetic response to my opening statement, and I'm going to try to return the favor in this post.

          The argument, again, is this.

          1. Any reasonable belief is either a properly basic belief or supported by a cogent argument.
          2. The belief that a god exists is not a properly basic belief.
          3. The belief that a god exists is not supported by a cogent argument.
          4. Therefore, the belief that a god exists is not a reasonable belief.

          Premise 1 is not in contention, so I'll move immediately to premise 2.

          2. "The belief that a god exists is not a properly basic belief."

          In my opening statement, I claimed that a basic belief needs to have explanatory power, and the belief that God exists does not have explanatory power. Perplexity has expressed confusion about this argument, however, so I'm going to expand.

          A basic belief has explanatory power if there is an experience that it explains. For example, I have a basic belief in my cat's existence right now because I am experiencing my cat and the belief that my cat exists explains my experience of my cat.

          A basic belief has to have explanatory power because otherwise it is just an arbitrary whim. It would just be a belief formed at random, with nothing to be said for it except that I find myself with the belief. My point is that religious basic beliefs should be discarded as unreasonable because they lack explanatory power. After all, what are the odds that a randomly chosen religious basic belief will turn out to be true?

          Now, there is a standard response to this among theists, which is to claim that most of our basic beliefs are in the same boat as religious basic beliefs. A skeptic could ask what right I have to my basic belief in my cat if all I have to base that basic belief on is my experience of a cat. The fact that I'm having an experience of a cat does not guarantee that my cat exists by itself; I could be dreaming, for example.

          The response to this skeptical challenge is that I am not basing my belief in my cat on the fact that I am experiencing a cat by itself. I am basing my belief in my cat on everything I know. If we take into account not just the fact that I am experiencing a cat, but also the fact that I am experiencing a cat in the kind of detail that I am, it is impossible that I am dreaming. There is no problem of distinguishing dreams from reality.

          But, the skeptic could insist, I might be being deceived in a more sophisticated way. It is possible that I am wired up in the Matrix, or a victim of Descartes' deceiving demon. But now the skeptic is inventing possibilities that have no foundation in reality. In addition, the concept of the Matrix assumes that my senses are valid, because it can only be explained through concepts like "computer," which have to be explained, in turn, by showing me a computer.

          So the skeptical challenge to my basic belief that I have a computer is foiled by a combination of two things.

          First, I can rule out serious possibilities like dreaming using evidence. If a skeptical possibility is something that might actually be true, that we have examples of, then I need to appeal to evidence to rule it out. In my example, I did this by pointing to the vividness of my experience, which is inconsistent with the claim that I am dreaming.

          Second, I can rule out silly possibilities like the Matrix because they are arbitrary, and because they rely on concepts that depend on my senses. It is impossible to make sense of the Matrix without appealing to basic beliefs based on sensory evidence. The skeptic has to appeal to basic beliefs that I have about computers to make the Matrix intelligible, and those basic beliefs are based on sensory evidence.

          And these two lines of defense are not available for religious basic beliefs, so it's not the case that most of our basic beliefs are in the same boat as religious basic beliefs.

          One objection a religious person might make is that the first line of defense is available for a basic belief in God. A religious person could say that, given that he is experiencing God in the kind of detail that he is, it is impossible that he is being deceived. But I think sober reflection on this will show that it is at least possible that any given experience of God is an illusion. Experiences of God typically are just not as convincing as, say, my experience of my cat.

          Another concern of Perplexity's has to do with why conflicting religious experiences should lead us to dismiss religious experience if conflicting memorial and sensory experiences haven't led us to dismiss memory and the senses (e.g., we allow eyewitnesses to testify in court).

          Now, we do dismiss memory and the senses whenever they give us evidence of a kind that might fail us. We only completely trust memory and the senses when the evidence they are giving us is of a kind that cannot be incorrect, like when we are looking directly at another person from a few feet away.

          So is there an area where religious experience cannot be incorrect? No. We don't know whether or not any given religious experience is veridical, because the fact that someone has an experience of a god is not sufficient evidence to base a belief on, nor is there any contradiction in denying that people have experiences of gods.

          I conclude that the belief that a god exists is not a properly basic belief. Note that even if everything I've said in this section is wrong, Perplexity has accepted premise 2 already.

          3. "The belief that a god exists is not supported by a cogent argument."

          Let's move on to my third premise. Perplexity has presented the following argument to undermine this premise.

          1. If all true propositions are known, then a god exists.
          2. All true propositions are known.
          3. Therefore, a god exists.

          Premise 2 of this argument is defended by an argument which depends on the premise that it is possible that all true propositions are known. I object to the premise that it is possible that all true propositions are known because there is no way, compatible with science, for all true propositions to be known.

          Perplexity's defense of the premise is to ask us to imagine a god who simultaneously intuits every true proposition, which rather illustrates my point. A god that instantly intuits every true proposition is not compatible with science. There is nothing in any part of science that will tell you how a god could intuit every true proposition, or what the properties of gods that intuit every true proposition are, or how gods function, for that matter.

          I conclude that my argument against the rationality of theism is sound. Thank you.
          "There is no singular thing in nature that is more useful to man than a man who lives according to the guidance of reason."
          ~ Spinoza, Ethics, 4p35c1

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          • #6
            Affirmative Closing Statement

            Well, thanks to Occam for another good discussion. I guess in this post I should explain why I think I've won the debate, but I'm not so sure that I have.

            Granted, I don't believe Occam's objection to my case succeeds, but this is largely because I don't know enough about it to realistically gauge its strength.

            My argument for the existence of a god entirely depends upon the assumption that it's possible for all true propositions to be known. Occam's response to this crucial assumption has been that it's incompatible with science. In his Opening Statement, I thought Occam argued this incompatibility arose because in order for someone to know all of the infinitely many true propositions out there, we'd have to dismiss our only rational account of how truths are known. Why? Because, you can't come to know an infinite amount of truths by successively learning them, but our only rational account of how truths are known involves successive data acquisition. In response, I invited the reader to imagine a god that instantly intuits every true proposition and identify the impossibility therein. I honestly see nothing at all impossible about this, however improbable it might be. But, Occam has reaffirmed the incompatibility objection in his rebuttal.

            He said: "A god that instantly intuits every true proposition is not compatible with science. There is nothing in any part of science that will tell you how a god could intuit every true proposition, or what the properties of gods that intuit every true proposition are, or how gods function, for that matter."

            For what it's worth, I think Occam is correct here: science won't tell us anything about the properties of gods. But, this seems like a far cry from showing that a god that instantly intuits every true proposition is incompatible with science. In fact, there's only one way to say something incompatible with the silence of science on this matter, and that's for science to claim nothing but silence is justified. I'm certainly no science savant, but that science has made any such claim strikes me as terribly unlikely. Perhaps my suggestion is incompatible with science, but I haven't seen very clear reason as to why it would be.

            So, in the end is it really possible for all true propositions to be known? Well, I don't know. But, I honestly don't see any grounds for saying no one can reasonably believe as much. Thus, I still feel that regardless of how improbable gods are, folks can reasonably believe in them: they just need the appropriate background knowledge.

            Thanks for reading.
            "So it seems at any rate that I am wiser in this one small respect: I do not think I know what I do not." - Socrates

            "At times one remains faithful to a cause only because its opponents do not cease to be insipid." - Nietzsche

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            • #7
              Negative Closing Statement

              I'd like to thank Perplexity for a stimulating debate.

              I will conclude the debate by comparing the different methodologies that my opponent and I have been using.

              My methodology was to present an argument containing all of the ways in which theism could possibly be made reasonable, and then eliminate them one by one until none were left. I considered the positions of Alvin Plantinga (that theism is properly basic) and of Richard Swinburne (that theism can be argued for). Those are the two leading defenders of theism in the world, so the failure of their arguments bodes very badly for the rationality of theism.

              My opponent's methodology was to rely on a single deductive argument which would fall apart if any link in the chain were damaged. He was so confident in this single deductive argument that he did not attempt to defend Plantinga or Swinburne against my criticisms. And this argument, which his whole case depends upon, is an argument that relies crucially upon the assertion that all truths are known.

              The question is which methodology you think is more likely to arrive at the truth.

              Thanks for reading.
              "There is no singular thing in nature that is more useful to man than a man who lives according to the guidance of reason."
              ~ Spinoza, Ethics, 4p35c1

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