Monday, March 9, 2009

The Challenge!

Public Challenge To Atheists: Why Believe In What Can Only Prove False?

Every now and again I meditate on the fact that the atheist / naturalist / materialist position cannot be empirically vindicated. By atheist / naturalist / materialist position, I mean the Epicurean idea that death entails the complete and final cessation of consciousness - that after we die, there will be no more thought, no more experience, no more anything.One of the many disadvantages of this world view is that no other option can potentially befall it other than falsification.

That is to say, even if this position is correct, we can never prove it, for how could we ever be conscious of the cessation of consciousness to prove that such was indeed the case? You need consciousness to prove anything, and indeed, the atheist / naturalist / materialist position cannot be empirically vindicated. It can only prove false, because if even one iota of consciousness continues in any form after death, the idea is effectively bunk. And so the challenge is for any atheist, naturalist or materialist to satiate my curiosity by reasonably or at least politely answering the following questions: Why believe in an idea whose only possible empirical verification is disproof? What of the hypocrisy in committing yourself to a position that claims to rely on proof as the highest measure of truth when the position itself cannot possibly be proven?

http://thewarfareismental.typepad.com/There you go, 'cl' is challenging you to prove a negative, and he's calling you a hypocrite TO BOOT!

Sic' em!

10 comments:

Stacy said...

Why don't you ask him to prove that bugs (and other animals) don't have an 'after life' ?

Why is it that the 'after life' only extends to humans?

Asylum Seeker said...

It's rather odd, because I don't think of myself as dogmatically holding some position about the afterlife not existing, but rather holding a skeptical position about afterlives existing. Assuming that there is no afterlife should be the default assumption as far as I can tell; the null hypothesis, that serves to be falsified, and which he declares not only can be falsified, but can only be falsified. So, it is an excellent placeholder belief: a position that you hold until something to contrary is proven. It does not need empirical verification, because it is an idea that follows from what we know about consciousness neurologically, and if it is wrong, it can be disproven, as it should be. By contrast, claiming that the consciousness MUST continue on suggests that it is by a method completely unknown based upon what we know of consciousness from neurology, with no evidence at all and no possible method of disproving that such a supernatural process is occurring. It isn't wrong, but it isn't a better position.

As for the actual questions posed: there are several things in science that rely on inductive reasoning and do not rely on objective proof, but rather the consistent lack of objective disproof, along with objective evidence that it is consistent with. They are things that are held as tentatively true until disproven, or until we can scour all of existence for disproof and find none (obviously unlikely). And, yes, proof is an excellent measure of truth, this position cannot be proven, so the idea that consciousness ends when brain activity ends is not a position that is held at as high of a level of truth as other, more verifiable claims.

Pliny-the-in-Between said...

Materialist that I am, I would simply counter with - If 'neural energy (i.e. the soul)" exists in any form other than chemically, it should be measurable, (I'm not talking about the soul weighing experiments of yore...) and therefore not outside of the purview of science. If the soul is merely chemical energy then an afterlife is pretty unlikely except in the most abstract Buddhist sense. In other words, show me the math. What is the equation for conservation of consciousness? What structure holds it together in the absence of the physical confines of the brain? I've always wanted someone who believes in such things to answer this question for me. From observations and study of those with various traumas to the brain, we have a pretty good idea what parts affect or control what. If the soul is a layer added to the material brain (the old Ghost in the Machine) what happens to the parts of the soul when the underlying brain is damaged?

Harvey said...

This seems tantamount to challenging someone to "prove" that anything in the Bible (i.e. Noah's Ark) didn't take place exactly as reported therein. Save only for the eventual possibility of time travel, these stories can never be rigorously disproven (or proven either). All that can be done in this regard is to argue that there remains absolutely no evidence to support the concept of an afterlife and that whatever evidence we have says that it does not seem to exist, no matter how much anyone prays that it does.

pboyfloyd said...

Trouble with cl is that he's just not worth talking to.

"pboyfloyd said in reply to cl...
"No. There is no 'onus of proof' for what cannot be proven, and I'm not challenging you to prove what I know you cannot."

Certainly, if a person has a positive claim, i.e. 'that there is a possibility of something other than just death after death' it is not up to the opponents of that idea to disprove it or even to rationalize their position.
Reply March 10, 2009 at 14:03

cl said in reply to pboyfloyd...
...it is not up to the opponents of that idea to disprove it or even to rationalize their position.
Well, then don't rationalize your position."

Guess I WON the "Challenge" then?

pboyfloyd said...

This is the style of argument we can expect from these guys.

Me: 'When I die, I'll be dead. When you die, you'll be dead.(Of course I go on, it's not a stand alone comment)'

Brad: 'Supporting evidence? If this is an established fact, could you give us some kind of information on how it was established?'

Me: 'cl is turning tables on this by suggesting that there is an alternative, "Life after death", then challenging us to prove the negative case.'

Brad:1) 'Is there anything wrong with suggesting an alternative? Did he break any rules of epistemology, logic, science, or whathaveyou in the process of merely suggesting? Is there anything internally inconsistent about the idea? Is there something we're not getting? We're all ears, so long as you actually try and make any case.'

As if I were trying to berate cl for 'suggesting' alternatives. Umm, we all knew it!

Brad: '2) cl has not truly challenged us to prove the negative case. I thought cl even said that neither the positive nor negative case could be addressed this side of the grave (in a different post if my memory serves...)'

If Brad's memory serves, when it came to miracles we were asked if we were sure that there were no disparate miracles between Genesis and Revelation.

(I supposed that cl was playing the "If you believe that Genesis is the beginning and that Revelation is the end then you must know that miracles happened 'chock-a-block' in the other chapters!

After challenging cl on this he innocently batted his eyes, no his argument had NOTHING to do with the Bible at all! How could I be so suspicious?

One last one.

Brad: '..a 'straw-man argument' refers to a debater caricaturing an opponent's argument, which has nothing to do with the debater's own beliefs."

But here's the challenge:-"Why believe in an idea whose only possible empirical verification is disproof? What of the hypocrisy in committing yourself to a position that claims to rely on proof as the highest measure of truth when the position itself cannot possibly be proven?"

What non-straw-man atheist believes there can be 'empirical verification' of death equaling the end or not?

The Maze Monster said...

i guess if we get bogged down in techinicallity, i'm more ignostic and anything. ignostic is kinda like agnostic, but ignostics believe that even if there is a god, it doesn't matter

cl said...

Asylum Seeker,

You said, "Assuming that there is no afterlife should be the default assumption as far as I can tell..."

I say zero assumptions should be the default position. And I liked your closing sentence.

Pliny-the-in-Between,

Though I doubt I can satisfactorily answer your questions, I took an introductory stab at the Ghost In The Machine concept here.

Harvey,

I hate to say it but you missed the point. The purpose of the piece was not to shift the burden of proof.

You also said, "All that can be done in this regard is to argue that there remains absolutely no evidence to support the concept of an afterlife and that whatever evidence we have says that it does not seem to exist, no matter how much anyone prays that it does." Whether the evidence you have in mind supports an afterlife or not is a matter of opinion.

pboyfloyd,

"Trouble with cl is that he's just not worth talking to."

Interesting. Your second comment in this thread represents such a morass of impenetrable confusion that I won't even take the necessary time to dismantle it. You attempt to make me look silly because I claim nobody can know that some disparate miracle has not occurred "between Genesis and Revelation," yet that claim is true and you got hung up on the delivery. As I told you before, let's presume the entire Bible is false ahead of time, no Genesis, no Revelation. Still, no mortal can know that no miracle has ever happened, or that God has never shown up, so what can you say now other than, "That's correct?"

And you've attempted to smear Brad here as well, but trust me, you're way out of your league. Stuff like "you're a fuckin liar" doesn't pass for cogent argument in our book. Jumping to the conclusion that you've been banned from someone's blog just because some comment you posted is not sound rationalism, either.

I hope your commenters will make up their own minds about Brad, me or my blog, instead of relying on your opinions, which are certainly not objective or rational.

pboyfloyd said...

Of course cl. Everyone ought to read your stuff and decide for themselves.

GearHedEd said...

There. I added my $.02.