Gnu Movement Built on Sand

In the comments section of a previous posting, Nikolaj Mikkelsen noted:

“I know of no evidence to support the existence of this thing.”

“there’s no evidence for God”

are two very different propositions. The latter one cannot be supported.

I agree with this, as I made the same distinction back in March:

It is common for atheists to proclaim that “there is no evidence for God’s existence” as if this was some objective truth about our reality.  Yet when someone says, “There is no evidence for God,” all they are really saying is “I don’t see any evidence for God.”

This distinction is vital because it helps us appreciate the intellectual bankruptcy of the New Atheist movement.

 

If we consider all the talking points of the Gnu movement, I think they converge on one simple message – You should not believe in God.  Yet if Gnu atheism is nothing more than a bunch of people claiming they know of no evidence to support the existence of God, their movement has no intellectual substance.  For it would boil down to Dawkins telling you that since he does not know of any evidence for God, YOU should not believe in God.  The proper response to Dawkins would be simple – “Hey, that’s your opinion.”  And that’s all it is.  After all, this would be no different from Dawkins telling us he does not eat meat because he knows of no reason to eat meat, therefore, YOU should not eat meat.

If Dawkins tells us he knows of no evidence for God, or does not eat meat, he is simply telling us something about himself, not the world.  So we live in a world where a man named Richard Dawkins does not see any evidence for God.  Big deal.

Sorry, but if the Gnus want to be taken seriously, they need something more than their personal opinions there is no evidence for God.  They need to show there truly is no evidence for the existence of God.  And they can’t do that without assuming there is no God to begin with.

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18 Responses to Gnu Movement Built on Sand

  1. Bilbo says:

    I think the burden of proof for atheists is actually greater than showing that there is no evidence for God. That would merely support agnosticism. Atheists need to show that there is evidence that God does not exist.

  2. Syllabus says:

    “I think the burden of proof for atheists is actually greater than showing that there is no evidence for God. That would merely support agnosticism.”

    Which is why they’ve defined atheism in purposefully negative terms.

  3. Crude says:

    I loved Randal Rauser’s recent joke.

    “How do you turn an atheist into an agnostic? Ask them to provide evidence for atheism.”

  4. “If Dawkins tells us he knows of no evidence for God, or does not eat meat, he is simply telling us something about himself, not the world. So we live in a world where a man named Richard Dawkins does not see any evidence for God. Big deal.

    Sorry, but if the Gnus want to be taken seriously, they need something more than their personal opinions there is no evidence for God. They need to show there truly is no evidence for the existence of God. And they can’t do that without assuming there is no God to begin with.”

    The Gnus can be tendentious, Mike, but I think you are being tendentious here as well. The argument you are presenting could be used against *anything*. “It’s only Dawkins’s personal opinion that the world is round. He is simply telling us something about himself, not the world, when he says that. Big deal.” If someone made that argument to you, you, or anyone, would have a ready reply: “But…but…Dawkins and others have books and articles that review the evidence that they think means the earth is round, why don’t you address those?” But, for some reason, you’ve already ignored that totally obvious option in the case of Dawkins and the Gnus.

    If you wrote a critique of the The God Delusion, that might be worth reading, even for someone who disagreed. What you’ve posted here is basically pointless posturing that doesn’t get us anywhere.

  5. Crude says:

    Nick,

    The argument you are presenting could be used against *anything*.

    Er, no. Mike’s argument can only be used against people who make claims and don’t support them, or whose ‘support’ for them is ‘well I personally have seen no evidence for these things!’

    Considering that one of the most popular moves (courtesy of PZ Myers) the Cult of Gnu has is the reply of ‘I don’t have to pay any attention to theological arguments because I know it’s all crap’, he’s hitting on quite a point here.

    What you’ve posted here is basically pointless posturing that doesn’t get us anywhere.

    Nah. He’s pointing out the pointless posturing of so many Gnus, and he was appropriately conditional. ‘If someone says that they’ve personally not seen evidence, then…’ and so on.

  6. Michael says:

    Nick,

    Check out Crude’s reply. I’m simply neutralizing the pointless posturing of the Gnu movement. It’s silly and irrational to think I should disbelieve in God because Dawkins doesn’t see any evidence for God.

  7. Nikolaj Mikkelsen says:

    “There is no evidence for God” is unsupported because nobody can know the space of all possible evidences for all possible definitions of God.

    Michael is seriously missing the point. JT opened the debate with the reasonable position, “I know of no evidence to support the existence of this thing.” His opponent (knowingly or unknowingly) morphed that into “There is no evidence for God”. JT did not say that he changed his position, but Michael and others insist on assuming that he did. In doing so, they show a disregard for reasonableness, fairness, and the principle of charity. They are content to spin an interpretation of their opponent’s position in order to make their own position seem stronger. I explained this in detail in the “Never Was” thread, but Michael seems to have not understood the explanation at all.

    Bilbo, atheists generally do not claim there is no God with 100% certainty. We just say that we haven’t seen adequate evidence to support the assertion that God exists. The burden isn’t on us to prove that Bigfoot doesn’t exist, or that unicorns don’t exist, or that God doesn’t exist.

    There is also an issue concerning definitions that I explained earlier: At least we have some idea of what properties a Bigfoot creature might have. However a deity is a vague concept on its own. It would be like someone saying to you, “Prove that a frompkinpoof does not exist.” Your immediate response would be, “Hang on, what is a frompkinpoof and what is the evidence you have that it exists?” There are limitless types of deity claims; our only option is to ask for the definition and the corresponding evidence.

  8. Crude says:

    I explained this in detail in the “Never Was” thread, but Michael seems to have not understood the explanation at all.

    We found your apologetics unconvincing, and largely an attempt to distract from the fact that an atheist ducked a debate altogether rather than ask for things to be defined, like ‘what counts as (good) evidence?’

    The burden isn’t on us to prove that Bigfoot doesn’t exist, or that unicorns don’t exist, or that God doesn’t exist.

    Actually, you assume a burden the moment you say ‘God doesn’t exist’ or even ‘God probably doesn’t exist’. Any time you make a claim, you’ve got a burden. Them’s the breaks.

    At least we have some idea of what properties a Bigfoot creature might have. However a deity is a vague concept on its own. It would be like someone saying to you, “Prove that a frompkinpoof does not exist.” Your immediate response would be, “Hang on, what is a frompkinpoof and what is the evidence you have that it exists?”

    Of course, it also makes the claim “we haven’t seen adequate evidence to support the assertion that frompkinpoof exists” into a vacuous one, since they have no idea what such evidence would look like to begin with.

  9. Nikolaj Mikkelsen says:

    Crude, could you make an effort to act less like a Pharyngula denizen? That means less hostility and casual disrespect. You continue to spin conspiracies about my apparently devious motives. If you can’t at least try to be fair and reasonable, then there’s no point in conversing.

    I already addressed the question of “what is evidence?”. That could only be demanded of someone that claims that no evidence exists. That wasn’t the claim that JT made.

    If I say that I am not aware of any evidence for something, the statement stands on its own. Since I don’t know what the evidence is, I can’t describe what it looks like. But if I say that no evidence exists, that implies that I have in mind what I’m looking for, and furthermore that I have concluded, somehow, that it doesn’t exist. You would be right to challenge that. And the first step in challenging that would be to ask what exactly evidence means there, and how could I possibly (and effectively omnisciently) know that it doesn’t exist?

    I have not claimed that “God doesn’t exist”. I don’t think you’ve understood the frompkinpoof point.

  10. Michael says:

    Nikolaj,

    If you are going to preach about the principle of charity, don’t you think you try to demonstrate it yourself? You write:

    JT did not say that he changed his position, but Michael and others insist on assuming that he did.

    Please document, with quotes, and using the principle of charity, where I insist on assuming JT changed his position.

  11. Crude says:

    Crude, could you make an effort to act less like a Pharyngula denizen?

    Given that I actually reply to what people say and don’t collapse into a litany of curses and grunts at slight provocation, I’m doing spectacular compared to them. 😉

    That means less hostility and casual disrespect. You continue to spin conspiracies about my apparently devious motives.

    No, I continue to evaluate what you’ve said and how you’re acting in light of your words and acts here.

    As I said – the moment you make claims is the moment you have a burden of proof. Whether you say “X doesn’t exist” or “X does exist” or “X likely does/doesn’t exist” or such, congratulations – you’ve made a claim, enjoy your burden.

    Likewise, what I pointed out with your example was pretty basic: demanding proof that (undefined term) does/doesn’t exist has the obvious problem that you need to define the term to get anywhere. But saying that evidence for (undefined term) doesn’t exist is vacuous as well.

    Pretty easy, really.

  12. “Michael (00:06:26) :

    Nick,

    Check out Crude’s reply. I’m simply neutralizing the pointless posturing of the Gnu movement. It’s silly and irrational to think I should disbelieve in God because Dawkins doesn’t see any evidence for God.”

    It’s silly and irrational to think that your argument — basically, “Dawkins is just saying he doesn’t see any evidence for God, we can disregard this because it’s just his opinion” — has any weight, because in fact Dawkins wrote a whole book to explain his point of view, citing the evidence that he thinks disconfirms theism/confirms atheism. If you want to make a meaningful argument about why Dawkins’s view should be disregarded, write a rebuttal to the book’s arguments and evidence.

    If you were talking about the unsupported opinion of some random guy on the street who says he doesn’t see any evidence for God, then the “that’s just your opinion” would be a reasonable response. Ditto for some random pseudonymous blog commenter. But you can’t use that argument against someone like Dawkins who went to the trouble to write a book making his case for all to see. It was you that brought up Dawkins in the first place, after all.

  13. Nikolaj Mikkelsen says:

    Michael, I’ve already explained it — to the point of over-explanation — in the other thread, 10/01 18:52:41.

    Rather than accept JT’s opening statement as his position, rather than acknowledge that JT did not say that he changed his position, you bought into cl’s incorrect re-framing of “I know of no evidence to support the existence of this thing” as “no evidence for God”, which you even agree is an incorrect re-framing. It is a different and much stronger position than his actual position. As I explained:

    If I say that I am not aware of any evidence for something, the statement stands on its own. Since I don’t know what the evidence is, I can’t describe what it looks like. But if I say that no evidence exists, that implies that I have in mind what I’m looking for, and furthermore that I have concluded, somehow, that it doesn’t exist. You would be right to challenge that. And the first step in challenging that would be to ask what exactly evidence means there, and how could I possibly (and effectively omnisciently) know that it doesn’t exist?

    If you applied the principle of charity, you would have to accept that JT’s opening statement was reasonable — “I know of no evidence to support the existence of this thing” — and then, for reasons that were the fault of both parties, the conversation got derailed. But in so doing you would deprive yourself of gleefully characterizing him as posturing, positioning, and not explaining himself:

    When Eberhard realized he was going to have to actually define what he meant by “good evidence for God,” the posturing and positioning was in danger and so he backed out. He wanted to sit in judgment, not explain himself.

    Your posts and comments are filled with such unwarranted characterizations. This is the opposite of the principle of charity.

    This is my last comment.

  14. Bilbo says:

    Nikolaj: “Bilbo, atheists generally do not claim there is no God with 100% certainty.

    Agreed.

    We just say that we haven’t seen adequate evidence to support the assertion that God exists.

    Yes, that would support agnosticism: not believing that God exists or doesn’t exist. It would not support atheism: the belief that God does not exist.

    The burden isn’t on us to prove that Bigfoot doesn’t exist, or that unicorns don’t exist, or that God doesn’t exist.

    If all you want to do is not believe that God exists, then you have no burden of proof. If you want to believe that God does not exist, then you need to provide evidence that God does not exist. Otherwise you have an unsupported belief.

  15. Michael says:

    Nik,

    I did not ask you to explain and over-explain. I asked you to “Please document, with quotes, and using the principle of charity, where I insist on assuming JT changed his position.”

    You refused to do that. In misrepresenting my position, and failing to support your misrepresentation, you are hardly in any position to preach about any principle of charity around here.

  16. Michael says:

    Nick,

    It’s silly to think that Dawkins’ subjective views about God are somehow magically transformed into objective truth statements because he wrote a book. You, of all people, should know that people can fill lots of books with their personal opinions about what is and what is not evidence. Sorry, but all that Dawkins did was to write about a book which helps us see how someone named Richard Dawkins sees the world. But we already had a good idea how that was going to turn out given his hostility against religion prior to writing the book.

  17. Michael says:

    Bilbo,

    If all you want to do is not believe that God exists, then you have no burden of proof. If you want to believe that God does not exist, then you need to provide evidence that God does not exist. Otherwise you have an unsupported belief.

    Nicely said.

  18. cl says:

    Michael,

    Yet when someone says, “There is no evidence for God,” all they are really saying is “I don’t see any evidence for God.”

    That’s why I accused Nikolaj of fruitless pedantry: because I know that the two are used interchangeably, especially by people who lack sophisticated philosophical rigor, like JT. Nonetheless, it’s intellectually reckless at best, and dishonest at worst, for atheists to invoke the former when the latter is actually correct. My only mistake here is that I was a little loose with words, and Nikolaj just can’t straighten his panties out about it. Think: had I just quoted JT verbatim, what argument could Nikolaj advance then? Surely, the original problem—the lack of an agreed-upon criteria for “good” evidence—persists. So, we can see that Nikolaj is ignoring the meat for pedantic side diversions, all while accusing us of everything from dishonesty to lack of charity. Oh, and looksie! In the comment thread, I see that Nikolaj is at it again, where “it” refers to the practice of hypocritically accusing us of something he himself is doing…

    Nikolaj,

    JT did not say that he changed his position, but Michael and others insist on assuming that he did. In doing so, they show a disregard for reasonableness, fairness, and the principle of charity.

    Uh, nobody said JT changed his position. Not I, not Michael. It is actually you who disregards charity when you attempt to attribute to us things we have not said. So quit blathering about charity and fairness until you learn to use them yourself.

    Your posts and comments are filled with such unwarranted characterizations.

    Right, this is coming from the person who leaped to the unwarranted characterization that I’m “anti-evolution,” whatever the hell that means. Anyways, as I did in the last thread, I suggest to all: ignoring such fruitless nonsense is the best response for people like Nikolaj. Their eyes are shut, they see only what they want to see, despite correction. Shake the dust, people, shake the dust. Your time is much more valuable than to be wasted explaining things to somebody who simply doesn’t want to see them.

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