12 feb. 2008

Believers in God are Not logically obliged to accept any Flying Tea Pots, Spaghetti monsters, Elves, Banshees, or Fairies

This is only my third posting in English, and I'd like to explain myself to readers who got here through clicking my comment link on English-speaking blogs, especially those debating atheism and the existence of God.
One recurring comment from debating foundationalist-atheists, is this classic one:
"The Great Pumpkin", "The Flying Spaghetti monster", and fairies/elves have also not been proven to exist! Why don't you guys believe in those as well?
Bertrand Russell:
There is also no evidence against a china tea pot revolving about the sun, somewhere between the Earth and Mars! We cannot prove that it's not there somewhere. But should we believe, only because we have no proof against its existence?
One man who put words to my feelings around these questions, is professor Alvin Plantinga, and this post will mainly be a summary of his article Is Belief in God Properly Basic? (Blackwell Publ. 1981)
But first, some main expressions:
Basic belief - not based on any other belief,
Foundational belief - based on other beliefs "I believe A on the basis of B"

Foundationalist: A person who claims that every belief should be based on other beliefs.
Proposition - statement, Incorrigible - Unchangeable, Self-evident - obvious, natural
Plantinga asks himself: "How do we rightly arrive at, or develop, criteria for meaningfulness or justified belief? Where do they come from? Must one have such a criterion before one can make any judgements about proper basicality?"
Russell's own logical paradoxes say this: Some propositions seem self-evident when in fact, they are not.
We could consider R. Chisholms little question:
What is the status of criteria for knowledge or justified belief?
* The foundationalist states:
(1) For any statement A, and person S,
A is properly basic for S if, and only if, A is incorrigible for S, or self-evident for S
Or, as philosopher Ingemar Hedenius puts it:

"One should only accept statements in which there are good reasons to believe."
But how could one know a thing like that? What is "a good reason to believe"? Clearly enough (1) in itself, is not selfevident or obviously true.
Proposition (1) has not been proven.
A foundationalist finds (1) so appealing that, he simply takes it to be true, neither offering arguments for it, nor accepting it on the basis of other things he believes (= failing his own foundationalist criterion). (1) is self-referentially incoherent i.e. it doesn't meet its own standards.
You may seem to remember that you had breakfast this morning, and perhaps you know of no reason to suppose your memory is playing you tricks. Then it means that you are justified to take this as a properly basic belief. Of course it isn't properly basic on the criteria offered by the foundationalists, but that fact counts not against you, but against those criteria.
Plantinga argues that it seems as though criteria for proper basicality must be reached from below, rather than above; they should not be presented as ex cathedra, as dogma from above, but argued to, and tested by a relevant set of examples. But there is no reason to assume, in advance, that everyone will agree on the examples.
How about what i, as a believer consider meaningless? Am I entitled to consider anything at all as meaningless.? Yes I am, of course. Even though i cannot present some illuminating criterion of meaning, I can quite properly declare (2) as meaningless:
(2) twas brilling; and the slithy toves did gyre and gymble in the wabe
I can reject (2) even if i disagree with the verifiability criterion in Language, Truth and Logic (Ayer).
The same goes for the believer; the fact that he rejects the classical foundationalist's criterion of proper basicality does not mean that he is committed to supposing: just anything is properly basic. So, I'm not at all obliged to accept Flying Spaghetti monsters, voodoo, or astrology.
* The Christian will of course suppose that belief in God is entirely proper and rational; if he doesn't accept this belief on the basis of other propositions, he will conclude that it is properly basic for him, and quite properly so.
Followers of Bertrand Russell and Madelyn O'Hair may disagree, but how is that relevant? Must my criteria, or those of the christian community, conform to their examples? Surely not. The christian community is responsible for ITS set of examples, not to theirs.
Thank you all for reading my Plantinga-summary with explanations. I mixed the sections a bit, for the sake of interest and results. I will try and answer your questions as best as I can. Both in Swedish and English.

.............................................................................................. z

19 kommentarer:

Anonym sa...

As an atheist, I reject "foundationalism". Thus making most of your argument collapse into the ground. Every belief is in the end grounded on certain axioms (eg. the usefulness of logic).

Also, you have no reason to reject (by way of reason) TFSM and not Your God, before you have presented any evidence that shows why Your God in any significant way is different from TFSM. Trying to show that you might (in theory!) reject TFSM and not Your God, isn't worth much.

Z sa...


But isn't that what us believers are trying to do every day? We give examples of why it's reasonable for us to believe in God while meaningless to believe in a TFSM (the flying spaghetti monster)
But we (you and I) don't agree on these examples, do we?
You would never admit my examples as relevant anyway.

(this is just what Plantinga tries to point out).

Nicolas sa...

I really don't see any solution to that problem. Do you agree that it isn't reasonable to believe in TFSM even if the Believers of TFSM (BoTFSM) claim so? As far as I can tell, Plantingas argument would be just as valid to the adherents of TFSM or Russels Tea Pot.

Z sa...


Exactly. It's up to the fans of the famous spaghetti guy to believe in him if they like!
And to present examples and arguments to you and me, for consideration.

Afterwards, it's up to the individual (e.g. me) to decide to accept or reject the idea of the spaghetti hero,
based upon whether I find their arguments/examples justified or not

But again, this is up to me to decide. An atheist can't decide what phenomena I should believe in as a basic belief:
only I can do that.

Nicolas sa...

Oh, it's certainly up to you to decide what to believe. But my claim is that it's not up to (just) you to decide what's rational to believe. According to you, rationality is a subjective and not objective value. Am I right?

I honestly can't bring myself to imagine that anyone would actually believe such a proposition, but that might just be me.

Z sa...

It's not up to myself to decide what to believe as rational, in general.

Different statements are proved and discussed every day (though the experts very rarely agree with each other; ask any archaeologist for example: constant ongoing arguments)

But it's up to the individual to choose his own BASIC beliefs (grundantaganden)

Nicolas sa...

So, these "basic beliefs" are actually "axioms"?

Z sa...

Yes they are,
and one is entitled to accept one axiom while rejecting another.

This is another axiom:

"One should only accept statements in which there are good reasons to believe"

I accept this axiom, but I doubt that every person will accept what I refer to as "good reasons".
Many hard fact scientists don't even share criteria for "good reasons". Hence the debates.

Nicolas sa...

And another axiom is "Accept as few axioms as possible." (ie. Occam's Razor)

"I accept this axiom, but I doubt that every person will accept what I refer to as "good reasons"."

Ok. But what does this tell me that I didn't already know? The whole debate on the existence of God is about what constitutes "good reasons", and wether we should (axiomatically) exempt God from Occams Razor.

Z sa...


It didn't tell you anything you didn't know. It accentuated the fact that atheism is also based on an axiom.

The post only explained its title. It's a logical protest against flying tea pots which i have no logical obligation to believe in.

Nicolas sa...

Well, your title doesn't logically follow from that conclusion (although I can agree that your conclusion might be useful against 13 year old atheists ;).

However, I did some research and found another article on Plantingas view of this. While I still didn't become convinced that believers can reject TFSM and accept Jesus, at least I could understand the reasoning enough to find (what I concider to be) his logical fallacies.

As far as I can see, you have only shown that everything is based on axioms. Now, that is fine if you only wanted to defend freedom of religion (the right to believe any stupid idea, like Santa or TFSM).

(the following is based on different apologetic blogs I found, and not Plantinga's own writings - keep that in mind :)
If you want to show that belief in a supernatural god is actually rational even in abscence of evidence, you have to show that the view atheists take (evidentialism) is wrong. Plantinga tries, (AFAICT) fails, and then (AFAICT) fails to present any rebuttal to the counter-arguments. You use the same arguments as Plantinga, but if you had just explained what evidentialism actually is, I might have understood what you meant the first time around.

PS: Do not take this as criticism of the quality of your writings, but rather think of it as the challenge we all face when we want to explain something complicated to any random idiot on the web (e.g. me)… :)

Z sa...

Looking forward to more discussions + reading some certain future postings on your blog

Nicolas sa...

Nice to hear. I'll try and remember to ping this post when i post.

The posts I had almost completed were on Plantinga's so-called ontological evidence of God's existence, on his argument against naturalism & evolution. In addition, I watched halways through a lecture of his on why materialism is impossible, and it remains a mystery to me why this man is so highly respected. His logic is perhaps sound, but if you don't let reality (scientific findings) influence your premises, then the conclusions are useless if reality is what you want to describe...

Anyways, this topic of yours about reason and belief is an argument of Plantinga that I haven't prepared anything on. And to write anything on the basis of blogs and without proper sources, would probably be a waste of time. So it might take some time before I get it published on my blog :)

Charlotte Thérèse sa...

I've read this thread and one thing really strikes me....

That reason and scientific proofs seems to be the only way of knowing something for some of you.

Those wo search for evidence for belief in a scientific way will probably never find any that are good enough (even if one could make experiments on God that turned out the same way each time - but God is not an object that responds in that way - like a robot).

Once those who don't wish to believe eventually, randomly, actually happen to encounter some evidence - they will do their best to deny it or explain it in other ways - just because they don't want to believe...

They might also search for proof in the wrong way.

If you want to find flowers, you normally don't go out on a chilly winter day and look around in vain, and return complaining about the lack of flowers, saying they don't exist - because they didn't show up where and when you wanted - on your demand.

Everything that exist needs to be found in the way it can possibly be found. Not in ways it can't be found. That's just waste of time.

God is alive - not a thing - and not someone one can demand to do things in one's own way, for one's own pleasure - to satisfy one's wish for proofs that one has defined in a narrow sense. That would be absurd.

Those who wish to find God should search for God - and not for evidence.

Those who get to know God need no further evidence than that knowledge - which is like knowing another person - not just knowing things about him/her - but truly knowing him/her.

Couldn't hold back these two cents...


Nicolas sa...

I agree completely.

Except I think that those who wish to find TFSM should search for TFSM - and not for evidence. TFSM is alive - not a thing - and not someone one can demand to do things in one's own way, for one's own pleasure - to satisfy one's wish for proofs that one has defined in a narrow sense.

That would be absurd.

averater sa...

I believe it's important to remember that science doesn't prove stuff the same way as mathematics or philosophy does.

I think the main argument here is what to call a rational axiom/basic belief. Is it rational to assume that there is some kind of god without prof or is it rational to assume that the simplest answer is the correct one?

Nicolas sa...

That's a good point, averater. Although I would claim that philosophy is even less sturdy than science, since philosophy is built on top of scientific findings (that is, proven facts). I.e., f you have "life exist" as a premise, that is a premise you have to prove scientifically before you proceed (if all life is dead and you use "life exists" as a premise, the conclusion will be wrong). That philosophy is a lot less sturdy than mathemathics is seen by comparing the evolution of philosphy versus mathemathics. While mathemathics have evolved by gaing more and more layers (very few previous layers with consensus were actually wrong, just less precise than the following layer), philosophy has changed a lot the last 4000 years. And still there are a lot of philosphical fields with mutually exclusive hypotheses...

Z sa...

Nicolas, Averater

Maybe Averater was referring to one special field when he said 'philosophy, namely: logic
(implications). Am I right?

averater sa...

z: yes something like that. logic or argumentation or something...

nicolas: I mean such philosophy that deals with basic questions such as "can we prove that we exist?". Then there is no need to involve science since that must first be accepted by the question... This is not really my area so I don't know how to explain any better...

Remember that science only does theories, not truth.
Example: If I measure the temperature to 20C here, does that mean that it is 20C here or that i have a faulty thermometer? I can check the temperature with 1000 different thermometers all showing that the temperature is 20C, but have I then proven the temperature to be 20C or that I have found 1000 faulty thermometers?

Of course do I believe that the temperature would be around 20C if i checked it with a thermometer, but if that would have been inconsistent with any of my axioms ("the temperature can't be more than 0C") then of course, the thermometers is faulty! I believe that the temperature can be higher than that, but maybe there is someone who doesn't. That person can't be convinced by science alone.

I don't know if I wrote something clever here or if I explained anything. Maybe I just misunderstood you're last post...

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