Cognitive Dissonance: The problem(s) with deism.

Cognitive Dissonance

Cognitive Dissonance: a discomfort caused by holding conflicting ideas simultaneously The theory of cognitive dissonance proposes that people have a motivational drive to reduce dissonance. They do this by changing their attitudes, beliefs and actions. Dissonance is also reduced by justifying, blaming and denying.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The problem(s) with deism.

I am going to split this up into 3 or 4 parts, this topic could turn out to be lengthy, and one of the best writers I know reminded me to keep it short or risk losing people's attention, or boring them to death, and I don't want to do either of those things. Anyway, last nigh we discussed confirmation bias, tonight we launch into the facts about why there isn't actually any proof, at all, that any gods exist. Yes, this includes your god too, if you're unfortunate enough to still believe in magic.

The only way to establish the existence of anything, supernatural or not, is through evidence of some sort. Very few religious people actually acknowledge they don't require evidence for their beliefs, those that do are called presuppositionalists, and/or Calvinists and they're a special brand of arrogant. Anyway, the majority of Christians, if asked would provide reasons, or evidence for why they believe what they believe. This fact provides a common ground for us to work from actually, we both believe that evidence is required to support an assertion. The problem lies in how we define evidence, but I think with just a little open mindedness we can get past this.

Why is evidence important? Why I'm glad you asked! For the sake of this discussion I am going to compare and contrast religion and science so if you don't understand the differences, you soon will. Science puts forth falsifiable theories that can be tested and proven to be wrong and this is done by making predictions. A scientific theory (such as atomic theory, or evolutionary theory, the theory of gravity, etc) puts forth predictions that, if the the theory is correct, we should expect to find certain conditions to also be true. Predictions about how chemicals will interact with each other, for example, are based off of atomic theory and electron behavior. While we have never seen an electron, our falsifiable theory makes consistent and reliable predictions about how electrons will behave in chemical bonding and we have used this theory to produce everything from medicine to household cleaners. These predictions are useful in helping us to understand the nature of the universe and behavior of elements of nature, and make advances with this knowledge. Religion on the other hand is not a falsifiable theory that produces useful predictions, it is a belief system. Religions look at areas where we do not have answers (or complete answers, or where we didn't used to have answers and now we do, but they don't accept them) and believes things about those subjects. It does not know things, it believes thing. When science doesn’t know, religion believes. The delusion caused by religion is when believers mistake their belief for knowledge. And we know, as I said earlier, we can't actually know anything without evidence, the absence of evidence IS evidence of absence. Is there any positive evidence for the existence of god, any god? The answer is a resounding, unequivocal, no, there is no positive evidence that any of the thousands of gods humanity has put their faith in over the millennia exist, or ever did. The thing most commonly cited as "evidence" by believers is what is referred to as the "god of the gaps" argument, or argumentum ad ignorantiam. For example, life exists, we can't account exactly for how life began, therefore god did it. This is not evidence, this isn't even logically sound. To assign responsibility for the existence of life on this planet to god(s) take a HUGE and skips over a nearly endless list of other possibilities. Using that logic it is equally likely that aliens put us here, or that we're fecal matter from our friends the extinct pink unicorns... The bottom line is, it isn't evidence, no matter how bad you want it to be.

All of the arguments for the existence of god rely on negative evidence, usually stemming from gaps in scientific understanding, again this is belief, a fairly silly belief at that, it's not knowledge. This makes belief in god non-falsifiable, and as we now know a non-falsifiable hypothesis is not testable, and falls flat as evidence or "proof". Some people resort to another, and even more ridiculous tactic they call evidence, which is saying "you can't prove he doesn't exist" this is known as onus probandi. You can't disprove the existence of the flying spaghetti monster, invisible pink unicorns, a computer simulated universe, Russell’s teapot, or any of the thousands of gods and mythological creatures in existence either, again this is not positive evidence. I also can't prove you’re not joking about your belief in god, and you can't prove I'm not god, or that I can't fly, or that I don't have omniscience or that I can’t predict the immediate future with 100% accuracy. Without positive evidence for these things, there is no reason to believe in them. There is no reason to believe god is responsible for the things we do not understand any more than there is a reason to believe the flying spaghetti monster might be, or that everything is just a dream. No one can disprove these positions because they are non-falsifiable, but there is no reason to believe in them either, without evidence.

This logic is why religion is flawed compared to the scientific method, faith asks you to ignore evidence based on foregone conclusions and it is almost always non-falsifiable - that is to say there are no parameters that could be met or conditions that would exist to show that the argument is wrong, making it non-testable. Faith also offers no reliable predictions and is therefore functionally useless. Good science, on the other hand, draws conclusions after the evidence has been examined, is falsifiable and testable, continues to examine it’s validity when new evidence is presented, and is useful in that it makes accurate predictions. Much to the dismay of the faithful around our planet, as our understanding of the universe increases, the gaps in which god can exist become smaller. This leads to things like limiting education, access to books, television and the internet and other deplorable tactics religious leaders use to keep people hooked. We're seeing some of this today in our country, look at the ridiculous assertions made by people like Bachmann, Santorum and this new "war on women" phenomena.

Again I've probably written too much, so in conclusion I believe it's important to remember that the absence of evidence IS evidence of absence. If I were to claim that there is an invisible dragon breathing heatless fire in my garage, the skeptic should consider three conditions. Has the area where evidence would appear has been exhaustively examined? Does no evidence exists, or is all of the evidence is inadequate? The thing being proven to not exist, is the type of thing that if it existed evidence would show. If these three conditions are met, then the thing either does not exist, or it is functionally useless to believe in it's existence. Until positive evidence for the existence of a god is brought to light, it is not only functionally useless to believe in one, it's dangerous, it's downright harmful to spend your life investing your time and energy into something that doesn't exist. I heard someone say this once and I think it rings true now, "why be born again, when you can just grow up?"


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