Friday, November 13, 2009

critiquing Williams still: religion and propositions

Jacinta: So does this Peter Williams acknowledge other forces pushing westerners away from religious belief besides the supposedly destructive effects of logical positivism upon all and sundry?
Canto: Maybe he does, but this review suggests that he sees positvism as the main culprit. He doesn't appear to recognise the diversity of forces you've outlined, nor the diversity of positions adopted by the so-called new atheists. And get this, he reckons, or maybe Luke Pollard, the reviewer, reckons that 'positivism had to die for atheism to live'. What do you make of that?
Jacinta: Sounds like one of Dan Dennett's 'deepities'. It's rubbish - Lucretius was an atheist some two thousand years ago, without the assistance of positivism's corpse. This sounds like very lame philosophizing to me.
Canto: Presumably he's talking about 'new atheism', but it isn't really a new movement, it's more like a new confidence, as we find so much more in the way of scientific findings to arm ourselves with, and solid arguments, and a growing number of articulate people to connect with, people who aren't willing to cease and desist until theists come up with some answers, which they have so far so clearly failed to do.
Jacinta: Well, I've now read the review, and it does seem to me he's imagining that this issue is somehow about logic. He thinks that logic is on his side, but it's not a matter simply of logic - and logic isn't on his side either. For example - and admittedly I can't do his argument justice from reading a one-page review of his book - he says, in Pollard's words, that logical positivism renders 'the unverifiable God hypothesis meaningless' - but, further, he claims that the response 'there is no god', is also meaningless. So positivism, he claims, is useless one way or the other. But let's jettison positivism [which was a much more complex approach than this outline suggests] and simply look at the propositions 'God exists' and 'God doesn't exist'. I doubt that many people, new atheist or otherwise, would claim that these propositions are meaningless. The claim that something doesn't exist is perhaps easier to deal with. 'Santa doesn't exist', 'fairies don't exist', 'Superman doesn't exist', we accept these propositions to be meaningful, and in a sense, true. I say 'in a sense' because there is a sense, also, in which they are false. Most of us know what Santa looks like, we can generally agree on a description of him, and we accept his existence as a social/cultural construct. In fact it's because we know that Santa is a construction, a product of our 'collective imagination', along with Superman and fairies and so forth, that we can assent to the negative propositions above-mentioned. In fact, it's as difficult to prove that these beings, or any other beings concocted by our imaginations, have no real existence, as it is to prove that gods have no real existence. Gods have no logical status over and above any other beings of our devising. So logic isn't going to provide us with any answers here. I think we need to look at empiricism and probability.
Canto: Well said, and by empiricism, I suppose you mean indirect evidence for God's existence rather than direct evidence, since there isn't any of that.
Jacinta: Yes, but I won't go into that here, I want to stick with critiquing Williams as far as I'm able.
Canto: Ohh, I love the way you critique, Jass, and I'd like to show off my critiquing skills too. Let's do it together.
Jacinta: I though you'd never ask my sweet. Time to retire, or why don't we do it in the road?

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