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  • Discussion with skeptics

    I think that a lot of you have already seen that overused catchy phrase that skeptics employs "There's no evidence!"
    Obviously, the major problem is too much evident the majority of the time: in the first place, they use "evidence" in a "scientistist"/positivist sense, or by using near-impossible standards, and there's no distinction between "I don't know evidence for X" and "There's no evidence at all."

    Now, that said, people who say that aren't always stupid or ignorant. Yet, I see this maxim used again and again. And I'm not sure how to respond to it in an effective way. I'm thinking about a moral yet rhetorically impactful response, but I despair to find one...

    What advices would you give? Should I just give up to debate with someone who uses it?
    I suppose that somes would say that just answering with what I said in the beginning is good, but I'm not so sure... Given the constraints of a real discussion, it may take too much time.
    Last edited by Ouros; 01-22-2019, 05:56 PM.

  • #2
    I always find the Socratic approach to be helpful. I once had quite a long conversation with someone who held that our thought is so conditioned by external factors we can never know reality as it is. He was a postmodern anthropologist. At one point I just switched to Socratic questioning and eventually he began to question his own justification for his skepticism. I don't know if he ever changed his mind, but at least I left a pebble in his shoe.

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    • #3
      "Theists have the burden of proof" + "There's no evidence" are grasped like petrified tits. Argue that atheism is a positive position that requires several metaphysical principles to be true. Clarify the principles and their implications. For instance, denying the PSR or affirming the possibility of non-contingent composites have migraine-inducing consequences. The atheist is committed to those positions whether he knows it or not; the skeptic is committed to their possible truth. They have positions to defend in the dialogue. In the popular imagination it's as if the Theist is obligated to summon locusts while the atheist sips a beer and wins by default.

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      • #4
        Originally posted by Bamidbar 22 View Post
        "Theists have the burden of proof" + "There's no evidence" are grasped like petrified tits.
        This is a glorious simile.

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        • #5
          The one with the burden of proof is the one making the claim, whether theist or atheist. As noted by Bamidbar, atheism requires positive claims, like an alternative metaphysics and appraisal of the evidence (in a loose seses) for God's existence. If a sceptic comes along asserting there is no evidence or proof for God's existence, theism is childish nonsense, etc., he is making claims and has a burden to support them. If, instead, on being asked to do so, he turns around and tries to put the burden on the interlocutor, he is acting in a sophistic manner. The only one without a burden of proof is he who just asks questions.

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          • #6
            I would be cautious of anyone making claims like that. Bertrand Russell style "there isn't enough evidence" is one thing, but the skeptic is resorting to rhetoric as soon as they insist that there's no evidence whatsoever.

            I'm not sure these sorts of debates are actually worth anything at all, though. I was intellectually incapable of taking any of these arguments seriously when I was a non-theist. I would just instinctively attack them without even really taking the time to try to understand them, so I'm convinced that debate is the worst format for dealing with skeptics.

            That said, I do think the Socratic method is pretty good. Or just discussing things in a non-threatening fashion in general--if you're dealing with the sort of skeptic who wants to fight you, there are already probably some emotional barriers in play too.

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            • #7
              Originally posted by Hypatia View Post
              I would be cautious of anyone making claims like that. Bertrand Russell style "there isn't enough evidence" is one thing, but the skeptic is resorting to rhetoric as soon as they insist that there's no evidence whatsoever.

              I'm not sure these sorts of debates are actually worth anything at all, though. I was intellectually incapable of taking any of these arguments seriously when I was a non-theist. I would just instinctively attack them without even really taking the time to try to understand them, so I'm convinced that debate is the worst format for dealing with skeptics.

              That said, I do think the Socratic method is pretty good. Or just discussing things in a non-threatening fashion in general--if you're dealing with the sort of skeptic who wants to fight you, there are already probably some emotional barriers in play too.
              Just curious, how did you break from your ignorance of theism?

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              • #8
                Originally posted by RomanJoe View Post

                Just curious, how did you break from your ignorance of theism?
                Literature, initially. Dostoevsky put an end to my brief flirtation with atheism, and I was vaguely pantheistic for a while after that. I'd started moving from pantheism to panentheism on my own, and at that point kind of woke up and realized that what I'd taken for independent beliefs were just part of a larger cultural paradigm.

                By the time I came across classical theism, I was more than happy to give it a fair hearing, but I do remember the invisible pink unicorn days. (I also used to have all sorts of issues concerning theism and autonomy that I don't anymore, so that can definitely be a real barrier too.)

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                • #9
                  Originally posted by Bamidbar 22 View Post
                  "Theists have the burden of proof" + "There's no evidence" are grasped like petrified tits. Argue that atheism is a positive position that requires several metaphysical principles to be true. Clarify the principles and their implications. For instance, denying the PSR or affirming the possibility of non-contingent composites have migraine-inducing consequences. The atheist is committed to those positions whether he knows it or not; the skeptic is committed to their possible truth. They have positions to defend in the dialogue. In the popular imagination it's as if the Theist is obligated to summon locusts while the atheist sips a beer and wins by default.
                  I keep coming across atheists (I suspect with a background in the New Atheism) who basically affirm PSR but believe it to be an argument in favour of atheism. Another related one which is pretty interesting is the defining of naturalism in terms of intelligibility, so that whatever is intelligible is 'natural' and part of nature.

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Hypatia View Post
                    I would be cautious of anyone making claims like that. Bertrand Russell style "there isn't enough evidence" is one thing, but the skeptic is resorting to rhetoric as soon as they insist that there's no evidence whatsoever.

                    I'm not sure these sorts of debates are actually worth anything at all, though. I was intellectually incapable of taking any of these arguments seriously when I was a non-theist. I would just instinctively attack them without even really taking the time to try to understand them, so I'm convinced that debate is the worst format for dealing with skeptics.

                    That said, I do think the Socratic method is pretty good. Or just discussing things in a non-threatening fashion in general--if you're dealing with the sort of skeptic who wants to fight you, there are already probably some emotional barriers in play too.
                    There is a guy who had a blog which was orientated to engaging with New Atheism, this kind of 'no evidence' argument came up all of the time. Over time he refined a response which involved asking the person making such a claim what would count as evidence for the existence of God and how they would recognise or identify it. Surprisingly often the no-evidencer would be happy to concede that they actually had no idea and couldn't explain it.

                    The other major issue would be atheist arguments that assume something like Verificationism or Logical Positivism to be valid but can't defend these and can't then take account of the fact that they are probably incoherent.

                    So I think you are right that these debates may not be worth much overall.

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                    • #11
                      This is a tricky issue, honestly, and a hard one to deal with. Eventually, I would say, skepiticism will take you so far, meaningful dialogue is impossible. The only solution as I see it, is to take their skepticism further until it reaches some absurd conclusion (because, inevitably, it will). Although, if they accept these absurd conclusions, that is the point in which dialogue is impossible. All we can do is pray this person comes to their senses (if they believe such things are even reliable).

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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by FZM View Post
                        I keep coming across atheists (I suspect with a background in the New Atheism) who basically affirm PSR but believe it to be an argument in favour of atheism.
                        Are they using Quentin Smith's arguments?! He's actually a tier above the New-fangled atheists, worth reading for the Twilight Zone quality of the reasoning.

                        Originally posted by FZM
                        Another related one which is pretty interesting is the defining of naturalism in terms of intelligibility, so that whatever is intelligible is 'natural' and part of nature.
                        So Quantum Mechanics and all things Multiverse are precluded? If those are "intelligible" then so is everything. ;o)

                        It's interesting: I was recently reading about an attempt to naturalize concepts traditionally construed as supernatural -- by Maimonides. On some interpretations he wanted to treat angels as causal forces in nature. (But G-d would be a unique genus of ontology.)
                        Last edited by Bamidbar 22; 01-24-2019, 05:56 PM.

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by FZM View Post

                          I keep coming across atheists (I suspect with a background in the New Atheism) who basically affirm PSR but believe it to be an argument in favour of atheism.
                          Schopenhauer explicitly makes this argument in his doctoral dissertation, On the Fourfold Root of the PSR.

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                          • #14
                            Thank you for all yours responses. It seems like everyone agrees that socratic dialogueis the "go" method.That said, I have some doubt about it: first, because I'm not sure if it has long-term impact. Well, I don't know any method where we are sur about that sort of thing, so... But also because it's always harder than what I can imagine before it happens. In ideal, the person keeps answering honestly and by trying his best to answer. In reality, I fear that the person may not be in the rightful mindset to even answering a lot of questions that can put him in a position where he clearly see his own inconstitency in his claims. (I'm pretty sure that I could be like that.)

                            But just as some of you said, emotionnal barriers may be too strong to even engage in such discussions...

                            Bamidbar 22

                            Thank's for your link. I've been reading it quickly, and it seems well written and interresting.

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Ouros View Post
                              Thank you for all yours responses. It seems like everyone agrees that socratic dialogueis the "go" method.That said, I have some doubt about it: first, because I'm not sure if it has long-term impact. Well, I don't know any method where we are sur about that sort of thing, so... But also because it's always harder than what I can imagine before it happens. In ideal, the person keeps answering honestly and by trying his best to answer. In reality, I fear that the person may not be in the rightful mindset to even answering a lot of questions that can put him in a position where he clearly see his own inconstitency in his claims. (I'm pretty sure that I could be like that.)

                              But just as some of you said, emotionnal barriers may be too strong to even engage in such discussions...

                              Bamidbar 22

                              Thank's for your link. I've been reading it quickly, and it seems well written and interresting.
                              I think the Socratic method can have longterm impact. You don't really debate the person so much as you question their position out of curiosity. It aims to aid the person into volitonally questioning their own motives for their beliefs. When I come to question the underlying reasons for my beliefs, that's when I'm most comfortable reforming them--when I feel like I've, of my own accord, come to see the incoherency of my convictions. I fear there's too much pride in individuals, myself included, to reform convictions just because someone has gone on the argumentative offense and stated why the premises of said convictions are weak. But if someone merely wants me to explicate my convictions through humble questioning, I am less likely going to see the person as someone who has taken an opposing stance and is trying to attack mine, and more likely to see them as someone genuinely interested in my beliefs. In short, I believe the Socratic method is the best way to prevent the ego from fallacious governing argumentative discourse.

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