(Un)Believable?: An Atheist and a Theist Philosopher share their world-views – Cambridge University

http://www.veritas.org/talks – Rev. Professor Keith Ward and Dr Arif Ahmed discuss their worldview at The Veritas Forum at Cambridge University.

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45 thoughts on “(Un)Believable?: An Atheist and a Theist Philosopher share their world-views – Cambridge University

  1. Siddharth Sridharan

    What Arif should have asked is for a method of justification that works rather than asking for evidence because I am not sure whether empiricism and repeated tests can be applied to a priori reasoning, so another method of justification must be given by the religious. 

  2. Wg Williams

    The root problem in Empirical Science is the positing that consciousness/mind is mere by-product functioning of brain. Mathematics, reason and logic would be results of this mere by-product functioning of brain called “Mind”. If morality, self awareness, emotions and choice (freewill) are also mere results of Mind (the brain by-product) it would then seem to be just picking and choosing to trust logic over self-awareness or mathematics over morality and in the end become some form of “begging the question”.

    The only real questions are, "is consciousness trustworthy to know reality and if so, is it also a necessary part of reality itself?" We have in fact only consciousness to rationalize consciousness. All rational inferences, testing models against experienced reality, conceptualizing models, logic and probability theories; arise from consciousness/mind and all of these listed don't and can't exist without consciousness. “Consciousness” or the “Mind” accounts for all reasoning with nothing left outside of this self-awareness that is able to encounter or reason reality otherwise.

    Consciousness is the substrate of any possible claim to knowledge and thus the starting and ending point to posit a reality or any truth. Why would one limit themselves to posit empiricism (science's founding principle) as the only method of truth, which is also a product/idea of “Mind” but leads to a world-view that to denies one's self, the objective reasoner, as no more than mere biochemical illusory as the result of it's assertions. Empiricism states that knowledge must be restricted to those objects which can be perceived by our senses. At the same time empiricism requires non-empirical foundational presuppositions and these presuppositions are not material themselves, they are metaphysical. Empiricism must assume mathematics, logic and human reason trustworthy; and that the Universe is rational and in line with a rational human consciousness/mind because these are not physical objects which can be perceived by any of our five senses. Mathematics, logic and reason originate and reside in the metaphysical consciousness, the mind. These metaphysical conceptual constructs can not be tested/falsified outside of themselves empirically thus are asserted as objective.

    Empiricism alone is self-refuting. The theory that all knowledge is limited to what can be empirically known is itself, incapable of being known or demonstrated empirically. When adding the fact that empiricism can not answer for any trustworthy substrate for knowledge that is solely metaphysical (one's self, the objective reasoner); and the fact that the only substrate for claimed knowledge is “one's self, the objective reasoner”, shows empiricism as fallacious at it's core claim of being the only methodology for knowledge. Mind/consciousness is “one's self, the objective reasoner” and only possible source for any claim of knowledge to and of reality. Science may be able to explain what humans are but science can never inform us of who we are; one's self, the objective reasoner to and of reality.

    C.S. Lewis describes the moral issue from within conscious beings reasoning like this;

    "My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? If the whole show was bad and senseless from A to Z, so to speak, why did I, who was supposed to be part of the show, find myself in such violent reaction against it? A man feels wet when he falls into water, because man is not a water animal: a fish would not feel wet. Of course, I could have given up my idea of justice by saying that it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too–for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my private fancies. Thus in the very act of trying to prove that God did not exist–in other words, that the whole of reality was senseless–I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality–namely my idea of justice–was full of sense. Consequently atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be without meaning." ~C.S. Lewis

    Are human observations objective and rational? Is the Universe rational? Because we can not escape our consciousness to test or falsify these question, they are assumed to be objective and rational. Every claim to knowledge originates and is filtered by consciousness and no knowledge exists outside of consciousness to prove otherwise. Calling one conscious experience "objective" over any other is fallacious; including logic over emotions or mathematics over morality. Logic and mathematics can not be falsified/tested outside of their own claims as being objective. Emotions, morality, freewill and self awareness are also emergent phenomena of consciousness. Why posit logic, reason and mathematics as trustworthy and objective and the first group not? The second group can not be validated or falsified outside of their own assertions; so what are you appealing to in order to claim the first list as mere biochemical illusory but value the second list as trustworthy and objective?

    I don't deny the practical use of science just as I don't deny the practical use of objective moral truth in the justice system and laws. I simply appeal to morals being objective as one would claim mathematics to be objective as in 2+2=4. One first has to assume consciousness is rational and that the universe and experience holds these same rational limitations. Is truth in morality of less value than logic, or less true? Is the life of a psychopath with a 140 IQ but without any empathy of more value than the life a kind man with just a 60 IQ?

    Freewill to choose ill-moral behavior or even prefer ill-moral behavior may seem to not be objective but once the ill-behaved is treated "badly" they will always contests this as cruel or wrong. Anyone as the victim of ill-moral actions will always desire to escape said ill-moral actions placed on them. This seems to lead to moral objectiveness. Many people may claim to be pro-abortion but if given the “choice” that they themselves stand in as the aborted, only the suicidal would volunteer. No one that values “Choice” would want to be aborted themselves other than the suicidal. The question then would be, not if abortion is moral but is suicide moral. This leaves no doubt about the question that abortion is ill-moral; meaning that the normal person that is pro-abortion would not want to be aborted themselves unless suicidal. Suicide is already against the law, so why is suicide against the law but abortion not?

    I don't deny reason, logic or mathematics as objective, I just understand the assumptions one must make to assert they are "objective" and apply the same to all results of un-testable consciousness. The error is with someone asserting objectiveness in some results of consciousness and subjectiveness in others without outside "proof". These others would include self-awareness, emotions, moral conviction and freewill. Human consciousness includes all of the above and favors none!

  3. newrev9er

    These debates are so refreshingly civil and productive!  I wish Christopher HItchens had had some of Arif's level-headedness and incisiveness.     Thanks for putting these up!

  4. Andrea C.

    Dr. Ahmed is fantastic, but he equivocated Dennett's position (and eliminativism in general). Consciousness is false in the sense that it's an illusion, not that we don't perceive its existence. Dennett just tries to show that "qualias" are like "phlogiston", a theoretical construct that doesn't hold water. That doesn't mean that we don't perceive we are conscious. Correct me if I'm wrong, Youtube people 🙂

  5. michail psaromichalakis

    1.01.25 there is the true point …. 
    people see their lives as a mess and they want to change it . to make it better .. 
    what they seem they do generally is avoiding the effort and the work and they just adopting miracles and gods and on the way the try to find reasons to back up the faith they accept as saviour…

    i much better prefer to do psychoanalysis and find out about myself, and find out my fears, the root of my anger, really ask myself how i can be better etc.. i like to create my own ethics and try them out and see what makes me and my surroundings happy..
    all this requires a lot of time , effort, work, which is the very reason one can end up being a really good person,  awaken and fulfilled ….

    this is the advice that i give to all my friends and people that i love.. together we think, we evolve, we value our relationships and we are doing great without any superlative force of any kind … 

  6. Eep386

    I don't see why they couldn't share world views. Not all atheists and theists need be these closed-minded "my way or the highway/damnation/etc.!" types – people need only to learn to agree to disagree.

  7. Projectile

    All thoughts ideas and theories have some basis in reality because the human mind can not create something that is not made of real constitutional parts. Poseidon is one of 12 Olympian gods and he corresponds to Pisces. He is part of an old system of Astrology. I doubt anyone would deny the existence of the constellation of Pisces for example. Father Christmas too is a conflation of multiple characters, ideas and principles all of which are based on reality. All evidence is ultimately subjective, and I would argue there is abundant evidence for anything. Whatever you believe to be true is true.

  8. ry thommy V

    if it turned out the christian god was real, sorry but i would not be pleased i have read the bible more than once i am an atheist now, but in my readings i have gathered the fact that god is an asshole and jealous, and genocidal and completely insane and illogical therefore, i would not be pleased at all.

  9. Raymond Arcand

    Dr Arif Ahmed is a little naive when he says that people take drugs based on science. That is completely false. Even doctors give drugs based on what drug company sellers tell them not because they read science papers..

  10. Raymond Arcand

    If evidence would lead the world, nobody would continue as nothing means nothing in the end. So the evidence thing is not a good argument. I don't think that Einstein spent his life trying to understand the universe is because he had evidence that it was worth something.

  11. thetruhoss

    43:00 that is correct that certain things you come across in your every day life you can expect smaller amounts of evidence… And be reasonable in believing such thing. You say you have a dog it's reasonable to believe you because it doesn't really matter if you do or don't.

    I was the proper is this shin becomes more extraordinary it needs more extraordinary evidence. So for something just to be possible in the likes of an extraordinary claim like a God it needs extraordinary evidence not just being possible.

    The weights of the claim should have equal weight of evidence. You shouldn't just believe somebody was up abducted by aliens. Most would agree that requires an extraordinary amount of evidence. Not the same as if somebody said oh I have a dog.

  12. TorianTammas

    Mr. Keith – So Poseidon is less a real god because people have not (by your standard) reasonable discussions about him. So it depends on human standards if a god exists or not? So you set the standard by which it is measured and surprisingly your god is in and the 100000 other goddesses and gods are out. Does this not admit that it is just your opinion?

  13. Rich G

    Most philosophers do not believe in God, Ward was incorrect on this point. Like with many theists they often flit between a vague sense of spirituality, or the possiblity of something beyond the material realm (fine…), to absolute certainty in a particular religion e.g. christianity.

  14. Ali Iraqi

    one watches this debate and sees how civilised both philosophers are in conducting themselves and treating the other with respect…and then one watches a debate with Craig and Krauss.

  15. bwest8888

    LOL Keith Ward mentioning that he was at a conference on quantum mechanics and they were discussing/debating God's role in the collapse of the wave-function? He sure as hell wasn't at a real science conference, guaranteed. Probably at a Theology conference or a conference specifically for religious scientists. God does not even come up in any serious scientific conferences.

  16. Lora Scott

    I can't believe that a philosopher doesn't understand the difference between right and wrong, fact or fiction and Good or bad.
    First of all many can share world views and some can hold different ones and yet neither be right or wrong nor inherently good or bad and doesn't have to be rooted in fact or fiction as to its truth. For instance a blind man in a nursing home had his room updated to current times. The nurse explained that all furniture was replaced with same size replacents and put back in the same place. The nurse continues to tell him about the colors of the paint and prints and oh how beautiful his room was. While walking about he replied I know. Stunned the nurse replied how do you know surely you can't your blind. He answered. It's not about what you can or can't see but what you can perceive. Perception is what changes minds, it challenges ideas and can change facts.
    In other words 5 people can tell the truth about an event yet and tell different stories because perception is truth and truth is relative. Anything relative should be questioned but know that many different answers may develop to the same question and all actually be true. Facts don't always prove only one truth to be fact.

  17. FreeEarCandy

    Walk into a room and make an argument concerning which side of the room is left and right. Paint the words left and right on the walls. Then turn around and make the same argument. When you look at this objectively, rather than from a egocentric frame of reference, there is no true left and right side of any space. All we can objectively say about the room is that it certainly exists unconditionally.

    Good and Evil. Left and Right. God and No God. All of these arguments are logical opposites. Each the antithesis of the other. Hence, if all of these arguments are looked at objectively one can conclude that neither the religious view or the atheistic view are correct.

    So where is the certainty in any of this? Perhaps the question is not valid? If such a question is not valid, then what is the valid question? For that matter is any question valid?

    Essentially, arguments such as, left and right, God or No God, are like measurements. When it comes to arguments being measurements, it doesn't really matter if one is dealing in facts or not. One is measuring and that is all that is important concerning my point here. Clearly the room is immeasurable with regards to left and right. If something is immeasurable, then measuring it is an act of vanity and at best self serving. Can you reach the last number? Moreover, what is the value of 1 slice of an infinite pie.

    I conclude, that the truth is not conditional. That is to say, the truth is not black or white. The truth is simply the virtue that makes our limited egocentric frame of reference of the truth have a sense of realness to it. A sense of certainty.

    By definition, the truth/certainty cannot change. 1+1 must always equal 2 or the whole principle falls apart. If we hold true to the idea that the truth cannot change, then take a look around you and try to find something that does not move or change. So why is it so certain?

    There seems to be a disconnect between the conditions and the inescapable concept of certainty in it all. If in fact the conditions are something totally different than the certainty driving it, then I can argue that in that certainty is where you will find the virtues most religions define as GOD.

    The past and the future are opposing arguments. Each the absolute antithesis of the other. The now moment is where all the certainty is. It doesn't move or change. Reality is absolute. There is no such thing as real and extra real. Reality is a singularity, however the conditions are pluralities and ever changing. Pluralities are logical arguments. A singularity has no argument thus there is no room for logic. Thus it follows that the truth is unconditional. The truth is not black or white, or any of the many colors. All we can say about the truth is that the truth just "is".

    In the end certainty rules over everything. It is Omni potent and Omni present. Logically, it has no beginning or end. Logically even absolute nothingness must be certain, otherwise what validates the condition of nothingness? The conditions cannot support themselves or exists outside of reality, which is to say without certainty/validity/truth.

    Is the uncertainty principle uncertain? Does it prove true on occasions and on other occasions it fails to be consistent? No! The uncertainty principle is absolutely certain and consistent. Thus a state of uncertainty has no validity/reality unless it is certain. Arguing against the certainty of absolute truth is a self defeating argument, because such an argument would have to be absolutely true to be taken seriously.

    When one boils it all down and strips away all the conditional luggage, one can logically conclude reality/certainty/validity/truth has the first and last word. Reality is a timeless indispensable virtue without beginning, end or conditions. There will always be truth regardless of the conditions or the absence thereof. In a sense, Reality is God.

  18. Tien Doan

    WTF is this God people are talking about. I check out 100s of religions and they all claim different things. Then I go into philosophy only to find out that God, BY DEFINITION, is a necessary existence. Why does it have to be God? Why can't it be Ma? It's ridiculous to me how people are willing to believe in one magical beings but not others. The arguments for God could be use to defend made up beings. For example, I can say that Ma is a necessary being, the ground of all existence. Theist would probably say "No, it's not Ma, it's God." Well, how do we determine who's right and who's wrong. If we can't justify the truth of our claims, then why are we believing in such nonsense.

  19. NaJk93

    Easily put.
    We have tested to take out brains from beings, their physical bodies stop.
    The brain gets no blood. And darkness takes over.
    Simply put, if you believe that you can think without a brain.
    Try getting choked out by an MMA fighter.
    It's sudden darkness and all of the sudden people are around you.
    There is no thoughts, no nothing. You are not sleeping, your brain did not get what it needed (blood) for only about 4-5 seconds, and your entire being seizes to exist.
    It's not a difficult philosophical question. It's a question about knowledge and understandment of logical sense.
    It is not logical to be able to think without a brain.
    The only logical thing with the brain part is.
    If your brain was given blood outside of your own physical body (like in a tank).
    Would you understand that you were alive?
    now THAT is a question that is impossible to answer without being able to take someones brain out, try it and put it back in.
    So to say, can you exist without your body, or does the brain ONLY work IF it is inside a body.

  20. Phillip Castaneda

    Appreciate Keith's open heartedness and open mind. I do appreciate Arif's basic premise of empiricism but his application of empiricism seems a bit fundamentalist. In this sense I would disagree with him that atheism allows for more open mindedness, rather I felt Keith's position was far more open.

  21. blamtasticful

    I think Professor Ward didn't win the debate because he didn't give his argument full justice. He was making more of a plausible inductive guess about a greater mind creating a world (that we happen to interact and be affected by) in a similar way that we create our reality by creating a perception of reality (which is the reality we cannot help but live in.) He bases this guess on the proposition that we can't be more certain of an "objective" reality than the reality that we create for ourselves. It is a bit of a leap but it isn't as baseless as Arif's example of the possibility of trees sprouting limbs and walking.

    I do feel that Arif doesn't make as much of a positive case for how to act in the world or at least leaves it incomplete. He acts more as a skeptic in this case. I feel like he potentially could but that his attention was drawn to other things. I still find his argument more convincing but he should be willing to provide a decent alternative that is more helpful to people who use religion to function in the world.

  22. Wade Smith

    From the LOGOS argument we see that the Law which governs all possible realities has a mind and is therefore a God.
    From the CHAOS argument we see that there would be a God and a LOGOS even if there was not a God nor LOGOS, because Chaos has all the properties of a God.


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