Realistic Limits and Truthfulness


I don’t think methodological naturalism has much to say on that, most serious theist scientists are advocates of methodological naturalism as well. I think one thing that could help is in that discussion would be Dawkins scale, in which 1 means knowing God exists and 7 knowing God dos not. We can do the same for onthological naturalism, with 1 bring knowledge that some form of transcendence exists and 7 being onthological naturalism. I would suspect most atheists would rate themselves as 5 or 6 (with some eventual 7s). But I don’t think they would agree that a theist which rates himself as 2 or 3 does not have belief or burden of proof, so I don’t see why the same wouldn’t apply to atheists at 5 and 6s just because they are not strict 7s. In my view, only strict 4s are free from burden of proof, but I suspect that they would probably be more common at the “nones” rather than among declared atheists or theists.
@T_aquaticus @John_Dalton

(John Dalton) #82

That’s all an interesting way of looking at it. Certainly it’s a belief. Your burden of proof is for the assertion that some form of transcendence probably exists. So you present your evidence, if you expect me to believe it at least. 5 or 6 is that there probably isn’t any form of transcendence, or that the natural is probably all that there is. Well, if one cares to make such an assertion, they will have to give their evidence as well.

As I think through this, I guess my number would indeed be high (approaching 7). Why? I’m not even sure I fully understand what “transcendent” would imply. Certainly my knowledge of the full scope of reality is ultimately sorely lacking, and it does strike me as entirely improbable that the familiar natural world is all there is to reality. On the other hand, if we understood some presently unknown force or entity well enough to identify it as a true part of reality, how would it differ from the natural? I think the unknown bits would be better defined as “not understood” than “transcendent”, and that’s what’s really driving my number up. Phrase the question differently, or give me a conclusive definition of “transcendent”, and my number could be quite different.

My practical position is what I would call methodological naturalism. The natural world is all we have access to, presently, and I’m not aware of any convincing evidence that anything else exists. Of course, there is plenty of convincing evidence that the natural exists. While I believe there has to be more to the equation, I simply have no idea what that even might be, and I rather expect I never would if I lived until the end of humanity.


It is interesting that Dawkins put himself at <7 on that scale, so even the biggest, baddest, and meanest atheist [/sarcasm] in the world stays away from ontological naturalism.

I think there are two basic kinds of interactions we tend to have. There are those where people just express their beliefs. There is no expectation that others conform to that belief, and it is simply a human sharing their experience of being human.

Then there are those who take political or philosophical positions on the worth of a position. That’s where things tend to shift a bit. As an atheist, I often hear people (present company excluded) say that atheists are incapable of being moral people, or there is so much evidence that atheists have no excuse for not believing in God. I am sure that theists hear very similar arguments in the other direction as well. That’s where the arguments and calls for evidence begin.

So I don’t view it as this blanket policy where someone on a spectrum has to defend their beliefs. Rather, everyone is allowed to decide if they want to step into the battle arena of age old theological arguments and see how they do.

(GJDS) #84

I agree with an addition - we may begin by knowing oneself, experiences, conscience, motivation, actions, and so on. From self-reflection, we may proceed to seeking a deeper understanding of ourselves as community.

Easier said I should think :smiley:

(Bill Wald) #85

Not exactly. I don’t have to justify my personal opinions. No one else is required to accept them as more than my rantings. The situation only changes if I annoy other people with my rantings or demand to be paid for expressing them.

Pragmatically, Money is the god of this world and I think the majority of historical data supports this conclusion.

(Bill Wald) #86

When I was 30 I knew everything but when I was 40 I discovered that I was lying to myself. The next 38 years were interesting.

Now, I don’t know anything “for sure” but it hasn’t stopped me from eating, drinking, and occasionally being merry." Couple of years ago, my Doc commented, “We both know that if you end bad habits, you are not going to live a day longer.” We both laughed.

(Randy) #87

Nice description of humility :slight_smile: and moderation.

Not sure what bad habits he’s was talking about (there are some) but probably he is talking about moderation.

thanks for the humor


That depends on how much you value truth. If I wanna believe that I’m Napoleon and the whole world is a conspiracy lead by aliens to make me believe I’m not, as long as I’m not harming anyone, sure, let me believe whatever I want. But if you value truth and/or wanna be taken seriously, then yeah, you have to justify them to show that they are at least coherent.

(Bill Wald) #89

Truth is where you find it. If what I say today makes sense then think about it. If what I say tomorrow sounds goofy, ignore me. No one is 100% correct and righteous or 100% wrong and evil.

This new idea that favored minorities have “meaning” is goofy. Why? If “meaning” means having importance in the stream of history, then in the last century, Stalin, Hitler, and Mao were were the most meaningful because they caused more death and misery than any other people in the history of the world.


What is this new idea you speak of?

(Mark D.) #91

That’s interesting. Not sure how I missed this reply before, George. So you also envision God as somehow being something on-board each individual? I wonder if that means you don’t think God has existence apart from the lives of human beings, which is what I think.

Do Unitarian Universalists make regular use of the bible and hold it in as high regard as most denominations? I find it culturally interesting but I tend not to look to authoritative sources to formulate my own beliefs. I wonder if you’ve posted any threads here pertaining directly to UU beliefs and practices. If so I would be interested to read them.

(Mark D.) #92

Another post I missed first time around. Probably guilty of indulging in RL to excess.

I’m one of those atheists who admits he doesn’t know that God does not exist but I do dismiss the supernatural out of hand as an incoherent idea. I do believe everything that exists at all is part of the natural world, God and souls included. But it is unimaginable to me that one being created the entire cosmos or that anything like my essence will persist beyond my death. I admit I have nothing persuasive to offer for why others should reject those beliefs too, and it doesn’t bother me when others do believe those things. But if it turns out I am wrong about either, then I assume it will be because there is more to the natural world than I was able to realize. So I remain open to being shown what I may be missing, but I’ve never heard an apologetics argument I found at all convincing.


Well, but that is really just semanthics. You are just redefining natural as existent and thus redefining the supernatural as natural as a consequence.

(Mark D.) #94

Perhaps I’ve just been given faith in the completeness of the natural world which I lack for creators and an afterlife. I don’t deny that there is plenty that is extraordinary about the natural world, but it must all fit together compatibly in a totality of everything that is real. Dreams, imagination, personal transcendence and inspiration are all extraordinary things but they arise from and thereby find their place in the natural world. Even what does not exist in the natural world is nonetheless rooted in it by way of the capacity of our imagination.

For creatures like us it is necessary to discern the difference. But it is reasonable to find it difficult to reach complete agreement on how to sort what is real from what we have confabulated. I suspect we all make some errors in our sorting, myself included. I admit it is by faith that I know that the natural world and reality are one thing.

(Mark D.) #95

You’re right. I was using “natural” in the more expansive sense of “the natural world”. But naturalism turns out to be linked definitionally to reductionism to that which can be studied by the natural sciences, and I don’t think that at all. I’ll have to start using that word more judiciously.


Exactly. And to state such is a matter of faith.

(Mark D.) #97

That doesn’t give me any problem. I recognize I rely on faith in a number of matters. What else do we have when it comes something like this?


Nothing. But the original discussion was regarding the “atheism don’t have burden of proof because it is lack of belief” thing. I basically said that I agree with that if it is just lack of belief, but not if it is belief in naturalism. And many atheists do subscribe to naturalism and yet claim they don’t have burden of proof.

(Mark D.) #99

I don’t think there is anything about atheism toward which I have a non-negotiable commitment. I find I do have beliefs and faith and purpose but none of those is dependent upon the will or existence of a higher order being. Just because I don’t think the cosmos and ourselves has been created by such a being doesn’t mean I must be committed to a subjectivity bereft of hope or faith. God could be altogether on-board or intra-psychic and still account for that way it feels to be a human being which makes God belief so appealing.

Given the definition of naturalism I’ll have to give up that descriptor. But I still think there is a heck of a lot more to the natural world than the natural sciences are able to account for. Whether they ever will be up to accounting for it all or if there are any parts of reality which must remain beyond our reach, I just don’t know.

(George Brooks) #100


No, I would say we don’t. We frequently refer to the holy books of other lands to show how much we all have in common.