Argument from Incomplete Certainty

UncertaintyAheadThis is a weird one and an argument that, as usual, falls apart completely under even the most cursory evaluation, but hey, it’s religion, what do you expect? I ran into a theist whose main argument for the supernatural is that man cannot be 100% certain that the natural world is all that there is. Remember that “100% certain” bit because it’s important.  He thinks that because we cannot trust our senses with 100% certainty, we cannot be absolutely positive that our views about the world are perfect in every way, that we have to allow that there are things that we cannot sense, therefore God.

No, I’m not kidding.  I tried to engage him for a while until I realized it was a waste of time.  Essentially, I pointed out that he couldn’t argue for the supernatural because he couldn’t even define what it was, the supernatural is inherently defined by what it isn’t (ie. it isn’t natural) and that, in the absence of evidence for anything supernatural, without even a singular example of something that is supernatural, it’s not even something that ought to be suggested as a possibility. That’s something else that I’m starting to point out more often, the idea that people who  believe in irrational things can’t even show that these irrational things are a reasonable possibility, they cannot show that the characteristics they assign to God are valid, that the existence of ghosts and unicorns and leprechauns cannot be suggested by any objective evidence, essentially they’re just making something up because it appeals to them on an emotional level, when there’s no reason a rational person would even consider these ideas at all.  Of course, he entirely ignored that bit and went back to his “you can’t be 100% certain that the natural world is all that there is, therefore the supernatural exists!” and I gave up.

Worse yet, this guy’s own arguments entirely do away with his belief in the supernatural.  Like virtually all theists, this guy says his belief in God comes from personal experience.  But he cannot be 100% certain of his own personal experience, doesn’t that call his belief into serious question?  But of course, he’ll never acknowledge that because his own beliefs are held for emotional, not rational reasons and pointing that fact out to him is likely to elicit an emotional, not a rational response.

I find it strange to see so many minor variations on apologetics, people who will twist and turn ideas in the most absurd and ridiculous ways to put a personal spin on things.  These ideas are typically very, very, very poor, yet when skeptics like me point out the weaknesses, we’re met with outrage and anger, often threats of physical violence, because these irrational believers don’t want to hear about their failures, they’re emotionally invested in being right, even if they’re wrong.  This is why debating with theists and allowing them to spew their absurdity really doesn’t help anyone.  Anyone with an ounce of common sense can see how ridiculous theistic apologetics are to begin with and those without that common sense cannot be convinced that there are problems, no matter what you say.

2 thoughts on “Argument from Incomplete Certainty

  1. "Anyone with an ounce of common sense can see how ridiculous theistic apologetics are to begin with and those without that common sense cannot be convinced that there are problems, no matter what you say."

    You had me in full agreement until you got to this point, where you spread the commonly held, but incorrect notion, that common sense should be trusted as a reliable guide to truth or understanding or knowledge. We should be as skeptical of reliance on common sense as we are about reliance on revelation, faith, tradition and other modes of acquiring knowledge.

    It was common sense, for example, more than 2500 years ago that heavy objects fall faster than light objects. In fact that common sense kernel of incorrectness was held to be true right up until about 400 years ago. Then along came Galileo and Newton.

    It was common sense knowledge that the Earth was the center of the universe. Then along came Copernicus followed by Galileo.

    It was for several thousand years common sense that the Earth did not revolve. Then along came Jean-Bernard-Leon Foucault in the nineteenth century with his demonstration that it does.

    It was common sense knowledge that the Sun revolves around the Earth. Then along came Copernicus and Galileo.

    It was once common sense knowledge that rods and clocks are unaffected by their motion. Then along came Einstein and his theory of relativity.

    All of these beliefs were thought to be common sense understandings at one time. And of course most of modern physics – particularly quantum physics- is completely at odds with common sense. Given that our senses can and do often fool us and it is our ability to perceive through use of our sense upon which common sense rests, we must go well beyond just common sense to determine actual truth. So I would advise against putting a great deal of stock in common sense as a guide. Scientific methods of inquiry are far more reliable than common sense. There are numerous examples of science revealing the fragility of commonsense ideas.

  2. It reminds me of a debate I had with someone that scientific facts are essentially truths, as its the closest we can come to knowing anything with certainty. This does not however mean, as you said, that these scientific facts cannot change.

    Needless to say I could not get even this through to said person as they wanted 100% certainty. Just like their 100% certainty that god existed. At which point I inserted a palm into my head.

    Your analysis is spot on.
    My recent post Idiots of the week – Saudi Arabian Government

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Optionally add an image (JPG only)