Billions of Believers and the Ad Populum

The argument goes something like this:

Billions of people agreeing on something are likely, prima facia, to be right.
Billions of people agree on there being a God.
Therefore, it is likely, prima facia, that there is a God.

This is a simple argument and it has a kind of plausibility to it, but it can easily be mishandled and its force lost on listeners. The biggest of these problems being the ad populum fallacy.

The Ad populum fallacy, lit.: “to popularity”, refers to the belief that something is true because it’s popular. Millions of americans believed that slavery was ethically permissible, they were wrong. Millions of people once believed the earth was the center of the universe. They too were wrong. Truth is not a popularity contest or a democracy. The whole world could be wrong, so mere popularity is not itself a strict proof of something’s truth.

But neither does the mere possibility of their being wrong PROVE that they are likely wrong. Possibility is a long way from probability and likelihood. Millions and billions of people could be wrong, but they have a pretty good record in other regards that should not be forgotten. Most people agree that they themselves exist, that the extra-mental world exists, that their senses tell them about the world, that numbers accurately describe reality, that emotions happen, that cats can be domesticated, that mosquitoes cannot, that bicycles have 2 wheels, that cameras take pictures, that science informs us about the world, that reason and thinking occur, and that other minds exist, that sugar tastes sweet, that salt tastes salty, etc.. It would be cumbersome, to say the least, to demand that people PROVE all of these widely held beliefs before the skeptic steps down from his skeptical throne to kiss the ring of dogma. The reasonable person could just as well operate on the assumption that when people widely agree on a given idea, that idea is more likely true than not. The “Billions-of-believers” argument should be wielded as a credibility argument and not as a strict veracity argument. The idea merits credibility since it is unlikely that billions of people are deceived so wildly as to not even be partially true about God’s existence.

Treated correctly, the theist can assert this argument even while admitting that this line of evidence can be overturned with greater and sufficient counter-evidence. The atheist needs to show that these billions of people are likely wrong or otherwise non-credible.

Furthermore, the skeptic is not necessarily rational in the absence of sufficient reasons for their skepticism. Doubt is just as liable to be lazy non-commitment as it is to be tactful self-defense. There is nothing easier than to doubt. Sure people can exercise faith in lazy-minded ways too. But there is nothing innately wise, or rightly guided about doubt in general. Only responsible and rightly directed doubt is wise. One can easily be irrational in one’s doubts so it is not at all obvious that skepticism is automatically warranted wherever billions of people agree on something. That methodology seems to be systematically arrogant, presuming to be justified in disbelief without having to give any justifications for disbelief–even if a claim is plainly obvious, widely held, probably true, or otherwise staring the skeptic in the face.

Lastly, the skeptic still needs to offer a better alternative explanation for why there would be such widely held god-belief among such different people over such different geography having such different reasons and causes for their belief. Typical explanations tend to be dismissive, and are easily countered with exceptions. “Wishful thinking”–but people don’t “wish” that non-believing family members would die lost/going to hell. “Cradle-faith”–but many people convert to faith late in life, and many abandon the faith of their upbringing. “No direct empirical evidence”–but that can only be expected of a material God, and no world religion affirms that at their core. “Subjective experience is unreliable”–But vast intersubjectivity on the order of billions of people borders on conspiracy theory.

And that last point is what the Atheist rebuttal comes down to, a conspiracy theory. There is a vast systematic delusion at work in the world playing off of people’s weak psychology, wishful thinking, and habit of gullibility. It is only the enlightened atheist who knows the real truth, that all these billions of people are deluded. Okay, interesting theory. Now prove it. Your skepticism leaves me skeptical. I don’t trust your doubting. Show that it is wholly unjustified to treat the wide agreement of billions of people with not the slightest modicum of initial credibility.

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21 thoughts on “Billions of Believers and the Ad Populum

  1. First you give examples of when the vast majority were wrong, (slavery, geo-centricism) and then you say these people are credible because they have been right so much.

    The point here is that these claims, whether popular or not, should be tested on their merits rather than popularity.

  2. I agree they should be tested. It IS possible that billions are wrong. But till they are tested, or when they cannot be tested, it is not at all clear or obvious that one should ASSUME they are non-credible till tested and proven credible.

  3. And what makes you think that your personal view on the subject is more reasonable than the collective consent of billions of supernaturalists? Even as I grant that billions can be wrong, I see no reason to assume them noncredible until proven credible. That seems like arrogant intellectualism.

  4. I think we’re done on this issue. I stand by my position that the higher number of people who believe in something does not increase the likelihood of its truth.

    I do not understand why you keep harping on this. Around four billion of people believe Jesus is not God. This does not make their view prima facie true.

  5. I wasn’t talking about Jesus per se, but God belief. When the numbers are roughly split, 4 – 3 then the prima facia evidential force is equally split. I would not argued for the Deity of Christ on the basis of prima facia testimony, the case for Christ is harder to make. There’s no initial plausibility to Jesus’ deity on so introductory a level.

    Back to the subject. It seems too convenient to have a methodology that dictates that 6.5 billion people are presumed non-credible in their mutual attestation to the existence of a God and for their belief to be deemed credible they owe you an explanation that satisfies your empirical skepticism (neverminding that empiricism is self-defeating and skepticism, without bounds, is too). Since you have not justified your methodology, while I have rebutted yours and justified mine, then your method appears to be less reasonable than mine.

    You might be right that we have argued to a stand still. But I still maintain that where billions of people agree they carry an initial probability to their belief since history has shown that such wide majorities tend to favor true claims. Less often, they affirm false claims. Two heads are better than one. And billions of heads are even better. Meanwhile, your one head dictates that they aren’t credible. I’m not convinced. Your skepticism is unpersuasive and seems unrealistic and arbitrary.

  6. “history has shown that such wide majorities tend to favor true claims” – what?

    I would say that virtually all majority beliefs held pre-1700 are now agreed to be false, often with every robust evidence. Here is a short list:

    -Cosmology
    -Medicine
    – Politics (i.e. autocracy, theocracy, monarchy)
    – social structure (i.e. class systems)
    – slavery
    – attitudes towards women and minorities
    – justification for wars (conquest was a-ok)
    – genocide
    – torture
    – the explanation of the diversity of life
    – punishment of crime

    History has shown us that popular beliefs are commonly wrong.

    Your assertion that the popularity of a belief makes it more likely to be true is an incredibly precarious assumption. It does not reverse the burden of proof, that would be absurd.

    Let’s look at it this way, if all your other arguments were shown to you to be wrong, would you still believe based on the popularity of the belief?

  7. Too general. Each topic you mentioned is rife with misrepresentations
    Please state WHICH beliefs not just which topics you say are errant. I assume you are not saying, for example, that pre-17th century people did not believe in a cosmos and now people do; or that they didn’t believe in medicine but now they do. For that matter, lets look at some of the really good ideas that billions of people agree on in regards to these topics which are widely admitted today.

    -Cosmology–Planets exist. The sun is hot and bright. Many heavenly orbs rotate around other heavenly orbs. The solar system is big. Etc. etc.
    -Medicine–the body can be treated with some medicines. Some medicines ease stomach pain. Healthy/plentiful/and well rounded meals aid health. Disease exists. Disease is bad.
    – Politics (i.e. autocracy, theocracy, monarchy)–People generally fare better in society than in total isolation. Governance is imperfect. Autocracy is the rule of one autocrat. Theocracy is the rule of some religious group or person in the name of that religion.
    etc. etc. etc.

    Moreover, there are billions of people today who believe that the earth revolves around the sun. I’ve never directed tested that hypothesis myself. It’s a faith claim inferred indirectly from the effects of unseen causes. That’s not terribly unlike how people believe in a God. Turning your skepticism on non-religious objects it becomes obvious that unguarded, “empirical skepticism” cannot even sustain itself without falling apart under its own weight.

    Has history shown us that billions of people agreeing on an idea are moreoften wrong than right? You have not yet shown that the POSSIBILITY that billions are wrong constitutes a PROBABILITY that that they are wrong. I can only think of a handful of ideas held by that many people that have proven wrong such as steady state theory, geocentrism, four humours view of health, etc. But these weren’t stupid in their time either. And given the evidences we had at those periods, those were plausible ideas that merited some initial credibility till superior counter-evidence has been given. So far, you have not offered counterevidence for atheism–since you have refused to claim atheism–and have instead shown that billions of religious people disagree about specifics (which I admit and is irrelevant to my point) that billions of people have NOT seen this invisible God (which I admit and is irrelevant to my point) and God is not susceptible strictly to methodological naturalistic measures such as what you call “empirical skepticism” (which I pointed out is self-defeating, and is likewise irrelevant to a supernaturalistic claim such as “God exists”).

  8. In response to your closing points:
    “Your assertion that the popularity of a belief makes it more likely to be true is an incredibly precarious assumption. It does not reverse the burden of proof, that would be absurd.”–please clarify what you mean by “incredibly precarious assumption.” Are you saying that “two-heads are better than one” is foolish unrealistic and not even a good rule of thumb? Naturalistic evolution is widely held, are you suggesting that its widely held status among many experts in their field does not add credibility to the claim of naturalistic evolution? I think it does.

    If all my other arguments failed and there were still billions of people believing in God I’m shift a lot closer towards agnosticism. But I’d still have that nagging issue of explaining how they came to such a consistent but flawed conclusion. I don’t have enough faith in conspiracy theories to dismiss that wide of a belief out of hand. So I’d be very discontent for not having the intellectual arrogance to think that all those people are probably wrong while I have no demonstrated defeaters for their claim.

    Meanwhile I’m still waiting to hear what positive evidence you have for non-theism. In the absence of points from the opponent, the low score still wins.

    And since you haven’t offered any evidence to justify your skeptical methodology itself, I don’t see why I should consider widely held beliefs to be, by policy, non-credible.

  9. Okay, cosmology. Pretty much everything we thought pre-1700 was wrong. The sun is not circling the Earth, it, the stars and planets are not held in crystal spheres moving around the earth. The earth is not the centre of the universe. The Earth is a planet, similar to the others.

    Here’s the main point. No one ever accepted any of these views as prima facie true only because so many believed in them. In fact, I am at pains to think of ANY view in which this would be the case. We accepted them because they are theories that matched OBSERVATION. We agree that cats exist not because it is popular, but because we SEE them.

    To me the Sun appears to revolve around the Earth. I do not accept this is wrong on faith. I accept it on authority, not the popularity of the claim. There is no need for faith. The authority is credible to me because those in authority are trained in this area and they also claim that they can demonstrate the truth of their claim empirically. There is also complete consensus among these authorities, to the highest level of specificity of this claim and it is entirely consistent with all other observation. All authorities agree on the distance or the Earth from the Sun, the mechanism by which operates, the relative speed of the orbit. All of this can be empirically observed by me if I chose to doubt it. Eclipses are also explained by this theory, as is the retrograde motion of the planets. These were problems for the previous theory.

    If there was no authority, no claim that it could be shown to me empirically, it explained nothing new, resolved no issues with the previous theory, conflicted with other observation, I would reject it and stay with geocentricism.

    Your claim has no authority, you deny any empirical proof, it explains nothing, most of the gods billions claim acts which contradict observable reality and each other. It is also incredibly vague, god could be a totem pole, nature itself, Satan, a genocidal omnipotent thug.

    In terms of justifying my atheism. My position is that all of the god claims are fairy tales and there is no empirical evidence that a has ever existed. God claims also ask me to use faith which is a term I find incoherent and have never used. Many of the god claims are contradictory, they cannot all be right, but they can all be wrong. Every theist who has tried to explain why their belief is reasonable never had any good reasons… We have been through this.

  10. I accept theism as a theory that matches observation.–i.e.: observed effects reliably predicted and satisfying falsiable criteria.

    As for your other points on cosmology, I’m not sure there were a a whole lot of widely held beliefs about the cosmos besides geocentrism, and later heliocentrism. I know there were some popular theories among science-minded folks, but these were not necessarily trickled down into the masses so that most everyone agreed. The other widely held beliefs that I’m aware of are all true–i.e.: The sun exists. The earth is a planet. There may or may not be alien life out there. Other planets rotate. The skies move. It would be really hard to get a person to the moon. The Moon exists. The sun is bright. The sun is hot. The sun is a great distance from the earth. The sun makes the earth hotter than it would be otherwise. Stars exist. Comets occur.–we can play this game all night. The beliefs that people ACTUALLY align on, in wide scale, are far more likely to be true than false.

    Also, people tended not to align under natural-science theories that were wildly conjectural or were not common sensical. So, you illustrated ad populum beliefs with a disanalogy. I’m talking about billions of people of all walks of life, not hundreds of scientists who were actively testing out hypotheses that, in many cases, they were not even confident to be true.

    BTW, why do you demand empirical evidence of a non-empirical God? Isn’t that like saying, free-will doesn’t exist because I can’t smell it? That’s a circular argument and a category mistake.

    As for your characterization of “faith” I reject it too. I don’t think you should believe in God on the mere basis of faith, blind faith, unreasonable faith, irrational faith, in-spite of the evidence, in the “teeth of the evidence,” etc. In fact, I think you have far more faith in skepticism than I do.

    Your “empirical skepticism” remains self-defeating–and I’ve shown this already, without rebuttal. You are welcome to dislike my appeals to principle of credulity (not an ad populum argument), but since you have not discredited it but instead dismissed it for what it’s NOT, then I stand with the only positive evidence offered here.

  11. Empirical skepticism IS science and is pretty much accepted as the best way to reach conclusions. I require and empirical basis for everything.Otherwise it is only conjecture and wishful or biased thinking. If any god exists it should be no problem for it to demonstrate its existence empirically. One would expect it to be at least as demonstrable as say, the germ theory of disease. But rather, you describe it as something non-empirical that I should accept exists based on how many people state they are religious.

    Again it is not me who needs to justify my lack of belief, it is you, by stating your beliefs who must demonstrate that it is reasonable to accept the existence of a god based on the sheer numbers of people who have accepted contradictory god beliefs. I feel comfortable concluding that you have failed in this regard.

    If you are serious with apologetics I suggest a different tactic. Trying to flip the burden of proof by using an ad populum argument won’t convince anyone. All atheists know that god belief is extremely popular. Most of us held such a belief and dropped it because it didn’t add up. You are now suggesting we start believing again because so many others do?

  12. 420olon look up “scientism.” You just expressed it. I’m all for science but it is self-defeating to treat it as the sole means of reaching conclusions. For example, the claim “science is the sole means of reaching conclusions” is not itself a scientific statement but a philosophical one. Test tubes, trials, and experiments never produced a single meaningful sentence like that one. You are employing philosophy to reject philosophy in the name of a science.

    you say, “I require and [sic] empirical basis for everything.” What is your empirical basis for believing in the “I” of that sentence? The most immediate and direct knowledge we have, namely of our very selves, is sub-empirical. Moreover, the meaning of that sentence is not empirical, it is rational, hence your statement of empiricism again reduces to self-defeat.

    If you are demanding direct material evidence of an immaterial God then you are asking for what is conceptually absurd. You might as well ask me to describe what “7” smells like or else you won’t believe in “7”. It remains a category mistake and a self-defeating statement.

    But, if an immaterial God were to act in the world, as I say he has, then it would generate effects consistent with a divine cause. If that is what you mean by “empirical” evidence of God, then fine. I have offered evidence for this via the big bang, apparent design in nature, the fact of minds, objective moral values, and one could also point to fulfilled prophecy or the resurrection. But when you dismiss these favoring tenuous and undemonstrated appeals to naturalistic science–such as the presumption that human minds ARE KNOWN to have come from other minds or non-minds; or the idea that specified complexity somehow self-generates in nature; these are not scientific demonstrations but faith claims where nothing in science has yet demonstrated these to be anymore plausible than admitting a supernatural cause. And by the inference to the best explanation, it makes much more sense and explains things better to say that a mind caused the first earthly minds, or that apparent design IS design. so far as I’m concerned, your appeal to “empirical skepticism” is a self-defeating mistreatment of science that requires more faith than my own supernaturalism does.

    I have accepted my burden of proof for claiming theism. I’m waiting for you to accept your burden of proof in your methodology. I have so far shown that you are mischaracterizing science as scientism, and thus embraced self-defeat as your method. Nothing I offer can ever satisfy your rubric because literally no evidence of anything ever could satisfy the demands of a self-defeating system.

  13. My use of the “billions of believers” argument shows that there seems to be an initial plausibility to God belief on such a wide-scale that the atheist who believes those billions of people to be non-credible is indeed

    1) ASSUMING he’s smarter than them in regards to judging whether God exists.
    2) ASSUMING initial plausibility amounts to nothing of evidential force
    3) ASSUMING that quantity of witnesses amounts to nothing of evidential force
    4) ASSUMING that those billions of witnesses do not even practically correlate with quality of testimony
    5) ASSUMING that his epistemic method is superior to the combined epistemic ability of those billions of people.
    6) ASSUMING that you are a better judge of reality, in regards to God’s existence, than are those billions of people collectively or individually.

    and of course

    7) CLAIMING that not one of them is liable to be correct in their God-belief.

    Hence I reiterate that you have not offered a compelling counter-explanation that can deal with the magnitude of God-belief besides to punt to undemonstrated conspiracy theory on the basis of self-defeating scientism.

    1. “My use of the “billions of believers” argument shows that there seems to be an initial plausibility to God belief on such a wide-scale” – I don’t think I agree it makes a god plausible, unless this god is defined differently than I am guessing. I do not think anything claimed to be supernatural is ever plausible. (Isn’t that what we mean by “supernatural”? That it defies plausibility?) But anyway, “initial plausibility” is a far cry from ‘demonstrating it is more likely than not, that the god exists’

      1) No, I don’t think I am smarter, my and their intelligence is not at issue.

      2) plausibility IS of no evidential force. It is plausible that Spencer Tracy killed J Edgar Hoover, but the plausibility itself adds NOTHING to a claim that he did. If you were to tell me that 10 million people believed he killed J. Edgar Hoover, but refused to tell me how they know this, but that I just had to accept it prima facie and take the burden of proof that he did, the plausibility adds nothing to the claim either. (That is actually not a good analogy, you are saying something more like: 10 million believe a celebrity killed him, with 3 million for Spencer,3 million for Marilyn Monroe, 3 million for Shirley Temple, AND 1 million think it is absurd to think a celebrity killed him as we have no idea who killed him or even if he was murdered.) By contrast, it is not even plausible that a supernatural being killed Hoover.

      3) “quantity of witnesses amounts to nothing of evidential force” – pretty much correct. It is wrong to assess testimony on quantity. We assess it by credibility. This is done by consistency, memory, demeanour, opportunity etc. But you are not even saying they witnessed anything. You say they believe it and are assuming that they have good reasons and would be credible. Eg. if we have one witness X who says I was there I saw A murder B with my own eyes, but 10 who say C murdered B but I won’t tell you how I know or anything else, we should think it more likely that it was A, not C. However, if more credible witnesses believe A than more credible witnesses believe C, then we might go with C or say the evidence is inconclusive and contradictory, the claimant has failed to meet the burden of proof.

      4, 5) (I don’t understand these points.)

      6) I don’t assume I am a better judge, I don’t know what basis they are taking the theist position.

      7) this sentence doesn’t make sense, I am not claiming here that there is no possibility of a god existing. As I have said many times, many of these may think god is a totem pole or nature itself or love. I think these all exist.

      I think I should also clarify that I am not saying these billions have bad reasons to believe. They may have very good reasons to believe based on what they know. A Muslim brought up in Western Pakistan may only be told that a single god exists and that Mohammed is his prophet. He may never had been exposed to any other information and will likely have been heavily indoctrinated to this view. It doesn’t mean it is true or more likely to be true if it is based only on bad information.

      Based on the name of your blog I assume you agree that the aggregate billions of Hindus, Muslims, Jains, etc. are all wrong in failing to accept Christ. How can it be that two thousand plus years later the whole world has not accepted the Good News? I bet you don’t think they are all liars, or stupid or anything. You may think they have been indoctrinated, misinformed or just have not heard the Good News or not thought about it properly, or never investigated the issue, or maybe they just do with the flow, or maybe they are mistaking the Holy Spirit and labeling it Allah. These are the same reasons I think the 6.5 billion are wrong about any god at all. (With the exception that I think the Holy Spirit feeling is just human emotion, awe, etc.)

      You must at least give me that my view is plausible too?

      Sorry for the long reply.

  14. Its no good just repeating that things are self-defeating, (and no, I am not going to get into your presuppositional apologetics in these comments.) Belief in a god is “self-defeating” but it has nothing to do with your ad populum aregument.

    Please read my posts carefully. I did not say ““science is the sole means of reaching conclusions”” I said it is the best way.

    “What is your empirical basis for believing in the “I” of that sentence?” – I should say, I require it for everything except fundamental axioms, foremost: induction. You are right meaning is not empirical, but the existence of things is. We are talking about the existence of a god, that is an empirical question.

    “If you are demanding direct material evidence of an immaterial God then you are asking for what is conceptually absurd.” So, by your definition of a god is something that does not exist materially? Something that does not exist materially is not a coherent concept either. You have also just removed a huge proportion of the billions you rely on, those who believe in either a material god or no god. (E.g. Hindus, Christians, Muslims, pagans).

    “But, if an immaterial God were to act in the world…” If it interacts with the material world it is material in some sense and can be empirically detected.

    ” I have offered evidence for this via the big bang, apparent design in nature, the fact of minds, objective moral values, and one could also point to fulfilled prophecy or the resurrection.” Right, but these arguments (if they were valid) would negate the enormously more weak populum argument, so why bother with it? But they are not valid anyway.

    “tenuous and undemonstrated appeals to naturalistic science” excuse me? You clearly know little about science. The whole point of science is that it requires demonstration and consistency and falsifiability. And empricism. I can’t believe I need to show you that science needs to empirical! And what kind of science is not naturalistic?

    Do you really think empiricism and skepticism/critical thinking are not at the essence of science, I think we are done. But again this is a poor way to have this debate. I would love it if you would take me up on the offer of a more formal written online back and forth. Email 42oolon@gmail.com

  15. i reject presuppositionalism.

    I’m not sure I’m interested in a formal debate. I don’t have the time to do a formal debate with you. I already have another debate I am hoping to make time for, and may have to cancel that due to time constrains.

    You reversed the cause and effect when you said: ” I don’t think I agree it [my billions-of-believers argument] makes a god plausible.”–I don’t either, they are not a cause for the effect of “plausibility.” Quite the opposite. If God were highly plausible, then we could expect the effect that many would believe in him.

    while I’m no pluralist, there is a lot in common between the different religions. I ascribe to Original Monotheism and see in most every religious tradition an original “creator God.” I still grant that much of human religion is our own invention, but its borders on conspiracy theory to have such wide-scale supernaturalism employed across cultures and across history, explaining morality, origins, destiny and the meaning of life and yet there is not even a modicum of initial plausibility to that belief.

    Again, you have asserted some unclear sense of empirical skepticism, where both elements assume things that the method should not itself grant–hence both elements are self-defeating. And you use this vaulted and selective sense of doubt to question God-belief. For one, you said, that God’s existence is never plausible. Meanwhile, I’d be interested in hearing how God-belief is self-defeating. Does my belief in God entail that I do not exist, God does not exist, or God-belief does not exist?

    As for “reasons” why these billions of witnesses can be trusted at least in part, there are numerous direct subjective experiences–which I’m sure you think only your subjective experiences matter–there are fulfilled prophecies, there is explanatory power (i.e: abductive reasoning), and even miracles like the resurrection. My point was not to evade giving reasons but to humbly submit that where there are billions of believers there are bound to be all sorts of reasons for their belief. You seem to have only one mode of confirmation–empirical verification–am I right? Why do you limit your worldview to only those elements that fit within scientific experimentation? You yourself can’t even fit within an experiment? Your free-will will, your subjective experience, your truth-making abilities, your judgment and discernment. None of those fit into the third-person mechanism of the sciences. So it seems quite arbitrary that you vault this as the sole means of drawing conclusions when you actually draw conclusions without it all the time. Memory, self-awareness, first-principles, and properly-basic knowledge–all of these lie beneath scientific verificationism.

  16. All gods-claims rely on the claimed gods having “supernatural properties”. (If a thing alleged is shown to have only “natural” properties, it cannot be a “god”.)
    The “natural world” is exactly the same as the set of “things that exist” (By “natural world” I mean everything.)
    The set of things alleged to be “supernatural” cannot be included in the set of things that is the “natural world”.
    Therefore no god can exist. (God-belief is self-defeating.)

    “You seem to have only one mode of confirmation–empirical verification–am I right? Why do you limit your worldview to only those elements that fit within scientific experimentation?”
    You are right, but empirical verification is much much broader than “those elements that fit within scientific experimentation”. It simply means that which manifests to humans and is consistent.

    You keep criticizing my world view on the basis that it does not resolve the problem of global skepticism, e.g. I can’t account for “first-principles, and properly-basic knowledge” No world view can resolve or explain the problem of these.

  17. You defined supernaturalism in a self-defeating way. You said, “The “natural world” is exactly the same as the set of “things that exist” (By “natural world” I mean everything.).”

    You have slipped your conclusion into the premises. Nature is all there is, therefore nature is all there is. It’s a circular argument, which renders supernaturalism categorically impossible by route of definition (not by demonstration, metaphysical proof, or logical argumentation).

    Do billions of believers constitute “consistent” attestation?

    You just expanded “empirical” to include non-empirical senses. Which is it? Do you mean empiricism or don’t you?

    The “problem of universal skepticism” is not merely a “problem” it is a defeater. It makes unqualified skepticism epistemically incoherent. It’s a non-starter riddled with self-defeat.

    Also, I account for first-principles and properly basic knowledge without any trouble. These are the stuff of a necessary mind. Logic, math, moral first-principles exist because, as mental things, their idea-status is fundamental since they are true descriptors of the first and uncaused mind. This is really just classical theism. You might not like that explanation, but neither have you falsified it. In terms of explanatory power it surpasses your own admission of ignorance on those points. Not to mention, theism does not have to rest content in ignorance over how a universe could have arisen from a point of material-nothing, how widescale appearance of design could in fact be just what it appears to be, “Design,” and how objective moral values can be true in the absence of any “oughtness” to material nature. Not to mention, fulfilled prophecies up to and including the Resurrection of Jesus Christ where no naturalistic explanation has yet to account for all the admitted facts granted by skeptical historians.

  18. “It’s a circular argument, which renders supernaturalism categorically impossible by route of definition” And this is my point! “Supernatural” is not a coherent concept in this context. And the context is “all that exists” when we are having this level of discussion. In this context “unnatural” is also incoherent. The use of elevators is “unnatural” in one context, but they are definitely part of the “natural world” and not some other sphere.

    If gods exist, they would simply expand our understanding of the natural world. The fact that we might not understand their powers does not mean they are not part of the natural world. A good example is Dark Matter. This has been demonstrated to exist empirically. We have no idea what it is or how it works. We do no that it is what MOST of the Universe is made of. We can call it a god, or gods, or a spectrum or gods, but why would we? We have no idea what it is. We also know it has some pretty ground breaking properties. It is so far not directly detectable! Same for Dark Energy. But we do not assume they are “supernatural”, we could but there is no point.

    What is your definition of supernatural that is not incoherent in this way?

    I do not concede on your other points, but one thing at a time!

    1. 420olon, this is your point? You defined supernaturalism wrong and in a circular way and you are making a point about it? Who is this “they” that you speak of in your second paragraph? And where do THEY get off defining the natural world for us? I thought you were a skeptic, and you let “them” define what you are allowed to know or consider?

      I do not concede that nature is “all that exists.” It may turn out to be the case that nature is all that exists, I don’t know everything so either of us is liable to be wrong in the end. But its well recognized that if nature were all that existed then it would be literally beyond any persons ability to know. This is basic (secular) epistemology. Universal claims that literally span the entire universe are not empirically observable. Science literally is unable to produce such knowledge. Such a claim is unverifiable, defies experimentation, and has not shown at all that SUPERNATURALISTS think that nature is all that exists. Hence, you have commit self-defeat by defining supernaturalists as if they were naturalists. This is not a problem for supernaturalists, though it seems to be a problem for you.

      How would I define supernatural? That which transcends nature such as a timeless, immaterial divine mind. How would I define nature? The spatio-temporal realm roughly identified as “cosmos,” “universe,” or “multiverse” (depending on one’s cosmology–superstring theory, etc.).

      In all seriousness, this is basic logic and epistemology. Have you had any coursework on logic or intro to philosophy? I should not have to be explaining things like “self-defeat” to you. I’m not saying I know everything or that you know nothing. But I presume that if you have great confidence in such a philosophically sophisticated idea as naturalism it’s because you have a thorough framework of knowledge at work, and have worked through it some yourself. But allowing gaps like universal naturalism (i.e.: assuming that everyone believes that nature is all there is), or “verificationism” or “scientism” is no less naive than if I were a “Flat-earther” or a “Jesus Myther.” These are laughable uninformed positions in their respective fields.

  19. I am informing you of the definition of “natural” that I am applying in order to distinguish it from the definition of “supernatural”. By identifying “nature” as “the set of things that exist” I am making no claim that I am aware or understand all of nature.

    By “they” I am referring to “gods”. Discovering the existence of, for example, of an entity that defies accepted laws of nature would not mean there is a separate “supernatural” realm, it simply expands our understanding of what is in nature. Namely, things we thought impossible are apparently not. This happens quite often in science. Pre-relativity we might think it is impossible for time to pass at different rates for different observers. We now know this to be not the case. This doesn’t make time a supernatural dimension, rather it expands our understanding of time. All is fine within the naturalist worldview.

    You lose me when you speak of your idea of a god existing in some way that is not part of space-time. This is not a use of “exist” that I can understand.

    Yes, I took a intro philosophy almost 20 years ago and much of it has faded. But I think I have a pretty good idea of what self-defeating is. I know what you are saying when you accuse my empiricism as self-defeating and this is indeed the pre-suppositional apologetic. One can’t rely on induction, because one needs induction to know about it, the only way to justify induction is if there is a god. But I accept this criticism. Induction is my presupposition or axiom. It is the cheat I use to overcome global skepticism. THIS, I understand is pretty basic logic. You however, cannot begin with your god, because you must first apply induction to in any way know there is a god.

    But anyway, we are way off the rails here, this post was about ad populum. Good luck with that.

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