Saturday, December 25, 2010

Irrationality vs irrationality? The theist vs atheist debate

This blog is the summary/review of the series of conversations that I have had with myself, my friends and colleagues after the Blair-Hitchens debate in Toronto, a couple of weeks ago. 

I did not have the opportunity to attend the Blair-Hitchens; theist-atheist debate in Toronto. This is mainly because:

1) I do not like Tony Blair; not simply because he started a war (although that would be good enough), but his lack of articulation bothers me...

2)I'm getting tired of Christopher Hitchens's crude argumentation...calling others irrational without defining what exactly he means by rationality or irrationality. His arrogance also annoys me

3)I'm a grad student. I don't have a lot of money. I don't have a lot of time(Youtube version is decent and free!)

That said, the main reason I felt no need to attend is that I am officially over the theist/atheist debate. Why? Because if you really think about it, the positions of both theists and atheists are equally irrational. Before I get into my (non)argument, I would like to present my definition of rationality/irrationality.  Rationality in my opinion is the application of reason when coming to conclusions or making decisions based on given information (aka evidence). Irrationality is the opposite (sorry for the laziness).

Let's start off with the easy part: irrationality on part of the theists. If you have been following the theist/atheist debate, then you should know why theological belief is considered irrational. It all boils down to the acceptance of statements without evidence. In the Quran (7:54) and Bible (Genesis1:3-2:4), God states that he created the world/universe in a number of days (Quran: 6-8 days, Genesis: 7 days). Well, modern astrophysics show that the earth was in fact created over billions of years.  From an argumentative standpoint, given that God in western religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) at least (can't comment on eastern ones, don't know enough) is not bound by the confines of space and time, why god would use time to define his creation? More so, what exactly is day? It is the rotation of the earth around its axis. If there is no earth, how can a day even exist? And so on and so forth. Not to mention the basic acceptance of a deity that is the creator and master of all things without any physical evidence. (Note: the questions "how can the something as complex as the world exist without a creator?" is an argument, it is NOT evidence) Not only is there no evidence to prove the existence of god, there can be no evidence to prove his/her/it's existence. After all, if something exists beyond the realm of space and time, how can something from space and time be used as proof?

This leads me to my next part: the irrationality of atheists. Since most atheists juxtapose scientific evidence with theological statements to automatically concede that their position is the most rational one. Therefore, I am going to base my argument within this framework. From a scientific perspective, statements can only be proved through experiments. Now the experimental framework is based around the hypothesis, which is a proposed explanation for an observed phenomenon. In most scientific experiments there are two subsets of hypotheses: null and alternate. The null hypothesis states that there is no relationship between phenomena being studied. The alternate hypothesis would be that there is a relationship between the phenomena being studied. For a relationship between the phenomena being studied to exist, the null hypothesis has to be negated (proven wrong)

Let's apply this framework to the god question: Does god exist? (Note: here I am assuming that god refers to any all power encompassing deity and is not limited to western religious conceptions of what a deity is). For this question, most people would assume that the null hypothesis is that god does not exist and that the alternate is that god does exist? Since theists cannot reject this null hypothesis using evidence, they cannot prove that god exists, at least using a scientific method. Therefore, god does not exist!

However, this is the incorrect application of the scientific framework. In actuality, the null hypothesis is that there is no relationship between "god" and the existence of the universe. The positive alternate hypothesis is that there is a positive relationship between "god" and  "the existence of the universe" i.e. there is a god and he/she/it created the universe (theist). The negative alternate hypothesis is that there is a negative relationship between "god" and "the existence of the universe" i.e. there is no god and therefore there is no creation (atheist). If god is as theists (at least western religious ones) believe exists beyond the realms of space and time, then as I stated earlier it is not possible to use something from space and time as proof of his/her/it's existence. Conversely, it is also not possible to use something from space and to disprove his/her/it's existence. In this case, since evidence cannot support neither the positive nor the negative alternate hypothesis, the null hypothesis continues to hold.

Based on this framework, the only rational statement is that there is neither proof for the existence or against the existence of god. Any statements made beyond this point on either side (theism/atheism) are equally irrational as they do not utilize an evidence, but rather arguments. Just because an argument is strong, it does not mean that it is correct. Logical inference cannot stand in for evidence (especially if both sides have different ideas about what is considered logical). In light of all of this, I have two main conclusions:

a) The theist/atheist debate is simply about beliefs. Belief based debates are never resolved. So good luck to  Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins,  Sam Harris and Bill Maher. You have a long ways to go!

b)In the spectrum of ideological stances from atheism to theism, the only truly rational position is of the one who admits that there is no evidence for either stance (I'm thinking agnostics).


Here is the Hitchens vs Blair debate in full. Enjoy!
Part 1


Part 2


Part 3


Part 4


Part 5


Part 6


Part 7


Part 8


Final Part