Atheism, theism and jelly beans

Discussion in 'Religion' started by James R, Aug 3, 2019.

  1. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member

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    Most atheists these days say that they don't believe that God exists. Religious people, however, are prone to assuming that this means the atheists believe that God doesn't exist.

    In my experience, it is generally hard to get the religious to understand the distinction between not holding a belief and holding the "opposite" belief. I just came across a nice analogy to illustrate the point, so I thought I'd post it here for the benefit of theists who struggle with this. Credit goes to Matt Dillahunty for the analogy. I have taken the liberty of substituting jelly beans for his gumballs.

    Suppose there is a large jar full of jelly beans (or gumballs, if you find jelly beans confusing) - like one of those glass jars used in a "guess how many beans are in the jar" competitions. We're not allowed to open the jar and count the beans yet; we're only allowed to look at it.

    Consider a jelly-bean religionist who has decided that there's an even number of jelly beans in the jar. Maybe an ancient scripture said that such jars always have an even number of jelly beans. Maybe the religionist feels that he received a special revelation from God that the jar contains an even number of jelly beans. Whatever it may be, we take it as a given that the religionist hasn't actually counted the beans yet, or got the number from somebody else who actually counted the beans, or measured them in some way that would give an empirically reproduceable answer. You get the gist.

    Filled with faith that the jar has an even number of beans - for whatever non-empirical reason - the religionist declares "Hallelujah! I believe there's an even number of jelly beans in the jar!" If he feels super confident, he might even go so far as to say "Praise be to God! I just know there's an even number in the jar!"

    I look at the jar and say "I don't believe there's an even number of jelly beans in the jar".

    The religionist says "Woe to the fool unbeliever who says in his heart that there's an odd number of jelly beans in the jar!"

    I point out that I haven't claimed there's an odd number of jelly beans in the jar, but the religionist insists I have, on the grounds that I've "denied" the evenness of the bean count.

    The truth is, I don't believe there's an odd number of jelly beans in the jar, any more than I believe there's an even number. I don't know whether the number of beans in the jar is odd or even, so I don't hold any belief regarding that. Specifically, and to the main point of this analogy, I do not share the religionist's belief that there is an even number. And that's all.

    I am not declaring that there isn't an even number of beans in the jar. I'm not claiming that there's an odd number of beans in the jar. I'm not making any claim at all about the fact of the even/odd issue. I am merely saying that I'm not convinced at this point in time that there's an even number of beans in the jar.

    Moreover - and this is important - I'm saying that the religionist has given no good reason for why I - or anybody else - should believe there's an even number of jelly beans in the jar. His appeals to scriptures that talk about even numbers of jelly beans, and his deep inner conviction that the number of beans is even, counts for nothing, because there is no good reason to suppose that either of those things should correlate with the reality of the bean count.

    Now, some jelly bean religionists will say "Aha! By even talking about the oddness or evenness of the bean count, you're acknowledging that it could be even, just like I say it is! So, really, you're an Evenist, just like me. You're just in denial about it. You admit you can't prove it's not even."

    Yes, I admit there are two possibilities in play here - it could be even or it could be odd. But that does nothing to make the case that the number is, in fact, even.

    To claim to know that there's an even number of jelly beans in the jar, without being able to adequately explain how you came to that certain knowledge, is to make a spurious claim to knowledge. A person making that kind of claim is (a) making a faith-based claim, and (b) pretending to know stuff they don't know.

    The rational thing to do when faced with a jar containing an unknown number of jelly beans is to wait until the data is in before concluding that the bean count is odd or even. Withholding your consent to the claim that the number is necessarily even (before the count is made) is (a) sensible and rational, and (b) not at all the same as claiming the number is necessarily odd.

    In case a theist (i.e. God believer) reading this is having trouble following the analogy, here's a brief summary of how this applies to your God belief:
    • When an atheist says she doesn't believe in your God, that usually doesn't mean she believes your God doesn't exist. Rather, it means exactly what it appears to mean on its face: that the atheist doesn't share your God belief - no more and no less.
    • To put it another way, the atheist who says she doesn't believe in your God is not "in denial" about the existence of your God. She isn't denying that your God exists; she is telling you that she doesn't believe your God exists.
    • When an atheist acknowledges that your God must logically either exist or not exist, that is not equivalent to the atheist implicitly agreeing with your belief that your God exists.
    • If you can't adequately explain to atheists how you know your God exists, then you probably don't have a good reason to claim that you know that your God exists.
    • Ancient scriptures tell you that ancient people thought a God existed. They are unlikely to be regarded by atheists as convincing evidence that your God exists.
    • Your gut feeling that your God exists is unlikely to convince an atheist that your God exists.
    I'm happy to answer questions if anybody wants to take issue with any of this. This should be basic stuff, but in my experience certain people find it almost impossible to get their head around.
     
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  3. Thus Spoke Registered Member

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    Believer: "Hallelujah! I believe there's an even number of jelly beans in the jar!"

    Nonbeliever: "I am not declaring that there isn't an even number of beans in the jar. I'm not claiming that there's an odd number of beans in the jar. I'm not making any claim at all about the fact of the even/odd issue. I am merely saying that I'm not convinced at this point in time that there's an even number of beans in the jar."

    Hedonist: "Om-nom-nom! How ‘bout now?"
     
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  5. Tiassa Let us not launch the boat ... Staff Member

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    But that's also the underlying weakness of the illustration. At this point, it plays a word game with the phrase "do not".

    At the point one knows the behavior well enough to construct such an illustration, why and how would one not know well enough to say something other than, "I don't believe ..."?

    Moreover: Compared to the reasons we might need to worry about what the religionist declares, this whole thing seems personal. Consider, please:

    • "The truth is, I don't believe there's an odd number of jelly beans in the jar, any more than I believe there's an even number. I don't know whether the number of beans in the jar is odd or even, so I don't hold any belief regarding that. Specifically, and to the main point of this analogy, I do not share the religionist's belief that there is an even number. And that's all."​

    That's all about you. Or the atheist in the illustration, as such. It has nothing to do with the jellybeans, or the jar, or the religionist, or why we care how many jellybeans are in the jar, or even why we care what the religionist believes. If it's just a bunch of people in a pub going off, then it's all about the individuals. And in terms of the pub—

    —James, you're an antireligious bigot who doesn't appear to know much about the religions he criticizes. If this was a pub, you'd be the guy outside loudly demanding theists come get in a fight with him°. And you even got it in your head to stage a "companion thread" to your "popular" challenge°°. What stands out about those threads is that you don't really ever show any knowledge of the subject matter that isn't recycled through other atheists.

    Put together a book of analogies and metaphors like you used here. Collect them from atheists famous and otherwise. Check the syntax, correct the spelling, fix the punctuation, and put it out; you will have published a religious text.

    As we discussed in January, so much of your argument is driven by anti-identification. And it's not that analogy and metaphor are without value, but arguments like these reinforce perceptions that the critics do not know how what they criticize works, or what it actually does. It's not that I can't follow this one, it's just that it's kind of a doctrinization of atheistic depictions of religion, and it doesn't really do anything as an argument, though at the point you, Dillahunty, or anyone else, are jealous of the guy who thinks God gives a damn how many jellybeans are in the jar, you're doing it wrong. In the end, this analogy tells us more about the atheist than anything else, and it's a fallacious construction.

    This and the subsequent list, for instance, could have been posted without the long analogy, and probably with grerater impact. In its current deployment, you're just lecturing people you don't like according to your own fallacy.

    Meanwhile, the burning question:

    In what Universe?

    Honestly, in mine, it just doesn't happen that we discuss the number of jellybeans in a jar unless there is some sort of contest afoot in which the point involves guessing how many there are. In that case, everyone else in the pub would be looking at you like just this guy, y'know, on a bender. The last time I saw a scientific discussion that would pertain, someone had just done some math about distribution of uniform shapes in a given volume and figured out there was very little difference between carefully arranging the balls inside the box and just pouring them in. Such questions are actually vital and ongoing discussions, but I'm also thinking of discourse among engineers, not evangelists.

    Here's a related example: You were furious with me at the time, and generally rightly so, but on any number of counts your response to the moment was strange; in a running policy dispute, I had shown you a photograph and offered you an analogy to explain one aspect of our disagreement, and you responded by laboriously constructing a straw man and trying to torch it. And while something goes here about making the very point you were trying to ward off, the underlying problem is similar to the present moment.

    You tend to deal in fallacies, James, when discussing certain subject ranges.

    In that example, certain results could be observed in a photograph. Those results include deliberate action, are unacceptable, and only pretend propriety with sympathetic permission. Now, anyone giving such permission will say they have their reasons; it's also true I could probably write those reasons better than they could, but that is hardly new. Additionally, as an historical object and document, the photograph has relevance today beyond the recent death of one of the people involved.

    You set all that aside, constructed a straw man about some imagined average, and argued against that, instead. And there are some days it looks nearly catechismal.

    Also, this: That larger dispute 'twixt us included a political screed you wrote, and it, too, danced around a sosobra of your own invention. The first, easy note is to remind that once again, you needed to respond to something other than what was in front of you; the second, which is a bit deeper and needs a certain amount of time and repeated exposure to make clear, is that the result of these fallacies is that your response thereounto can appear a consistent, even habitual retreat to various contextually-constricted sets of talking points.

    And here's the ski-boxer's third, both complex and, ultimately, the point of recalling this part.

    • Remember the bit from January, about keeping it around even if it's full of shite, and you require it, and you've already explained why? There are a few ostensibly religious members, utterly full of shite, and while we haven't chased them away or thrown them out for being dishonest, their main effect, to borrow the word, is triggering atheists. One is clearly a clueless egocentric basking in the attention of being an evangelist with a flock. And, sure, give me the line about how these seemingly harmless wolves in sheep's clothing are dangerous to certain ranges of people despite their general inefficacy as evangelists. But, still, who is this unfortunate congregation? Near as I can tell, it's a small handful of evangelical atheists caught up in the thrall of their own zeal and religious fantasies. Another of these ostensible Christianists largely plays disruptive word games of the sort that pass muster under certain circumstances, but not when used in service of what others perceive religion or religious issues.

    One of my responses to your political screed last year was to wonder what was up in the Religion subforum; yon noted the statement, but I never got back to it amid everything else. Anyway, yeah, that's kind of what I meant.

    Your performance in January was another example.

    In a way, sure, your responses to certain individuals in more recent months kind of fit the trend. To wit, your approach in a particular abortion thread was to seek familiar issue territory according to a talking point manner of argument that seems itself distilled from political talking points. And an analogy about redistillation: At some point, it's dangerous to consume.

    The general argumentative form is what it is, and properly used has its place in the world. This thread, however, reads like an exercise in solipsistic fallacy, and laborious pretense for taking satisfaction through self-righteous instruction of those you disdain.

    And your prejudice against religion is laced through with, and seemingly dependent upon, these sorts of fallacies.​

    Again: Comparatively, this whole thing seems personal, more about you than anything else.
    ____________________

    Notes:

    ° See, "What does God do?"↗

    °° See, "What does God want?"↗
     
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  7. gmilam Valued Senior Member

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    I'm more likely to use the "extra terrestrial" example.

    Do I believe there are extra terrestrials? No, I have never seen convincing evidence of such. Does that mean I believe there are no extra terrestrials? No, the universe is a big place - to paraphrase "Contact", if we are the only ones, it sure seems like a waste of space.

    How about we leave the question unanswered until we have something to go on?
     
  8. DaveC426913 Valued Senior Member

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    In a world where we all generally have to interact and share ideas, it is frustrating to have one topic that is both widely strongly held and at the same time so mercurial that it can rarely be discussed rationally. So many theists, when asked for rational discussion, wave their hands in the air and say 'You may not believe in God but God believes in you' or some such.

    Getting frustrated by that is not anti-religious bigotry; it is anti-hand-waving and pro-rational discussion.
    And especially on a forum - where the only thing we have is discussion - discussion is kind of essential.

    If theists simply prefaced their beliefs with "I personally believe..." then they wouldn't get challenged for making statements that imply objectivity.
     
  9. gmilam Valued Senior Member

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    Not to mention that any particular religion is kind of irrelevant to the topic of "God - does he/she/it exist or not?".
     
  10. kevin78 Registered Member

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    ''could have been posted without the long analogy,''
    That's so funny coming from you.
     
  11. DaveC426913 Valued Senior Member

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    I'll bet even Tiassa had to smirk at that one. AmIrite?

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  12. Thus Spoke Registered Member

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    Condescending compassion and pity, perhaps.
     
  13. wegs With brave wings, she flies . . . Valued Senior Member

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    Ah, the more we think we know, the less we actually know.

    I've been reading about the Dunning-Kruger effect, and find myself relating it to this thread. It would be hard for someone who doesn't know much, to realize that he/she doesn't know much. Where's your empathy, James?

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    Joking aside, I think that many religious people are indoctrinated into promoting their beliefs as factual knowledge. To not do so (in their mind), would be a betrayal of their faith. Having said that, many believers are content holding their spiritual ideas, without having to thrust them onto others, and accept that they don't ''know'' what they don't know.
     
    Last edited: Aug 7, 2019
  14. Jeeves Valued Senior Member

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    God doesn't exist. No, not that one, or that one, nor goddesses, or any deities: they are all quite obviously human-made.
    I don't care whether the jelly beans are odd, even, married, single or celibate.
    There probably are millions of other intelligent life-forms in the universe; because of the distances, we are unlikely to meet another one before we self-destruct.
    And the cat's been in box so long, it's not merely dead but mummified.
     
  15. Tiassa Let us not launch the boat ... Staff Member

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    Well sure, and in no small part because—

    —such rejoinders tell us more about our newly-arrived neighbor than anything else. Eventually, experience will teach him what goes on here; in this case the pained analogy has nothing to do with the self-righeous pose. And he's new, so we probably shouldn't pick on reading comprehension.

    But you?

    Well—

    —okay, so, Dave: Maybe you could explain how fallacy is "pro-rational discussion".

    Furthermore, if it was merely "getting frustrated by" utter pabulum, maybe someone with a clue could do better than standing around hollering for people to come piss him off.

    That is to say, yeah, it's true, getting frustrated by religious balbutive is not in itself anti-religious bigotry, but that is its own kinda-sorta fallacy: We're not just talking about "getting frustrated". When I called him an anti-religious bigot, it's not like I haven't known him for a long, long time. His arguments generally lack any demonstrative knowledge of the religions he criticizes. And a bit about being something of an expert on atheist critiques of religion, and yes, fine, he is well-versed in other people's criticisms of what he disdains; it was a moment, not so long ago, when he didn't actually put up any pretense toward knowing about religion. So, yes, while it is true that getting frustrated by religious balbutive is not in itself anti-religious bigotry, that doesn't really get into either, say, the longer question of what is observable over the course of years, or, really, even the immediate iteration about a god of jellybeans, or whatnot.

    Thus I reiterate: By the time anyone is jealous of the guy who thinks God gives a damn how many jellybeans are in the jar, they're doing it wrong.
     
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  16. Seattle Valued Senior Member

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    Why post yet another in a string of rants like this? You accuse someone of passive-aggressive behavior as you engage in this passive-aggressive rant towards James.

    You accuse him of getting personal while you call him a bigot. There is your usual taut of "this says more about you than me" when in actuality is tells us more about you than about James.

    I don't know who the footnotes are for? No one cares about your footnotes. Remember a few years ago when I gave you that "word a day" calendar for Christmas? Your vocabulary was rather limited at the time and I was trying to help. When I gave you the calendar I told you that I hoped you wouldn't turn into one of those people who constantly use words that are too uncommon for general conversation and that I didn't want to see you become a laughingstock due to the "new" words that you were using.

    To wit, ergo, praxis, balbutive, who are you trying to impress or what is lacking in yourself that you are trying to overcompensate for?

    What does this even mean "And here's the ski-boxer's third, both complex and, ultimately, the point of recalling this part."

    This isn't a journal or a verbal mirror. It's rude to type such disjointed babble when others "have" to read it.

    You are welcome to keep the word a day calendar but give it a rest sometimes. Just like anything else, it's easy to overuse those words.

    Now here comes the part where you claim I'm attacking you as you attack me and others, along with the "talking points" nonsense when you hear something that you don't agree with and maybe a little name calling (anti-socials) accusing others of doing the same.

    Maybe take a chill pill, don't try to over analyse everything, take a look into the mirror from time to time before speaking and we might keep you around for another couple of decades if you promise to be good.
     
  17. Beer w/Straw Transcendental Ignorance! Valued Senior Member

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    You don't know about Star Trek?

     
  18. Thus Spoke Registered Member

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    It’s self-pity. He can’t accept the fact that he’s forced to live in a world among believers.
     
  19. Jeeves Valued Senior Member

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    What you have there is a lukewarm, wishy-washy, fence-sitting agnostic.
    Thing is, that won't save her from the witch-hunts. Because anything less than a declaration of faith makes them uneasy in their faith. True Believers - in any dogma - are simple people and the simplest expression of unease is violence.
     
  20. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member

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    Hello Thus Spoke,

    Welcome to sciforums!

    Such insight, for one with so few posts! Remarkable.
     
  21. kx000 Valued Senior Member

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    I believe Skepticism, and Dis-belief are the two beast of revelation and skepticism loans its hellish abilities to the leopard beast.
     
  22. billvon Valued Senior Member

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    It's almost as if he has a lot of experience posting here, somehow . . . .
     
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  23. Thus Spoke Registered Member

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    Mere projection, but if the shoe fits, the foot is forgotten.

    If not, wear more socks.

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