Public Challenge To Atheists: Why Believe In What Can Only Prove False?

Every now and again I meditate on the fact that the atheist / naturalist / materialist position cannot be empirically vindicated. By atheist / naturalist / materialist position, I mean the Epicurean idea that death entails the complete and final cessation of consciousness – that after we die, there will be no more thought, no more experience, no more anything.

One of the many disadvantages of this world view is that no other option can potentially befall it other than falsification. That is to say, even if this position is correct, we can never prove it, for how could we ever be conscious of the cessation of consciousness to prove that such was indeed the case? You need consciousness to prove anything, and indeed, the atheist / naturalist / materialist position cannot be empirically vindicated. It can only prove false, because if even one iota of consciousness continues in any form after death, the idea is effectively bunk.

And so the challenge is for any atheist, naturalist or materialist to satiate my curiosity by reasonably or at least politely answering the following questions: Why believe in an idea whose only possible empirical verification is disproof? What of the hypocrisy in committing yourself to a position that claims to rely on proof as the highest measure of truth when the position itself cannot possibly be proven?

59 Comments

  1. Lifeguard says:

    Howdy.
    Let’s take a woman. We’ll call her Suze. Suze goes blind one day. She can no longer see. All she has left are memories– the recorded mental representations of everything she saw up to the point she went blind including derivatives of those things (pink elephants, unicorns, et cetera). She has completely lost the capacity for any new visual input to enter her brain.
    Now a year later, she suffers the same calamity, but this time it’s her ability to hear. And a year from that date, she can no longer taste anything. After another year, she can no longer smell. On the next anniversary she loses her sense of touch. Finally, she loses her ability to speak. At this point she is completely incommunicado from the rest of the world. She is left only with memories of those things– mental representations recorded in her brain.
    But things get worse. Of course, she’s in a nursing home by now, because, being completely unaware of her surroundings, she cannot take care of herself and requires twenty four hour nursing care. One day though, she is left unattended and has an accident where she suffers a major blow to her head causing serious brain damage– so much damage that the only thing her brain can do is continue her breathing and her heart beat.
    Without her brain functioning and without her senses in working order, is she conscious? Why should I think it will be any different when I die? When my senses no longer work and my brain cannot sustain even the most basic involuntary functions needed to keep me alive? Why would I think that somehow what goes on in my brain– a part of my body– will continue in a disembodied form?
    It’s not a question of PROOF. It’s a question of whether I have sufficient EVIDENCE to abandon what my own common sense tells me (namely, that I am conscious because I have a working, living body). In any event, my position strikes me as more sensible than believing the alternative– that I will somehow continue to be conscious when I no longer possess the very faculties that make consciousness possible.
    I don’t think that’s hypocritical.
    Incidentally, somewhere out there on the internet is a lecture by Daniel Dennett called “Where Am I?” that involves an interesting thought experiment along the lines of my little Suze story above. It’s also riddled with Shakespearean references I think you’ll enjoy.

  2. cl says:

    I was wondering where that Suze analogy was going. I didn’t make it all the way through Where Am I, but I don’t think the idea that consciousness ends with death is hypocritical at all. How could it be? I attempted to draw the distinction in the last paragraph: I think there might be an inherent hypocrisy in sworn allegiance to a position that claims proof as the highest measure of truth, when said position cannot possibly be proven. It’s more of an epistemological observation than a value judgment. Perhaps irony would have been a better word than hypocrisy?

  3. Brad says:

    @Lifeguard: I think your statements filter down to, “When in doubt, trust your intuition (/common sense).” Essentially, the observation of consciousness we currently have shows that the aspects / compartments of consciousness terminate proportionally to how parts of the brain terminate, although not necessarily along a linear mapping. (Should any NDEs count as counterexamples…?) This seems to be of similar form to the following analogy: you take logs and embers out of a glowing fire pit (with extreme heatproof gloves, presumably), and slowly the substrate which sustains the animated redox will disappear as will the flame itself. Unless we find more to the mind-brain situation than this, this kind of Brain->Mind explanation appears to be the most parsimonious, so I’d at least call it the tentatively preferred explanation. Implicit within the explanation, though, is the fact that it has not logically merited any more strict plausibility than the opposing explanation.
    Whether or not No-consciousness-after-death can be proven false hinges on what we eventually discover (if we do) the nature of consciousness to be, in my opinion.

  4. Lifeguard says:

    CL:
    Methinks you’re overstating my position (and many atheists’ positions). As I stated earlier, it’s not about indisputable proof. Demanding proof (or disproof), in the sense that would make doubt impossible, would almost certainly commit one to agnosticism. How could anyone definitively prove, one way or the other, what happens after death or whether there is a god? After all, almost anything is possible, right?
    It’s not about indisputable proof but rather about reason, the availability and quality of the evidence, and what we can conclude about reality based on such. What most atheists object to– often using the words prove, disprove, or proof too liberally perhaps– is what many perceive as the theist claiming that because theism can be expressed in a way consistent with the evidence, that somehow means something has been proven. Whereas I think many atheists take a more conservative position on what the evidence warrants.

  5. cl says:

    Lifeguard,
    I realize the bit about proof and I’m not trying to make a 100% certainty argument, nor am I trying to state that atheists should have indisputable proof for their beliefs.

    How could anyone definitively prove, one way or the other, what happens after death or whether there is a god?

    No human possibly could. However, if there is any consciousness after death in any form, atheism / naturalism / materialism is effectively falsified.
    But think of the opposite scenario. If atheism / naturalism / materialism is correct, nobody will ever know. That’s what I’m getting at by saying the idea can never possibly be empirically vindicated. There is only one possible post-mortem realization for the atheist / naturalist / materialist: That they were wrong.

    It’s not about indisputable proof but rather about reason, the availability and quality of the evidence, and what we can conclude about reality based on such.

    I understand, and that’s part of my point – we can never possibly hope to empirically conclude that atheism / naturalism / materialism is correct. The only possible epistemological transition in this regard is that atheism / naturalism / materialism can prove false.
    So that’s the irony: atheists live their entire lives honoring proof, evidence and real-world experience as the highest possible measures of truth and knowing, but they themselves can never possibly know with real-world certainty that their position is true.
    Brad,

    Whether or not No-consciousness-after-death can be proven false hinges on what we eventually discover (if we do) the nature of consciousness to be, in my opinion.

    I say whether or not No-consciousness-after-death can be proven false hinges on one thing and one thing only: If we ‘wake up’ on the other side. Of course, this can only be proof for the one who’s crossed over, and not the rest of us on Earth.

  6. Lifeguard says:

    I’m not sure about irony here.
    Atheists value science over theology because we find scienctific knowledge to be more reliable than truths or knowledge allegedly revealed by religion. Scienctific knowledge can be independently verified in a breathtakingly elegant manner. Atheists often argue that science is superior precisely because it relies on empirically verifiable hypotheses about expected results. Therefore, it only makes sense that as an atheist I should be comfortable with a position that can be falsified– namely, that there is no afterlife. I will never know if I was right, but I will certainly know if I was wrong.
    So there’s nothing inherently ironic in that, is there?
    But…
    Isn’t the converse also true? That belief in the afterlife is UN-falsifiable? If there is no afterlife, then someone who believes in an afterlife will never know they were wrong. Such a person would live in ignorance without hope of ever being corrected. Unfalsifiability is a common atheist objection to theist claims about the world, so, again, where’s the irony there?

  7. cl says:

    Hmmm….

    Atheists value science over theology because we find scienctific knowledge to be more reliable than truths or knowledge allegedly revealed by religion.

    I have always agreed.

    Scienctific knowledge can be independently verified in a breathtakingly elegant manner.

    I have always agreed.

    Atheists often argue that science is superior precisely because it relies on empirically verifiable hypotheses about expected results.

    Again, I’ve always agreed, and that’s where the irony is. Why do scientists love empirical data? Because it lends well to what’s called an a-ha moment, right? For example, the minute Griffith discovered the transforming principle, we had an a-ha moment about genetic information. We then knew that information was passed between an organism’s genes. What I’m trying to say is this: With atheism, there can never possibly be that a-ha moment where one’s ideas are finally vindicated. The cessation of individual consciousness is an inherently unfalsifiable proposition. Hence, atheism itself is not an empirically verifiable hypothesis.

    If there is no afterlife, then someone who believes in an afterlife will never know they were wrong. Such a person would live in ignorance without hope of ever being corrected.

    Yes, if there is no afterlife, that is correct, but whether there is or isn’t an afterlife doesn’t affect my point, which is that any atheist / naturalist / materialist who wakes up on the other side has zero possibilities other than the realization that their ideas were wrong. So upon death, the one who says consciousness ends cannot possibly experience any other sensation than being incorrect, while the one who says consciousness continues cannot possibly experience any other sensation than being correct.
    And therein lies the irony / hypocrisy: The atheist chides the believer as foolish and gullible to believe in that which cannot be proven, but the atheist’s idea that consciousness stops at death cannot be proven – it can only prove wrong.

  8. Lifeguard says:

    I see your point.
    I just don’t find that any more ironic, hypocritical or indicative of bad faith than the alternative– holding a set of beliefs about the afterlife that can never be proven wrong.

  9. cl says:

    I see your point.

    Good, I’m relieved. I was starting to doubt my own “explanatory power.” ;)

    I just don’t find that any more ironic, hypocritical or indicative of bad faith than the alternative…

    I certainly wouldn’t and didn’t mean to imply that the irony I see is indicative of bad faith. But I do opine that the skeptic’s irony dwarves the believer’s: It’s skeptics who chide believers for faith in what cannot be proven, not the other way around.

  10. pboyfloyd says:

    ” It’s skeptics who chide believers for faith in what cannot be proven, not the other way around.”
    Ain’t this post all about you chiding atheists for having faith in their ideas?

  11. Brad says:

    ^^^ Yes, I think that’s why cl called the observation discussed in his post an irony.

  12. pboyfloyd says:

    No, Brad, cl called his observation hypocrisy on the part of atheists.
    He ‘adjusted’ it to ‘irony’ in the comments.
    I was responding to the blogpost. Seems that cl is unwilling to edit it.
    But it shouldn’t surprise you in the least that I disagree with cl completely on this.
    This, “Why Believe In What Can Only Prove False?”
    This is just turning-tables on the onus of proof.
    When I die, I’ll be dead. When you die, you’ll be dead.
    cl is turning tables on this by suggesting that there is an alternative, “Life after death”, then challenging us to prove the negative case.
    Since it is impossible to prove a negative proposition, and cl knows this (epistemic warrants and such) then the entire post is disingenuous.
    Then cl submits that since we can’t prove a negative then we’re hypocrites! (but then he graciously downgrades his insult to our position being ‘ironic’ somewhere in the comments.
    Seems his bogus challenge still stands though!

  13. mac says:

    It is the non-believer who is honest in telling you he doesn’t know, but that reason has led him to know that nothing happens after death.
    The theist, on the other hand, claims to know all. It’s in his book, the Bible, or the Quran, or whatever imaginary diety he submits to.
    Seems to me like your asking atheists to prove your god exists, or rather does not exist. that’s YOUR job !

  14. Lifeguard says:

    Atheists don’t chide theists simply for believing in that which cannot be proven. They chide theists for believing in things that are not subject to empirical verification and/or are unfalsifiable (note that I am speaking in the present tense). The issue (for atheists) remains whether there IS any evidence or not of an afterlife, and, in what we take to be the absence of such evidence, we feel there is no reason to believe in one.
    Whether atheists can only be proven wrong (or theists only proven right) in all honesty strikes me as barely ironic and probably completely irrelevant to the question of the afterlife at all unless your intent in this post is to suggest that this somehow (1) undermines the strength of the atheist position itself or (2) indicates that atheists are being unfair, hypocritical, or arguing in bad faith. You’ve disavowed the latter option which leads me to think you’re either going with number one or you’re only pointing this out as an interesting intellectual feature of the debate.
    As I mentioned in an earlier comment, I don’t find anything even mildly odd about atheists holding a position that can be proven wrong. Many atheists would probably tell you that that’s the whole point of our worldview– that we hold opinions about the world that are capable of falsification and will ONLY know if there IS an afterlife when we are dead. Consequently, there is no way to find that out NOW. Our real disagreement is about whether there’s a sufficient basis to say there IS an afterlife. The manner in which either of our positions on that issue will be verified or denied says little at best about the strength of the respective positions and everything about the issue itself.
    Namely: that death is an empirical fact. The fact that an atheist can only be proven wrong about the afterlife results not from the atheist results from the nature of the issue itself, not from some sliding scale of evidentiary proof required by the atheist.

  15. Lifeguard says:

    Sorry.
    Last sentence should read:
    “The fact that an atheist can only be proven wrong about the afterlife results not from the nature of the issue itself, not from some sliding scale of evidentiary proof required by the atheist.”

  16. Lifeguard says:

    Aggghhhh!
    Make that “results from the nature of the issue itself . . . ”
    I lack both the patience and the attention to detail for editing.

  17. cl says:

    If it helps anyone, none of the original post applies to Earth. It’s all in a post-mortem context.
    Brad,
    Thanks for trying to explain things to pboyfloyd. I’m wary of how much effort I’ll put into talks with pboyfloyd, because I’ve seen him use highly irrational replies such as, “You’re a fuckin’ liar” before.
    pboyfloyd,

    He ‘adjusted’ it to ‘irony’ in the comments.

    I didn’t ‘adjust’ anything. I asked if Lifeguard thought irony might be a better word than hypocrisy.

    This is just turning-tables on the onus of proof.

    No. There is no ‘onus of proof’ for what cannot be proven, and I’m not challenging you to prove what I know you cannot. This is epistemology and logic B, not truth-claims 101.

    Since it is impossible to prove a negative proposition…

    Tangent – if this is true, how might DD claim it is an Undeniable Fact that God has never shown up in real life, and why didn’t you say as much to DD? Special pleading perhaps? Go tell DD about the difficulty of proving a negative assertion.

    Then cl submits that since we can’t prove a negative then we’re hypocrites!

    Man, if I gave you a can of spray-paint I bet you could redo my whole house and the side fence! I’ve not said any person is anything. I’m saying it’s ironic / hypocritical to chide claims which cannot be proven, when such is the nature of your own claim. No downgrade.
    mac,
    Thanks for stopping by.

    Seems to me like your asking atheists to prove your god exists, or rather does not exist.

    I understand the onus of proof, and although some people have conflated this post with “proving” things, that’s not what this post was about.
    It was,

    And so the challenge is for any atheist, naturalist or materialist to satiate my curiosity by reasonably or at least politely answering the following questions: Why believe in an idea whose only possible empirical verification is disproof? What of the hypocrisy in committing yourself to a position that claims to rely on proof as the highest measure of truth when the position itself cannot possibly be proven?

    Lifeguard,

    Atheists don’t chide theists simply for believing in that which cannot be proven. They chide theists for believing in things that are not subject to empirical verification and/or are unfalsifiable (note that I am speaking in the present tense).

    Although you might not, many atheists have chided me specifically for “believing in something I cannot prove.” Atheism / naturalism / materialism are certainly falsifiable, and as we established, experiencing even one iota of post mortem consciousness skewers them all. Yet, I’m glad you drew this distinction, because my claim in this post is that atheism / naturalism / materialism cannot be empirically verified.
    And most of this was to highlight an ironic “intellectual feature of the debate,” as you surmised. All of this is completely irrelevant to whether or not there actually is an afterlife. Here’s what I’m saying, and my apologies for generalizing:
    Atheist / Naturalist / Materialist: “Believing in that which can’t be empirically verified is foolish,”
    Yet the atheist / naturalist / materialist view itself cannot possibly be empirically verified. It’s an irony that does undermine the atheist / naturalist / materialist position IMO.
    And I don’t mean to insult anyone, or imply that “atheists are hypocrits” or that they argue in bad faith or any of that BS.

    As I mentioned in an earlier comment, I don’t find anything even mildly odd about atheists holding a position that can be proven wrong.

    I don’t find that odd either. I find it odd that many chide belief in what cannot be empirically verified, yet their belief cannot be empirically verified. I find it odd that atheists believe in something which can never be realized.

    The fact that an atheist can only be proven wrong about the afterlife results not from the atheist results from the nature of the issue itself, not from some sliding scale of evidentiary proof required by the atheist.

    Exactly. That’s what I’m thinking about here, the nature of the issue itself.

  18. cl says:

    No worries friend, I thought ’em out, but I can and do sympathize with frustration when words come out wrong! :)

  19. pboyfloyd says:

    “No. There is no ‘onus of proof’ for what cannot be proven, and I’m not challenging you to prove what I know you cannot.”
    Certainly, if a person has a positive claim, i.e. ‘that there is a possibility of something other than just death after death’ it is not up to the opponents of that idea to disprove it or even to rationalize their position.

  20. Lifeguard says:

    CL:
    Let’s pretend.
    1) I am the last man on earth, but I don’t know it.
    2) One day, before falling asleep, reflecting on the fact that I haven’t seen another human being in years, I say to myself “When I die, I will not be buried.”
    Does the fact that no one will ever empirically verify assertion number two mean that I am wrong? Does that fact otherwise undermine my credibility?

  21. cl says:

    …it is not up to the opponents of that idea to disprove it or even to rationalize their position.

    Well, then don’t rationalize your position.

  22. cl says:

    Lifeguard,

    Does the fact that no one will ever empirically verify assertion number two mean that I am wrong?

    No, and that’s not where I’m going with the OP. Inability to empirically verify atheism / naturalism / materialism does not prove any of those ideas wrong. As for whether or not this undermines credibility, I tend to think it does.
    When I was a kid, my parents told me not to smoke, yet I saw them smoking. Same deal here.

  23. Lifeguard says:

    Cl:
    Then I’m sorry, but you’ve lost me a little bit. I have no idea where you were or are going with the original post.
    On the one hand, you stated that you aren’t accusing atheists of hypocrisy or purposely playing three card monty with the requirement to prove things and that the post was just a comment on a peculiar feature of the debate.
    Then your last comment suggests a comparison between atheists and smokers who warn others not to smoke, which smacks of an accusation of hypocrisy. You might say it’s credibility, but what’s the difference? You’re claiming to have judged the content of the message based on a perceived moral failure in the messenger.
    It bears pointing out that, despite the judgement, your parents were RIGHT to tell you not to smoke.
    Lastly, though less to the point, some might argue that, as smokers, they were in the best position to warn you about the dangers of becoming addicted.
    In any event, it’s been an interesting discussion.

  24. cl says:

    Lifeguard,
    Yeah, I’m not so sure where we’re talking past each other on this one. The point of the post was to get people to address the questions in the closing paragraph. In all reality, there’s at least two separate but related claims going on here. When I brought up the smoking example it was to explain the separate claim of why I think this irony undermines the credibility of the person making it. That part of our discussion didn’t necessarily relate to or support the OP, it was just a tangential but related response in the discussion. But I could see how it looks a bit odd. I gotta run maybe I’ll post a bit more on it later, but thanks for stickin’ it out.

  25. pboyfloyd says:

    cl, you challenge us to answer this challenge.
    ” Why believe in an idea whose only possible empirical verification is disproof?”
    There can be on empirical verification of this idea.(that when we die, we are dead forever)
    This cannot be what atheists are striving for. i.e. disproving the un-disprovable.
    ” What of the hypocrisy in committing yourself to a position that claims to rely on proof as the highest measure of truth when the position itself cannot possibly be proven?”
    Since the afterlife in an integral part of your religious thought and you obviously don’t think that your religion is in any trouble on account of disbelief of any of it’s tenets, this is a straw-man argument.
    If atheists(etc.) COULD PROVE to you any snippet of your religious tenets, your religion would be in trouble.
    Since it is obviously not, and I think that you know this, your meditations on however you couch atheists ‘lack of proof’ seem to be avoiding the fact that you KNOW there is no ‘proof positive’ of religious ideas and their opposites.
    I feel that you are just ‘passing the buck’ here. You are equally unable to prove some kind of spiritual afterlife.

  26. Brad says:

    This, “Why Believe In What Can Only Prove False?”
    This is just turning-tables on the onus of proof.

    I thought cl was just asking us questions? I never read cl requesting us prove there is no consciousness after death. Please read the original post more carefully; the entire ‘challenge’ is merely to explain the reasoning behind positively believing there is no life after death.

    When I die, I’ll be dead. When you die, you’ll be dead.

    Supporting evidence? If this is an established fact, could you give us some kind of information on how it was established?

    cl is turning tables on this by suggesting that there is an alternative, “Life after death”, then challenging us to prove the negative case.

    1) Is there anything wrong with suggesting an alternative? Did he break any rules of epistemology, logic, science, or whathaveyou in the process of merely suggesting? Is there anything internally inconsistent about the idea? Is there something we’re not getting? We’re all ears, so long as you actually try and make any case.
    2) cl has not truly challenged us to prove the negative case. I thought cl even said that neither the positive nor negative case could be addressed this side of the grave (in a different post if my memory serves…). Why did you believe as such? Could you be relying on an expectation for cl’s points to conform to the grossly overpopulous cookie-cutter atheist/theist debate already saturating the tubes?

  27. Brad says:

    Ah, so now possibility claims are counted as positive claims! Last time I checked, it was only actuality claims that counted as such, whereas possibility claims were only ever meant as springboards to investigate further or be as open-minded as possible.
    Is there anything wrong with allowing possibility claims onto the table and never discarding them ’till they prove internally incoherent or contradictory to known facts? To use another one of cl’s allegories, would it be appropriate for scientists and laypeople hundreds of years ago to rule out or ignore the possibility of rocks flying out in outer space (e.g. asteroids)? Is there anything today demonstrating that that possibility at that time should be viewed any differently than the possibility of life after death now?

  28. Brad says:

    So, pboyfloyd, you think cl has offered any religious tenets as verified or as any more proven then the claims he attaches to the so-called atheist position? Are you seriously trying to reference cl’s “religious thought” as attempt to earn some territory? Seems you’re worming a way out of directly responding to cl’s concluding questions in the original post. Second, a ‘straw-man argument’ refers to a debater caricaturing an opponent’s argument, which has nothing to do with the debater’s own beliefs.

  29. Brad says:

    @cl: I’m noting that from the above talk, people are distancing themselves from positively claiming there is no life after death. Perhaps the claim lies more strictly under the materialist position. Maybe its not intrinsic to the atheist position, but it is inherent via (dare I reference it) memes and such.

  30. Lifeguard says:

    Because I’m not sure if the term “people” is meant to encompass me or not, I just want to be clear that nothing I have stated here should be taken to suggest that I am distancing myself from the position that there is no life after death.

  31. cl says:

    pboyfloyd,
    From your replies, it seems you’re still missing my point. There’s no strawman argument going on here, unless you’re trying to say atheists / naturalists / materialists generally don’t “rely on proof as the highest measure of truth.”

    …your meditations on however you couch atheists ‘lack of proof’ seem to be avoiding the fact that you KNOW there is no ‘proof positive’ of religious ideas and their opposites.

    Although decent fodder for a tangential disussion, fer cryin’ out loud that is NOT what this proof is about, AGAIN. And it’s not a “fact” that “I KNOW” there is “no proof positive of religious ideas and their opposites.” I do not currently believe there is a successful ontological argument – key word – believe. What is it with you EvangelicalRealism boys misunderstanding the definition of a ‘fact’ so often?
    It’s not passing the buck. Presuming you’re an atheist / naturalist / materialist who values empirical proof as the highest measure of truth, it’s about asking you why you don’t extend this criteria to atheism / naturalism / materialism, because cessation of consciousness doesn’t seem to be empirically verifiable.
    Yes, you technically answered the questions finally, but the way you answered them is analogous to me replying “hamburgers” when someone asks for directions.

  32. cl says:

    pboyfloyd,
    From your replies, it seems you’re still missing my point. There’s no strawman argument going on here, unless you’re trying to say atheists / naturalists / materialists generally don’t “rely on proof as the highest measure of truth.”

    …your meditations on however you couch atheists ‘lack of proof’ seem to be avoiding the fact that you KNOW there is no ‘proof positive’ of religious ideas and their opposites.

    Although decent fodder for a tangential disussion, fer cryin’ out loud that is NOT what this proof is about, AGAIN. And it’s not a “fact” that “I KNOW” there is “no proof positive of religious ideas and their opposites.” I do not currently believe there is a successful ontological argument – key word – believe. What is it with you EvangelicalRealism boys misunderstanding the definition of a ‘fact’ so often?
    It’s not passing the buck. Presuming you’re an atheist / naturalist / materialist who values empirical proof as the highest measure of truth, it’s about asking you why you don’t extend this criteria to atheism / naturalism / materialism, because cessation of consciousness doesn’t seem to be empirically verifiable.
    Yes, you technically answered the questions finally, but the way you answered them is analogous to me replying “hamburgers” when someone asks for directions.

  33. cl says:

    Perhaps the claim lies more strictly under the materialist position. Maybe its not intrinsic to the atheist position, but it is inherent via (dare I reference it) memes and such.

    That’s why I keep using that clunky word-trinity in the post and thread, “atheist / naturalist / materialist,” because my questions only apply to those who believe consciousness ceases upon death, to never re-awake again.
    If that’s what pboyfloyd means, then his strawman claim makes sense, but is still incorrect. That I used the clunky word-trinity indicates I meant to draw a particular distinction, which suggests intent not to argue caricatures. Anyways…

  34. pboyfloyd says:

    “So, pboyfloyd, you think cl has offered any religious tenets as verified or as any more proven then the claims he attaches to the so-called atheist position?”
    What? No, I didn’t say he did.
    I’m saying that he is, he must be. suggesting that there IS an option to the notion that death is final.
    Or is he suggesting that we’re all hypocrites?
    Do I really HAVE TO baby-step you through these things?
    Let’s move on then.
    Since cl has mentioned that his atheist/freethinker/etc. is the one prone to be hypocritical, the theist, being the one’s who usually believe in an afterlife, would be the reasonable one.
    cl seems to imagine that HE ‘earns territory’ by painting atheists as hypocrites.
    “Are you seriously trying to reference cl’s “religious thought” as attempt to earn some territory?”
    There seems to be only twe options here. We either die when we die, or we DON’T die when we die.
    Seems it is evident that we DO die when we die, but cl is challenging us to answer, ” Why believe in an idea whose only possible empirical verification is disproof?”
    Atheists don’t need to prove, and cannot prove anything regarding fictitous realms and beings outside of existence.
    Why would atheists try to prove or disprove the notion of an afterlife, or it’s opposite, the notion that there is no afterlife.
    So, Brad, the straw-man is such an atheist who might try to prove to you that there is’nt an afterlife, or conversely TRY to prove that there is nothing after death.
    THAT is the straw man.
    (It’s like a little puzzle, isn’t it. You and cl setting them up and the good guys knocking them down.)

  35. pboyfloyd says:

    “Second, a ‘straw-man argument’ refers to a debater caricaturing an opponent’s argument, which has nothing to do with the debater’s own beliefs.”
    “Why believe in an idea whose only possible empirical verification is disproof? What of the hypocrisy in committing yourself to a position that claims to rely on proof as the highest measure of truth when the position itself cannot possibly be proven?”
    A straw-man refers to a debater caricaturizing his opponent, whether it’s his supposed beliefs, his argument, the company he keeps, anything.

  36. pboyfloyd says:

    “I’m noting that from the above talk, people are distancing themselves from positively claiming there is no life after death.”
    Certainly not. I claim that there is no life after death. I cannot prove that there is no life after death.
    I don’t need to prove that there is no life after death, since that is the negative position.
    But you can’t prove your positive position, assuming that you claim that there IS life after death.
    I said to you on a comment before. I will die, you will die, everyone will die, and you asked me for EVIDENCE!???
    LOL. Really? But you’re not playing the ‘we can’t really prove anything at all’ game, are we? Are we Brad?

  37. pboyfloyd says:

    “…unless you’re trying to say atheists / naturalists / materialists generally don’t “rely on proof as the highest measure of truth.””
    I’m sure that atheists etc. and even theists rely on proof when it is available. (no married bachelors and such).
    But atheists etc. and even theists are not being hypocritcal when such proof is impossible.
    (..or are we talking past each other while I’m missing the point, YET again?)

  38. Brad says:

    Wow, everything became untangled but now it’s an even messier nonlinear structure! Sigh.
    Since cl has mentioned that his atheist/freethinker/etc. is the one prone to be hypocritical, the theist, being the one’s who usually believe in an afterlife, would be the reasonable one.
    False, that’s watering down the situation. I believe he said one who (i) makes a truth claim about there being no consciousness after death, yet (ii) holds proof as the measure of truth and thus required in any truth claim, is acting hypocritical for making a truth claim that necessarily can’t have any evidential basis in this world. If both conditions are met, then a lack of self-awareness is at hand. cl never said theists in the mirror situation are or aren’t hypocritical. Those who don’t posit any truth claim on the matter aren’t touched by anything here. (For the record, I’m in that camp.)

  39. pboyfloyd says:

    ” I believe he said one who (i) makes a truth claim about there being no consciousness after death, yet (ii) holds proof as the measure of truth and thus required in any truth claim, is acting hypocritical for making a truth claim that necessarily can’t have any evidential basis in this world.”
    Well, that is your straw-man. Who, in their right mind would wiggle themselves into a situation where any claim they make is a particular ‘truth claim’ that REQUIRES proof in situations where proof is impossible?
    cl might wiggle a ‘theoretical’ atheist that he is ‘challenging’ into such a situation though, right?

  40. cl says:

    Sorry, folks, for the technical problems here, and I think in the future, the list-format will help us more than hurt us. It’s only a mess this time because we started out thread-format and then switched.
    Brad said,

    cl never said theists in the mirror situation are or aren’t hypocritical.

    That’s correct, such would be allowing more than my words permit.

  41. cl says:

    Hey everyone, in case you’re wondering, Typepad is not good or intuitive blogging software! Note that even after I switched this to list-format, we still retain the ability to reply to individual comments. This makes it look like the replies will still be threaded, but new replies go to the bottom of the thread now. Man, as if these conversations weren’t hard enough to friggen’ follow without the technical misgivings…

    Well, that is your straw-man.

    No strawman. Brad paraphrased my position exactly as I think it.

  42. pboyfloyd says:

    I’m not denying that Brad paraphrased you correctly. I’m SAYING that that is a straw man atheist that you set up, ACCORDING to Brads paraphrasing!
    Here it is again:-
    “” I believe he said one who (i) makes a truth claim about there being no consciousness after death, yet (ii) holds proof as the measure of truth and thus required in any truth claim, is acting hypocritical for making a truth claim that necessarily can’t have any evidential basis in this world.”
    Well, that is your straw-man. Who, in their right mind would wiggle themselves into a situation where any claim they make is a particular ‘truth claim’ that REQUIRES proof in situations where proof is impossible?
    cl might wiggle a ‘theoretical’ atheist that he is ‘challenging’ into such a situation though, right?”

  43. pboyfloyd says:

    So, you and Brad can pat each other on the back, break out the champagne, whatever you do when you make believe that you have cornered ALL atheists.
    But, you’re just fooling yourselves. If ‘warfare is mental’, then that ‘challenge’ is camoflage.
    LOL
    Why, Brad agrees with cl and cl agrees with Brad!
    I guess that settles it then! Ooooooooooookay-dokey then.

  44. Arthur says:

    As far as I know, science defaults to this position (that our mental and spiritual experiences are entirely dependent on the workings of our physical brains) because
    a) it’s the simplest explanation;
    b) there’s no evidence–so far–to the contrary; and
    c) in fact, the more we learn about the workings of our physical brain, the more our mental and spiritual experiences appear to fall under its purview.
    That said, even Sam “The Devil” Harris thinks folks are presumptuous who consider the matter to be settled (there’s a whole chapter on consciousness in The End of Faith, if I remember right).
    But I’m pretty sure everything I just said (minus the Sam Harris part) is ambient cultural knowledge; so it’s probably not what this discussion is looking for.

  45. cl says:

    Hey all – just wanted to let everyone know I’m out of town for 2 days and won’t be able to comment in the thread. However, some good new points have been made, so I’ll certainly get to them over the weekend. Thanks for your thoughts..

  46. GearHedEd says:

    cl said,
    “Yes, if there is no afterlife, that is correct, but whether there is or isn’t an afterlife doesn’t affect my point, which is that any atheist / naturalist / materialist who wakes up on the other side has zero possibilities other than the realization that their ideas were wrong.”
    Your whole point here is that I should then accept Pascal’s wager, because of the stated equal chance that there IS something beyond the death of the physical vessel of consciousness? I’m not impressed. Just because someone’s wishful thinking about the transcendence of the alleged “soul” can’t be excluded by formal logic, coupled with the observed difficulty in “proving” a negative proposition does not in any way logically force me to accept that the former proposition is CORRECT.

  47. GearHedEd says:

    It’s like this:
    Where were you five years before you were born? The correct answer is, “You were NOT”. I can’t prove it, but if consciousness does not return to the nothingness we all can imagine was our pre-conception status after we die, then send me straight to hell.

  48. cl says:

    GearHedEd,

    Your whole point here is that I should then accept Pascal’s wager, because of the stated equal chance that there IS something beyond the death of the physical vessel of consciousness?

    No, that’s not my point.

    Just because someone’s wishful thinking about the transcendence of the alleged “soul” can’t be excluded by formal logic, coupled with the observed difficulty in “proving” a negative proposition does not in any way logically force me to accept that the former proposition is CORRECT.

    Of course not. That wasn’t the point, either.

    Where were you five years before you were born? The correct answer is, “You were NOT”.

    Presupposition. How can you know? The correct answer is, “I don’t know.”

  49. Brad says:

    whatever you do when you make believe that you have cornered ALL atheists.

    Huh? What world are you in?
    @Arthur: I can agree with all that. Science is based off of pragmatic and economic epistemology, not on certainty, though. Just something to keep in mind.

  50. Brad says:

    whatever you do when you make believe that you have cornered ALL atheists.

    Huh? What world are you in?
    @Arthur: I can agree with all that. Science is based off of pragmatic and economic epistemology, not on certainty, though. Just something to keep in mind.

  51. DoubtfulAtheist says:

    I just don’t understand this, and I am also new here. Please do not harangue me for any logical fallacies and misunderstandings, simply correct me and explain, please.

    Doesn’t your own faith fall under “something you cannot prove?” I know you’re not trying to make an argument for it here, but if what I just stated is true, wouldn’t that mean that this article is only aimed at *certain* atheists?

    I mean, I don’t feel my beliefs are more justified or rational compared to the beliefs of Christian (views pending, of course!). I am slowly losing my faith in every belief I ever once had, and it is driving me insane.

  52. dguller says:

    Isn’t it fair to say that consciousness depends upon a functional brain? When the brain ceases to function, then doesn’t it stand to reason that consciousness ceases, as well? After all, psychotropic drugs alter conscious states by altering brain chemistry, neurological damage alters conscious states, and so on. So, it appears that there is a plethora of evidence that consciousness depends upon the brain, that altering the brain affects consciousness, and there is NO evidence that consciousness is independent of the brain and can survive after death.

  53. cl says:

    Hey there… just stoppin’ in to say I’m pooped and going to bed. I will get to these comments, I assure you.

    DoubtfulAtheist,

    Thanks for stopping by. I particularly appreciate this comment:

    I am slowly losing my faith in every belief I ever once had, and it is driving me insane.

    I’ve been exactly there. It comes and goes, in my experience. At any rate, let’s resume tomorrow.

  54. DoubtfulAtheist says:

    I am grateful you took the time to respond, cl. I find your articulation and intellect refreshing; I am an atheist at the moment, albeit not a very strong one. I am interested in the type of theology you subscribe to… perhaps an “About Me” or “Bio” page would be a sufficient addition in the future? Of course, it would be understandable if you did not want to disclose that information to visitors to avoid countless, senseless ad hominem attacks.

    Anyway, I am not out to argue for my side or to desperately dig for theism. I am simply here to learn, and it seems like I have chosen the right place to do just that.

    @dguller – That is only sound from a naturalist point of view; some associate an intangible entity with consciousness.

  55. cl says:

    DoubtfulAtheist,

    I am grateful you took the time to respond, cl. I find your articulation and intellect refreshing…

    Hey thanks. I dig your candor.

    I am interested in the type of theology you subscribe to- perhaps an “About Me” or “Bio” page would be a sufficient addition in the future?

    Your suggestion is well-taken. That’s been something on my heart lately. I wrote something like that for the first chapter of book. Perhaps when I get a moment I’ll adapt a shortened version of it for the blog. In fact, I’ll try to do this sooner than later, meaning, within a week or two.

    Of course, it would be understandable if you did not want to disclose that information to visitors to avoid countless, senseless ad hominem attacks.

    Well, as I’m sure you can see by the sidebar to the left of the blog, those things have all happened without said page, so… :)

    I just don’t understand this…

    Which part? This post is aimed at all atheists who think their individual consciousness ceases forever upon death. The position can only be falsified. It cannot be verified. It can be inferred, but it cannot be verified. On the other hand, what I believe–that consciousness will continue past death–can only be verified. It cannot be falsified. It’s converse can only be inferred.

    Hence, I find it ironic that atheists–who generally champion evidence–can only be proven wrong about what they believe regarding the afterlife. Why believe in something that can only prove false? It’s a rhetorical question.

    Doesn’t your own faith fall under “something you cannot prove?”

    My belief that consciousness will continue past death falls under the category of something I cannot prove. However, it also falls into the aforementioned category of being something that can only be proven true. I hope the distinction is evident.

    dguller,

    Isn’t it fair to say that consciousness depends upon a functional brain?

    I don’t think so. I think it’s accurate to say there is a proven relationship between consciousness and the brain. To say the former depends on the latter is presumptuous.

    When the brain ceases to function, then doesn’t it stand to reason that consciousness ceases, as well?

    No, I don’t think it does. This is an assumption. More importantly, it’s an assumption that’s challenged by thousands of years of personal experience and a growing body of scientific evidence.

    After all, psychotropic drugs alter conscious states by altering brain chemistry, neurological damage alters conscious states, and so on.

    I agree, and this supports my aforementioned position: that there is a proven relationship between consciousness and the brain.

    So, it appears that there is a plethora of evidence that consciousness depends upon the brain,

    I disagree. I see a plethora of evidence indicating precisely what I said: that there is a proven relationship between consciousness and the brain.

    …that altering the brain affects consciousness…

    I agree with that, and, as mentioned, this supports my aforementioned position: that there is a proven relationship between consciousness and the brain.

    …and there is NO evidence that consciousness is independent of the brain and can survive after death.

    Blatantly false.

  56. dguller says:

    cl:

    >> I don’t think so. I think it’s accurate to say there is a proven relationship between consciousness and the brain. To say the former depends on the latter is presumptuous.

    I disagree.

    >> No, I don’t think it does. This is an assumption. More importantly, it’s an assumption that’s challenged by thousands of years of personal experience and a growing body of scientific evidence.

    First, thousands of years of personal experience has often been entirely wrong.

    Second, what “scientific evidence”?

    >> I disagree. I see a plethora of evidence indicating precisely what I said: that there is a proven relationship between consciousness and the brain

    Sorry, I’m afraid I’ll have to disagree. Consciousness makes much more sense as a byproduct of the brain than vice versa.

    Here are a few examples.

    Why do we have a blind spot in our perception? Essentially, because there are no cone or rod cells where the optic nerve enters the back of the eye, and thus there is no visual input from that area. Is that not evidence of conscious experience being a byproduct of neurobiology?

    Why do our emotional states often overwhelm our reason? Mainly because our limbic system is activated before our prefrontal lobes can inhibit them, and thus there is a lag that allows our emotions to run wild until calmed by the cortex.

    Try to explain things from the standpoint of consciousness affecting brain states.

    >> Blatantly false.

    I look forward to your citations of the scientific studies that support the contention that consciousness exists after brain death.

  57. cl says:

    dguller,

    I disagree.

    With all due respect, I think you need to provide a reason why.

    First, thousands of years of personal experience has often been entirely wrong.

    I agree. That’s precisely why I challenge your assumption that consciousness depends on a functional brain.

    Second, what “scientific evidence”?

    Everything from NDE research to paranormal investigation to Ganzfeld studies ala Hyman-Honorton to anomalous phenomena research at Stanford. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Perhaps I’ll hunker down and provide a bibliography for people more interested in this. Three books that come immediately to mind are Randi’s Prize; Psychic Wars; and Science and the Near Death Experience. No offense intended, but the reason I’m so “nonchalant” about this evidence is because I assume that skeptics are as well-read on these phenomena as I am. More and more, I’m beginning to realize that this is a faulty assumption on my part.

    Why do we have a blind spot in our perception? Essentially, because there are no cone or rod cells where the optic nerve enters the back of the eye, and thus there is no visual input from that area. Is that not evidence of conscious experience being a byproduct of neurobiology?

    No. It is evidence of a relationship between vision and the brain. To counter: why, in NDE and OBE, have several people reported seeing themselves from a vantage point outside themselves, and why are these visions often veridical? For example, 45-year-old Vicki Umipeg recounts the following:

    I knew it was me … I was pretty thin then. I was quite tall and thin at that point. And I recognized at first that it was a body, but I didn’t even know that it was mine initially. Then I perceived that I was up on the ceiling, and I thought, “Well, that’s kind of weird. What am I doing up here?” I thought, “Well, this must be me. Am I dead? …” I just briefly saw this body, and … I knew that it was mine because I wasn’t in mine. I think I was wearing the plain gold band on my right ring finger and my father’s wedding ring next to it. But my wedding ring I definitely saw … That was the one I noticed the most because it’s most unusual. It has orange blossoms on the corners of it.

    If consciousness is merely a by-product of the brain, how do you explain the fact that she saw herself, lucidly, during a brain state where clarity should be impeded? How do you explain the fact that she was able to give details that corresponded to physical reality? This is just one example off the top of my head. There are literally hundreds of others like it.

    Why do our emotional states often overwhelm our reason? Mainly because our limbic system is activated before our prefrontal lobes can inhibit them, and thus there is a lag that allows our emotions to run wild until calmed by the cortex.

    This is not problematic for my claim that there is a relationship between consciousness and the brain.

    I look forward to your citations of the scientific studies that support the contention that consciousness exists after brain death.

    I’ve alluded to much in our conversations, yet, I feel that you haven’t looked into some of it [i.e. the post on Marianne George, which, I grant, is not a scientific study]. Nonetheless, I will elaborate in a more substantial post.

  58. dguller says:

    cl:

    >> I agree. That’s precisely why I challenge your assumption that consciousness depends on a functional brain.

    There is plenty of evidence that changing the brain, whether by trauma, infection, drugs, or seizure activity, directly changes conscious states. I am unaware of any evidence in the other direction.

    >> Everything from NDE research to paranormal investigation to Ganzfeld studies ala Hyman-Honorton to anomalous phenomena research at Stanford.

    Can you cite any controlled studies on these subjects?

    >> No. It is evidence of a relationship between vision and the brain.

    And vision is not part of conscious experience? My point is that neurobiology explains a conscious phenomenon, i.e. the presence of a blind spot in our vision.

    >> To counter: why, in NDE and OBE, have several people reported seeing themselves from a vantage point outside themselves, and why are these visions often veridical?

    A few things.

    First, it may be related to blindsight, which is where blind people are able to make predictions based upon visual stimuli that are better than chance. Just because visual input is not consciously experienced does not mean that it is not being processed by the brain at an unconscious level. Nothing particularly mysterious here that requires consciousness to be independent of the brain.

    Second, of all the trillions of dreams and thoughts that a blind person has, it seems likely that some of those referring to visual events would happen to be true just by chance. So, with Vicki Umipeg, how often are her OBE descriptions correct? How often are they incorrect? Is she correct more than chance? Are the experimenters sure that she is not being given information covertly, similar to Clever Hans?

    >> This is not problematic for my claim that there is a relationship between consciousness and the brain.

    But it is problematic for your claim that consciousness is not essentially a brain-generated phenomenon. Again, for your theory to be useful, it has to be able to explain something. I have given you two examples where my theory actually explains conscious experience fairly well.

  59. DoubtfulAtheist says:

    @cl

    “Why believe in something that can only prove false? It’s a rhetorical question.”

    Ah, I get where you’re coming from now. The irony is definitely amusing, and I never thought of it like that before. This is a question I am going to ask most atheists from now on.

    “If consciousness is merely a by-product of the brain, how do you explain the fact that she saw herself, lucidly, during a brain state where clarity should be impeded? ”

    We can’t explain that – yet. I am sure neuroscience is working on it, but in the meantime, I do not think that can stand as a contention for your case.

    Something we can’t explain =/= a spiritual explanation

    Human beings have done that for years and as science progresses, we have found that these spiritual explanations tend to be absurd.

    Also, from my limited amount of readings about NDEs, they and the visions associated with them result from a chemical called DMT being released throughout your body right before death.

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