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The Falsification Debate

Discussion in 'Christian Philosophy & Ethics' started by ittarter, Sep 28, 2009.

  1. ittarter

    ittarter Non-Metaphysical Christian Critic

    Philosopher Anthony Flew once said,

    “What would have to occur or to have occurred to constitute for you a disproof of the love of, or of the existence of, God?”

    It is so easy to speak so generally, or to hold views that are designed to allow fast but superficial assimilation of any bit of knowledge out there. However, I suspect that such claims are of little relevance to what life throws at people on an everyday basis. In other words, if God (for example) is defined in such a way as to be unchallengeable, does such an idea constitute "useful knowledge"?

    So, how would you respond to Flew?
  2. MrPolo

    MrPolo Woe those who call evil good + good evil. Is 5:20

    I don't understand the question in the long paragraph. To answer the shorter first sentence, I would say history would have to be erased.
  3. BobW188

    BobW188 Growling Maverick

    By telling him I enjoyed his book, There Is A God.
  4. wayseer

    wayseer Well-Known Member

    The fact that Flew has to ask the question in the manner he does strongly suggests there IS a God - which effectively blows his whole thesis.
  5. OllieFranz

    OllieFranz Senior Member

    Perhaps if I restate the OP's question, it will get more meaningful answers.

    For a statement to have relevance, it must have meaning. For a statement about the existence of something to have meaning, there must be a difference between a world in which that thing exists, and a world in which it does not exist. If you know what that difference is, then you know whether or not the thing exists in this present world.

    "Falsification" is the technical term for testing for this difference. If a statement can be falsified, it can be proven, or disproven.

    I believe that God exists, and that He loves us. My belief is based on faith, not proof. I don't know whether those statements are falsifiable. I can't think of any objective tests that will show a difference, but that, in itself, does not mean such tests do not exist.

    So the OP's question becomes: Do you know of a test that might offer hope of testing the existence of God and His love?
  6. ittarter

    ittarter Non-Metaphysical Christian Critic

    Thanks, OllieFranz. That's a good explanation of what I'm wondering.
  7. ittarter

    ittarter Non-Metaphysical Christian Critic

    But can't it be turned the other way as well?

    "What could happen that would disprove the absence of a supreme deity over the universe?"

    I realize this is something of a double negative. It assumes that "non-belief" or the rejection of a belief is itself a belief. I suppose I'd have to prove that first.
  8. ittarter

    ittarter Non-Metaphysical Christian Critic

    Do you mean this seriously? Do you mean the forgetting of everything that has happened before the present?

    We would still need something in the present that DISproves God's existence. Taking away evidence for God's existence is not the same as disproving his existence, as far I understand it.
  9. JAL

    JAL Veteran Supporter

    An unchallengeable God isn't necessarily a totally useless concept - but it's certainly a logically incoherent one. For example if you hold (as mainstream Christianity does).
    (1) God is immutable.
    (2) God became man.
    Then your Doctrine of God is logically incoherent because these two statements contradict each other. But you're still a Christian, so your concept of God isn't totally useless. (By the way I accept #2 but reject #1 outright).

    The existence of evil proves that God, as defined in mainstream Christianity, doesn't exist. For it holds that:
    (1) God is perfect in love.
    (2) God foreknew the fall of Lucifer and Adam.
    These two statements contradict each other. To see why, suppose you wanted to give birth to three kids, but were compelled to pick A or B below:
    (A) Three kids foreknown to abstain from sin and thus make it to heaven.
    (B) Three kids foreknown to condemn themselves, by sinnning, to hell.
    Which would you choose? Obviously, if you are a loving person, you'd prefer choice A. If God is loving, He would only create those people and angels foreknown to abstain from sin. (Plenty of angels never sinned, for example). Therefore a loving God cannot be said to exist on the assumption that He foreknew evil. Well, I believe that a loving God exists, so I am forced to conclude that He did not foreknow all the evil seen today (He didn't know Adam would fall and was hoping that he wouldn't fall).

    FYI: This doctrine that God lacks foreknowledge is known as Open Theism.
    Last edited: Sep 29, 2009
  10. ittarter

    ittarter Non-Metaphysical Christian Critic


    Thanks for your thoughts. Flew speaks of a "death my a thousand qualifications." I think that's what you're talking about. If you have to qualify, say, God's love by saying "he will not act against the free will of a human being" (even though he regularly does so in the Bible! e.g. hardening Pharaoh's heart) and you must write giant theology books to explain why your basic principles (e.g. immutability and incarnation) are consistent with each other, after you have qualified it so many times, is your original thesis truly intact?
  11. TheGMan

    TheGMan Follower of Jesus of Nazareth

    Of course, nothing is just "useful" it has to be "useful for" something. And I don't think faith in God is useful for anything. It is what everything else is useful for.

    In any case, I think falsifiability is a misused idea. It is not about what is true, but what constitutes a scientific theory. Faith in God is certainly not a scientific theory which we can use to make falsifiable predictions about the world. That is to reduce God to a tool.

    Even in the domain of the philosophy of science, I don't think it captures the totality of what we do, and what we think we do, when we do science. Scientists, on the whole, wouldn't describe their intent as to reduce the subset of statements that correspond to the facts. By and large, they want to understand the universe as it really is. And the most resonant scientific theories have this quality of recognition: they don't just correspond to our observations but provoke the feeling that they somehow represent some aspect of the true reality.
    Last edited: Oct 1, 2009
  12. Zeena

    Zeena ..called to BE a Saint

    That's merely the calvinistic/reformed view of the Lord as the Author of sin, of which He is not, otherwise He is guilty of MY sins. :wave:


    DEFINATELY not mainsteam..
  13. epistemaniac

    epistemaniac Senior Member

    Open Theism is DEFINTELY not mainstream either, indeed, like its fore bearers, Process Philosophy and Socinianism, it is unorthodox to put it in the most kind words possible... in any case, orthodoxy has reasonable explanations as to what immutability means and likewise, answers to the "problem of evil". Obvisouly those within Open Theism are not satisfied with those answers, but that does not mean that Open Theism is correct. For more on these questions see Bruce A. Ware, God’s Lesser Glory: The Diminished God of open theism (Crossway Books, 2001); John Frame, No Other God: A Response to Open Theism (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presybterian & Reformed, 2001). For a fuller listing of books both pro and con Open Theism see http://www.jude3.net/Open%20Theism Bibliography.htm

    Re the OP, it seems you have been given good responses...

    first I would point to the Apostle Paul's statement as a good guideline:
    1Co 15:12-18 ESV Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? (13) But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. (14) And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. (15) We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. (16) For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. (17) And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. (18) Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished."

    If the resurrection can be proven false, then I would stop believing in Christ, per Paul's statement.

    I would echo what the Gman said about scientific/empirical materialism's shortcomings at defining all truth for us... it cannot bear that weight, and as propositions like "I and others have minds" and "the world has existed for more than 30 seconds" show, things that we take to be common sense (what Plantinga calls "properly basic", see 							Draft: Comments welcome and Alvin Plantinga - Audio Lecture Notes [The Academy of Christian Apologetics] and Intellectual Sophistication and Basic Belief in God) to us are not always subject to tools like falsifiability.

    Also, we always need to subject such pronouncements to their own standards, is the doctrine of verifiability itself subject to the standards it sets for truth? “What would have to occur or to have occurred to constitute for you a disproof of the love of, or of the existence of, the doctrine of verifiability?” Given the above comments about falsification's limitations, I would discount it as a sole epistemological standard by which to measure all truth. But would a materialist?

    Of course falsifiability is a very useful tool in science, and in so far as it is limited to physical empirical observations it is a good tool. But to have it exceed it's grasp and make metaphysical statements is using the wrong tool for the job. See JP Moreland's "Christianity and the Nature of Science"...

    In any case, this limitation of the verification principle was acknowledged by its originator, Karl Popper:
    "Popper noticed that the philosophers of the Vienna Circle (Logical Positivists who said that in order for some thing to be called knowledge it had to be scientifically/empirically verifiable, but this movement collapsed when it was realized that the statement "only those things which are empirically verifiable constitute knowledge" was not, itself, empirically verifiable-- ken) had mixed two different problems, that of meaning and that of demarcation, and had proposed in verificationism a single solution to both. In opposition to this view, Popper emphasized that there are meaningful theories that are not scientific, and that, accordingly, a criterion of meaningfulness does not coincide with a criterion of demarcation. Verifiability came to be replaced by falsifiability as the criterion of demarcation.
    Falsificationism strictly opposes the view that non-falsifiable statements are meaningless or otherwise inherently bad." (wikipedia)

    So Flew, in applying this method to a metaphysical question, actually erred and committed a type of Category Fallacy, imho...

  14. Zeena

    Zeena ..called to BE a Saint


    No offense intended. :smarty:

    I trust the Lord to lead EVERYONE to seek Him on these matters, for ours is a personable God, Witnessing to each one of us both individually and as one unit in His hand.

    Are we listening, THAT is the question.. :blush:

    I'd like to field the 'love of' part, as the existence of God is known to all men, though suppressed due to sin.

    If God were to cease Loving me;

    Job 34:14-15
    If he set his heart upon himself, If he gather unto himself his spirit and his breath; All flesh shall perish together, And man shall turn again unto dust.

    And cease from being my Saviour;

    Job 33:4
    The Spirit of God hath made me, And the breath of the Mighty doth quicken me.

    Romans 8:11
    But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.

    If He were to cease to uphold me;

    Hebrews 1:3
    who being the effulgence of his glory, and the very image of his substance, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had made purification of sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high;

    Or my cause;

    Micah 7:9
    I will bear the indignation of Jehovah, because I have sinned against him, until he plead my cause, and execute judgment for me: he will bring me forth to the light, and I shall behold his righteousness.

    If hope was cut off from before me;

    Lamentations 3:55-66
    I called upon thy name, O LORD, out of the low dungeon. Thou hast heard my voice: hide not thine ear at my breathing, at my cry. Thou drewest near in the day that I called upon thee: thou saidst, Fear not.
    O LORD, thou hast pleaded the causes of my soul; thou hast redeemed my life. O LORD, thou hast seen my wrong: judge thou my cause. Thou hast seen all their vengeance and all their imaginations against me. Thou hast heard their reproach, O LORD, and all their imaginations against me; The lips of those that rose up against me, and their device against me all the day.
    Behold their sitting down, and their rising up; I am their musick. Render unto them a recompence, O LORD, according to the work of their hands. Give them sorrow of heart, thy curse unto them. Persecute and destroy them in anger from under the heavens of the LORD.

    And my right was not avenged;

    Revelation 6:9-11
    And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held: And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth? And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellowservants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled.

    So too, would I be convinced that there is no such thing as the Love, Who is God.
  15. JAL

    JAL Veteran Supporter

    Huh? What I said has nothing to do with Calvinism. I wasn't implying that God ordained the Fall, as Calvinism does. Calvinism implies that no one ever had free will (except God). I believe that EVERYONE has free will. I'm saying that if God had foreknown that Lucifer would freely choose to fall, then He, being a loving God, would have created a different angel (as a substitute) - one foreknown to freely choose to remain holy.

    Same with Adam and Eve. A loving God would have picked two other people (two people foreknown to remain holy). Why pick two people foreknown to fall,utlimately leading to His own Son's death on the cross? That would be silly and cruel - cruel to His Son and cruel to men. That's not how a loving God would act. (Would you act that way if it were up to you? I sure wouldn't).

    The only solution is to admit that God does not have foreknowledge. This is Open Theism, and yes, I'm well aware it isn't mainstream. It is, however, the only logically consistent position. Anything less is a logical contradiction, as I have shown.
  16. JAL

    JAL Veteran Supporter

    Theology by majority vote? Whatever the mainstream holds must be true? In that case, why did they have a Protestant Reformation? Why not just hold to the majority views of the Middle Ages?

    For obvious reasons, such as those given in my post, we are unsatisifed. But I probably won't debate with you, seeing your Calvinist banner. I just don't see much evidence of rationality in the Calvinist mindset. They hold:
    (1) God ordained the Fall, in effect causing man to sin and become totally depraved.
    (2) All men deserve to go to hell nonetheless.

    Ok, that's evidence of theological insanity. It's totally irrational, as far as I can see. If all I see in Calvinists is pure insanity with regard to the issue of justice, why even bother debate with them on other issues such as foreknowledge and immutability?

    I'll be happy to read those books, as soon as you show me some semblance of rationality/ sanity in the mainstream view. Last I heard, they were still sticking to a set of assumptions that seem irrational to me.
  17. ittarter

    ittarter Non-Metaphysical Christian Critic

    Hmm. There are biblical examples of many of these "falsifiers." Yet they did not stop believing, or rather, they did not stop being faithful.

    In the Old Testament, many complain of not receiving justice, of hope being cut off from them, of God abandoning them, of God not saving or caring them. I'm thinking Jeremiah and many of the so-called Davidic psalms. Other more isolated passages, too.

    What do you think about that?
  18. stelow

    stelow Legend

    1 Samuel 15:29 "He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a man, that he should change his mind."

    2 Timothy 1:9 "who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began,"

    Ephesians 1:4-6
    4just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, 5 having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, 6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.

    Luke 22:31-34
    31 And the Lord said, “Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.”
    33 But he said to Him, “Lord, I am ready to go with You, both to prison and to death.”
    34 Then He said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster shall not crow this day before you will deny three times that you know Me.”

    John 13:18-30
    18 “I do not speak concerning all of you. I know whom I have chosen; but that the Scripture may be fulfilled, ‘He who eats bread with Me has lifted up his heel against Me.’ 19 Now I tell you before it comes, that when it does come to pass, you may believe that I am He. 20 Most assuredly, I say to you, he who receives whomever I send receives Me; and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me.”
    21 When Jesus had said these things, He was troubled in spirit, and testified and said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, one of you will betray Me.” 22 Then the disciples looked at one another, perplexed about whom He spoke.
    23 Now there was leaning on Jesus’ bosom one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved. 24 Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask who it was of whom He spoke.
    25 Then, leaning back on Jesus’ breast, he said to Him, “Lord, who is it?”
    26 Jesus answered, “It is he to whom I shall give a piece of bread when I have dipped it.” And having dipped the bread, He gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon. 27 Now after the piece of bread, Satan entered him. Then Jesus said to him, “What you do, do quickly.” 28 But no one at the table knew for what reason He said this to him. 29 For some thought, because Judas had the money box, that Jesus had said to him, “Buy those things we need for the feast,” or that he should give something to the poor.
    30 Having received the piece of bread, he then went out immediately. And it was night.

    God's foreknowledge and sovereignty did know what would happen and still He gave man a freewill to choose.
  19. LightSeaker

    LightSeaker Guest

    For myself, there is no difference between God and Life/Creation. Everywhere I turn, there God is. For me, there is no reality but God. This is not by "faith" that I say this. It's what I actually "see" and "experience". It is this inner experience of Unity, Wholeness and Oneness with Life/Creation that for me, I know God exist.

    I guess in some ways what I'm saying here is that I disagree with your statement that "there must be a difference between a world in which that thing exists, and a world in which it does not exist." and where you also wrote "If you know what that difference is, then you know whether or not the thing exists in this present world". It's that separation of God from His Life/Creation as an awareness of the presence of God that I'm not familiar with.

    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 11, 2009
  20. 2ndRateMind

    2ndRateMind Pilgrim Defiant

    Thought proking thread.

    Here are two (not unconnected) attempts to respond.

    1) The 'personal experience' ploy. If God didn't exist, then I wouldn't have had the experiences of Him that I have had. Or, at least, I would have interpreted them differently. Of course, my spiritual life has little relevance to anyone else, and is far from a testable, repeatable, verifiable piece of evidence. It may persuade me, but it is foolish to think it would persuade anyone else. Even in aggregate, the personal testimonies of all the theists that have ever lived are insufficient to persuade a single atheist. That is one reason, I suppose, why it so important to 'live the faith', to 'let our little lights shine', as opposed to retiring into hermitage, or to the seclusion of monastic isolation, however tempting the desire to contemplate absolute goodness might be. The best witness is not what we say, but how we live, and it's consequence for the world.

    2) The 'morality' ploy. CS Lewis uses this in his 'Mere Christianity'. I do not find his exposition entirely persuasive, yet it was by this method, by trying to be good and to understand goodness, that I eventually 'found God'. As I did so, the world I perceived radically altered. I was forced to re-evaluate all my beliefs, and from a new perspective I had previously dismissed as superstition. It was an humbling process. I can vouch though, having tried both atheism and theism, that the world of the atheist is very different from the world of the theist, but that only those who have known both can know that difference.

    It seems to me now, that goodness in the world, whatever it's provenance, natural or moral, heathen or Christian, is the shadow God casts upon His world, as He works through us all. Without God, there would be no shadow, no goodness, no significance to morality (and I am not talking here about who sleeps with who, but the widest possible sense of the term, which sees all our decisions as acting on our global community, and therefore all moral). In a world without God, the moral is reduced to the expedient, to what is in our (however enlightened) self-interest. And I think, as Lewis did, that in the end that is an unsatisfactory, incoherent, trivial world.

    Best wishes, 2ndRateMind
    Last edited: Oct 14, 2009