Université de Lorraine, Nancy
Laboratoire d'Histoire des Sciences et de Philosophie-Archives Poincaré (CNRS, UMR 7117)
Epistemology of Atheism
26-28 June 2013
- Michel Bastit (Laboratoire dHistoire des Sciences et de Philosophie-Archives Poincaré, Nancy, Université de Lorraine & CNRS, UMR 7117)
- Roger Pouivet (Laboratoire dHistoire des Sciences et de Philosophie-Archives Poincaré, Nancy, Université de Lorraine & CNRS, UMR 7117)
- Darek Lukasiewicz (Department of Philosophy, University Kazimierz Wielki, Bydgoszcz, Poland)
Wednesday 26 June Morning Session
09:30-10:00 : Welcome
- 10:00-11h00. - Roger Pouivet, Université de Lorraine/LHPS-Archives Poincaré, Nancy: A Short Introduction to the Epistemology of Atheism.
- 11:00-12:00. - John Schellenberg, Mount Saint Vincent University, Canada: The Epistemology of Modest Atheism.
Wednesday 26 June Afternoon Session
- 01:30-02:30. - Michel Bastit, Université de Dijon/LHPS-Archives Poincaré, Nancy: If Atheism Were a Sort of Ignorance?
- 02:30-03:30. - Jacek Wojtysiak, Katolicki Uniwersytet Lubelski Jana Pawla II: The Principle of Justice and the Principle of Evidence in the Theism vs. Atheism Debate.
03h00-04h50. - Ireneusz Zieminski, Uniwersytet Szczecinski: Religious Skepticism.
Thursday 27 June Morning Session
- 09:30-10:30. - Darek Lukasiewicz, Uniwersytet Kazimierza Wielkiego: God's Hiddenness as an Argument for the Non-existence of God.
- 10:30-11:30. - John Greco, Saint Louis University: No-fault Atheism.
- 11:30-12:30. - Cyrille Michon, Université de Nantes/Centre Atlantique de Philosophie: On the Very Idea of Atheism.
Thursday 27 June Afternoon Session
- 02:00-03:00. - Ewa Odoj, Katolicki Uniwersytet Lubelski Jana Pawla II): Do we Have to Prove Atheism? A Critical Examination of Anthony Flews Position.
- 03:00-04:00. - Sébastien Réhault, LHPS-Archives Poincaré, Nancy: If God doesnt exist, why so many people believe in him?
- 16:20-17:20. - Reneta Zieminska, Uniwersytet Szczecinski): Atheism and Skepticism.
Friday 28 June Morning Session
- 09:30-10:30. - Ryszard Mordarski, Uniwersytet Kazimierza Wielkiego: How Scientific is The New Atheism? The mutual influence of scientific naturalism and religion.
- 10:30-11:30. - Paul Clavier, École Normale Supérieure, Paris: Beginning to exist without some productive principle: Hume's Challenge to the cosmological argument.
- 11:30-12:30. - Yann Schmitt, Professeur agrégé, Paris: Materialism without Atheism! Really? Yes!
Friday 28 June Afternoon Session
- 02:00-03:00. - Piotr Gutowski, Katolicki Uniwersytet Lubelski Jana Pawla II: Is the Phenomenon of Belief in Belief restricted to Religion?
03:00-04:15. - General Debate-End of the Conference
- Michel Bastit (University de Dijon/LHPS-Archives Poincaré, Nancy)
If Atheism Were a Sort of Ignorance ?
If metaphysics is taken to be a science of being as being and of the first being, and if religious faith has for a part a cognitive value, then it is a sound conclusion to conceive atheism as an ignorance of metaphysical science or of the cognitive feature of religious faith. This assumption will be tested by the paper. First it will be precisely formulated and then examined by reading some explicit declarations of atheism by some philosophers.
- Paul Clavier (École Normale Supérieure, Paris)
“Beginning to exist without some productive principle”: Hume's Challenge to the cosmological argument
Having defeated the justification of the maxim Ex nihilo nihil fit, Hume seems to grant that, as far as we know, Ex quocumque quicquid fieri potest. Since there is no apriori justification, the opinion of the necessity of a cause to every new production "must necessarily arise from observation and experience". And this epistemical point entitles Hume to dismiss the concept of creation as causal explanation of the world. This is Philo's objection to Cleanthes' « experimental theism » : « Have worlds ever been formed under your eyes ? […] If you have, then cite your experience, and deliver your theory » [Dialogues, Second Part, ed. Gaskin, Oxford University Press, 1993, p. 53.]. Sure, none of us was ever able to observe a constant conjunction between creating activity and the coming into existence of a world. We have no a priori reason to deny the possibility of something coming of a sudden into existence without a cause. Despite Anscombe's counter-argument, I try to advocate that this very point can be granted to Hume. But, as I will also try to explain, this does not jeopardize too much the thesis of creation, for its core is the timeless dependence of what there is on a supernatural agent.
- John Greco (Saint Louis University)
The Problem of Divine Hiddenness is to explain why a loving God is not clearly present to all of His creation. Put differently, it is the problem of explaining unbelief. A common response, both in the tradition and among contemporary theistic philosophers, is that unbelief signals a cognitive and/or moral flaw in the non-believer. This paper defends recent advances in the epistemology of religion that should make theists skeptical of that diagnosis. Specifically, contemporary religious epistemology tends to ground belief in God in a) religious experience, and b) testimony from the faithful. Moreover, these recent approaches stress the epistemic importance of social context, and especially membership in a community. But then there is a readily available "no-fault" explanation for unbelief. To some extent, in fact, the present point of view makes unbelief expected.
- Piotr Gutowski (Katolicki Uniwersytet Lubelski Jana Pawla II)
Is the Phenomenon of Belief in Belief restricted to Religion?
Daniel Dennett – one of the most radical contemporary atheists – draws our attention to the phenomenon of belief in belief. According to him many people do not actually accept religious beliefs: they only have the desire to accept them or they declare the desire to have them. I think this is quite correct description of a real phenomenon. It is, however, by no means restricted to religion. There are very many people who do not have scientific knowledge but they want to have it or just declare that they have such a desire. Belief in religious beliefs has then its counterpart in belief in scientific beliefs. Quite alike,(1) belief in God is opposed to (2) the declaration in belief in God, and (1) belief in science is opposed to (2) the declaration in belief in science. It may be that psychological roots of fideism and scientism lie in the state of mind of a second type rather than of the fist one.
- Darek Lukasiewicz (Uniwersytet Kazimierza Wielkiego)
God's Hiddenness as an Argument for the Non-existence of God
In my presentation I would like to consider the following?question: why does God not show us that he exists by providing us with?signs and wonders? If one assumes that this question has no answers, then it?is possible to present an argument for the non-existence of God whose?premise is the?absence of signs and wonders. I will try to analyze the logical and?epistemological soundness of this argument.
- Cyrille Michon (Université de Nantes/Centre Atlantique de Philosophie)
On the Very Idea of Atheism
Atheism is the thesis saying that there is no God. It must assume a concept of the divinity, and say that this concept is not exemplified by any entity. Atheism is then relative to a concept, unless one could show that only one concept of God is acceptable. Arguments for the inexistence of God (= atheism) show that there is no God by showing that there is no possible God: the concept of God is either intrinsically contradictory (e.g. omnipotence leads to paradoxes) or extrinsically contradictory with a certain accepted truth (e.g. with the reality of evil, or with human freedom). In each case, one could try to avoid the contradiction by revising the concept of God (limiting omnipotence, or omniscience, etc.). Full atheism should then consider all possible revisions. I will try to consider the possibility of fixing limits to the plasticity of the concept of God, on which depends a truly atheistic position.
- Ryszard Mordarski (Uniwersytet Kazimierza Wielkiego)
How Scientific is The New Atheism?
The mutual influence of scientific naturalism and religion
The New Atheists (Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Christopher Chitchens, Sam Harris, Victor J. Stenger) deny the existence of God from the naturalistic perspective of contemporary science, especially physics and biology. My thesis is that the naturalistic position based on science is in the serious conflict and contradiction with the true science. In fact, the naturalism of the New Atheism plays in its worldview the same role as religion, and becomes some kind of quasi-religion.
- Ewa Odoj (Katolicki Uniwersytet Lubelski Jana Pawla II)
Do we Have to Prove Atheism? A Critical Examination of Anthony Flew’s Position
Anthony Flew stated that the existence of God should be debated from the presumption of atheism, as he puts it: “the onus of proof must lie upon the theist”. According to Flew a theist is obliged to (a) propose a concept of God and (b) provide sufficient reason for the claim that this concept does have an application. On the contrary, atheism is a starting position that does not need support with any arguments. However, most philosophers agree that the existence of evil as well as the presence of many atheists constitute a prima facie defeaters undermining theism. I my opinion, the same can be applied to atheism: there are some facts that undermine atheism, at the very least the presence of many theists. Even if we start to debate the existence of God from the presumption of atheism we still have to provide some evidence to justifiable retain it in the light of these defeaters. In my paper I will examine Flew’s claim and try to defense the view that, at least in Western culture and in our times, both theists and atheists are obliged to prove their beliefs in order to justifiable believe what they do.
- Marek Peplinski (Uniwersytet Gdanski)
Is the Hiddeness Argument Sound?
Theistic philosophers often claim that we have knowledge of the existence of God. Regardless of whether they are right or not, it is interesting to ask if it is possible for us to have knowledge of God’s non-existence. Probably the best way of showing that we can have such knowledge is to offer a sound and valid argument that God does not exist. My aim is to examine whether John Schellenberg’s hidenness argument is a good candidate for such philosophical denial of the existence of God. I am interested in the question of soundness of Schellenberg’s argumentation. I want to ask in particular whether he does not assume too much about our knowledge of what perfectly loving God should do to his creatures to enable them to participate in the relationship with Him. If Schellenberg’s assumptions are right, I want to ask further whether we have good reasons to think that such obligatory actions of God do not occur.
- Roger Pouivet (Université de Lorraine/LHPS-Archives Poincaré, Nancy)
A Short Introduction to the Epistemology of Atheism
Epistemology is, in part, an ethics of beliefs. The ethic od beliefs examines our right to have a particular belief or some sort of belief. Such an ethics is generally directed towards religious beliefs. The believer is supposed to have the burden of proof. Is it now possible to place the burden on the one who denies the existence of God? Is atheism epistemologically acceptable and responsible? Or rather, is it not the only rational attitude if we have no good reason to think it exists? To introduce the debate on these issues during the conference, an overview is useful.
- Sébastien Réhault (LHPS-Archives Poincaré, Nancy)
If God doesn’t exist, why so many people believe in him?
The epistemology of atheism inherited from the Enlightenment rests on at least two claims : (1) one ought to believe accordingly to the available evidence and (2) one ought to think by oneself and to break free from the common opinion. We would like to argue that taking claim (1) seriously may involve the rejection of claim (2). In the case of theism, it would involve that the widespread belief in God can be evidence for His existence.
- John Schellenberg (Mount Saint Vincent University)
The Epistemology of Modest Atheism
Setting aside both ‘old’ and ‘new’ atheisms, I explain and defend a modest atheism. Modest atheism supposes to be false a certain precise depiction of the Divine – the Divine as person and actor that has been influential, for different reasons, in both western philosophy and western religion – while regarding it epistemically possible that some other depiction of the Divine (perhaps one unknown or even unknowable to us today) should one day prove defensible. I sketch the framework for such an approach, provided by the more general claim I call ultimism and by the science of deep time, and some of the arguments that might properly make modest atheism convincing for us even today.
- Yann Schmitt (Paris)
Materialism without Atheism! Really? Yes!
An atheist can propose a modest defense of her beliefs by arguing that there is no justified alternative to her metaphysics, given vastly recognized knowledge about the nature of human persons. I will examine a special case of this modest defense based on non-dualist theory of human persons. If materialism about human persons is true, are metaphysical theism (there is a God) and religious theism (there is God and we should pray him, we can hope a life after death and some ultimate justice, etc.) unjustifiable ? Is atheism a default solution given materialism for human persons ? My aim in this talk is to defend the possibility of a materialism for human persons without atheism, and then to refuse to treat atheism as a default solution.
- Jacek Wojtysiak (Katolicki Uniwersytet Lubelski Jana Pawla II)
The Principle of Justice and the Principle of Evidence in the Theism vs. Atheism Debate
Theism and atheism are not only the philosophical doctrines. They are also some opposite ways of life. The first of them is based on the principle of justice: you ought to give each person her/his due. According to the theist you are obliged to obey and worship God, because He is your creator and benefactor. On the other hand atheism presupposes the principle of evidence: you can (conscientiously) relate to a person or thing iff (i) you know her/him/it or (ii) you know (are justified in believing) that this person or thing exists and is so-and-so. According to the atheist or agnostic the principle of justice does not apply to God, because (contrary to the principle of evidence) (i) we do not know God and (ii) we are not justified in believing that God exists. In my paper I try to give an argument against this position of the atheist or agnostic. My argument starts with some situations in our life when we are not justified in believing that a person exists but we cannot exclude her/his existence. In these situations we are obliged to behave as if she/he existed and to apply to her/him the principle of justice.
- Reneta Zieminska (Uniwersytet Szczecinski)
Atheism and Skepticism
In the history of skepticism there are three types of a relationship between skepticism and atheism: skepticism is beyond the atheism-theism debate (Sextus Empiricus); skepticism is the way to theism/fideism (Montaigne); skepticism is the way to atheism (Berkeley). The first relationship is preserved in a contemporary epistemological sense of skepticism (there is no knowledge). Such skepticism is independent from religious debate. There are no sufficient reasons for both atheism and theism. We have a right to believe and disbelieve by faith. The burden of proof is on both sides. The second relationship is a vanishing tradition. The third relationship is the most popular since the Enlightenment and it formed contemporary common sense of skepticism. According to it, a skeptic is a disbeliever (there is no knowledge about God) close to agnostic (God is unknowable) and atheist (God does not exists).
- Ireneusz Zieminski (Uniwersytet Szczecinski)
We have four main positions on the problem of the existence of God (theism, atheism, agnosticism, skepticism) but none of them is without difficulties. There is, at the moment, no decisive proof of neither the existence nor the non-existence of God (theism and atheism go beyond the available data) but it does not necessarily mean that such proof will not be discovered in the future (which undermines agnosticism). Scepticism on the other hand, understood as a position of doubt, seems to be problematic from the perspective of life’s requirements.
Laboratoire d'Histoire des Sciences et de Philosophie-Archives Poincaré (CNRS, UMR 7117), Université de Lorraine, Nancy, 91, Avenue de la Libération, Nancy, Salle Internationale de la MSH Lorraine (3e étage).