Fish on Evil and Suffering

Writing in The New York TImes Stanley Fish discusses two new books on the problem of evil.

Since Fish hails from the pompous, pseduo-intellectual school of writing, in which it is considered extremely low-brow to actually make a point with force and clarity, he has little light to shed on the issue. He does manage to take a few swipes at the atheist trinity of Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens, however:

What Milton and Paul offer (not as collaborators of course, but as participants in the same tradition) is a solution to the central problem of theodicy – the existence of suffering and evil in a world presided over by an all powerful and benevolent deity. The occurrence of catastrophes natural (hurricanes, droughts, disease) and unnatural (the Holocaust ) always revives the problem and provokes anguished discussion of it. The conviction, held by some, that the problem is intractable leads to the conclusion that there is no God, a conclusion reached gleefully by the authors of books like “The God Delusion,” “God Is Not Great” and “The End of Faith.”

We ought to point out that the authors of those fine books actually say very little about the problem of evil. What I find interesting here is Fish’s obvious contempt for people who are “gleeful” at the thought that there is no God. Personally, I subscribe to Hitchens’ view that the Christian God seems like a rather unpleasant character, and we should be relieved, if not happy, that He does not exist.

Fish closes with:

In short, these books neither trivialize their subject nor demonize those who have a different view of it, which is more than can be said for the efforts of those fashionable atheist writers whose major form of argument would seem to be ridicule.

While I don’t accept the premise that Dawkins and the others argue primarily through ridicule, I would simply point out that ridicule can be a very effective weapon, especially when it is aimed at sacred cows that are unused to being criticized, and that are, after all, pretty ridiculous.

Between these two paragraphs Fish summons forth a great deal of verbiage, none of it rising above the level of a grade school book report. One of the books he is discussing, Bart Ehrman’s God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question – Why We Suffer, sounds like my kind of book. I am among those who regard the problem of evil and suffering as a decisive refutation of any meaningful sort of Christianity, and it sounds like Ehrman shares that view. His previous book, Misquoting Jesus, has been sitting on my shelf for a while, perhaps it’s time finally to read it!

Fish’s other book is Antony Flew’s There Is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind. I haven’t had much to say about Flew. The basic story is that Flew was a prominent atheist for most of his career, who in 2004 decided, on the basis of some very bad scientific arguments, that there was a God. He immediately became a darling of Christians everywhere.

As described in an article from The New York Times Magazine, it seems that Flew, now in his eighties, is quite literally not in full possession of his faculties. The book that bears his name was not written by him, but was instead produced by certain unscrupulous creationists eager to use Flew for their own rhetorical purposes.

Incredibly, FIsh finds this unremarkable, because, you know, at least the book is polite. In a footnote to his essay Fish writes:

(In an article published Sunday — November 4 — in the New York Times Magazine, Mark Oppenheimer more than suggests that Flew, now in his 80’s, did not write the book that bears his name, but allowed Roy Varghese (listed as co-author) to compile it from the philosopher’s previous writings and some extended conversations. Whatever the truth is about the authorship of the book, the relation of its argument and trajectory to the argument and trajectory of Ehrman’s book stands.

Yes, of course. How silly to ponder the role of these books in a larger cultural struggle. How silly to find it relevant that a book bearing Flew’s name was not written by him and that he is merely being used for the purposes of others. Such pedestrian concerns are beyond Fish’s horizon. What really matters is that he’s not snide and nasty like that mean ol’ Christopher Hitchens, whose tone is all you need to know about him.

Update: Roy Varghese, Flew’s coauthor on the book discusses above, has responded to some of the charges levelled against him. I’ll simply note that I don’t find his response very convincing.

Comments

  1. #1 Brent
    November 6, 2007

    Ehrman’s first book, “Misquoting Jesus,” is a MUST read. Fascinating and clearly written, the book is simply superb.
    It also destroys any argument that the Bible is the unaltered word of God or has any origin other than human.

    If you prefer, you can find Ehrman lecturing on his book that is equally interesting here.

  2. #2 Blake Stacey
    November 6, 2007

    We ought to point out that the authors of those fine books actually say very little about the problem of evil.

    Indeed, in The God Delusion, Dawkins takes the view that his biggest cannon is the “Ultimate 747″ gambit, rather than the problem of evil. I think he’s rather backward on this: while the “Ultimate 747″ business points out the shallowness of many deistic remarks, it’s the problem of evil which has the emotional force to challenge a person’s faith.

    Since Fish hails from the pompous, pseduo-intellectual school of writing, in which it is considered extremely low-brow to actually make a point with force and clarity, he has little light to shed on the issue.

    Rofl.

  3. #3 Joshua Zelinsky
    November 6, 2007

    “my knid of book” – “knid” should be “kind”.

  4. #4 Jason Rosenhouse
    November 6, 2007

    Joshua-

    The error has been corrected.

  5. #5 realpc
    November 6, 2007

    There is no “problem of evil.” It’s an illusion. There is absolutely no reason at all to think that things should go your way in this life. But whenever they don’t go your way (and this goes for most of us), you get mad at God or say he doesn’t exist. If he did exist, he would never let bad things happen to you.

    There is so much wrong with that line of reasoning. God can’t possibly make things nice for everyone, for one thing. He (she, they) simply cannot please everyone equally. And furthermore, none of us really knows for certain what we want or need, and our wants and needs are often in conflict.

    Sometimes we see the results of getting too much of what you want in the tragic stories of celebrities, or lottery-winners.

    Ok it’s pretty obvious that the wants and needs of individuals conflict with each other, and even within the individual. Now of course you’ll say what about all the terribly unfair things like an innocent child dying. Well if you don’t want children to ever die, you probably don’t want anyone to ever die. And that means you think death is evil.
    Maybe you think death is ok for very old people but God should never let it happen to the young.

    Well how can anyone say exactly when death is ok and fair and when it isn’t. Most of us don’t want to die, and we don’t want our friends to die. But isn’t that just because we love life and our friends so very much? We hate death because our gift of life doesn’t last forever.

    But who is to say that a wonderful gift like life is no good unless it is going to last forever? And what would lasting forever mean anyway?

    There is just no logic in the complaint that God would never have made a world like this, and therefore there is no God.

    Especially if you broaden your perspective and include more than the Christian God. Some of the Old Testament prophets claimed their God was all-powerful, and this of course led people to wonder why he didn’t have better control over things. But that’s just Old Testament public relations and propaganda. We have absolutely no idea what if anything in the Judeo-Christian bibles is true.

    So if God is more encompassing than the Christian pro-human father God — and certainly it must be — then we have no reason to think there is only one God. If God is infinite, then he/she/it/them can take any number of forms and be in all places at all times. Maybe not all of the manifestations of the infinite God are pro-human. Maybe some are pro-cockroach.

    We have no way to know all these things!

    Declaring that there can’t be any super-human intelligence just because things don’t always go our way, and good things don’t last forever, is profoundly illogical.

  6. #6 Tyler DiPietro
    November 6, 2007

    realpc,

    Question: There is a tsunami about to hit a coast and kill lots of men, women and children as well as cause untold suffering afterward. You have the power to stop it, but you refrain. Does this not make you malevolent?

    Just wondering.

  7. #7 Tyler DiPietro
    November 6, 2007

    (Just a note to other readers: Yes, I did complain about using the problem of evil in a recent post on my blog. You may rape me standing with my hypocrisy if you wish.)

  8. #8 Michael Glenn
    November 6, 2007

    “Declaring that there can’t be any super-human intelligence just because things don’t always go our way, and good things don’t last forever, is profoundly illogical.”

    No one has declared that.

    Jason has simply said that he is “among those who regard the problem of evil and suffering as a decisive refutation of any meaningful sort of Christianity.” He also points out that Dawkins, Harris, et al. “say very little about the problem of evil.”

    The problem of evil merely makes it clear that “any super-human intelligence” cannot be simultaneously all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-benevolent.

    Of course, the presence of evil hardly supports the idea of such an intelligence, either . . .

  9. #9 Daryl McCullough
    November 6, 2007

    About the problem of evil: Here’s an essay question for would-be deities. Suppose that you were God (or a god), with complete power to shape the world as you willed. How would you design the world so that there was no evil, only good. What would such a world be like?

  10. #10 Blake Stacey
    November 7, 2007

    Hey, I’ve got one! Ahem. “If the fundamental constants or physical laws of the Universe were the slightest iddle-widdle bit different, then evil could not exist. Therefore, the Universe must have been finely tuned for evil!

    I call it my Misanthropic Principle.

  11. #11 Caliban
    November 7, 2007

    Blake Stacey: LOL! I’ll have to remember that one. It’s funny that our universe seems to “designed” for the maximum production of black holes instead of for life.

  12. #12 Tyler DiPietro
    November 7, 2007

    I hereby declare Blake the winner of this thread.

  13. #13 outeast
    November 7, 2007

    realpc,

    There are several problems with your response, but the fundamental issue is that you are attacking a straw man. The problem of evil has nothing to do with the existence of death, as you seem to think, or even with the existence of evil per se; and it is certainly not the idea that ‘bad things should never happen to you.’

    It is to do with the apparent incompatibility between the egregious and unnecessary suffering of the innocent and the God of the Nicene creed (who is all-knowing, all-loving, all-powerful, and merciful).

    No one claims that gratuitous evil is incompatible with, say, a malicious demiurge, or with an unconcerned creator who lets us get on with it: there are arguments against both of these propositions, but evil is not one. Saying ‘especially if you broaden your perspective and include more than the Christian God’ is thus an utterly empty point. Evil is a problem for the Christian God (and for the Islamic God, to, whose 99 names include the attributes of the Nicene creed); and it is this God and no other that the argument is intended to refute.

  14. #14 Dunc
    November 7, 2007

    Declaring that there can’t be any super-human intelligence just because things don’t always go our way, and good things don’t last forever, is profoundly illogical.

    Nobody is doing that. We’re declaring that there doesn’t appear to be a God because there is no evidence that there is a God.

  15. #15 Wes
    November 7, 2007

    I saw Bart Ehrman speak at Oklahoma State University a couple months ago, and he was great. Haven’t had a chance to pick up one of his books yet, though.

  16. #16 Daryl McCullough
    November 7, 2007

    outeast writes:

    The problem of evil has nothing to do with the existence of death, as you seem to think, or even with the existence of evil per se; and it is certainly not the idea that ‘bad things should never happen to you.’

    It is to do with the apparent incompatibility between the egregious and unnecessary suffering of the innocent and the God of the Nicene creed (who is all-knowing, all-loving, all-powerful, and merciful).

    Well, I ask again: putting yourself in the place of an all-knowing, all-loving, all-powerful deity, how would you design the universe so that there is no possibility for egregious and unnecessary suffering of the innocent?

  17. #17 realpc
    November 7, 2007

    If you don’t start with the premise that there is an “all-knowing, all-loving, all-powerful deity,” the problem of evil disappears. So Jason is an atheist because of a straw-man version of faith.

    “how would you design the universe so that there is no possibility for egregious and unnecessary suffering of the innocent?”

    You wouldn’t and you couldn’t. And talking about how we would design the universe is silly. Each person would design it in some ridiculous way, according to his limited vision of how things ought to be.

    Remember the Twilight Zone episode about hell? The guy succeeded in everything he tried, and it drove him crazy. Then he realized he was in hell.

  18. #18 Ginger Yellow
    November 7, 2007

    “Well, I ask again: putting yourself in the place of an all-knowing, all-loving, all-powerful deity, how would you design the universe so that there is no possibility for egregious and unnecessary suffering of the innocent?”

    Well, I might not be so narcissistic as to make entities with imperfect knowledge, a capacity for suffering and an inclination for sin, just so that I could be have the satisfaction of being worshipped freely. But then I’m not a sociopath.

  19. #19 Daryl McCullough
    November 7, 2007

    realpc writes:

    “how would you design the universe so that there is no possibility for egregious and unnecessary suffering of the innocent?”

    You wouldn’t and you couldn’t. And talking about how we would design the universe is silly.

    Why is it any sillier than any other discussion? If someone is going to use an argument form: “If there were a (good, powerful, etc.) God, then such and such would follow”, then there should be an argument as to why such and such would follow.

    Each person would design it in some ridiculous way, according to his limited vision of how things ought to be.

    Actually, what I think I would do is to set things up so that intelligent life would evolve. Then I would sit back and watch.

  20. #20 Daryl McCullough
    November 7, 2007

    Ginger Yellow writes:

    Well, I might not be so narcissistic as to make entities with imperfect knowledge, a capacity for suffering and an inclination for sin, just so that I could be have the satisfaction of being worshipped freely.

    Okay, so that’s something you wouldn’t do. I’m asking what would you do, if you were designing a universe and wanted to make sure there was plenty of good but no evil, and no suffering by innocents, etc.

  21. #21 Bronze Dog
    November 7, 2007

    Well, I ask again: putting yourself in the place of an all-knowing, all-loving, all-powerful deity, how would you design the universe so that there is no possibility for egregious and unnecessary suffering of the innocent?

    I’d use my all-knowingness to figure out a way, and my all-powerfulness to make it happen and immediately fix any problems that do occur despite my all-knowingness not anticipating them. If my all-powerfulness wasn’t up to the task, I wouldn’t try.

    Easy.

  22. #22 Bronze Dog
    November 7, 2007

    Of course, Christianity already posits a place without any of this suffering: Heaven. How does Heaven exist without suffering?

  23. #23 Daryl McCullough
    November 7, 2007

    Bronze Dog,

    Well, whether or not there is a God, this Heaven business sounds like bullshit.

  24. #24 Ginger Yellow
    November 7, 2007

    “Okay, so that’s something you wouldn’t do. I’m asking what would you do, if you were designing a universe and wanted to make sure there was plenty of good but no evil, and no suffering by innocents, etc.”

    Who said anything about plenty of good? I’d probably play snooker with galaxies and create pretty nebulae for kicks.

  25. #25 386sx
    November 7, 2007

    Who said anything about plenty of good? I’d probably play snooker with galaxies and create pretty nebulae for kicks.

    Yeah really, who says gods have to be all-knowing, all-loving, all-powerful deities. They can’t even demonstrate that there is a deity let alone demonstrate the all-knowing, all-loving, all-powerful stuff. :P

  26. #26 realpc
    November 7, 2007

    “How does Heaven exist without suffering?”

    According to Buddhism you can get into a state of Nirvana, which is outside of time. I think you definitely have to be up at least one dimensional level to escape time. As long as you are inside of time, you suffer. And of course we can’t imagine what it’s like to be up one dimensional level, let alone up to an infinite level. So we are pretty much ignorant when it comes to understanding God’s mind.

    We are creatures in time, and therefore we learn and evolve, and need and desire, and die, and therefore we suffer.

  27. #27 Michael Glenn
    November 7, 2007

    “Okay, so that’s something you wouldn’t do. I’m asking what would you do, if you were designing a universe and wanted to make sure there was plenty of good but no evil, and no suffering by innocents, etc.”

    Actually, not doing something is doing something. To translate: Ginger Yellow would make entities with perfect knowledge and neither a capacity for suffering nor an inclination for sin.

    I would make mine with the empathy and insight to avoid causing innocent suffering and the emotional and intellectual capacity to love and create. I would provide a reality of surprises and grand complexity within which these entities could explore and grow and, who knows, in the end perhaps even rival me.

    One can get into all kinds of philosophical arguments as to whether free will amid complexity would generate the kind of friction that would make some kind of suffering, or at least disappointment, inevitable.

    At the very least my world would be free of disease and natural disaster. I imagine it wouldn’t even take an omni-deity to accomplish that.

    Meanwhile, playing snooker with galaxies does have its appeal! :)

  28. #28 realpc
    November 7, 2007

    “my world would be free of disease and natural disaster.”

    So there would be no microbes or parasites? Are you sure your design will work without them?

    And no accidents. A world under constant control to avoid harming a human. Innocent human, that is, the others can be harmed. But who will qualify as innocent?

    And if there is no disease, that means we can live on pizza and Coke and never get sick? Or the no disease rule will only apply to the health-conscious?

    I think you will quickly run into the law of unintended consequences in your perfect world. Things will get real crazy real fast. But of course you won’t believe me — go ahead and try it out! Once you get appointed God, that is.

  29. #29 Tyler DiPietro
    November 7, 2007

    realpc,

    I notice that you have studiously avoided answer my question above, why is this?

  30. #30 windy
    November 7, 2007

    And no accidents. A world under constant control to avoid harming a human.

    Ever heard of fire departments? Police? Health care? Traffic regulations?

  31. #31 Russell Blackford
    November 8, 2007

    People who think they have a reply to the Problem of Evil usually don’t understand it. They usually fail to understand the concepts of omnipotence, omniscience, and infinite benevolence. The problem bites much too deeply to be met by the usual naive replies – such as asking whether I (not an omniscient being) could do better. Of course I couldn’t, but an omniscient being will have no problem conceiving of any situation that is logically consistent and an omnipotent one can bring about any such situation. An infinitely benevolent being will not allow suffering that is preventable.

    To get out of the problem you have to come up with some quite spectacular (and implausible) contrivance, such as libertarian free will. Various philosophers have, in fact, managed to get out of it – by positing libertarian free, will or redefining benevolence, or redefining God’s goodness as something other than benevolence, or some combination – but there’s always a significant price. Ehrman seems to be making a similar point.

  32. #32 Russell Blackford
    November 8, 2007

    Dammit – there’s a comma in the wrong place in my second last sentence. More evidence against God.

  33. #33 Ginger Yellow
    November 8, 2007

    “Actually, not doing something is doing something. To translate: Ginger Yellow would make entities with perfect knowledge and neither a capacity for suffering nor an inclination for sin.”

    I never said that. Making entities at all is just an option – it’s an ego trip for God. If it could only be done by causing gratuitous, unfair suffering, then I wouldn’t do it at all. If it could, then I might consider it.

  34. #34 realpc
    November 8, 2007

    “They usually fail to understand the concepts of omnipotence, omniscience, and infinite benevolence.”

    Or maybe they don’t think we know all that, or anything, about God. And furthermore, it should be perfectly obvious to anyone that being benevolent to one person means being not so nice to another person. You can’t have everyone win all that time. It sounds like a progressive elementary school where everyone gets A in everything and both sides win in softball.

    Your perfect world wouldn’t be any fun!!

  35. #35 MartinM
    November 8, 2007

    So, no fun in heaven, then.

  36. #36 Tyler DiPietro
    November 8, 2007

    “So, no fun in heaven, then.”

    BAM!

    Still waiting for an answer to my question, realpc.

  37. #37 JohnnieCanuck, FCD
    November 8, 2007

    Postulate:

    God created Heaven.
    Heaven is perfect, a place anyone would want to be, for infinite time.
    God created Earth.
    Earth is what you see. Even so, most would like to stay a little longer, given health.
    God created Hell.
    Hell is perfect, a place of infinite pain, for infinite time.

    Therefore the postulated god is not omnibenevolent.

    In any case, there is still no logical reason to assume it exists. Suspiciously, there are many emotional and selfish reasons to insist that a god exists.

  38. #38 realpc
    November 8, 2007

    There are no reasons for anyone to think they understand God, or to think they could design a better world. The problem of evil is not a reason to be an atheist. There are better reasons — for example if you have the subjective feeling that there is no God, that would be a legitimate reason for saying that God doesn’t exist for you.

    Atheists like Dawkins usually argue against primitive Sunday school versions of Christianity. He doesn’t consider more sophisticated vesrions of Christianity, and he ignores most other religions.

    Anyone who understands and follows Buddhism, for example, wouldn’t see any contradiction between religion and the existence of evil.

  39. #39 Ginger Yellow
    November 8, 2007

    “There are better reasons — for example if you have the subjective feeling that there is no God, that would be a legitimate reason for saying that God doesn’t exist for you.”

    Fantastic. That’ll go down real well with a bunch of science geeks.

    “Anyone who understands and follows Buddhism, for example, wouldn’t see any contradiction between religion and the existence of evil.”

    We’re talking about the contradiction between the existence of evil and a specific god who is postulated to be omniscient, omnipotent and omnibenevolent. Buddhism is beside the point. I could make up a religion that worships evil and praises suffering, and no problem of evil.

  40. #40 matt
    November 8, 2007

    [realpc] No more sophisticated version of Christianity has any currency or value: they’re all just timewasting games for theological buffoons. The crass dullardries promoted by venal teleclerics are the essence of Christianity in the modern world.

    As for the argument that we suffer because we are shackled within time, that merely reiterates the premise. An omnibenevolent deity could not, logically, so shackle us; therefore such a deity cannot exist.

    It has been clearly established time and again that you can make a theistic argument that is, though still entirely evidence-free, at least non-contradictory, but the god thereby posited cannot be omnibenevolent. You may elect, masochistically, to believe in such an alternative sadistic skyfather, but to argue He is Good would be pure delusional psychosis.

  41. #41 realpc
    November 8, 2007

    “We’re talking about the contradiction between the existence of evil and a specific god who is postulated to be omniscient, omnipotent and omnibenevolent.”

    Why?? Jason said he’s an atheist, that means he does not believe in any god, not just some specific nice-guy god.

    And even if god is a nice guy (and I think on some level incomprehensible to us he may be), then if he’s all-knowing he is certainly seeing things not available to us. We don’t see the future or any overall pattern.

    Can you imagine your life if everything you tried worked out well? It’s unimaginable. That isn’t the way this world is, or ever could be. And who is anyone to say it should be different?

    You don’t like tsunamis that kill people? An earthquake at the bottom of an ocean is supposed to somehow know that it’s going to generate a wave that hits an island where people live near the shore. You want a human-centered earth that makes human well-being its highest priority. Maybe there are important reasons why that earthquake has to happen, according to the laws of nature, and for the benefit of the earth as a whole. But you want all those laws bent for a few thousand organisms of a particular species.

    And if the world doesn’t work according to your human-centered and short-sited desires, you decide it’s no good. You could have made something better. You are better than god, and there is no god anyway because this world sucks and no decent god would ever have made it.

    That’s the atheist mind. Pure ungrateful arrogance.

  42. #42 John
    November 8, 2007

    realpc, I think there has been a misunderstanding here.

    Christianity claims that god is all knowing, all powerful, and infinitely loving. What’s more, he (I say he because the triune god is male) loves humanity, and not malaria or beetles. The universe is not set up with us in mind. It is big. Really big. You may think it’s a long way to the chemists, but that’s just peanuts to space… Most of this space is extremely hostile to humanity. Hostile might be too weak a word for how inhospitable the bulk of the universe is. In the tiny bit of the universe that IS habitable, we face all sorts of terribly evil things and people. This is not the work of an infinitely loving deity. This is not an argument against all deities, but is an argument against the specific type of deity that Christians believe in.

    This doesn’t rule out other sorts of deities–like Azathoth or Nyarlahotep, but I don’t think they are what you have in mind by god.

    Do you have any sort of response to this kind of argument? Invoking mysterious ways or some such blather doesn’t count. Christianity has made very specific claims about the nature of god–omniscient, omnipotent, and all loving. Christianity claims that the universe was created for us–and would have been a paradise if we hadn’t mucked it up. But the universe doesn’t look like that AT ALL. How can Christianity deal with problem? I’m sorry to ramble at such length, but this is one of my biggest problems with Christian apologists.

    Thanks for your patience.
    John

  43. #43 Leni
    November 8, 2007

    realpc wrote:

    [Ginger Yellow]”We’re talking about the contradiction between the existence of evil and a specific god who is postulated to be omniscient, omnipotent and omnibenevolent.”

    Why?? Jason said he’s an atheist, that means he does not believe in any god, not just some specific nice-guy god.

    Realpc, it’s because the problem of evil is only a problem for the type of god Ginger described. That’s why s/he called it “a specific god” and mentioned what would be required to make the argument moot.

    The problem of evil is an argument against that supposed god and any others sharing those 3 qualities, not an argument against any conceivable god.

  44. #44 windy
    November 9, 2007

    Maybe there are important reasons why that earthquake has to happen, according to the laws of nature, and for the benefit of the earth as a whole. But you want all those laws bent for a few thousand organisms of a particular species.

    You could at least try to get the numbers right. The 2004 tsunami alone killed over two hundred thousand, displaced over a million, and affected several million people. If that poses no problem for your woozy brand of theism, why do you feel the need to minimize the suffering?

  45. #45 realpc
    November 9, 2007

    “This is not an argument against all deities, but is an argument against the specific type of deity that Christians believe in.”

    As I said, atheism is disbelief in any god or gods. Jason said he is an atheist partly because of the problem of evil. We were not talking about Christianity specifically.

    And even if we were, most Christians don’t read the bibles (old and new) and get their nice-guy image of god as children in Sunday school. Christians, Jews and Muslims all worship Yahweh, a terrifying (but forgiving and helpful if worshiped correctly) war god.

    Atheists should argue against gods in general, not some sugary fairy tale god taught to children. And not any particular god as described in any particular culture’s ancient writings. But the concept of god (or other “supernatural” entities not yet approved by modern science).

    If you are anti-god, argue against gods in general.

  46. #46 MartinM
    November 9, 2007

    Go tell the Christians to argue for gods in general, then. As long as arguments for specific gods are being made, there’s cause to argue against them.

  47. #47 realpc
    November 9, 2007

    “As long as arguments for specific gods are being made, there’s cause to argue against them.”

    It’s easier for atheists to win arguments if they argue against specific cultural myths, which most religious people don’t take literally anyway.

    That’s why you argue against Christian creationism, pretending it’s the same thing as Intelligent Design. It’s easy to win a scientific argument agaiinst a myth.

  48. #48 MartinM
    November 9, 2007

    I’ll happily argue against…well, just about anything, actually, if I find it sufficiently important/interesting/entertaining.

    Your argument that atheists only take on strawmen is, itself, one enormous strawman.

  49. #49 windy
    November 9, 2007

    If you are anti-god, argue against gods in general.

    Provide a general, substantial definition of ‘god’, and we’ll see.

  50. #50 realpc
    November 9, 2007

    “Your argument that atheists only take on strawmen is, itself, one enormous strawman.”

    Not all always, just some sometimes. Specifically several here, and I am specifically writing to or about them. Jason, first of all, complains about the problem of evil but his concept of god is most likely the sweet lovey-dovey version of god taught to children. Or the nice-guy social activist version of god promoted by progressive humanists.

    The god of the Old Testament is a tough and ruthless warrior, as well as protector of his chosen people (who he doesn’t mind punishing severely). Jesus, who was elevated to god status by later Christianity, could be as tough and angry as other prophets of Yahweh.

    And that still leaves out all the millions and billions of other gods, demi-gods, spirits and angels loved and worshiped by believers in all places and times. There are probably at least as many different personality types for gods as there are for people.

    Are all these “supernatural” beings real or imaginary? That would be a completely different question, having nothing to do with the problem of evil.

    We don’t have to worry about the problem of evil, because it’s an illusion.

  51. #51 realpc
    November 9, 2007

    “Provide a general, substantial definition of ‘god’, and we’ll see.”

    If it’s possible that there are super-physical beings on dimensional levels different from our own (above our own?), then “god” would be one type of super-physical being.

    We do not have to assume that the substances, fields and forces of our familiar reality are all there is. We don’t have to assume that our 4-dimensional reality is the whole story. What we perceive and inhabit and study and measure could be just a tiny fraction of what there is.

    There might be beings on different levels, made of different substances, inhabiting completely diffeerent worlds. There might be times and places where completely different beings from completely different worlds interact.

    I don’t think science is currently able to offer an informed opinion on this question. It is not unscientific to believe in god(s). Are you going to wait to make up your mind about everything until science has thoroughly investigated and measured it? Do you realize how little science understands about even our ordinary reality?

    Of course, if you prefer to be an atheist that’s fine. Just don’t kid yourself that it makes you smarter and more scientific.

  52. #52 Daryl McCullough
    November 9, 2007

    Ginger Yellow writes:

    Making entities at all is just an option – it’s an ego trip for God. If it could only be done by causing gratuitous, unfair suffering, then I wouldn’t do it at all.

    Well, I’d rather have the gratuitous, unfair suffering than a world without sentient critters, if those are the only two choices. I’m sure you’re a nice person, but I’m glad you’re not a deity.

  53. #53 Collin
    November 9, 2007

    I don’t think that anyone thinks that they’re smarter or more scientific because they’re an atheist. What they (or at least I) am/are saying is that I’m an atheist because I’ve looked at what science has discovered so far, however small an amount that might be, and seen absolutely no evidence produced that would lead me to the conculsion that a god or God or gods exist.

    I would also like someone who believes in god to explain what the world would be like without a god. I’ll assume that this world/existence has one – what would be the difference? A worse world? One where more people die? And if we can postulate a different world without a god that’s the same as this one, doesn’t that argue for the fact that maybe there is no god in this one.

  54. #54 Caliban
    November 9, 2007

    realpc, Sure, the universe is a big place and i suppose there could be “beings on different levels”, there could also be space unicorns and alternate universes filled with nothing but squid. So what?

    Just because you can vaguely imagine all sorts of fanciful creatures & gods is irrevelant. The question is what reason do have to think that such things exist and how would one find out? That’s where science comes in and so far there is no scientific evidence for the existence of God or “beings on different levels”. And that’s not being arrogant. That’s being rational. Remember Carl Sagan’s famous line: “Extrodinary cliams require extrodinary evidence”.

  55. #55 windy
    November 9, 2007

    there could be “beings on different levels”, there could also be space unicorns…

    Or, since Bigfoot could exist in an alternate universe, maybe you shouldn’t argue against Bigfoot using science.

    Things can exist that are completely beyond our ken, but in that case they won’t be intimately involved in human lives or the workings of the universe.

    Are you going to wait to make up your mind about everything until science has thoroughly investigated and measured it? Do you realize how little science understands about even our ordinary reality?

    Do you realize how much less religions explain?

  56. #56 Leni
    November 9, 2007

    Realpc, you said yourself what the issue here is:

    Are all these “supernatural” beings real or imaginary? That would be a completely different question, having nothing to do with the problem of evil.

    (Emphasis mine.)

    It does have nothing to do the problem of evil, which is why there are different arguments to address those other kinds of gods you mention.

    Besides, using the problem of evil argument does not preclude one from using other arguments. I am not sure why you think it would.Atheists can and do make these arguments and of you don’t believe me pick up a copy of George Smith’s “Atheism: The Case Against God”. It pretty much covers them all, general and specific.

    ….

    That said, I think you’re missing some important points, as a result your grievances are missing the mark. I’ll try to keep this short, but there really is a great deal I think you are overlooking.

    1. We can’t sensibly argue against something if we don’t know what it is or if it isn’t defined.

    2. There is no single god property we can point to and say “Aha! There lies the fatal flaw!” There are only categories or sets of similarly flawed gods and there is no way to address them except individually. You knock one down and the believer then postulates a different, new kind of god (usually one that is not at all like those other cheap fairy tale gods that we all know don’t exist) and the game begins again.

    3. The onus of proof must be on the person making the claim.

    Now, aside from all that, you can have specific reasons why you don’t think specific gods exist and then you have a general “wait and see” or “I’ll believe it when I see it” attitude about the rest.

    It’s not really that complicated, and strikes me as the most sensible position to take. And there is a good deal more out there than the problem of evil. That is just one argument of many. I’m sure Jason is more familiar with them than you give him credit for.

  57. #57 realpc
    November 9, 2007

    People experience gods in all kinds of ways. And some people don’t. There are prophets and mediums and so on who claim to somehow communicate with non-physical, or super-physical, beings. I don’t think they claim this simply because they’re crazy or looking for attention or trying to make money. All those factors might contribute, but it hardly explains why certain individuals in all times and places claim to experience this kind of communication. There have been prophets, shamans, mystics, etc., in all cultures and eras, as far as we can tell.

    But we don’t have to take some loony prophet or medium’s word for this. Many people experience god, angels, and so on, in their lives in more subtle ways.

    Of course atheists claim it’s all wishful thinking, trickery and insanity. And of course you can believe that if you want. But you have no scientific reasons to think that way. Science has not looked for gods or angels, because that is not the kind of thing it generally looks for.

    Parapsychology has done a lot to show that mind can exist without what we call matter. But atheists usually dismiss parapsychology as trickery, stupidity, insanity, etc.

    I believe that mind creates matter; atheists believe that matter creates mind. Neither has been proven by science, so it’s whatever seems right to each person, according to their personal experiences and observations.

  58. #58 windy
    November 9, 2007

    Well, I’d rather have the gratuitous, unfair suffering than a world without sentient critters, if those are the only two choices. I’m sure you’re a nice person, but I’m glad you’re not a deity.

    But sentient life already exists in your scenario – the deity! If you’re the deity, and you get lonely, why not find or make some more of your kind instead of the “ant farm”?

    Actually, what I think I would do is to set things up so that intelligent life would evolve. Then I would sit back and watch.

    Previously, you asked what we should expect to be different in case a good God existed. Here’s one example: our universe appears NOT to be set up so that intelligent life would evolve, so that’s an observation against your particular good God scenario. But actually, unguided evolution is a good recipe for pointless suffering, so you could still be an evil God :)

    “All this time we thought he was a powerful super-being, yet he was just a child… -He is not a child. He is THIRTY-FOUR!”

  59. #59 Michael Glenn
    November 9, 2007

    real pc, you’re all over the map. You seem to believe in an intelligent designer (“That’s why you argue against Christian creationism, pretending it’s the same thing as Intelligent Design. It’s easy to win a scientific argument against a myth.”) and that an intelligent designer is somehow unable to avoid creating microbes, parasites, or earthquakes.

    Microbes, parasites, and earthquakes are perfectly explicable in a self-organizing universe that evolves through time. What about them points toward an intelligent designer?

    You complain that “sophisticated versions of Christianity” go unconsidered, yet the all-powerful, all-knowing, all-benevolent One True God has been the coin of the most sophisticated theologians (Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, etc., etc.) for two thousand years. What “sophisticated versions” are you talking about?

    Moreover, Christianity defines itself as monotheistic (however much it may fail to live up to it). Yet you talk about “millions and billions of other gods, demi-gods, spirits and angels loved and worshiped by believers in all places and times.” What does that have to do with Christianity, sophisticated or not?

    Sure, “spiritual experiences” are universal throughout human history and around the world, and perhaps they require a bit more respect as experiences to understand what they’re all about. But the unifying factor is their subjective nature. Visitations by deities in the classical world are remarkably similar to visitations by angels and saints in the Middle Ages are remarkable similar to visitations by space aliens in the modern world. And that’s just in the West.

    On what basis do you tie such subjective experiences as evidence to the objective existence of “beings on different levels”?

    You say, “I believe that mind creates matter; atheists believe that matter creates mind. Neither has been proven by science [emphasis mine].” While that’s certainly true as a general statement, it’s hardly license to believe “whatever seems right to each person, according to their personal experiences and observations.”

    What it seems to come down to is your desire to believe whatever you want, no matter what. At that point, what is there to discuss?

    P.S. Ginger Yellow, you’re absolutely right. No sentient beings is an option (remember galactic snooker!) I assumed Daryl McCullough was interested in a “better” reality with sentient beings.

    Of course, as others have pointed out, mythology and theology alike posit all kinds of happy realms with sentient beings: heaven, the realm of angels, the abode of the gods, etc. Apparently the “intelligent designer” just couldn’t pull it off here.

  60. #60 386sx
    November 10, 2007

    Of course, as others have pointed out, mythology and theology alike posit all kinds of happy realms with sentient beings: heaven, the realm of angels, the abode of the gods, etc. Apparently the “intelligent designer” just couldn’t pull it off here.

    Exactly. And that’s why theodicy is a bunch of hoo-hoo.

  61. #61 realpc
    November 10, 2007

    “Visitations by deities in the classical world are remarkably similar to visitations by angels and saints in the Middle Ages are remarkable similar to visitations by space aliens in the modern world.”

    It doesn’t seem likely that all these are hallucinations. I think they are similar experiences called by different names.

    And yes, Christian theologians decided there is only one god and it’s all-powerful, all-knowing, nice to humans. I think those theologians were just describing how they would like god to be. They were trying to make sense out of the incomprehensible.

    I don’t think the evolution of life was planned by some designer. I think we live in a universe where complex systems evolve. ID research looks for signs of intelligence in nature, which can easily be found. Many ID researchers are Christian, because that happens to be the primary religion of our culture. But their research is scientific, they are not searching for evidence that life started 6,000 years ago or that Jesus really came back to life.

    It’s a very basic controversy, between mind creates matter and matter creates mind. I think that an obviously intelligent physical universe is the result of super-physical intelligence.

    That’s all ID is saying. It doesn’t worry about the problem of evil or Christian theology.

    The only generalization I would make about ID researchers is that they do not believe the philosophy of materialism (now usually called naturalism). They are not scientific atheists and are therefore out of synch with the current scientific culture.

  62. #62 Caliban
    November 10, 2007

    It doesn’t seem likely that all these are hallucinations. I think they are similar experiences called by different names.

    For thousands of years everyone believed that the earth was flat, they can’t all have been wrong. Well, they were.

    Modern psychology & neurology has empirical explanations for all of the “mystical” phenomena you seem to be so fond of.

    Realpc, the rest of your post has a lot of sloppy thinking in it that could be easily remedied by a quick google search into epistemology. You have to ask yourself: “How do i know what i claim to know? How does anyone?” I suggest you check it out. It’s interesting stuff.

  63. #63 realpc
    November 10, 2007

    “Modern psychology & neurology has empirical explanations for all of the “mystical” phenomena you seem to be so fond of.”

    That is absolutely not true. That is a complete myth, typically used to support materialist philosophy. Scientific atheists believe that evolution has been explained and consciousness has been explained. Well neither has been. Far from it.

    Neuroscientists look for correlations between mental states or activities and general brain areas. They also observe loss of function resulting from damaged or missing brain areas.

    Making these general correlations in no way explains what the brain actually does, or how what the brain does is related to mental states and cognitive functions.

    And finding that a particular brain area becomes more active during a certain kind of mystical state tells you absolutely nothing about how the brain area is related to the subjective experience. You don’t even know if the brain activity caused the experience or the experience caused the brain activity, or some combination of both.

    It’s hard to believe people actually think these observations are explanations. But it’s the same with evolution — it’s hard to believe people think evolution has been adequately explained by random mutations plus natural selection.

    But that is the scientific atheist mythology, always going way beyond the facts. Then of course you can say “well it isn’t completely understood in detail, but eventually it will be.” That is a statement of faith.

    Scientific atheism is just as dependent on faith and mythology as any religion.

  64. #64 Tyler DiPietro
    November 10, 2007

    “Neuroscientists look for correlations between mental states or activities and general brain areas. They also observe loss of function resulting from damaged or missing brain areas.”

    They do quite a bit more than that, I’m afraid. Neuroscientists also track how alterations in brain-chemistry alter conscious perceptions and behavior. The use of entheogenic drugs induces many of the same experiences mystics have written about for milennia, as do epileptic siezures in the temporal lobe (to name a couple). I’m afraid the existence of such experiences isn’t compelling evidence for anything but quirks in the chemical functioning of nervous systems.

    “It’s hard to believe people actually think these observations are explanations. But it’s the same with evolution — it’s hard to believe people think evolution has been adequately explained by random mutations plus natural selection.”

    Well, yeah, there is also random genetic drift, developmental biology, endo and ecto-symbiotic relationships, co-evolution and alterations in the environment, to name a handful of other influences. I’d like to hear an example of something not explained or plausibly explainable by what we know about such processes.

    “Scientific atheism is just as dependent on faith and mythology as any religion.”

    Well, no. Your cartoon version of it is, but no one cares about that. And btw, I’m still waiting for an answer to my question all the up the thread.

  65. #65 realpc
    November 10, 2007

    “The use of entheogenic drugs induces many of the same experiences mystics have written about for milennia”

    And drugs have been used by shamans since forever. Mystics have always been aware that hallucinogenics can facilitate altered states of consciousness. Does that mean the drugs create an artificial mystical experience? Or can drugs disrupt brain functions that normally serve to prevent mystical experiences?

    We really do not know, and there is no basis for assuming experiences are created by chemicals. It’s just as plausible that chemicals can make it easier to temporarily escape ordinary consciousness, and enter other dimensions of reality.

    Materialists always assume physical processes create mental experiences. But how can you fail to notice that mental states greatly influence physical events in the brain? Our thoughts and feelings increase and decrease brain chemicals.

    It is obviously not a simple one-way path from conditions in the physical brain to conscious experience.

    The fact that drugs and brain damage can influence conscious experience does not imply that conscious experiences are generated by the brain. Of course that’s the materialist interpretation.

  66. #66 Michael Glenn
    November 10, 2007

    “It doesn’t seem likely that all these are hallucinations. I think they are similar experiences called by different names.”

    The “visitations” I mentioned are similar experiences called by different names. That was the point. They are similar experiences that are uniformly completely subjective. I made no judgment as to their nature. You do. You say it seems unlikely they’re all hallucinations. Maybe not, but on what basis do you say that? You say people who have these experiences “claim to somehow communicate with non-physical, or super-physical, beings” as if you believe that claim. On what basis do you believe it (other than that it’s OK for people to believe “whatever seems right to each person, according to their personal experiences and observations”)?

    Regarding the inducement of mystical states by drugs, you say: “Does that mean the drugs create an artificial mystical experience? Or can drugs disrupt brain functions that normally serve to prevent mystical experiences?” Well, at this point who knows? But what is there about that fact that points to deities or different levels of being or whatever the vague thing is you think you believe in?

    In line with that, you say “Christian theologians decided there is only one god and it’s all-powerful, all-knowing, nice to humans.” Christian theologians didn’t decide that. That deity is core to the Bible. Christian theologians have spent millennia rationalizing it in the face of a world that doesn’t fit the Bible’s picture. So, in regard to your vagueness, where’s this “sophisticated Christianity” you were talking about earlier.

    Likewise, you might want to Google “wedge document” to learn a few things about ID. Even the Discovery Institute’s attempt to rationalize away what it really says makes it clear they are talking about the One True God and Christianity.

    You say “their research is scientific,” but they’ve never done any research.

    And you still haven’t answered Tyler DiPietro’s question.

    No wish to be hard on you, realpc, but since I have to be away a couple of days I’d just like to suggest that you might want to sit down and figure out exactly what it is that you believe and what evidence you really have for it.

  67. #67 Tyler DiPietro
    November 10, 2007

    “We really do not know, and there is no basis for assuming experiences are created by chemicals.”

    Except for the fact that brain chemistry is at the root of psychotic disorders which feature illusory experiences and erratic emotions. Do visual and auditory hallucinations not count as “experiences”? How about rapid cycling between depressive and manic states? How about the fact that synthetic chemicals are known to ameliorate these difficulties to a large degree?

    “Materialists always assume physical processes create mental experiences. But how can you fail to notice that mental states greatly influence physical events in the brain?”

    Do you have a citation that actually demonstrates this? Certainly this could be trivially true, as brains are state machines with plenty of spatial and temporal contingencies, but there’s no evidence for some magical, ethereal infleunce. If you know of any, I’d like to be corrected.

    “The fact that drugs and brain damage can influence conscious experience does not imply that conscious experiences are generated by the brain.”

    Perhaps you can provide some way to differentiate between “generate” and “influence”. And btw, I’m still waiting for an answer to my question near the top of the thread.

  68. #68 realpc
    November 11, 2007

    “Do you have a citation that actually demonstrates this?”

    The brain responds to what happens in our life, what we are thinking and feeling in response to whatever is going on around us. How can you require a citation for this?

    If something frightening happens, certain chemicals will increase, certain areas will activate.

    In one of the experiments that supposedly showed mystical states being generated by the brain, subjects were asked to remember a mystical experience while their brain activity was observed. So the subjects’ mental state caused changes in their brains.

    The well-known placebo effect shows that subjects’ beliefs can have physiological effects.

    Obviously mental states influence the physical body (including the brain), just as physical states influence subjective mental experience.

  69. #69 windy
    November 11, 2007

    mental states greatly influence physical events in the brain

    Mental states ARE physical events in the brain. (To falsify this, all you have to do is find evidence of a mental state being present before there is a corresponding activity in the brain.)

  70. #70 Tyler DiPietro
    November 11, 2007

    Arguing against you is becoming a frustrating expereince, realpc. I’ve asked you to answer a very simple question around six times now and you haven’t even acknowledged it, which is incredibly rude. Now you have a whole new string of dodgy assertions and no citation to document any of them, which I specifically requested. The post above me by windy already pointed out the flaw in your examples, they don’t seem to be anything more than your plain-vanillia responses to stimuli as well as spatial and temporal contingencies (the brain is a complex, massively parallelized system, so you’d have plenty of the latter). If you have evidence to the contrary, present it. And I’m still waiting for an answer to my question, it’s right below your initial post.

  71. #71 realpc
    November 11, 2007

    “Mental states ARE physical events in the brain. (To falsify this, all you have to do is find evidence of a mental state being present before there is a corresponding activity in the brain.)”

    Your statement is based on no evidence whatsoever. It is materialist dogma, based entirely on faith.

  72. #72 Tyler DiPietro
    November 11, 2007

    No answer to my very simple question and a reiteration of the same stupid catch-phrases over and over again. I think we all know by now that realpc is an intellectual coward with no interest in substantive discussion, I’m done with this thread.

  73. #73 Caliban
    November 11, 2007

    “It’s just as plausible that chemicals can make it easier to temporarily escape ordinary consciousness, and enter other dimensions of reality.”

    This is nothing more than escapeist, mental masturbation. It is essentially no different than believing in magic spells, fairies or astrology.

    It’s also patheticly narccisistic: “I’m so very special. I’m not like all those square materialists caught in the Matrix of thier shallow minds. I’m more sensitive to cosmic forces and higher realities. My deep thoughts are so profound that they can open up wormholes to other dimensions and worlds! And nothing those arrogant scientists say will ever convince me that i don’t have special powers! Well… maybe i don’t have these special powers yet, but someday i will! I’ll learn to harness the secret knowledge and powers of the mystics and become more powerful than you materialists can possibly imagine!”

  74. #74 Leni
    November 11, 2007

    Realpc wrote:

    Your statement is based on no evidence whatsoever. It is materialist dogma, based entirely on faith.

    If you’ll notice, windy offered a perfectly acceptable way his/her statement could be disproved. That isn’t dogma, it’s the best way to set about determining which statement is more in accord with the evidence.

    Oh wait a minute. I suppose in your world we must be perpetually immobilized by considering every possible thing no matter how implausible. How do you people get anything done? How do you even find your keys if you lose them?

    I mean, wouldn’t it be blatant materialistic dogma to assume that it was you who misplaced them and not those dastardly car key gnomes? I can’t believe you’d be such a materialist bigot to not consider the gnomes before you started looking in the couch cushions. What about the gnomes, realpc?

    What about the gnomes?

  75. #75 realpc
    November 12, 2007

    “(To falsify this, all you have to do is find evidence of a mental state being present before there is a corresponding activity in the brain.)”

    How are you going to measure a mental state?

  76. #76 Joe
    November 12, 2007

    How are you going to measure a mental state?

    I remember reading an abstract a couple of years ago where the authors were suggesting that cognitive systems have quantum-like statistical behaviour. This quantum-like approach suggested the possibility to represent mental states by Hilbert space vectors. But this isn’t my expertise so maybe someone else out there knows more about this kind of research.

    I’m guessing though that windy has something simpler in mind.

  77. #77 Caliban
    November 12, 2007

    I’m guessing though that windy has something simpler in mind.

    Windy didn’t ask for a “measurement” of a mental state, only “evidence” of a mental state. There’s no need to measure anything. You don’t even need to parse out one mental state from another. Any display of consciousness will do. There are a variety of ways nerologists can “see” what’s transpiring in the brain, all you would need is ONE display of a person doing something (anything) without a corresponding display of nerual activity to show that a mind could exist outside the body.

    For those who claim that a mind can exist outside the body, the burden is on them to provide the evidence. Of course, if science had encountered any evidence for it it would be the biggest news in our species’ history.

    Again, “extrodinary claims require extrodinary evidence”.

  78. #78 realpc
    November 12, 2007

    “For those who claim that a mind can exist outside the body, the burden is on them to provide the evidence.”

    Parapsychologists have been demonstrating mind acting independently of the body, brain and senses for decades.

  79. #79 Caliban
    November 12, 2007

    And if thier “demonstrations” are valid, why have these parapsychologists not been awarded the Nobel prize for their revolutionary discoveries?

    How about an example of such a demonstration?

  80. #80 Tyler DiPietro
    November 12, 2007

    I should never outright declare I’m done with a thread, because I know I’ll be compelled to come back when I see something incredibly stupid. Like this:

    “Parapsychologists have been demonstrating mind acting independently of the body, brain and senses for decades.”

    No, they haven’t. Parapsychology has been colossal flop and turned up no convincing evidence that any sort of “anomalous cognition” exists (though they did manage to waste a good deal of government grant money trying to do so). I’m afraid you’ll have to find another pseudoscientific horse to hitch your nonsense to.

  81. #81 realpc
    November 12, 2007

    Remote viewing at SRI was confirmed even by skeptics. It was discontinued because they decided remote viewing is not a practical method for spying. But no one could dispute the positive experimental results. You can look it up. There are many many other examples. Skeptic organizations deny it, simply because they don’t want it to be true.

  82. #82 realpc
    November 12, 2007

    “And if thier “demonstrations” are valid, why have these parapsychologists not been awarded the Nobel prize for their revolutionary discoveries?”

    Most people would not consider it revolutionary. Only scientific atheists are absolutely sure that mind is generated by physical brains. Mainstream science is not thrilled by evidence of mind without matter and I doubt parapsychologists are ever considered by the Nobel committee. And mainstream scientific journals usually don’t consider parapschology submissions, so it’s mostly published in parapsychology journals.

    There is over 100 years worth of parapsychology publications, and the research quality continually improves. Skeptics can’t accuse them of carelessness anymore. There are many many experiments that skeptics have found nothing wrong with. But the skeptics still deny that parapsychology has found anything. Now they say it MUST be error or cheating, since there is no acknowledged scientific theory explaining how mind can act without a physical brain.

    In other words, it doesn’t fit their preconceived materialist ideology, so it cannot be true.

    It’s politics and ideology, and scientific evidence has nothing to do with it.

  83. #83 Tyler DiPietro
    November 12, 2007

    “Remote viewing at SRI was confirmed even by skeptics.”

    No, it wasn’t. Ray Hyman, who was hired by the CIA to audit the program, concluded that it was all a load of crap.

    Next stupid post?

  84. #84 realpc
    November 12, 2007

    “Ray Hyman, who was hired by the CIA to audit the program, concluded that it was all a load of crap.”

    He couldn’t find anything wrong with it. He concluded that it must not be true, since psi isn’t possible.

    There are many, many parapsychology experiments with positive results, and which skeptics could not find fault with. Skeptic’s Dictionary will NEVER tell you about them.

  85. #85 Leni
    November 12, 2007

    realpc wrote:

    Most people would not consider it revolutionary. Only scientific atheists are absolutely sure that mind is generated by physical brains.

    First, “scientific atheist” is a meaningless pejorative. You have a problem with science, and you have a problem with atheists. Fine. But don’t toss in meaningless garbage like this and expect to be taken seriously.

    Second, the reason we think the mind is “generated by physical brains” is because that’s what it looks like.

    As you might have guessed from the links I posted, one of the biggest indicators that “mental states” are a result of brain activity is that when brain activity is disturbed, so are mental states. In very specific ways, I might add.

    Brain damage is catastrophic when it isn’t lethal and often seriously debilitating when it isn’t catastrophic. And it can definitely have an effect on one’s mental state.

    Mainstream science is not thrilled by evidence of mind without matter

    Now that was just a load of whiny, self-serving crap, realpc.

    The vast majority of the human beings who work in “mainstream science” would be overwhelmed with joy at the idea. It would easily be one of, if not the, biggest discovery of all time. Who do you think scientists are? More often than not they are people with religious ideas of their own, despite your apparent prejudice.

    And the real reason parapsychologists don’t get considered for the Nobel is because their work is generally shoddy. And when it isn’t, they don’t find anything worth reporting.

    And mainstream scientific journals usually don’t consider parapschology submissions, so it’s mostly published in parapsychology journals.

    They’ll get mainstream when they produce results, or when they find evidence to support their theories. Just like the other scientists out there who had ideas that were originally unpopular, but gained respect because they were able to withstand critical analysis.

    They didn’t get popular by whining to the media, they got recognized because they were able to provide evidence supporting their ideas. In other words, they rolled up their sleeves and went to work, and didn’t waste their time with worthless, sycophant PR firms like the Discovery Institute.

  86. #86 realpc
    November 12, 2007

    “Hyman hypothesized a number of alternative explanations for the observed statistical significance other than the anomalous cognitive one, although he admits he couldn’t find any obvious flaws in the methodology ”

    http://anson.ucdavis.edu/~utts/may.html

    Of course, Skeptic’s Dictionary pretends that Hyman never admitted that “he couldn’t find any obvious flaws in the methodology.” I wonder why?

    Skeptic’s Dictionary and James Randi are a bunch of propagandists.

  87. #87 Tyler DiPietro
    November 12, 2007

    Hmmmm, let’s see. How is realpc being a little bit less than honest this time around?

    “He couldn’t find anything wrong with it. He concluded that it must not be true, since psi isn’t possible.”

    He found quite a bit wrong with it, actually. Namely the non-independence of the viewers used as well as the fact the Ed May, the director of the program, was the one who judged all of the results. The CIA obviously had more confidence in Hyman’s judgement than May’s, as they shut down the program after the audit. Are they in on the conspiracy to suppress ESP too, realpc?

    “Of course, Skeptic’s Dictionary pretends that Hyman never admitted that “he couldn’t find any obvious flaws in the methodology.” I wonder why?”

    Because it’s a completely dishonest claim that’s not worth the bandwidth it consumes, perhaps?

  88. #88 realpc
    November 13, 2007

    “he CIA obviously had more confidence in Hyman’s judgement ”

    They shut it down because they didn’t think remote viewing was practical for their purposes. That’s very different from saying it was crap or the results weren’t real.

    Skeptics are actually less likely to find serious defects in parapsychology than in mainstream science, because parapsychologists know they will be under a microscope.

  89. #89 Ginger Yellow
    November 13, 2007

    “I’m sure you’re a nice person, but I’m glad you’re not a deity.”

    Indeed – so am I. Likewise, I’m glad the God of the Bible doesn’t exist.

  90. #90 Ginger Yellow
    November 13, 2007

    I love realpc’s new line of argument, by the way. Intelligent Design must be true because parapsychology is!

  91. #91 realpc
    November 13, 2007

    “Intelligent Design must be true because parapsychology is!”

    I don’t know how you got that interpretation. We were talking about whether mental states are generated by the brain. I said it has never been demonstrated that they are.

  92. #92 Leni
    November 13, 2007

    I wrote a post yesterday that was apparently eaten by the filters because it contained 5 links to articles discussing how mental states are inexorably linked to brain activity.

    I don’t feel like redoing the whole thing, but let me just sum it up by saying this:

    Realpc, if mental states aren’t caused by brain activity then would you care to explain why brain injury, disease, chemicals or other pathology can drastically alter “mental states”? Even personality?

    If neurobiology has never been shown to effect mental states, then can you tell us how psychiatric medication works? Can you explain why drugs like methamphetamine or LSD can induce altered mental states if they are not doing so by changing the brain’s chemistry?

    And while you’re at it, maybe you have an explanation about why the pathology seen in Alzheimer’s patients isn’t the cause of the symptoms of that disease. Perhaps all those cranky old people people just need a little “mental state” adjustment? Maybe if they meditated and played with Zener cards they’d get better.

  93. #93 realpc
    November 13, 2007

    “why brain injury, disease, chemicals or other pathology can drastically alter “mental states”? Even personality?”

    The mind has no way to interact with the physical world, or with other people, except through the physical brain and body.

  94. #94 Jim
    November 13, 2007


    The mind has no way to interact with the physical world, or with other people, except through the physical brain and body.

    Stating this does make it so. Real evidence please.

  95. #95 Tyler DiPietro
    November 13, 2007

    “They shut it down because they didn’t think remote viewing was practical for their purposes. That’s very different from saying it was crap or the results weren’t real.”

    Typicaly realpc, dancing around the facts to prevent them from getting in the way of his woo.

    Produce some documentation that demonstrates this, realpc. I have no reason to believe it’s anything but your subjective judgement.

  96. #96 Leni
    November 13, 2007

    Realpc wrote:

    The mind has no way to interact with the physical world, or with other people, except through the physical brain and body.

    That isn’t what you implying with the parapsychology talk before, in which, I presume, you mean the mind can interact with the physical world via remote viewing, esp, etc.

    Which one is it?

  97. #97 Leni
    November 13, 2007

    Jim, s/he can’t provide evidence for that remark.

    There is no other way for the mind to interact with the physical world. Ergo no evidence.

    The only way it is unfortunately makes it indistinguishable from the brain. Too bad for us, though, eh?

  98. #98 Jim
    November 13, 2007

    Leni-

    Too bad for us, though, eh?

    Yes, it is. It is also quite maddening. Mountains of evidence piled up supporting materialism, evolution, … science & these people come along willing to believe the contrary based on a shadow of nothing. Why? because it appeals to some childhood/childish notion of rightness. I almost wouldn’t care, that is if they didn’t find themselves in positions to dictate public policy.
    As much as I like this site, every time I look at it I can’t believe that there is a need for it.

  99. #99 realpc
    November 13, 2007

    Yes, parapsychology tries to show that mind can operate without a physical brain. But ordinary interactions with the physical world and other people depends on a functioning brain. That’s why a brain-damaged person may lack normal functions.

    Scientists who study brain-damaged patients are not parapsychologists. They are testing the patients’ abilities to interact physically with the world.

    We don’t know if a person with a damaged brain also has a damaged mind. We don’t know where mind ends and brain begins. The current scientific ideology says that the brain is the mind. But all the evidence for that idea comes from the fact that mind cannot express itself normally through a damaged or intoxicated brain.

    There has been little progress in true understanding of how the brain works, or in building artificial brains. Nothing much has happened to support the “mind is brain” theory.

  100. #100 Leni
    November 13, 2007

    Yes, parapsychology tries to show that mind can operate without a physical brain.

    Nothing in your post changes the fact that you just declared this impossible?

    Remember?

    The mind has no way to interact with the physical world, or with other people, except through the physical brain and body.

  101. #101 Leni
    November 13, 2007

    Wait. That wasn’t a question, lol. It was a statement. There should be a period there.

    One more thing: the reason “We don’t know if a person with a damaged brain also has a damaged mind” is because your usage of mind is, for all intents and purposes, indistinguishable from brain.

    The only other thing you’ve offered is a meaningless contradiction (mind can not operate without brain except when mind operated without brain).

    You aren’t giving us a lot to work with here, realpc.

  102. #102 realpc
    November 14, 2007

    “a meaningless contradiction (mind can not operate without brain except when mind operated without brain).”

    A mind can’t express itself to other individuals without a functioning brain. If a person is completely paralyzed they cannot communicate, although they may be able to think and feel. Similarly, if a person’s brain has no motor functions, the person cannot communicate. Or if the language center is damaged, a person cannot communicate verbally, although they may be able to think and feel.

    So a person may have conscious thoughts and feelings, yet appear not to. It is impossible to know whether their mind is able to interact with physical reality in some way, if they cannot communicate at all.

    Parapsychology experiments are designed to determine whether mind can interact with physcial reality, without using the brain and the physcial senses. But the subjects are normal and able to communicate their experiences and perceptions.

    So it is theoretically possible to find evidence of mind acting independently of a brain. But a mind without a functioning brain cannot present any evidence of its existence.

  103. #103 realpc
    November 14, 2007

    “But a mind without a functioning brain cannot present any evidence of its existence.”

    I should have said it cannot present any evidence of its existence through ordinary physical means. Although of course there are many stories of minds without physcial bodies making their presence known. It would be hard to demonsrate scientifically though.

  104. #104 windy
    November 14, 2007

    Although of course there are many stories of minds without physcial bodies making their presence known.

    There are many stories about artificial brains.

  105. #105 realpc
    November 15, 2007

    “There are many stories about artificial brains.”

    You’re kidding, I guess.

  106. #106 Tyler DiPietro
    November 15, 2007

    Once again the point clears realpc’s head. Here it is explicitly: stories mean approximately shit, anecdotes are no substitute for solid scientific evidence.

  107. #107 realpc
    November 15, 2007

    “anecdotes are no substitute for solid scientific evidence”

    You won’t believe the scientific evidence anyway. Gary Schwartz, an experimental psycholgist (not a parapsychologist) tested some well-known spirit mediums. Most scientists won’t risk being ridiculed for doing something like this, but he has tenure and many years of experience. Or he doesn’t care. In any case, he is qualified to do experiments and he found that yes these mediums get info through some kind of supernatural means. I’m sure Skeptic’s Dictionary ridicules it, but they can’t prevent the results from being legitimate. And if Randi says they cheated, I think I would believe an experienced scientist over an uneducated magician with an atheist agenda.

  108. #108 Tyler DiPietro
    November 15, 2007

    “You won’t believe the scientific evidence anyway.”

    That’s because the “scientific” evidence isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on. Gary Schwartz’s nonsense has come under stringent critique and it’s not nearly as solid as psi-woos would like to make it out to be. Ray Hyman himself is one of those critics.

    Of course, people here may take you more serious if you actually explained what you found convincing about these experimental results. Right now you fail to provide the slightest indication that you even understand them or can adequately assess their reliability.

    “In any case, he is qualified to do experiments and he found that yes these mediums get info through some kind of supernatural means.”

    Do you not recognize this rather bald appeal to authority here? Just because Schwartz is a psychologist doesn’t automatically make him authoritative on the matter. Gerardus Ruow is a PhD. astronomer who rejects heliocentrism.

    “And if Randi says they cheated, I think I would believe an experienced scientist over an uneducated magician with an atheist agenda.”

    Well then, good luck rationalizing the fact that this “uneducated magician” managed to pwn the “experienced scientists” behind parapsychology.

  109. #109 realpc
    November 15, 2007

    “Do you not recognize this rather bald appeal to authority here?”

    “Ray Hyman himself is one of those critics.”

    So we can only appeal to authorities if they’re “skeptics?”

  110. #110 Tyler DiPietro
    November 15, 2007

    So we can only appeal to authorities if they’re “skeptics?”

    By now it’s obvious that you have reading comprehension difficulties, realpc. But I would at least think that you could discern that the points being made in my statement here:

    “Gary Schwartz’s nonsense has come under stringent critique and it’s not nearly as solid as psi-woos would like to make it out to be. Ray Hyman himself is one of those critics.”

    …are in response to your statement here:

    “In any case, he is qualified to do experiments and he found that yes these mediums get info through some kind of supernatural means.”

    In other words, I was using counterexamples against your use of Schwartz’s work as an unimpeachable demonstration of psi (or whatever you prefer to call it). You’ll also notice that immediately after this I made the point that you don’t give any indication that you actually understand the content of the work or can adequately assess its value. Context, subtext, counterfactuals; it’s all elementary stuff.

  111. #111 James
    February 1, 2008

    “Anyone who understands and follows Buddhism, for example, wouldn’t see any contradiction between religion and the existence of evil.”

    Probably because Buddhists don’t believe in God moron.

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