Why Dawkins Can’t Win

From Michael Ruse’s review of The God Delusion in Isis:

More seriously, Dawkins is entirely ignorant of the fact that no believer – with the possible exception of some English clerics in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries – has ever thought that arguments are the best support for belief.

From Terry Eagleton’s review of The God Delusion in the London Review of Books:

Dawkins considers that all faith is blind faith, and that Christian and Muslim children are brought up to believe unquestioningly. Not even the dim-witted clerics who knocked me about at grammar school thought that. For mainstream Christianity, reason, argument and honest doubt have always played an integral role in belief.

Comments

  1. #1 Blake Stacey
    May 31, 2008

    OK, I’m not rolling on the floor with laughter, but I was definitely slumped over in my chair, laughing (SOIMCL).

  2. #2 PalMD
    June 1, 2008

    So this Ruse guy has never heard of Apologetics???

  3. #3 mlf
    June 1, 2008

    A new law should be created. A law that states that any one persons’ declaration pertaining to religion, religious belief, or religious faith, there will always be another person with a declaration that will directly contradict the first persons’ declaration.

    (Maybe “The Law of Contradiction Ad Infinitum”, but shorter and with more pizazz…)

    When your making shit up, the possibilities are endless…

  4. #4 386sx
    June 1, 2008

    For mainstream Christianity, reason, argument and honest doubt have always played an integral role in belief.

    That and talking to invisible stuff. And believing scam artists too. That plays an integral role.

    Saint Ambrose faked Saint Augustine out with a bunch of fake miracle scams, as I recall. He healed some blind people and dug up some dead saints when he miraculously “found” their lost graves or something like that. That Saint Ambrose, he was scammer alright!

  5. #5 Divalent
    June 1, 2008

    You forgot to add that both types of reviewers will nonetheless excoriate Dawkins for his woefully inadequate, theologically flawed treatment of those arguments, and they both will hint at the existence of versions of those arguments that have survived centuries of critical assault by our best theologians. (Of course, they never EVER plainly state these versions of the arguments that they consider to be irrefutable. It’s deemed sufficient that we merely know they exist.)

  6. #6 T. Bruce McNeely
    June 1, 2008

    For mainstream Christianity, reason, argument and honest doubt have always played an integral role in belief.

    And fear.
    Fear of ostracism, torture, death, the unknown and eternal damnation.

  7. #7 Yogi Berra
    June 1, 2008

    More seriously, Dawkins is entirely ignorant of the fact that no believer – with the possible exception of some English clerics in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries – has ever thought that arguments are the best support for belief.

    Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.

  8. #8 AL
    June 1, 2008

    Sooner or later, the middle-of-the-roaders will start splitting hairs over the difference between “best support” and “integral role” in order to show that Ruse’s and Eagleton’s positions are entirely compatible.

  9. #9 blf
    June 1, 2008

    I’ve read some of the (popular) writings by both Ruse and Eagleton, and neither Professor struck me as an an idiot. Controversial, yes, but not stupid. Ruse is a Professor of Philosophy with an interest in the cretins’ denial of evilution and Rationality; Eagleton is a Professor of English Literature. Both seem to be familiar with the idea of evidence, albeit probably since both come from the literary side of the disc, “evidence” to both seems to mean “ancient writings” (for a suitable definition of “ancient”).

    It could be quite amusing to send to both the quotes, and ask for (i) evidence supporting their position; and (ii) comments on the other’s position.

    I suppose asking each for evidence supporting the other’s position could result in extra comedy.

  10. #10 Lassi Hippeläinen
    June 1, 2008

    mlf: “A new law should be created. A law that states that any one persons’ declaration pertaining to religion, religious belief, or religious faith, there will always be another person with a declaration that will directly contradict the first persons’ declaration.”

    We already have Poe’s Law.

  11. #11 Oran Kelley
    June 1, 2008

    So you aren’t clever enough to resolve these two statements?

    How about: argument constantly takes place, but faith still isn’t primarily based on argument?

    Or, perhaps, Eagleton and Ruse have a slight disagreement as to the role of logical argument in faith.

    Is everyone who dislikes Dawkins’ book obliged to agree with one another?

    Are we supposed to weep for Dawkins when they don’t?

    Poor, poor Dawkins. LEAVE RICHARD ALONE!!!

  12. #12 Damian
    June 1, 2008

    As Tom Clark says about John F. Haught, a well respected Theologian, in his review of ‘God and the New Atheism’:

    “Theologian John F. Haught argues that science isn’t our best and most reliable means of knowing ultimate reality; rather, there are other means involving subjective experience which put us directly in touch with god. But why should we trust such experience? Haught’s says this trust is justified because god exists, but this presumes what needs to be proved. His brand of theological cognition violates some basic epistemic norms that should constrain any description of the world which aims for objectivity. His concept of god seems vague, contradictory, and is clearly driven by human psychological needs.”

    It is well worth a read, and particularly if you were persuaded by the ‘argument’ that Dawkins, among others, haven’t engaged with the best of theology.

    The irony of it all is that most of the books (and there have been many) that have been produced in response to the ‘new atheists’ have not only attacked those who they are supposedly responding to (and the content of their books), but the scientific method, atheism, naturalism, etc, etc.

    As the ‘new atheist’ books were in no way the best work that has been produced in defense of those modes of thinking, and were never meant to be — and indeed, I have always considered them to be polemical, rather than philosophically rigorous — the likes of John Haught have committed exactly the same error that the ‘new atheists’ have been accused of. In other words, they haven’t engaged with the best arguments.

    It’s strange how so few people have picked up on that.

  13. #13 Matt Penfold
    June 1, 2008

    Damian,

    Not do you consider them polemical, but the authors did as well. Dawkins states that the aim of the book is not to convince theists of his case, although he would be happy if it did, but instead it was to act as a call to arms to atheists, to give them the inspiration to stand up and be counted. I would content he has succeeded in that aim.

    Oran Kelly,

    People who disagree with Dawkins’ book are not required to agree which other, no. However when two reviewers offer mutually imcompatible criticism them we are entitled to ask what the fuck they are talking about.

  14. #14 Blake Stacey
    June 1, 2008

    So you aren’t clever enough to resolve these two statements?

    How about: argument constantly takes place, but faith still isn’t primarily based on argument?

    If argument has “always played an integral role in belief”, then it might not be the best support for belief, but it had better be a damn good one.

    Or, perhaps, Eagleton and Ruse have a slight disagreement as to the role of logical argument in faith.

    A “slight disagreement”? How can a disagreement about what is most important to belief be “slight”? That aside, they disagree, meaning that they’ll never both be pleased by the same treatise on the role argument plays in faith. Therefore, Dawkins can’t win.

    Is everyone who dislikes Dawkins’ book obliged to agree with one another?

    Let’s see. I’m on record as disliking various things Dawkins has written: I think what The God Delusion says about the Bible’s role in cultural education is mistaken, for example, which is a complaint I haven’t seen anybody else make (that I can recall offhand). So, no, people don’t have to have identical criticisms. The point here is that prominent critics are saying things which, if they are not diametrically opposed, certainly fail to converge.

  15. #15 Ian H Spedding FCD
    June 1, 2008

    For mainstream Christianity, reason, argument and honest doubt have always played an integral role in belief.

    But:

    Our chief weapon is surprise…surprise and fear…fear and surprise…. Our two weapons are fear and surprise…and ruthless efficiency…. Our *three* weapons are fear, surprise, and ruthless efficiency…and an almost fanatical devotion to the Pope…. Our *four*…no… *Amongst* our weapons…. Amongst our weaponry…are such elements as fear, surprise…. I’ll come in again.

    Ahem!

    Amongst our weaponry are such diverse elements as: fear, surprise, ruthless efficiency, an almost fanatical devotion to the Pope, and nice red uniforms.

    It must one of the Emperor’s nice red uniforms.

  16. #16 dennis johnson
    June 1, 2008

    This comment has been deleted.

  17. #17 csrster
    June 1, 2008

    Ruse seems to be missing the point entirely. Indeed argument is rarely what matters for most believers. However many, perhaps most, of those who _abandon_ religious belief and become atheists, agnostics, freethinkers etc. do so precisely because arguments that undermine their previous beliefs.

  18. #18 Chris Bell
    June 1, 2008

    I don’t think Poe’s Law covers this. We need something better. How about:

    If an argument for God depends on a premise, there always exists a different argument for God that depends on the exact opposite of the premise.

  19. #19 daenku32
    June 1, 2008

    Funny how both of the contradictory arguments be so wrong.

  20. #20 Blake Stacey
    June 1, 2008

    Whoa. Another copy-and-paste visitation from Dennis Markuze, a.k.a. Dennis Johnson, a.k.a. David Johnson, a.k.a. David Mabuse.

  21. #21 Morgan-LynnGriggs Lamberth
    June 1, 2008

    Tom Clark is so right about haughty John Haught, who has the temerity to fault us naturalists in finding that we do not accept venues of knowledge outside of naturalism when he himself has not shown such! That is part of the nonsense we naturalists need to overcome!
    Has Ruse not come across such as Richard Swinburne and Wiiliam Laane Craig who put much stock in arguments for God?
    It is no argument from ignorance, but the use of the auto-epistemic rule that here absence of evidence is evidence of absense after thousands of years of theologians and philosophers of religion failing and will probaly ever fail to demonstrate [ not prove] God. So, there is probaly no god!
    My friend, Graham Oppy [ "Arguments about God"] notes that Dawkins could make more thorough arguments.However, he shows enough, particularly with the teleological one, that theism has no support.
    Weisz in “The Science of Biology,” notes that science shows no teleology – no preconceived plans and thus no knowlege for what evolution would produce. This , contrary to Eugenie C. Scott, is the weight of evidence, not a mere philosophical point. My friend, Paul Draper, notes that she is overlooking the problem of demarcation. Steven Schafersman ten years ago on-line showe her so wrong. She can say that from the side of religion one can be a theistic evolutionist, but not deny that science shows no teleology.
    That fact I use in my dysteological [ atelic] argument that, therefoe, theistic evolution is an oxymoron! Natural selection, being its own boss blindly, like a sieve, make the new organisms. It is not neutral, needing Super Boss, planning outcomes! Toaver that divintiy intervenes is to make the new Omphalos argument that, albeit natural selection does so, divinity is the Suuper Bosss that so determines outcomes. No, it is a contradiction to conflate dysteological selection with teleological divinity!
    And it won’t do to state with Russell Stannard that there is creation and origins. I add his notion to the theists’ contingency one to note that creation [ teleolgy] or contingency [ possible to go out of existence] and origins [ dysteology, causalism] and necessary being beg the question of the second category in this two category classification- Malcolm Diamond and Kai Nielsen].
    Google skeptic griggsy [ skepticgriggsy] to see my threads and posts if one ever has the time!
    I find that while special creationists don’t know science, other creationists [ theists in the wide sense] do not know what it takes to be evidence- faith is the I just say so of credulity and begs the question !
    I state in my signatures that logic is the bane of theists or that theists beg questions.
    I honor those who help us fight special creationism – young and old!
    But the greater fight as Dawkins would note is against all the supernatural and paranormal rubbish.
    Thanks fellow skeptics and naturalists/ rationalists!
    Oh, for more beef, try Oppy’s book, Kai Nielsen’s, George Smith’s, Quentin Smith’s, Jordan Howard Sobel’s ‘ Logic and Theism,” John L. Mackie’s “The Miracle of Theism,” Jonathon Harrison’s “God, Freedom and Immortality,’ Douglas E. Krueger’s ” What is Athiesm,” Robert LePoidevins’s ” Arguments for Atheism,’ William Kaufffman’s “”The Faith of a Heritic” and “Critiques of Religion and Philosophy,” Richard Carrier’s ‘”Sense and Goodness without God,” Peter A.Angeles’s
    The Problem of God,”, Victor Stengers’s,”David MIll’s “Atheist Emmmire” and David Ramsay Steele’s “Atheism Explained.” And there are others.
    The fight against special creationism is part of the great fighh against irrationality.Haughty Haught is just another obfuscator!

  22. #22 Morgan-LynnGriggs Lamberth
    June 1, 2008

    Sorry for the glitches!

  23. #23 386sx
    June 2, 2008

    Or, perhaps, Eagleton and Ruse have a slight disagreement as to the role of logical argument in faith.

    What would it need a logical argument for? What, the “faith” people don’t even know if there’s a freakin “God” or not? And they have converstions with something they don’t even know of it’s there? And they’re really talking bluster when they talk like they know what they’re talking about? That’s pretty funny! That’s some good comedy there.

  24. #24 Michael Kremer
    June 2, 2008

    AL: “Sooner or later, the middle-of-the-roaders will start splitting hairs over the difference between “best support” and “integral role” in order to show that Ruse’s and Eagleton’s positions are entirely compatible.”

    Well, if they are entirely compatible, then that would be important to know, wouldn’t it? After all, there are religious institutions (the Catholic Church, for example) and philosophers (Alvin Plantinga, for example) who maintain both of the following:

    (1) Religious belief is not founded on rational argument.

    (2) Nonetheless there are plenty of good rational arguments in support of that religious belief.

    Here for example is the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

    What moves us to believe is not the fact that revealed truths appear as true and intelligible in the light of our natural reason: we believe “because of the authority of God himself who reveals them, who can neither deceive nor be deceived”.28 So “that the submission of our faith might nevertheless be in accordance with reason, God willed that external proofs of his Revelation should be joined to the internal helps of the Holy Spirit.” Thus the miracles of Christ and the saints, prophecies, the Church’s growth and holiness, and her fruitfulness and stability “are the most certain signs of divine Revelation, adapted to the intelligence of all”; they are “motives of credibility” (motiva credibilitatis), which show that the assent of faith is “by no means a blind impulse of the mind.”

  25. #25 Oran Kelley
    June 2, 2008

    Let’s pull the camera back a bit on these two passages.

    Michael Ruse:

    Dawkins is brazen in his ignorance of philosophy and theology (not to mention the history of science). Dawkins is entirely ignorant of the fact that no believer – has ever thought that arguments are the best support for belief. John Henry Newman wrote: “I believe in design because I believe in God; not in a God because I see design.”

    Terry Eagleton:

    Dawkins considers that all faith is blind faith, and that Christian and Muslim children are brought up to believe unquestioningly. Not even the dim-witted clerics who knocked me about at grammar school thought that. For mainstream Christianity, reason, argument and honest doubt have always played an integral role in belief. (Where, given that he invites us at one point to question everything, is Dawkins’s own critique of science, objectivity, liberalism, atheism and the like?) Reason, to be sure, doesn’t go all the way down for believers, but it doesn’t for most sensitive, civilised non-religious types either. Even Richard Dawkins lives more by faith than by reason. We hold many beliefs that have no unimpeachably rational justification, but are nonetheless reasonable to entertain. Only positivists think that ‘rational’ means ‘scientific’. Dawkins rejects the surely reasonable case that science and religion are not in competition on the grounds that this insulates religion from rational inquiry. But this is a mistake: to claim that science and religion pose different questions to the world is not to suggest that if the bones of Jesus were discovered in Palestine, the pope should get himself down to the dole queue as fast as possible. It is rather to claim that while faith, rather like love, must involve factual knowledge, it is not reducible to it. For my claim to love you to be coherent, I must be able to explain what it is about you that justifies it; but my bank manager might agree with my dewy-eyed description of you without being in love with you himself.

    So, reading Eagleton in particular a bit more fully, explain how his point of view on reason and argument in faith contrasts with Ruse’s. I don’t think there’s any real contradiction (and for God’s sake please don’t just repeat the selective quotation.) The fact is Eagleton immediately conditions his point in such a way to bring him pretty solidly in line with Ruse.

    Did you actually read the entire Eagleton review?

  26. #26 heddle
    June 2, 2008

    They are, in fact both correct. Reason plays no casual role in acquiring faith. Faith is a gift of divine initiative, and I can no more reason myself into having it than I can reason myself into being born. However, once one has faith, once neither the gospel nor the bible appear as foolishness, then reason can be brought to bear in apologetics and in defending the faith.

  27. #27 Kevin
    June 2, 2008

    What does it mean for Dawkings to “win?”

    Is he going to convert the mythbelievers? Is he going to stop Heddle from typing nonsense? (“divine initiative”) Is he going to cause the Church of England to be disbanded?

    or does it mean he will expose the idiocy of religion and its adamant adherents? If so, he has ALREADY won….

  28. #28 Jason Rosenhouse
    June 2, 2008

    Oran Kelley -

    I just knew some humorless fellow would stop by to try to explain this away. Lighten up.

  29. #29 JimCH
    June 2, 2008

    heddle…
    So, if I don’t have faith then it’s because I don’t have a sufficiently open heart? I always wondered where the “blaming the victim” gambit came from. Thanks for the ironclad argument.

  30. #30 heddle
    June 2, 2008

    JimCH,

    I’m confused as to how you could parse what I wrote into “because I don’t have a sufficiently open heart” and “blaming the victim.”

    I didn’t say anything about a sufficiently open heart and in fact the gift of faith has nothing to do with a sufficiently open heart.

    Paul was on his way to persecute Christians when he received faith. His heart was as closed as a bank vault. That’s why I wrote “divine initiative.” Paul didn’t approach Christ with an “open heart.” Christ knocked him to the ground.

  31. #31 Ian H Spedding FCD
    June 2, 2008

    heddle wrote:

    Faith is a gift of divine initiative, and I can no more reason myself into having it than I can reason myself into being born. However, once one has faith, once neither the gospel nor the bible appear as foolishness, then reason can be brought to bear in apologetics and in defending the faith.

    I find that a slightly odd argument. According to my – admittedly distant – memories of my upbringing in the Church of England, the message from the Bible was that blind faith was the most highly-prized of all. Having faith because one had seen a miracle, for example, was not as valued as that of the person who held firm to his or her beliefs without any support or encouragement and through all trials and tribulations. The unspoken assumption was that those who had such faith chose it of their own free will on its own merits.

    But if believers only have such faith because God has reached out and inspired it in them, where is the value in that to God or anyone else? That is simply God using his limitless power to create an army of puppets who only worship at His will.

  32. #32 JimCH
    June 2, 2008

    heddle…
    I was giving you the benefit of the doubt but if divine lottery is the way you want to go then so be it. I have to say though that you put a lot of stock into such a non-linear belief, considering Paul’s unlikely existence.

  33. #33 JimCH
    June 2, 2008

    Ian H Spedding FCD…
    heddle is a Calvinist (I forgot this detail about him). He’s relying on something called “unconditional election”, I think.

  34. #34 Damian
    June 2, 2008

    Ruse said:

    “no believer – has ever thought that arguments are the best support for belief. John Henry Newman wrote: �I believe in design because I believe in God; not in a God because I see design.”

    Eagleton said:

    “For mainstream Christianity, reason, argument and honest doubt have always played an integral role in belief.”

    It is somewhat of a stretch to claim that these two statements are not contradictory in any way. At the very least, one or both individuals should have been more clear about what they were suggesting.

    Ruse is explicitly claiming that belief in god comes first, which as Clark says, “presumes what needs to be proved.” And that has really been the argument all along – is it justifiable? As has been said many times now, the vast, vast majority of religious believers first presume that god exists, and haven’t even bothered to examine either the arguments for or against its existence. The ‘best of the arguments’ conjuring trick has been fashioned as a criticism of the ‘new atheists’, and it attempts to force a dishonest intention upon them.

    Eagleton could have been, and perhaps should have been, far more clear about exactly which aspects of Christianity “reason, argument and honest doubt have always played an integral role.” Nothing that Oran has presented makes that distinction.

    The take home message here, in my opinion, is that religion is infinitely malleable. What ever your personal opinion, you have to admire both the design and the continuing evolution of particularly the Christian religion. No matter what the circumstances, they will always be compatible with faith. It only has to be stated the first time that a new ‘issue’ comes up, and it is therefore decreed, for all time.

    Some of us have more of an issue with these dubious tactics than others, that’s all.

  35. #35 Sacoglossan
    June 2, 2008

    Heddle:
    “They are, in fact both correct. Reason plays no casual role in acquiring faith. Faith is a gift of divine initiative, and I can no more reason myself into having it than I can reason myself into being born. However, once one has faith, once neither the gospel nor the bible appear as foolishness, then reason can be brought to bear in apologetics and in defending the faith.”

    Why then are there so many different faiths? Is an incorect faith a divine gift too? Once the fundamentalist case for a young earth no longer appears as foolishness, then can you use reason to defend that? When the Morman faith (or Scientology) no longer looks exactly like a made up religion, is that a Divine gift? Or might it be that in each of those cases, the unwillingness (sometimes unconsciously) to reason honestly is simply leading people in the wrong direction?

    How can you distinguish between divine inspiration and imagination?
    faith?
    Good luck using reason and apologetics to defend that circular argument, er I mean, that faith.

  36. #36 Oran Kelley
    June 3, 2008

    The take home message here, in my opinion, is that religion is infinitely malleable. What ever your personal opinion, you have to admire both the design and the continuing evolution of particularly the Christian religion. No matter what the circumstances, they will always be compatible with faith. It only has to be stated the first time that a new ‘issue’ comes up, and it is therefore decreed, for all time.

    Some of us have more of an issue with these dubious tactics than others, that’s all.

    Eagleton’s point is just that faith is a complex phenomenon. It usually isn’t unquestioning: that there is a great deal of questioning, doubt and rationalization going on and at its core there is a “leap of faith.”

    But there is also, deep down, a “leap of faith” in everyone’s worldview. (For instance: why value human life? There is no rational reason to do so.)

    If you are unfamiliar with religious argument or the trials of faith, CS Lewis might be a good place to start. Reason certainly plays a role, but it doesn’t go “all the way down” in Eagleton’s words.

    The complexity of religion is, in fact, the message we see again and again in what I’ve seen in most sociological studies of religion. Religion isn’t a set of debating points, it’s a social phenomenon.

  37. #37 FastLane
    June 3, 2008

    More seriously, Dawkins is entirely ignorant of the fact that no believer has ever thought that arguments are the best support for belief.

    Where is this guy from? Apparently he’s never met a ‘scientific creationist’. We have a few over on the talkrational forums that prove him wrong by their simple existence, and the arguments (such as they are) that they put forth.

    If he had qualified his statement with ‘most’ believers, instead of ‘no’ believers, I’d be inclined to cut him some slack. He is apparently even more ignorant than he accuses Dawkins of being about the mainstream beliefs here in the US. He may be surrounded by theologians who make it sound as if they are expounding on deeper philosophical meanings and logically convoluted (not necessarily sound) dispensations about the existence of purely imaginary beings, but when it comes right down to it, they are still purely imaginary.

    Oddly, that fact seems to bother many of those who profess a belief in said beings. The reason so many subscribe to science like verbiage and attempts to use logic and reason in justifying their beliefs is simple. Science works, bitches. =)

    Cheers.

  38. #38 heddle
    June 3, 2008

    Sacoglossan:

    Why then are there so many different faiths?

    I don’t know but it is not germane to my post. It’s a question for an anthropologist.

    Is an incorect faith a divine gift too?

    No.

    Once the fundamentalist case for a young earth no longer appears as foolishness, then can you use reason to defend that?

    No.

    When the Morman faith (or Scientology) no longer looks exactly like a made up religion, is that a Divine gift?

    No.

    Or might it be that in each of those cases, the unwillingness (sometimes unconsciously) to reason honestly is simply leading people in the wrong direction?

    Maybe, but I couldn’t say.

    How can you distinguish between divine inspiration and imagination?

    You simply know what you believe and your own experience in arriving at that point. If it is all wrong, then we Christians are the most miserable of creatures.

    Good luck using reason and apologetics to defend that circular argument

    Luck? We don’t need no stinkin’ luck. It is a circular argument, but circular arguments can have meaning, that just can’t erver serve as proofs. “Unbelievers find the gospel foolish” is indeed circular but tells you something quite different than if the bible said “Many unbelievers will find the gospel compelling and sensible, and will long to claim it, but they will not be invited to partake thereof.”

  39. #39 Lofcaudio
    June 3, 2008

    Ian H Spedding FCD: But if believers only have such faith because God has reached out and inspired it in them, where is the value in that to God or anyone else? That is simply God using his limitless power to create an army of puppets who only worship at His will.

    Think of it like this: God is throwing a big party and he sends out some invitations. No one deserves to come to the party but God is gracious and merciful to those who he sends invitations to. People who do not get invitations do not know about the party and don’t come. The question that is highly controversial in church doctrine is whether or not
    someone that receives an invitation can still choose not to come to the party (concept of limited free will).

    I personally believe (but subject to change) that God has given humans limited free will to choose to reject him even if he does extend an invitation. Thus, God is thrilled by those who choose to come to the party and the partygoers are also thrilled that God sent them an invitation to enjoy such a grand party even though they did not deserve to come.

    JimCH: …considering Paul’s unlikely existence.

    There is certainly more evidence to suggest that Paul did exist than there is that he did not. Your conclusion that his existence is “unlikely” seems a bit faulty.

    JimCH: He’s relying on something called “unconditional election”, I think.

    Actually, heddle is relying on what is clearly stated in the Bible. Matthew 22; Romans 9-11.

  40. #40 Oran Kelley
    June 3, 2008

    JimCH:

    I don’t think Paul’s existence is subject to much dispute. Why invent such a figure? If there wasn’t a Paul, there must have been someone like him. It seems pointless to invent someone (a prominent citizen, yet) to fill the role.

  41. #41 Oran Kelley
    June 3, 2008

    Where is this guy from? Apparently he’s never met a ‘scientific creationist’.

    According to a scientific creationist, what is the basis of their faith? Do they argue that they all began as non-believers, but through exposure to evidence and argument they came to believe?

  42. #42 tomh
    June 3, 2008

    Lofcaudio wrote:
    Think of it like this: God is throwing a big party and he sends out some invitations. No one deserves to come to the party but God is gracious and merciful to those who he sends invitations to. People who do not get invitations do not know about the party and don’t come.

    Possibly the worst argument/analogy I’ve ever seen. Then to go on to say that this being is “thrilled” when people accept his invitations just compounds the stupidity. Even if one knew for a fact that such an idiot being existed why on earth would anyone worship it?

  43. #43 Oran Kelley
    June 3, 2008

    Even if one knew for a fact that such an idiot being existed why on earth would anyone worship it?

    Or better yet, what kind of blockhead would try to launch a debate on this topic?

    Toying with people you call “idiots” and “stupid” is your idea of interesting?

    The first step is to stop believing absurd things. The next and just as important step is to stop wasting your time and others’ with endless self-congratulation on having accomplished step one. You do not believe, they do and there’s and end to any interest in the matter.

  44. #44 Lofcaudio
    June 3, 2008

    tomh: Possibly the worst argument/analogy I’ve ever seen.

    It’s most certainly NOT an argument and it’s my paraphrase of one of Jesus’s parables as presented in Matthew 22.

    Your incredulity is hardly a convincing argument as I imagine there are plenty of things that are true or worth pondering that you immediately reject as being stupid.

    tomh: Even if one knew for a fact that such an idiot being existed why on earth would anyone worship it?

    Such a rhetorical question just compounds your silliness, since if such a being did “for a fact” exist, then it certainly wouldn’t be an “idiot” and you would not be in a position to even have an opinion on the matter (as much as you would like to believe otherwise). You aren’t really interested in why anyone would worship such a God, since such a question itself is self-contradictory in that it is only uttered by someone who believes that God “in fact” does not exist.

  45. #45 tomh
    June 3, 2008

    Oran Kelley wrote:
    According to a scientific creationist, what is the basis of their faith? Do they argue that they all began as non-believers, but through exposure to evidence and argument they came to believe?

    You should learn a little history. Scientific creationism came about by run-of-the-mill creationists recycling typical religious “evidence” and arguments and calling it scientific. They then tried to introduce this bogus evidence into public schools in an attempt to convert other people’s children to their particular brand of nonsense.

  46. #46 Oran Kelley
    June 3, 2008

    You should learn a little history. Scientific creationism came about by run-of-the-mill creationists recycling typical religious “evidence” and arguments and calling it scientific. They then tried to introduce this bogus evidence into public schools in an attempt to convert other people’s children to their particular brand of nonsense.

    Ah, yes, I think I’d heard something about all of this.

    Fast Lane, though, seems to think that these people honestly believe that evidence and argument are “the best support” for belief.

    My impression was that they don’t actually give a damn about evidence or argument–less than, say, your typical Jesuit.

    What they care about is getting their point-of-view into schools, and if that means a lot of argumentative window dressing, so be it.

  47. #47 JimCH
    June 3, 2008

    Lofcaudio…

    Actually, heddle is relying on what is clearly stated in the Bible. Matthew 22; Romans 9-11.

    That may be where calvinists go to back-up their claim. Don’t remember, don’t care. Nevertheless, calvinists have their “5 points of calvinism” where “unconditional election” is one of them. If the places in the bible you quoted are where they go to get them, fine. I don’t see your argument here.

    There is certainly more evidence to suggest that Paul did exist than there is that he did not. Your conclusion that his existence is “unlikely” seems a bit faulty.

    Yet you offer nothing.

    Oran Kelley…

    I don’t think Paul’s existence is subject to much dispute.

    If you don’t think his existence is in much dispute you’re just not looking. I could name about 10 sources if you like (i.e. The Falsified Paul, Early Christianity in the Twilight, Journal of Higher Criticism (2003), Hermann Detering; Paul, The Mind of the Apostle, Sinclair-Stevenson (1997), A.N. Wilson; Pauline Christianity, Oxford (1990), John Ziesler; … & so on)
    There are no Jewish rabbinic writings of the 1st or 2nd century that so much as mentions a renegade student of Gamaliel who, having studied under the master & vigorously enforced orthodoxy on behalf of the high priests, then experienced a life-changing vision on an away mission. Not a word emerges from the rabbis about the star pupil who “went bad”, a heretic who scrapped the prohibitions of the Sabbath, urged his followers to disregard Judaism’s irksome dietary regulations, & pronounced the law & circumcision obsolete. Surely such a renegade could not have completely escaped the attention of the scribes. Further, it seems unlikely that a Pauline person really studied under the Pharisaic grandee. “Paul” clearly had difficulty with the Hebrew language: all his scriptural references are taken from the Greek translation of the Jewish scripture, the Septuagint. How did a young supposed Roman citizen from the Hellenised diaspora even get the job as chief policeman of the ultra-orthodox of Jerusalem? If Paul really had secured such a position he surely would have had far bigger fish to fry than a miniscule “Jesus group” in Damascus. The apostles supposedly continued to preach in Jerusalem even after the death of Stephen, so why didn’t “Paul” go for the ringleaders, closer at hand?
    “Why invent such a figure?” Are you kidding? Even if he makes no sense as history he makes a great deal of sense as theology. Think about it — zealous Jew sees the light of Jesus, becomes Christian. The theological purpose is fairly straight forward.

  48. #48 JimV
    June 3, 2008

    Oran Kelly:

    But there is also, deep down, a “leap of faith” in everyone’s worldview. (For instance: why value human life? There is no rational reason to do so.)

    The rational reason is that we are descended from a very long line of primates who evolved to have that capacity. Specifically, our brains contain “mirror neurons” which enable us to model others’ behavior in terms of our own. This is an evolutionarily valuable trait which makes it possible for us to work together in complex societies.

    Or at least that is what I think, based on evidence, not on a leap of faith.

  49. #49 AL
    June 4, 2008

    Well, if they are entirely compatible, then that would be important to know, wouldn’t it? After all, there are religious institutions (the Catholic Church, for example) and philosophers (Alvin Plantinga, for example) who maintain both of the following:
    (1) Religious belief is not founded on rational argument.
    (2) Nonetheless there are plenty of good rational arguments in support of that religious belief.

    The fact that religious institutions and philosophers hold these two positions doesn’t render them compatible. This really does illustrate the “we can’t win” theme of this blog post. Here is a tacit admission that where there’s evidence for religious belief, the religious will take it. And where there’s zero evidence, the religious will still take it, because evidence wasn’t that important to begin with. We really can’t win.

    Nevertheless, your point (2) states that there are plenty of good rational arguments. Yes, and those arguments are exactly what Dawkins addressed in his book. And rather than being told why Dawkins’ arguments are not valid/sound or are non-sequiturs, Ruse decries the very notion that Dawkins would devote his book to addressing the arguments (“A major part of the book involves ripping into the chief arguments for the existence of God…Dawkins is entirely ignorant of the fact that no believer…has ever thought that arguments are the best support for belief). You cannot defend Ruse’s position that reason isn’t very important and therefore Dawkins misses the point by addressing reasons on the one hand, while on the other, turn right around and say nevertheless the reasons for believing in God are very, very good. This is sleight of hand sophistry to “refute” Dawkins without actually refuting him.

  50. #50 Oran Kelley
    June 4, 2008

    The rational reason is that we are descended from a very long line of primates who evolved to have that capacity. Specifically, our brains contain “mirror neurons” which enable us to model others’ behavior in terms of our own. This is an evolutionarily valuable trait which makes it possible for us to work together in complex societies.

    Or at least that is what I think, based on evidence, not on a leap of faith.

    This explains our capacity for empathy. We have other capacities as well.

    It has been amply demonstrated that people can choose NOT to behave empathetically. So, morality, in spite of “mirror neurons” we are still faced with choices. Why choose empathy?

  51. #51 386sx
    June 4, 2008

    God is throwing a big party and he sends out some invitations. No one deserves to come to the party but God is gracious and merciful to those who he sends invitations to.

    Why is God even worried about all that baloney?

    People who do not get invitations do not know about the party and don’t come.

    Well, they know now! Thanks a lot!

  52. #52 Iapetus
    June 4, 2008

    Oran Kelley,

    “It has been amply demonstrated that people can choose NOT to behave empathetically. So, morality, in spite of “mirror neurons” we are still faced with choices. Why choose empathy?”

    If you are really interested in possible foundations of ethical systems, I would recommend Mackie’s “Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong” for a thorough yet nonetheless accessible discussion. A “leap of faith” in the religious sense is not required for this.

    Equating the possible existence of a god with the question of a foundation for an ethical system constitutes a confusion in terminology (or to put it more bluntly: a category mistake).

  53. #53 JimV
    June 4, 2008

    Oran Kelley:

    It has been amply demonstrated that people can choose NOT to behave empathetically. So, morality, in spite of “mirror neurons” we are still faced with choices. Why choose empathy?

    (Thanks for the reply.) The general answer is that emotions play a large role in our reasoning process (I am reading clinical evidence for this in Damasio’s Descartes’ Error, recommended to me at another thread on this site). Evolution had to invent some way for us to reach decisions in complex situations for which we can not predict exact outcomes, and that appears to be how it did it in our case. If you are asking why it doesn’t play out the same way among different individuals, one reason is the that there are both genetic (e.g., fewer or more mirror neurons) and developmental differences among individuals in an evolved population (otherwise they would not have evolved).

    Of course if we go much farther I will soon reach the point where my lack of information and/or intellectual capacity will force me to reply, “I don’t know.” I still will not consider myself to have made any leaps of faith, however.

  54. #54 Oran Kelley
    June 4, 2008

    JimCH: I contend only that it seems likely that a figure that roughly corresponds to Paul existed.

    The texts providing details have been through a lot of hands, about those I have nothing to say.

    I am not familiar with the Rabbinic writings of this era, but one doubts they are exhaustive in treating the sectarian disputes and figures of the day. But you’d know better.

    Anyhow, I’ll concede Paul’s existence IS subject to some question now that you’ve brought my attention to it.

  55. #55 ctw
    June 4, 2008

    “why value human life? There is no rational reason to do so.”

    Depends on what is meant by “value human life”.

    If it means something like “consider that each human life, extant or potential, and in any state of health, has a transcendant significance that mandates we ignore all competing interests in insuring it’s survival for as long as possible”, agreed. This seems to be a “leap of faith”.

    OTOH, it appears that the rational self-interests of the individuals in a society and the society itself are promoted when there is some (fairly high) level of contingent assurance of each individual’s right to life. This seems a rational – though rebuttable – belief based on evidence.

    - Charles

  56. #56 Oran Kelley
    June 4, 2008

    Equating the possible existence of a god with the question of a foundation for an ethical system constitutes a confusion in terminology (or to put it more bluntly: a category mistake).

    And I by no means want to equate the two. Eagleton’s point is only that all moral systems have a “leap of faith” at their core.

    Damasio’s Descartes’ Error

    By my bedside as we speak!

    The thing is that I readily acknowledge a capacity in humans to be empathetic; and to be rational; and to be selfish; and to be wantonly cruel; and to be irrational.

    We’ve amply demonstrated all these capabilities over history.

    To simply point to a capacity for empathy and say that explains WHY someone should choose to be empathetic is just not answering the question.

    It’s like pointing to Lance Armstrong and saying that shows why I should train for the Tour de France. The fact that humans have the innate ability to compete in the Tour de France is no argument for me, or anyone, to do so.

    And it is no argument as to why I should choose one genetically imprinted impulse over another. If someone appeals to me to help earthquake victims, do I respond to my empathy or my selfish impulse to be left alone and keep what I’ve got?

    Telling me I’ve got “mirror neurons” doesn’t help. It simply doesn’t address a question of ought.

  57. #57 Oran Kelley
    June 4, 2008

    OTOH, it appears that the rational self-interests of the individuals in a society and the society itself are promoted when there is some (fairly high) level of contingent assurance of each individual’s right to life. This seems a rational – though rebuttable – belief based on evidence.

    I’d agree (generally) that this is the case. (I say generally because I think that assurance probably has to be balanced with a certain sense of manageable threat . . . see below)

    The two concerns I’d raise would be a) how does one deal with the temptation to free ride the system. If empathy involves significant personal sacrifice, one can always tell oneself that one’s own defection won’t effect the overall level of assurance very much; and b)how does one create a system of “contingent assurance” considering that people’s decision-making in these sorts of games is often irrational and imperfectly informed?

    Religion, I suspect, partially functions as such a system.

  58. #58 ctw
    June 4, 2008

    “Damasio’s Descartes’ Error … By my bedside as we speak!”

    Ditto. (Thank you baboo!)

    Well, not really, but presumably “Feeling of What Happens” and “Looking for Spinoza” are close enough.

    - c

  59. #59 ctw
    June 4, 2008

    OK:

    I was responding to your query specifically, not in the context of empathy. The assurances to which I allude are legal, not moral/empathetic.

    As for empathy, I tend to doubt that we “choose” it. There is the evolutionary effect offered by JimV. I think there is also a worldview (philosophical, if you will) effect. My experience has been that the more confident I become that we have severely limited control over our behavior, the more I view people as largely buffeted about by fate and try (with, of course, limited success) to make a distinction between holding people accountable for their actions and “blaming” them (“There but for the grace …”). For example, if I were a judge I would have no problem sentencing a depraved murderer to death, but I would try not to hate him and instead to consider him an unfortunate that society simply can’t tolerate. (And yes, the effort would probably fail if the victim were someone close. It’s an aspiration.)

    - Charles

  60. #60 JimV
    June 4, 2008

    OK:

    To simply point to a capacity for empathy and say that explains WHY someone should choose to be empathetic is just not answering the question.

    Oh, I see, you were not asking why people do sometimes employ empathy in making decisions, you were asking why should they.

    In my worldview those are not substantially different questions. My answer follows the same principles, at another level. It turns out that those who do at least occasionally make use of an empathetic capacity in their decision making tend to have more surviving progeny than those who don’t, so that those genetic and developmental characteristics which favor that behavior get reinforced over time. Thus the consensus in the great “should” versus “should not” debate swings toward the “should” side. Evolution is very democratic.

    (Shorter me: because it works. If it didn’t, most of us proponents would not be around to favor it.)

    That’s a very general, simplified reason. I would have to know more specifics to decide whether you should or should not compete in the Tour de France.

    I also think there is a historically-contingent (path-dependent) element in decision making, as well as a random element. That last is speculation on my part, based on writing computer games and finding that computer opponents with no random element in their actions are too predictable and prone to finding “traps” in decision-space, in which they oscillate among two or more objectives without making any progress – but don’t get me started on that.

    It is beginning to seem to me that our worldviews are so far apart that we are not seeing each other’s points. I have great difficulty in imagining anything but pragmatic grounds for why we ought to do something (not always conscious pragmatic grounds, but ultimately pragmatic ones). I hope I am clearly expressing why I see little need for leaps of faith (rather than need for suspended judgment until we get more evidence and understand it), but probably not.

  61. #61 Oran Kelley
    June 4, 2008

    JimV:

    Your worldview, as I am reading it, seems to slip toward the Panglossian.

    I tend to think that the fact that proponents of empathy happen to be around is a highly contingent historical fact. Complacency can easily undo that contingent fact.

    And as for leaps of faith, I would say that assuming that the status quo we have today is determined by selection is just that. I would say empathy, as we see it operating in the world today is the product of a particular socio-political and cultural structure whose existence was by no means guaranteed by selection and whose future is at least as contingent as its past.

    Selection doesn’t absolutely determine the functions of subsystems like society and culture (much as natural selection doesn’t absolutely determine sexual selection).

    When you introduce a random element into computer simulations, what you are simulating is human arbitrariness. That arbitrariness might seem random vis-a-vis the other variables we are watching, but it isn’t random–it’s arbitrary. Meaning the choice was made for a reason we don’t know. But I doubt very much that very many important human choices are actually random (some are, like when I let a coin flip decide something).

    It’s sort of like an extremely complex cryptogram: the series looks random until you are able to divine more data. But it’s actually not random at all.

    In short, I don’t think you can theoretically replace the arbitrary with the random. It’s only good for simulations.

    Human choice is partially to account for where we are today, and human choice is a big part of where we are going, and theorizing and influencing individual human choice is essential to any social theory or philosophy.

  62. #62 JimV
    June 4, 2008

    Your worldview, as I am reading it, seems to slip toward the Panglossian.

    If I remember my sophomore humanities course, Pangloss believed that this is the best of all possible worlds. My worldview is subtly different. I think that this is a possible world, and that we are adapted to it, so naturally we do not find it totally displeasing. The difference in perspective comes from viewing us as a natural part of the universe, rather than the universe having been fabricated on our behalf.

    I tend to think that the fact that proponents of empathy happen to be around is a highly contingent historical fact. Complacency can easily undo that contingent fact.

    I have no big disagreement with that, except that I find it hard to imagine how civilization would have developed without empathy or something as useful.

    And as for leaps of faith, I would say that assuming that the status quo we have today is determined by selection is just that.

    And I would say it (selection contingent upon random events) fits all the evidence I have seen or heard of so far, but that since reason got me to this position, reason can get me away from it if you have new evidence for me.

    That arbitrariness might seem random vis-a-vis the other variables we are watching, but it isn’t random–it’s arbitrary. Meaning the choice was made for a reason we don’t know. But I doubt very much that very many important human choices are actually random.

    Whoa – you’ve leapt from “contain a random element” to “very many important human choices are random”. My speculative random function was only meant to give small nudges. Since I can implement it in a computer code, I see no reason why evolution (over a few billion years) couldn’t implement it in a brain. Whether it did is a hypothesis that I can conceive of ways to test, starting with simpler organisms.

  63. #63 Iapetus
    June 5, 2008

    Oran Kelley,

    “And I by no means want to equate the two. Eagleton’s point is only that all moral systems have a “leap of faith” at their core.”

    In your post of June 3, 10:34AM you talked about a “leap of faith” being present in the worldview of everyone. An ethical system is at best a subset of said worldview.

    However, even concerning ethical systems I can not follow your statement. Theistic, objective ethical systems do indeed require a “leap of faith”, since they are built on a premise (i.e. a god) whose evidence is sparse, to say the least.

    In contrast, I do not see where subjective ethical systems like e.g. contractualism force its adherents to make a “leap of faith”. You presumably confuse the subjective nature of these systems, i.e. the fact that their foundations can be rationally accepted or rejected, with positing an external, objective but nonetheless elusive ethical source that must be accepted on faith.

  64. #64 Oran Kelley
    June 5, 2008

    JimV:

    Yes, I did take your statement farther than you had. My point is that the place you create for randomness ought to be occupied by the arbitrary.

    Aren’t there big problems with random number generation in computer programming. Aren’t they actually pseudo-random. I remember when I used to program I would seed the generator with a number that was actually random (the ten-thousands of a second digit from the current time or something like that).

    Also imagining nature as a programmer gets you to the point where your metaphor fails, I think. Nature is essentially different than a computer.

  65. #65 Oran Kelley
    June 5, 2008

    An ethical system is at best a subset of said worldview.

    Here I’d disagree. What I would say are basically moral questions–who am I? Who is we? Who are they? etc. etc.–run very deep in influencing the entirety of one’s world view.

  66. #66 ctw
    June 5, 2008

    OK:

    In rereading some of your comments, I realize that I didn’t actually address the concerns raised in your 6/4 11:57 AM comment.

    It appears that you are mixing a feeling (or maybe, per Damasio’s distinction, an emotion) – empathy, which I view as essentially “I feel your pain (or joy)” – with what actions are taken in response to that feeling. It is the former that I doubt we “choose” in that the feeling of empathy is, as we all seem to agree, driven by some combination of biology, culture, and personal experience. To the extent that this is the case, it would be meaningless to say that one “should” have that feeling since one has little, if any, control over those motivators.

    Assuming one does feel empathy, then the question of what to do in response arises. I don’t see how your concern about free riding applies since how to respond to empathetic feelings is an individual rather than a collective decision. If (as I assume) such feelings are not under one’s control, one cannot be obliged to have them, and those who have them are accountable only to themselves for their (non)responses. This seems so obvious to me that I suspect there is a definitional problem lurking here.

    It was your concern (b) that motivated my earlier response that I was only addressing the specific issue of the “value of human life”. The “contingent assurances” to which I alluded are legal protections of one’s right to life. I don’t see how “assurances” apply to empathy, whether the feelings or the responses. Again, I see neither right nor obligation involved.

    JimV raises the question of disparate world views as a source of a possible communication problem, but maybe it’s just a question of vocabulary. You also used the phrase “proponents of empathy”, which I consider has no meaning since I see “empathy” only as descriptive – not something you can be “for” or “against”. Perhaps you have in mind possible responses such as supporting government funding of social services? If so, I see that as a separate issue only loosely related to empathy.

    Also along the lines of terminology, in order to meaningfully discuss “random” I think it’s necessary to be very clear on what is meant by that word. It’s been a long time since I’ve considered that issue, but my impression based on some of your comments is that you may have some questionable ideas about what constitutes “randomness”. I’m not sure anything is truly “random” in some Platonic sense, but in any event I too am very pragmatic – if it looks, walks, and sounds like a duck, for all practical purposes it’s a duck. Random number generators even 40 years (or more) ago were carefully designed to look and walk like a duck. I can only assume that today they even quack.

    From that perspective, your distinction (as I understand it) between random and arbitrary isn’t necessarily useful. If a process has all the attributes of “randomness” that are relevant to the investigation at hand, then whether or not there is an underlying order seems to me to be of no practical consequence.

    - Charles

  67. #67 Oran Kelley
    June 5, 2008

    The distinction between random and arbitrary is this:

    Random removes the element of human choice; arbitrariness in my formulation is human choice.

    What we decide seems random depends on what we know: a cryptogram may look to be nothing but a random assembly of characters to me, but to my pal with a PhD in computer science may see something in and be able to show me that it’s actually a shopping list–that it’s not random at all.

  68. #68 baboo
    June 5, 2008

    charles, I read the following somewhere, and perhaps it will help in this discussion:

    “Empathy developed so that animals, if not other life forms, would be able to read signals, and send signals, about what they and others are feeling and to react to such signals by altering behavior accordingly – so that in the main, bonds of trust could and would develop among those in cooperative societies. Empathy essentially is the emotional signal to withhold certain competitive behaviors where that individual is concerned – it’s representative of a form of “golden rule” that oversees all treatment of others in the same group.”

    One could take minor issues with the exactness of the above description, but in general I found it useful as a matter of perspective.

  69. #69 JimV
    June 5, 2008

    Aren’t there big problems with random number generation in computer programming. Aren’t they actually pseudo-random. I remember when I used to program I would seed the generator with a number that was actually random (the ten-thousands of a second digit from the current time or something like that).

    Oh no, you didn’t – you got me started after I warned against it (my fault for bringing my cockamamie random nudger idea up). Charles has adequately, eloquently, and briefly covered this in his last (as I write this) comment, but will that stop me from boring you? No way.

    To Charles’ point, I downloaded a Fortran (I still love Fortran – sue me) random number generator a while ago to do Monte Carlo simulations of poker deals to get odds to guide computer players for my “Battle Poker” game. It produces 40,000 numbers to a statistically-sound uniform distribution before cycling, and is a fairly short subroutine. I submit that is random enough for most practical purposes. Steven Wolfram says the one in “Mathematica” will go billions of numbers without cycling.

    Back in the good old, Apple II days, when their random number generator was crap, I did like you and used the number of CPU clock cycles between key presses (modulo the bit capacity of the counter storage) to re-seed the RN generator at various points in a program. Nature could do something like that also. In QED, Feynman mentions that the human eye can detect a single photon impinging on a retina – I leave the rest to the student.

    Also imagining nature as a programmer gets you to the point where your metaphor fails, I think. Nature is essentially different than a computer.

    I think there are physicists who would disagree with you, and computational techniques such as genetic algorithms and neural networks came directly from nature – but you may be right in this sense: I may be like the guy with a hammer who sees every problem as a nail (and evolution as my duct tape).

    Anyway, with my tool set I see myself as capable of constructing bridges of understanding where others have to take leaps of faith. Some of them may turn out to be bridges to nowhere, in which case I would have been better off just to say, “I don’t know”, and wait for more evidence.

  70. #70 ctw
    June 5, 2008

    baboo:

    Thanks for the input, which is interesting for situations in which the empathiser has direct contact with the empathizee. Then – contrary to my assertion – the feedback aspect probably does establish some obligations ala the golden rule.

    When I think of empathy, (for whatever perverse psychological reasons) I tend to think of a remote empathisee with whom there is no feedback loop; eg, someone about whom I learn in a newspaper, magazine, TV program, etc. Which is why I saw no obligations.

    In case you missed an earlier comment, thanks for the pointer to Damasio. I’m slowly working my way through his later books and, of course, getting some good insights.

    - Charles

  71. #71 baboo
    June 6, 2008

    charles, the sense of obligation that can be facilitated by empathy is understood in general terms, but when it comes to predicting specific responses to hypothetical situations, or even explaining why obligations were felt to help in some disaster scenarios more than others, for example, there seem to be more opinions out there than facts to support them.

    We seem to feel more of an obligation to help children n trouble than help their elders, but that’s just stating the obvious. I’m reminded of the picture of the crying baby symbolizing the rape of Nanking that otherwise seemed a far away event in a heathen world – or the burnt child running to escape the napalm in Viet Nam. The strength of those images was perhaps that, unlike other photos of death and carnage, they were hard to forget. They were in a way less of a plea for help than a cry for us to stop the hurting. There’s a lesson there somewhere that we haven’t yet learned.

  72. #72 Peter Szabo
    August 6, 2008

    Sooner or later, the middle-of-the-roaders will start splitting hairs over the difference between “best support” and “integral role” in order to show that Ruse’s and Eagleton’s positions are entirely compatible.

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