Pharyngula

Mr B and Miz B savor their success

Mr B and Miz B sat upon their porch, watching the New Atheist parade go by.

It was quite a large parade, chaotic, disorganized, and enthusiastic, more Mardi Gras than Macy’s. There were clowns and jugglers, serious men with bullhorns making serious speeches, small groups chanting anti-clerical slogans, people just out dancing in the streets, and the occasional well-designed float flaunting an anti-religion or pro-science message. They even had a big red steam-powered Noise Machine. Scarlet A’s were waved on banners and flags and t-shirts. Some participants looked angry, most were just happy to be free and participating, but they were all turning out in large numbers. Huge crowds line the streets as well, watching — many were amused, some were confused, and a few looked aghast, shutting their eyes with their hands over their ears, and some waved their Bibles and roared their disapproval of the spectacle. And often, scattered individuals would leave the crowd of spectators and happily join in the parade.

Mr B and Miz B just sat in their rocking chairs, scowling.

“Well, I never,” said Miz B. “So disrespectful! So loud! What ever do they hope to accomplish with this kind of rude display?”

“I don’t know for sure, since I haven’t read any of this New Atheist nonsense myself,” said Mr B, “but I do know this: they’ve got atheism all wrong, and they’ve got religion all wrong. I’m an atheist, too, you know.”

“Oh, I know that, Mr B. But you’re a good atheist, the kind that respects religion, and would never raise this kind of ruckus.”

“Exactly! These rowdy hooligans and their uppity airs, thinking their ideas are all better than thousands of years of serious theological reasoning…they’re just cocky. Mark my words, atheism will never get anywhere with this kind of attitude.”

“Yes, Mr B. Think how much better this parade would be if Christians and atheists were marching arm in arm, affirming their respect for each other, and if only the atheists would stop crowing about how wrong religion is. It’s offensive, that’s what it is. Why do they have to keep picking on people’s beliefs?”

“I quite agree, Miz B. I’ve long espoused a positive atheism that simply ignores religion, and concentrates on its own private values. Why, in my day, atheists would just sit quietly at home, not making a fuss, living in a solitary state of quiet virtue. And it was good. None of this outrageously flamboyant “coming out” foofaraw. And we got things done! We were so much more atheist than these parvenus! We were thoughtful, and we respected theology!”

“How can they hope to discuss faith seriously if they don’t think it is a good thing, Mr B? How can they possibly win over people if they refuse to accept the ground rules set by religion?”

Miz B rocked in her chair a little more rapidly to demonstrate her willingness to work for the cause. In the distance, a cheer rises up from the crowd as four horsemen trot into view.

Mr B shook his fist. “Look at that! I’m an atheist, too, and I have wisdom to dispense! Why are all those people lining the street, when they could come up to our porch and have a quiet conversation with us? We won’t be rude! We won’t mock Christianity or Islam, we won’t challenge dogma at all! We’ll all get along!”

“I know, Mr B. There is no justice in the world. How about if I invite the vicar over for tea? He’s always so pleasant.”

“Fine idea, Miz B. We always get on so well with the vicars. Quite unlike these nasty little New Atheists.”

The parade, of course, keeps on moving along, and seems to be growing — no end is in sight.


I have been reading the latest sorrowful cluckings from Madeline Bunting and Julian Baggini, I’m afraid, and the image that keeps coming to mind is of two old prunes reassuring each other that their wizened ways are the only path to reason, all the while they sit alone, ignored. It would be amusing if it weren’t also a bit sad and pathetic.

Bunting, as usual, is shrilly defensive — she’s the kind who will, on one hand, claim to be defending Darwin by shielding him from ungodly atheists, while also quoting creationists approvingly. She’s no friend of reason or science, but only pretends to be so as a rhetorical tool to defend her real sacred cow: faith. She’s a bit deranged in that regard.

Baggini, though, is a more interesting case. He really is a serious atheist philosopher, and I think some of his ideas have merit, which makes it a particular shame that he has gone down this crazy road of finding common cause with a cuckoo like Bunting. In particular, my estimation of the fellow plummeted on reading his blanket dismissal of the New Atheism as “destructive”, in which the first thing he admits is that he has read none of the popular works of the movement!

The way he justifies this is to argue that he can judge on the basis of the New Atheism’s effects, which he claims bring atheists like him into disrepute. That is a remarkably insular sort of claim: does he truly believe that before Harris and Dawkins and Dennett and Hitchens wrote their books, we lived in a magical world where atheists were beloved scholars, respected by all, and that serious theologians were dealing only in reason and logic?

He’s entirely wrong. What the New Atheism has brought is more openness, and a surprising amount of atheist pride. Yes, it means we’re louder (Bunting talks of “foghorn voices” as if it were a bad thing), that we have a more diverse body of infidels that has to include many with whom we as individuals may disagree, and it gets more media attention and more popular enthusiasm. Rather than making me feel like I’ve drawn the enmity of the people, I think it’s great, and gives me real hope for the future—we are building a lively community of the godless that’s a bit less bloodless and doesn’t always smell of mothballs.

And guess what? Nothing in the New Atheist movement will prevent Julian Baggini from inviting the vicar over for afternoon tea in his quiet little house. Go ahead, Mr B. Nothing is stopping you from pursuing your goals.

Comments

  1. #1 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    April 14, 2009

    I wonder what Matt “The Framingstein Monster” Nisbet’s float looked like?

    I know what my float’s theme would be.

  2. #2 Johnny Vector
    April 14, 2009

    This story would be better in verse. Too bad Cuttlefish is on sabbatical.

    It did take place on Mulberry Street, didn’t it?

  3. #3 JD
    April 14, 2009

    This is *our* civil rights march.

  4. #4 Mu
    April 14, 2009

    Odd, you’re referring to atheist pride. It sounds a lot like the usual description of the gay pride movement.

  5. #5 Glen Davidson
    April 14, 2009

    At least you prove that you’ve heard the “framers.”

    But of course it’s still the same story, we need both the “bad cops” and the “good cops.” The bad cops can’t (or don’t) teach those who are ready to learn in the manner that the students need, yet the good cops don’t get across to the slack-asses that they actually need to learn.

    All “good cop” gave us ID and Kitzmiller. IOW, liars need to recognize that there are consequences, hence we need the “bad cops” as well.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/6mb592

  6. #6 Holbach
    April 14, 2009

    I wish those buses with the provacative message had been in that parade, perhaps with a more direct maessage: “No tooth fairy, no easter bunny, no god, but just us!”

  7. #7 Craig Melancon
    April 14, 2009

    Mr B… Natural?

  8. #8 Tim Janger
    April 14, 2009

    i saw a youtube video of a bus with the sitcom “everybody hates Chris” advertisement on it, and then a guy runs up and pastes a “t” at the end… “Everybody hates Christ”

  9. #9 Patricia, OM
    April 14, 2009

    Wow, this story is front page on Google news under the header atheism.

    I “sorta” guessed it was you PZ… well done!

  10. #10 David Wiener
    April 14, 2009

    So, the argument is that we can disagree with religion, just so long as we first agree with them?

    Don’t ask don’t tell atheism. No thanks.

  11. #11 Blake Stacey
    April 14, 2009

    In particular, my estimation of the fellow plummeted on reading his blanket dismissal of the New Atheism as “destructive”, in which the first thing he admits is that he has read none of the popular works of the movement!

    After seeing the learnèd scholars dismiss us tieless atheists time and time again for being ignorant of serious theology, I’m going to savour the irony of such a scholar not taking the trouble to haul his ass down to the local Barnes-and-Borders-a-Million to read a paperback God Delusion in the coffeeshop. What, does he not have an afternoon to spare?

  12. #12 Siamang
    April 14, 2009

    You can add Roger Scruton to that porch, PZ, for this article:

    http://spectator.org/archives/2009/03/10/the-new-humanism

    Here’s my response:

    It seems there was an entire generation of intellectual atheists between between Bertrand Russell and Richard Dawkins. Who could tell?

    Seriously. It seems their entire modus was to retreat to a walled garden and try to live as religious a life as possible without actually believing, and without fundamentally communicating with the outside world.

    I understand the red scare drove many of them underground. But honestly, our forbears (pun intended) have much to answer for. What a hostile environment to nonbelief we arrived in. Where was the assertion of equality? Where was the outreach from the walled garden? For all of the exhaulting of humanity at Cambridge, where, at all, was the actual ENGAGEMENT with the rest of humanity?

    You know, the non-stiff-upper-lip high-minded?

    What of the rest of actual humanity? Well, for them (those stupid, muddy working-class shlubs), they can use the crutch ? the ?moral prop?. If you ain?t good enough to read Milton, Blake, and Lawrence, well, we aren?t going to dumb it down for you.

    Isn?t that the antithesis of ?exhaulting humanity??

    And by the way, what?s so great about humanity to begin with? Shouldn?t that very notion of an absolute perfectable nature be examined with extreme skepticism?

    So much about what Scruton holds up as the virtues of Humanism strike me as nothing more than arbitrarily chosen ideals. Or rather ideals chosen because they had counterparts within Christianity. Ethical system, check. Sexual restraint, check. Faith (even), check. Even patriotism. Why should patriotism flow naturally from Humanism? I cannot think of a notion more antithetical to Humanism than patriotism. My allegiance is to the IDEALS of America, and if the country departs from those ideals, I do not cleave to the country and forget the ideals.

    Humanism *must demand* that we consider ourselves humans before nationalists. What use, then is ?Patriotism? as an end or a virtue in and of itself? Suppose we are humanist citizens of a corrupt regime, subjects of Saddam, for example. Is patriotism really a humanist value in that instance?

    Everyone reading this is well aware of the open hostility to atheists that exists in America, from the shameless attacks by elected officials, to the silencing by the media, to the outright calls for us to voluntarily silence ourselves from the pundit class (now including Scruton).

    This is where Old Humanism brought us. All that bowing and scraping. All of that exhaulting the Human as a pinnacle. All of the toiling in the walled garden while treating the masses as lesser intelectuals not ready to lose their moral prop.

    Old Humanism removed themselves from the discussion, retreated to the halls of the intelligencia, ceded their position and abdicated their role within the general public. Where, half a century earlier, Robert Ingersoll, the great agnostic, packed lecture halls and spoke directly to the masses. Where among the Old Humanists is his kind today? Nowhere. I submit to you that we have had no such voice until Richard Dawkins.

    It?s the Old Humanism which brought us to be the most distrusted minority in America, and allowed religious authoritarianism to ravage the masses unchecked by any contrary voices. Perhaps it IS time to stop sneaking around, talking in whispers and keeping to our walled gardens.

    Time to come into the light, and re-engage the conversation.

  13. #13 Tulse
    April 14, 2009

    I think PZ has it wrong with regard to Baggini, at least with regard to the first link he provides. Baggini’s point is that by concentrating on attacking the truth claims of religion, New Atheists leave the field open to the woolly-minded liberal religious who want to talk of claims not of truth, but of metaphor and warm vagueness. Thus:

    Liberal believers and agnostics get away with this nonsense because religious belief is much more than a matter of doctrine, and practice can be as important, or more so. So while the atheists destroy simplistic, traditional creeds and dance on the ruins, much of the rest of the religious edifice remains intact. The fluffy brigade are then free to plant their flag on it unchallenged.

    Atheists need to challenge these liberal theologians, so that they admit their vision of doctrine-lite faith is not a description of how true religion always was, but a manifesto for how it should be. If they do that and succeed, then good luck to them. I don’t care if people want to retain a sense of being religious, as long as what they believe stands up to intellectual scrutiny. Atheism needs critical friends as well as true non-believers, so that it is subjected to such scrutiny itself.

    This seems eminently reasonable to me, and not the words of some accommodationist.

  14. #14 Kate
    April 14, 2009

    I am so sick of this attitude that as an atheist I must be “tolerated” by others.

    What kind of childish, grade-school bullshit world do these freakazoids live in?

    They can take tea with the Vicar if they so choose, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to break out Nana’s good china and have him over for an afternoon of finger sandwiches, Lapsang Souchong and polite conversation about how I’m going to roast in hell.

    It seems that in the world of Mr. and Mrs. B, the only good atheist is a cowed, shameful, unthinking one.

    They can keep their rose-tinted, tissue-wrapped world all to themselves. I’d much prefer to live in the real one, where I am not shackled, chained and gagged by my own hand in order to appease a cabal of deluded and power-hungry bigots.

  15. #15 Menyambal
    April 14, 2009

    Shall I ride my unicycle and juggle, or ride my recumbent bike and blow giant bubbles?

    Seriously, I’ve been in many a parade, and in many a serious conversation. Anybody who thinks we cannot do both, as appropriate, is just silly. If B and B think that we should play by the other team’s rules, they are never going to win. That said, we do need to be aware of what the other folks think, understand the difference between us, and talk their language when it is needed. Fortunately, atheists are generally much better at understanding the other guy’s point of view than religious conservatives are.

    Whilst discussing things, though, we must resist the urge to simply find a compromise in the middle somewhere. One cannot compromise with fanaticism.

  16. #16 SAWells
    April 14, 2009

    I read the Bunting article in the Guardian Weekly and I’m still baffled as to what she meant by it. For one thing, there’s this soothing cooing about how of course God doesn’t have any real observable properties, which left me confused; why is she not complaining loudly about the Vatican, about American fundamentalists, and about the Taliban and their ilk? All of those groups are pretty clear that their God does have properties- principally anger and hatred.

  17. #17 Silva
    April 14, 2009

    And, y’know, some of the new atheists aren’t very loud. Amidst all the foghorn voices are plenty of people who are happy to be along for the ride and who appreciate the efforts of our more outspoken companions. There are plenty of quiet Christians, too, but they have their share of foghorns – some, in fact, who are extremely influential – so why can’t we have some voices too?

    Rational worldviews get censored enough already. Hey, I’ll defend the blindly faithful’s freedom of speech any day. But I’m defending the right to reason first.

  18. #18 charley
    April 14, 2009

    We need foghorn voices to overcome the fog of theologians.

  19. #19 Dahan
    April 14, 2009

    Malcom X and Dr. Martin Luther King. What would have happened to the civil rights movement be without either of these men? There’s places and a need for both views and approaches.

  20. #20 Pareidolius
    April 14, 2009

    As a big ol’ homo myself, I know something firsthand about the subject of internalized homophobia. And since you drew the coming out analogy, I shall flesh it out a bit more as regards the two old biddies on the porch with a bad case of internalized atheophobia. I think the analogy is spot on. As a fortysomething gay man, I live in a great neighborhood with my partner. Our moms both live in the ‘hood and we have a close circle of mostly straight friends and neigbors. We don’t do “gay” things much anymore. Circuit parties, clubbing, parades, marches and the like have lost their appeal either due to age or we’re just “over it”. I love my varied group of friends and day to day life, but I also know that my sense of self-approval grew out of a youth spent in the heart of the Gay community in San Francisco. It was a revelation to find a loud, proud, accepting community that helped wipe away the years of being called a faggot and a geek in highschool. Being different was okay, hell, it was encouraged. There was love and acceptance and yes, it was noisy and obnoxious and certainly turned off the fundies and some of the old “lets just live quietly and get along” types (gay uncle Toms). When I sometimes feel like Hitchens or Dawkins are too hard and polemic, I remember my coming-out years, and that as god-free folk, we are still awash in the hatred of magical-thinking. Awful violence is committed daily in the name of gawd. Women still get clitorectomies in the name of Allah and some kids in rural towns are in danger of being bashed by their own parents should they come out as queer. In our own way atheists are queer. Queer in every sense of the word as we are percieved by “good”, polite, religious society. Maybe a few float laden parades wouldn’t be such a bad idea after all.

  21. #21 Chris Davis
    April 14, 2009

    I find one can get a better handle on these matters if you replace ‘religion’ with ‘racism’.

    Yeah – let’s ‘respect’ the thousand of years of tradition of that one…

  22. #22 Holbach
    April 14, 2009

    Patricia, OM @ 9

    That Google News is good stuff, and read that article this morning. This, and RationalWiki are good sources to keep us abreast with the knowledge that we still represent sanity in this ever shitty world.

  23. #23 Blake Stacey
    April 14, 2009

    Dahan (#19):

    And King himself had issues with those who believed they could “set a timetable for another man’s freedom”.

  24. #24 rodiel
    April 14, 2009

    Whee, I’d join that carnival. I like being part of LGBT marches too, and not only in the hope of finding a girlfriend (which I never end up succeeding with), but for the feeling of “being among my kind”. It’s… so different. At school, apparently, everyone’s straight and Christian – some of the look at you like a toad, and some just don’t get it. Hmm…

  25. #25 Tim Janger
    April 14, 2009

    religion is the foundation of racism and gay-bashing, so it all works…

  26. #26 NewEnglandBob
    April 14, 2009

    Despite what Tulse said in #13 I think PZ got it EXACTLY correct.

  27. #27 Gustaf
    April 14, 2009

    In particular, my estimation of the fellow plummeted on reading his blanket dismissal of the New Atheism as “destructive”, in which the first thing he admits is that he has read none of the popular works of the movement!

    To be fair, how is this different from an Atheist calling one of the major religions ‘destructive’ without reading it’s holy book? Mr Baggini, who I regard highly after reading his Very Short Introduction of Atheist thought, has a problem with the loud and childish taunts coming from the new atheist camp, which I’d say is fair critique. No person likes to be preached to, and you could say the leading new atheists are guilty of that (even though I agree with their message). “The God Delusion” or “God is not Great” is not the kind of books you give to a religious friend, hoping to make him/her understand the world without God. Baggini’s book, by contrast, is precisely that kind of book.

  28. #28 calladus
    April 14, 2009

    Whenever anyone says, “New Atheism” I have to ask… what are the qualifying characteristics of a “New Atheist”?

    Is a characteristic of “New” atheism to be disrespectful of religion, to make fun of it, as Mark Twain did?

    Is it that “New” atheism has a popular figure who excels at pointing out the foolishness of religion in ways that are entertaining and easy to understand, like Col. Robert Ingersoll?

    Maybe it is because this “New” atheism has a British polemic author who efficiently and ruthlessly rips into religious arguments and leaves them shredded by the wayside, as Bertrand Russell was so adept at doing.

    So excuse me for not understanding, because I really need the help… just WHEN did this so called “New” atheism start?

    You know, I’d love to join one of those trendy “New” atheist organizations. Does the American Secular Union have a website?

  29. #29 Becca Stareyes
    April 14, 2009

    To continue the gay pride metaphor, I recall reading once that the first part of the parades was reminding the outside world that GLBT folks existed and weren’t going to quietly stay in the closet any more. For that, you need foghorns and loud costumes and floats, because humans are good at pretending things they don’t want to exist don’t exist.

    The second part is realizing that for every half-naked reveler in leather, there ten more people that are ‘normal’ teens, or young couples with baby strollers, or senior citizens that have had to stay quiet for so long, and you wouldn’t know them from your neighbors, friends, or even family, except they are here with their rainbow flags.

    I guess I’m continuing Glen’s comment, that having ‘good cops’ — atheists and etc.* who don’t always agree with New Atheism, but who realize that having some loud people in a minority can be useful so that the position is not shrugged under the rug. People who are quieter, but not spineless, as a reminder that atheists are just people, and that you can’t respect freedom of religion without also granting the freedom to not practice religion.

    *Etc. included because I decided years ago I didn’t care enough to figure out if I was atheist or agnostic, and just started calling myself a secular humanist.

  30. #30 T_U_T
    April 14, 2009

    charley wins the thread :

    We need foghorn voices to overcome the fog of theologians.

  31. #31 Holbach
    April 14, 2009

    calladus @ 28

    I am not a new atheist, old atheist, or former atheist, but just an atheist who eschews all the pretentious allusions to the natural state of rationalism.

  32. #32 MIke in Ontario, NY
    April 14, 2009

    Gustav, I’ve found that atheists, at least in the US, are generally more well-versed on the bible than are most Christians. I would say that thorough knowledge of the history and assembly of the bible, in particular, are far more prevalent in the atheist community.

    This is all just so much more “Christ Inanity”.

  33. #33 The Chemist
    April 14, 2009

    I don’t know Calladus, I do think that this is a “new” movement in the sense that we live in a world where every idea has pretty much been had. I don’t think we can draw a straight line from Russell to today. I tend not to think of it as an ideological novelty, or even a rhetorical one, but a social novelty made possible by series of important events.

    Also PZ, please promise us you’re not going to switch careers to novelist- I get the sense it would be as bad as that review you linked a while back- minus the misogyny and racism I would guess.

  34. #34 E.V.
    April 14, 2009

    Dear non-existent god, I know so many people who think respect=subordination or not reacting. My dad is a big proponent of “Don’t roil the waters, placate everyone and suffer in silence, after all, you’re no better than anyone else” so I bristle at every Uncle Tom atheist (Are you reading this Nisbet?) who spouts the “New Atheism is strident!” crap. The religious demonize all unbelievers and misrepresent those who never believed or those who cast off beliefs in magical deities and somehow we’re supposed to shut up and be complacent because they don’t desrve to be offended? Fuck that. I’ve had it up to here with wing nuts and religiotards proselytizing and then screaming bloody murder when they’re opposed - they’re offensive.

    I have the sophomoric satisfaction of flipping off a guy with a “the reward for sin is death” sign on the road to my youngest son’s high school every day. ( & no, I don’t do it when he’s in the car, it’s a puerile urge as I’ve already stated) It’s petty but my contempt for him wanes a little each time I give him a little honk and the bird as I drive by. I’ve even passed him a dozens of times and just ignored him. Poor schmuck, he’s fighting for a deity that doesn’t even exist.

    Don’t get me started on the anti-evolution acquaintances with college degrees…

  35. #35 Dennis N
    April 14, 2009

    It’s easy, Becca @ #29. Believe in god?

    No: You’re an atheist.
    Yes: You’re not.

  36. #36 Lorax
    April 14, 2009

    Damn, Im shortsighted. I just assumed this was a story about Nisbet and a friend in the near future sitting on the stoop being crotchety and wrong again….ah well.

  37. #37 E.V.
    April 14, 2009

    I have to brag on the youngest though, he’s found non-theism on his own since the wife and I try not to push them away or toward religion. On his My Face* sites, he posted “Happy Zombie Jesus Day!” for Easter. That’s my boy!

  38. #38 hyperdeath
    April 14, 2009

    Calladus, the primary characteristic of a “New Atheist” is the tendency to do, say, or think anything that a religious apologist doesn’t like.

  39. #39 Charles
    April 14, 2009

    I’m most curious about this quote from the Baggini passage:

    Worse, it raises the possibility that as a matter of fact, for many atheists, they do indeed need an enemy to give them their identity.

    It seems like this would only be case and point when using religion as a point of basis. I agree with him, to an extent, that some atheists only define their atheism by the standards religion has set for them. In this, I mean that many atheists I have encountered are of the “I don’t believe in a god because how could he have let cancer happen??” mindset, one that I think is counterproductive to the movement.

    Movement. That truly is the word for it, I think. Atheism is a movement, and like other movements it necessitates leadership. “The Four Horsemen” (a label I’m not too sure I like) are the foremost authorities on WHY one should be an atheist. Baggini and his ilk are the foremost authorities on WHAT atheism is (of course, even this is debatable). We need Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, and dare I say PZ, to rally the troops, if you will. The goal is the eradication of religion and belief in order to better society. The means by which to do so is to treat god as an enemy to the very bitter end. Mr. Baggini, we don’t NEED an enemy to define ourselves as atheists. Being an atheist necessarily creates enemies for us, as we want the world to be more productive, happier, healthier, to exist a lot longer, to be free and to exercise that freedom without prejudice, to love who we want to love, to live without bondage and the enemy wants us to be locked into said bondage, to pray for forgiveness and to give thanks to nothing, to enslave our short eventless lives on this earth with dogma and convince us to give praise (and tithes)and dictate our morals by virtue of their own agendas. And this is why we fight…

  40. #40 Holbach
    April 14, 2009

    Mike in Ontario,NY @ 32

    Patricia,OM is the renowned bullshit, er, bible basher among us. This calls to mind the movie “Fahrenheit 451″, where the actors each committed to memory a favorite book before that book disappeared in the encroaching insane society. But anticipating history may well prove that Patricia the bible will be the only left after total insanity has doomed all books to memory only. Good grief, Patricia, this sounds like an episode for the “Twilight Zone”!

  41. #41 JBlilie
    April 14, 2009

    I wrote a long email (about 4 pages) to Mr. Baggini about two weeks ago, criticizing his claim that the “New Atheists” were “Destructive,” giving specific examples of good things they and their books are doing (I think including the “and non-believers” in Obama’s inaugural speech) and bearding him for basing his criticism on the reaction of the fundies. Basically, most religious people will not brook any criticism of their faith, full stop. It doesn’t matter what tone you take, short of subservience to their agenda, that will not evoke a negative reaction from them. So, taking their opinion on the matter cannot be fruitful.

    He wrote back a lengthy (but shorter) email that was thoughtful; but he just stuck to his guns: Dawkins, Harris, Dennet, and Hitchens are too loud, too assertive, and: I don’t need to read their works to criticize their positions, though I plan to read them.

    What can one say to that?

    Why not ask the Ayatollahs in Iran for their opinions on his own atheism?

  42. #42 Ahnald Brownshwagga the Monkey
    April 14, 2009

    “religion is the foundation of racism and gay-bashing, so it all works…”

    That is demonstrably NOT true. Those unjust discriminations are reflections of the innate capacity of Homo sapiens, ie. dim-witted primates, who tend to lump out-group members into homogeneous categories and focus on their negative aspects. Without religion we would not be free from this tyranny. Religion just gives us one more excuse to express this horrid but probably inevitable tendency.

  43. #43 Andrés Diplotti
    April 14, 2009

    Those silly, noisy atheists! They’re sabotaging our dealings with the Catholic Church to bring them to accept atheists as priests!

  44. #44 frog
    April 14, 2009

    It’s the old story about the Overton Window. I guess that in fact, the important voices of the fundies are actually much smarter and educated than many of the atheist voices.

    Being right doesn’t imply that you know what you’re doing; some folks just get lucky.

  45. #45 IST
    April 14, 2009

    AC Grayling dismantled Baggini’s article a little while ago, with both posted over at RD.net for those who haven’t seen them…

    @Tulse> So I take it you didn’t read the rest of that article, or are you deliberately misrepresenting?

  46. #46 Patricia, OM
    April 14, 2009

    *Blush* Why thank you Holbach.

    Yep, I have to wear that badge. I was bitten so badly that I can even tell you the name of Cains wife, where she came from, and the book and verse. Thats more bullshit than most people speak all day. (smirk)

  47. #47 Alex
    April 14, 2009

    How do these idiots think religion got to be so powerful? Ah yes, we all remember the quiet fireside chats of our youths where calm, earnest preachers individually persuaded would-be converts with logical arguments.

    Oh wait, no, they shouted their message from the rooftops — sometimes ecstatic, other times furious — to anyone who would listen.

    These silly old atheists’ only point seems to be that this should only work for religion, and that atheism can’t benefit from any of the same techniques. I respectfully disagree.

    Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a lot of body paint to apply in anticipation of this afternoon’s atheism parade. Tragically, it takes a lot more paint to get adequate coverage these days.

  48. #48 E.V.
    April 14, 2009

    There are others of us who could quote chapter and verse but no longer have the stomach (or energy) for it. Patricia is a great asset to be the resident quoter of the good silly book in opposition to the looney thumper trolls and the odd Calvanists who come here to show everyone the errors of their ways.

  49. #49 dave souza
    April 14, 2009

    So what’s so bad about tea with the vicar? Don’t forget that Darwin had his friend the Reverend Brodie Innes come along when the notorious atheists Aveling and Büchner visited him… and told them that Brodie and he “have been fast friends for 30 years. We never thoroughly agreed on any subject but once and then we looked at each other and thought one of us must be very ill”.

  50. #50 frog
    April 14, 2009

    Tulse: Baggini’s point is that by concentrating on attacking the truth claims of religion, New Atheists leave the field open to the woolly-minded liberal religious who want to talk of claims not of truth, but of metaphor and warm vagueness.

    From your post, (Atheists need to challenge these liberal theologians, so that they admit their vision of doctrine-lite faith is not a description of how true religion always was, but a manifesto for how it should be. ) that’s not his point. His point is that they may still make false truth-claims about where they came from. He doesn’t appear to give a damn about “liberal religion”, as long as they don’t make truth claims. I’d agree, and wouldn’t call that accomodationism.

    Of course, I may be wrong — not knowing Baggini’s work. But why do you care about the wooly-minded who make no truth claims? What is it to you, or me, or Baggini, as long as they’re clear that they’re talking in metaphor? Would you ban poetry and dance as well?

  51. #51 T_U_T
    April 14, 2009

    Religion just gives us one more excuse to express this horrid but probably inevitable tendency.

    wrong. Not just one more. The Best, strongest, most used, most efficient, … etc. In fact, all other excuses combined together would not sufficient to make up for the loss of this one.

  52. #52 Menyambal
    April 14, 2009

    When speaking out for your rights, or for truth or justice, Catch-22s often arise. Especially in dealing with the close-minded.

    If you speak out loudly, you are dismissed as a rude fanatic.
    If you speak softly, you are ignored as weak and pointless.
    If you speak moderately, you get a compromise.
    If you speak the truth, while others lie, a compromise will not reach the truth. So you may have to go ‘way past the truth to bargain the compromise to where you want it.
    You can’t win an argument with a crazy person.

    What I mean is that communicating with and disagreeing with religious conservatives is a tricky business. They are odd folks, much like the ones of whom it was said, “Insult them until they apologize.”

    For B and B to tell others exactly how to talk to the entire rest of the world is just silly. Some of the people that we need to communicate with are squirrelly as hell, and have to be addressed as fits the day.

    “Know thine enemy” is good advice, but giving up and doing things his way is sometimes a very bad idea.

  53. #53 Screechy Monkey
    April 14, 2009

    “And, y’know, some of the new atheists aren’t very loud”

    Oh, don’t let that Dennett guy fool you. When he puts on the pimp outfit….

  54. #54 T_U_T
    April 14, 2009

    If you speak moderately, you get a compromise.

    wrong. you are both dismissed as a rude fanatic and ignored as weak and pointless.

  55. #55 Grendels Dad
    April 14, 2009

    There were several interesting threads about this at Butterflies and Wheels last month. Although Julian did drop by, he never got around to clarifying or defending his position, he only seemed interested in talking about how sloppy and angry the folks at RDnet were.

  56. #56 Pierce R. Butler
    April 14, 2009

    Reading the first half of this post about the “B”s, I kept waiting for the story about where they lost their “Nis”s & “et”s…

    Nothing in the New Atheist movement will prevent Julian Baggini from inviting the vicar over for afternoon tea in his quiet little house.

    That assumes the vicar doesn’t try to take a shortcut through any of the dark alleys in which NAs tend to lurk…

  57. #57 llewelly
    April 14, 2009

    PZ, this story doesn’t make sense. How can we have an Atheist pride parade without any Atheist Leather Boys?

    (However – whenever I’ve gone to a gay pride parade, I’ve never actually seen any half-naked Leather Boys running around. I don’t whether that’s because I missed that part, or because I live in Utah.)

  58. #58 robert
    April 14, 2009

    I think the analogy to gay pride is apt. Growing up thru the 50?s and 60?s I was immerse in the low key homophobia of that era without considering it. I did not know any openly gay people and we all laughed at ?homo? milk and called strange kids queer. During the 60?s when the gay scene began to erupt it forced me to react to the situation and examine where what I felt was coming from. Closeted gays might eventually have confronted my ignorance but I do not see how. Hopefully I would eventually been able to get there. However, I do not think it right or just that anyone should wait on my enlightenment to be free to be who they are and be safe in doing so.
    Robert Estrada

  59. #59 Jim Etchison
    April 14, 2009

    Are we less bloodless, or less bloody?

    Great post!

  60. #60 Patricia, OM
    April 14, 2009

    This subject was the basis of a rip-snorting argument yesterday with our resident Calvinist. At the risk of starting it up again I’ll give my opinion that the reason so many of us here do so well with scripture is because we got well passed John 3:16 and most christians today don’t. They are just more numerous, and much louder than we are.

    All we have to do is remember the cracker to realize how out numbered we are.

  61. #61 vinraith
    April 14, 2009

    It’s really very simple, you know. If you make it a war right now, if you make it us vs. them, science vs. religion, reason vs. superstition with no chance of compromise or reconciliation: WE’LL LOSE. If you make it “intellect vs. emotion” emotion’s going to win every time because at heart, people are stupid panicky animals.

  62. #62 GaryB, FCD
    April 14, 2009

    PZ:

    “Baggini, though, is a more interesting case. He really is a serious atheist philosopher, and I think some of his ideas have merit, which makes it a particular shame that he has gone down this crazy road of finding common cause with a cuckoo like Bunting.”

    Baggini:

    “Bunting mentioned several such people: Karen Armstrong, Giles Fraser and Mark Vernon all appear reasonable, offering uncertainty in contrast to the conviction of the atheists. They flatter the woolly-minded by telling them vagueness is a virtue, not a vice. Only silly atheists and daft fundamentalists treat religious creeds as though they were factual descriptions of the real world, they say.

    The idea that it is a modern distortion to think of religious beliefs as being factually true is manifest nonsense. If people thought their tenets of faith were metaphors, why did they torture or kill people who disagreed with them?”

    Baggini:

    “We now need to turn down the volume and engage in a real conversation about what of value is left of religion once its crude superstitions are swept away. If we don’t, we will only have ourselves to blame if the vague platitudes of Bunting and Armstrong win the war for hearts and minds.”

    [Emphasis mine]

    Doesn’t sound to me like Baggini has much more respect for, or patience with, Bunting than you do PZ, and although there may be a superficial similarity to the point that atheists should turn down the volume, the reasons for it seem to be quite different.

    I personally don’t see much being left of religion once you strip away the superstition but perhaps in a pragmatic sense there are tools hidden within that are useful to society. I think Baggini is asking for pragmatism.

    The other point I think he’s making is that of alienation of a large group of moderates who may get pushed to support the extreme literalists if we don’t show the willingness to consider their views even though we fervently disagree with them. He seems to be asking us to abandon the Bushite ‘Either you’re with us or you’re against us’ false dichotomy.

    What does history show us of a movements ability to sway a population to their way of thinking? How did the civil rights movement begin to succeed? The gay rights movement, the womens movement? They used a number of tactics, one of which was to be the squeaky wheel, another was negotiation. All of them had support from outside their own communities, the moderates in society willing to help in what they believed to be a just cause.

    My belief is that we need to continue to be the squeaky wheel that gets the attention while the negotiators like Baggini, who have no patience with vague and nonsensical ideas, can work the crowd.

  63. #63 Didac Lopez-Martinez
    April 14, 2009

    When anybody asks us to moderation we must remember the words from Barry Goldwater: “I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!“. We know the historical origins of all religions, and so we cannot accept them as truths. For one simple reason, if Christianity is true then Judaism and Islamism are false. And if Judaism and Islamism can be false, why not Christianity? We know also that most religious people are religious not because “they believe” but because religions play an important role in ethnic identity and social cohesiveness. Freedom is being able to point falseness and justice is to bring people out from falseness. However, taqiyya-practicing atheists seek neither freedom nor justice. If they have not the courage to fight ignorance and intolerance, less they can do it to let others to fight. Some people here in this trend have justly identified the monstruosity of “neutralism” in regard to racism, sexism and any other form of fascism.

  64. #64 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    April 14, 2009

    If you make it a war right now, if you make it us vs. them, science vs. religion, reason vs. superstition with no chance of compromise or reconciliation: WE’LL LOSE.

    Are you panicking vinraith?

  65. #65 Postman
    April 14, 2009

    I just want it clearly understood that I will show my tits* for Atheist Beads.

    *Full Disclosure: I am not actually a woman, nor have I Gone Wild, but am perfectly willing to degrade myself for trinkets.

  66. #66 frog
    April 14, 2009

    vinraith: It’s really very simple, you know. If you make it a war right now, if you make it us vs. them, science vs. religion, reason vs. superstition with no chance of compromise or reconciliation: WE’LL LOSE.

    You always lose if you don’t fight. Repeat it with me: if we don’t fight, WE’LL LOSE.

    If you knew your American history, we were winning until the 70s. We started to lose because we let religion get control of the argument — they started screaming and yelling, taking over school boards, TV stations and eventually congresscritters. We, on the other hand, were perfectly willing to accomodate with nice, squishy theology as a perfectly good replacement for the primitive religion that preceded.

    This isn’t the first time, either. Jefferson, Washington and their ilk thought they had won against the clerics, and tempered themselves carefully. What happened? The Great Revival, which in twenty years changed the US from a secularist and frankly pagan-referencing Republic (with a Senate and everything like the Romans!) back to a theologically dominated society.

    People wanted the primitive religion. It’ll win without a fight. Don’t think this fight started 10 years ago — it’s been ongoing since the Renaissance, and we’ve only won when we’ve been willing to fight. LEARN YOUR HISTORY.

    (Sorry about the caps, but vinraith needs to be yelled back at).

  67. #67 Chiroptera
    April 14, 2009

    Gustaf, #27: To be fair, how is this different from an Atheist calling one of the major religions ‘destructive’ without reading it’s holy book?

    Most of the atheists I know have read the scriptures of the religion that they are criticizing.

    On the other hand, most of the evangelicals who get air time tend to criticize books and movies without having read or seen them.

  68. #68 cicely
    April 14, 2009

    Sounds like a fun parade! You’ll find me marching with the band.

    However….IMO opinion, the whole framing thing is a bit of a false dichotomy. It shouldn’t be a face-off between loud and soft. What we need is as many frames as possible, because different people respond to different approaches. In some cases, the battering ram is necessary; in others, something more like a stiletto can insinuate its way through the chinks in the armor; and sometimes, you need something to soften up the subject’s tough exoskeleton a bit, before you slip in the scalpel.

    I just don’t think either LOUD or (soft) will get the job done on its own.

  69. #69 GaryB, FCD
    April 14, 2009

    Posted by: JBlilie | April 14, 2009 1:00 PM

    “He wrote back a lengthy (but shorter) email that was thoughtful; but he just stuck to his guns: Dawkins, Harris, Dennet, and Hitchens are too loud, too assertive, and: I don’t need to read their works to criticize their positions, though I plan to read them.

    What can one say to that?

    Why not ask the Ayatollahs in Iran for their opinions on his own atheism?”

    Why is it necessary to have read a book before you can have an opinion of it? Is it necessary to have read the Bible before having an opinion?, the Koran? Or is it just necessary to have observed the consequences of others having read it?

    If you want to critique the literary value of a book then it becomes advisable to have read it but to critique the real world observable effects of the book, all you need to do is have an accurate account of those effects.

    In this case, the authors of those books are outspoken enough that a fairly accurate understanding of their position can be gained despite not reading the books.

  70. #70 Patricia, OM
    April 14, 2009

    You think it always hasn’t been a war Vinraith?

    So I just imagined the crusades and the inquisition. Prop. 8 in California isn’t real. OK, now I get it.

    /snark

  71. #71 cicely
    April 14, 2009

    Aaaand a smack on the wrist for me for redunancy. IMO opinion indeed; and that after using Preview.

  72. #72 frog
    April 14, 2009

    Gary: Why is it necessary to have read a book before you can have an opinion of it? Is it necessary to have read the Bible before having an opinion?, the Koran? Or is it just necessary to have observed the consequences of others having read it?

    Are you serious? How do you know whether the observed data is a consequence of the book or just a correlate of the book without reading it?

    Do you blame Karl Marx for Maoism without having read some of his works? Do you blame Darwin for “Social Darwinism” without having read enough about his work to know that the only thing in common there is how you pronounce those two words?

    If you want to claim that the Koran is “bad”, no — it’s not sufficient to critique Islam; for all you know they are completely disjunct, a misunderstanding due to linguistic drift between the 7th and the 12th centuries.

  73. #73 MrFire
    April 14, 2009

    Human rights violations are occurring every single minute of every single day in the name of religion, and more importantly, as a direct consequence of the extreme religious mindset. There should be NO END of outrage at this.

    Vigorous, self-confident atheism is a huge (but by absolutely no means only) step in exactly the right direction.

  74. #74 Tulse
    April 14, 2009

    So I take it you didn’t read the rest of that article, or are you deliberately misrepresenting?

    Easy there, pardner! Did you read what I actually wrote? I was referring specifically to what was in the first Baggini article that PZ linked to. And I don’t see anything wrong with the sentiments expressed there — in fact, it sure looks to me a lot like PZ’s suggestion that religion’s appropriate place is like knitting, a hobby that some people like, but that makes no truth claims and thus no demands on the rest of society.

    And I think Baggini’s right that focussing on the truth claims of religion may in part be missing the point, or at least a large part of the reason that people are involved in religion. We often talk here about the fancy sophisticated theologians and their fancy abstract apologetics that resembles nothing like what the rank and file actually believe, and I think Baggini’s point is that the rank and file don’t really give a damn about justifying their beliefs period, that the reason they are religious has nothing to do with the truth value of propositions, but with the fact that religion makes them feel warm and loved and protected and gives them a community. Those aspects of religion are not really addressed by most aspects of the “New Atheist” movement, and I think Baggini is right to point out that even if one undermines the formal propositional content of religious beliefs, the liberal religious folks will still find a way to slide their beliefs around so that they can still accommodate those other features. Baggini is saying that we as atheists need to be aware of this, so that we can confront this aspect of religion as well.

    I don’t think that Baggini is ultimately a foe. We’re arguing tactics, but not accommodation.

  75. #75 Screechy Monkey
    April 14, 2009

    “Are you panicking vinraith?”

    I think he’s just concerned.

  76. #76 AllanW
    April 14, 2009

    #55 that would be because his first article got the piss taken out of it over at RD.net even after he come on the thread to defend himself.

    I’m astonished at the brass-neck of this imbecile for posting essentially the same piece a few weeks later on the Grauniad after he got a new waste tube ripped for him by this beautiful riposte;

    http://richarddawkins.net/article,3703,Atheists-should-be-allowed-to-argue-their-case,George-Williamson

    Baggini was given the benefit of the doubt for a long while and by many posters on RD.net but he’s made an idiot of himself now. For thee ditor of the philosopher magazine I would suggest that is not a clever thing to do.

    Grayling would never stoop to his level or register him on the radar but I can’t imagine even he would do a more effective hatchet-job than Williamson did.

  77. #77 Pierce R. Butler
    April 14, 2009

    Patricia, OM @ # 46: …I can even tell you the name of Cains wife, where she came from, and the book and verse.

    But – did she twirl?

    GaryB, FCD @ # 62: … the Bushite ‘Either you’re with us or you’re against us’ false dichotomy.

    FTR: that false dichotomy is better described as Jesusite: see Matthew 12:30.

  78. #78 teammarty
    April 14, 2009

    Siamang @#12- Right on
    Frog too. Not fighting is conceding defeat. I’d rather lose fighting than become a Unitarian and hope no one narcs me out.

  79. #79 frog
    April 14, 2009

    Tulse: We often talk here about the fancy sophisticated theologians and their fancy abstract apologetics that resembles nothing like what the rank and file actually believe, and I think Baggini’s point is that the rank and file don’t really give a damn about justifying their beliefs period, that the reason they are religious has nothing to do with the truth value of propositions, but with the fact that religion makes them feel warm and loved and protected and gives them a community

    It also keeps them busy and gives them status. I’d agree that it’s more important than the “truth” of their statements; or, backwards, that the truth of their claims, in their minds, are purely a function of the role it creates for them in their ballet.

    Folks really should be thinking about that, and how some social space can be created for people to sing, dance and make themselves important without making truth claims — which are in essence loyalty oaths; by accepting something as true that on the face of it is absurd functions as a fool-proof loyalty-oath.

    It’s more of an Austenian performative act than an actual truth-claim, as an empiricist would know it.

  80. #80 Eric
    April 14, 2009

    “The way he justifies this is to argue that he can judge on the basis of the New Atheism’s effects, which he claims bring atheists like him into disrepute. That is a remarkably insular sort of claim: does he truly believe that before Harris and Dawkins and Dennett and Hitchens wrote their books, we lived in a magical world where atheists were beloved scholars, respected by all, and that serious theologians were dealing only in reason and logic?”

    This is a ridiculous strawman. Baggini’s fundamental point is simple and uncontroversial, really: There’s a world of difference between a critic who understands the subject of his critique and one who doesn’t, and it’s frustrating when, because of their media appeal, the loudest and most ignorant critics of a subject are taken as representative of critics of that subject as a whole.

    Take Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens and Dennett, and compare their critiques of religion with the works of Nielson, Flew, Mackie, or Smart in the past, or with those of Smith, Parsons, Martin or Tooley today. There’s no comparison, folks, and it’s not because they were writing for different audiences, but because the New Atheists simply don’t know what they’re talking about (and don’t know that they don’t know). As Baggini’s example evinces, it’s the intellectually serious atheists themselves who are leading the charge with this critique.

    (Incidentally, I find it interesting, to say the least, both that the common criticism levelled against the New Atheists is coming from theists and intellectually serious atheists alike, and that the theists seem to prefer the much more challenging criticisms of their position to the substantially weaker ones presented by the New Atheists! If theism were really in such poor shape intellectually, and if theists are by and large hucksters, you’d think that they would welcome all the attention the superficial critiques have been getting, instead of consistently pointing people to *much* stronger critiques!)

    And please, don’t give me a ‘Courtier’s Reply’ in response to this. I’m not saying, ‘Ah, if only the New Atheists had read theologian x, then they’d see that god exists,’ but that you can’t be said to have presented a meaningful or substantial critique of a position if you don’t know what the other side is actually saying. Remember, the argument of the courtier is that those who say the emperor has no clothes only think this is the case because they have been remiss in their studies. The analog to what I’m saying, however, would not be whether those who say the emperor has no clothes had studied the proper texts, but whether they had correctly identified the naked fellow as the emperor! The New Atheists may be targeting the form of a naked man, but he’s not the emperor, and, in the end, it seems to me that he’s made of straw…

  81. #81 Lee Brimmicombe-Wood
    April 14, 2009

    I find it very difficult to be anything but voluble and tactless on the subject of religion. I have few talents at accommodation with the Godly. God-botherers make me irritable.

    I am, however, content to act as a foghorn, pointing and laughing at the Godly while someone else gently takes them by the hand and leads them toward reason. This is a war fought on many fronts and I believe my contribution to the cause is no greater or lesser than any others’.

  82. #82 AllanW
    April 14, 2009

    #80

    Ah! Thanks Eric; my first sighting of the ‘That’s not MY naked Emperor you’re seeing’ canard.

  83. #83 Faithful reader
    April 14, 2009

    Lovely post #20 from Pareidolius. Spot on.

  84. #84 Steve_C
    April 14, 2009

    The philospher’s reply… riiiight.

    We new atheists just haven’t thought about it enough.

    Lame.

  85. #85 Screechy Monkey
    April 14, 2009

    (Incidentally, I find it interesting, to say the least, both that the common criticism levelled against the New Atheists is coming from theists and intellectually serious atheists alike, and that the theists seem to prefer the much more challenging criticisms of their position to the substantially weaker ones presented by the New Atheists! If theism were really in such poor shape intellectually, and if theists are by and large hucksters, you’d think that they would welcome all the attention the superficial critiques have been getting, instead of consistently pointing people to *much* stronger critiques!)

    The other conclusion one could draw from this observation is that the criticisms of the “New Atheists” are as substantially weak as you claim.

    Of course, even assuming for the sake of argument that the “New Atheists” are offering a weaker critique than the “Old Atheists,” it’s still perfectly logical that theists would be more threatened by the New Atheists. After all, a good argument that is read and heard by millions is more effective than a great argument that is read and heard by thousands.

    What *I* find interesting is that even though the New Atheists disagree with each other on some points, both substantive and stylistic, they don’t spend a lot of time bashing each other. Dennett doesn’t publish op-eds about how Dawkins’s style is less effective than his own, etc. They seem content to just make their own arguments and let readers decide. It’s only these less famous “Old Atheists” who seem to spend more time criticizing other atheists than actually making atheist arguments.

  86. #86 Screechy Monkey
    April 14, 2009

    Sorry, that first line should be “the arguments of the ‘New Atheists’ aren’t as substantially weak as you claim.”

  87. #87 frog
    April 14, 2009

    Eric,

    Are you seriously claiming that the religion of the theologians that Baggini’s attacking is actually the religion of most people, of the flock, of the politically influential religion in the US and the rest of the Anglosphere?

    You want to worry first about whether the Emperor of Japan is naked even though you’ve got a Kaiser with a woody on your doorstep. If you want to argue whether Kaiser is properly translated into English as “Emperor” or not is really quite irrelevant to the fact that he’s the boss, he’s your boss, and he wants you to not laugh at his wee-wee.

    I’d prefer the courtiers reply to the scholar’s lament.

  88. #88 T_U_T
    April 14, 2009

    The analog to what I’m saying, however, would not be whether those who say the emperor has no clothes had studied the proper texts, but whether they had correctly identified the naked fellow as the emperor! The New Atheists may be targeting the form of a naked man, but he’s not the emperor, and, in the end, it seems to me that he’s made of straw…

    And how do you know that the naked fellow is really not the emperor ? It seems you just make the double courtier’s reply. One for clothes, and one for emperor’s identity.

  89. #89 teammarty
    April 14, 2009

    Hope this works…

    Siamang @#12- Right on!! Truly beautiful analysis of our situation.

    Frog’s right too. If wer don’t fight, we’re conceding defeat. I’ve always hated the “if we smile at them enough and become Unitarian, they’ll eventually accept us” crap.

  90. #90 Eric
    April 14, 2009

    “What *I* find interesting is that even though the New Atheists disagree with each other on some points, both substantive and stylistic, they don’t spend a lot of time bashing each other. Dennett doesn’t publish op-eds about how Dawkins’s style is less effective than his own, etc. They seem content to just make their own arguments and let readers decide.”

    Perhaps it’s because they’re all too busy providing blurbs and praise for one another’s books. They do sell well, don’t they…

    “It’s only these less famous “Old Atheists” who seem to spend more time criticizing other atheists than actually making atheist arguments.”

    Really? Compare the quantity and quality of ‘atheist arguments’ made by, say, Richard Dawkins and Quentin Smith. Or, try comparing Daniel Dennett’s critiques of religion with Keith Parson’s, again looking at both quantity and quality. As I said, there’s no comparison.

  91. #91 Patricia, OM
    April 14, 2009

    Pierce @77 – She didn’t have time to twirl with all that begatting to do. :D

  92. #92 Screechy Monkey
    April 14, 2009

    “Perhaps it’s because they’re all too busy providing blurbs and praise for one another’s books. They do sell well, don’t they…”

    Yeah, they should be ashamed of themselves for actually getting people to read their arguments. That’s clearly a strategic error.

  93. #93 frog
    April 14, 2009

    Eric,

    Let’s see, I’m at a party and an agnostic (non-scholarly type, maybe a tech degree) wants to know the basic arguments against theism.

    Do I give them “The Metaphilosophy of Naturalism” by Smith, or “The God Delusion” by Dawkins? Let me see, let me see…

    And next, I’ll start them on Quine because they’re curious about philology, Linux kernel source code because they wanted to know how web pages are put together, and Einstein’s original paper on Brownian motion (in the father tongue) because they wanted to understand how thermometers work.

  94. #94 Tulse
    April 14, 2009

    I’ve always hated the “if we smile at them enough and become Unitarian, they’ll eventually accept us” crap.

    That is most definitely not what Baggini says in the passages I quoted above. If anything, Baggini is saying that in terms of tactics, New Atheism doesn’t go far enough, in that it only attacks the truth values of the explicit propositions of religious belief, and not the more squishy reasons that people are religious.

  95. #95 Ouchimoo
    April 14, 2009

    I was expecting a joke. You know, like a ha ha joke and not, well yet again these people are a joke.

  96. #96 SRW
    April 14, 2009

    That Baggini article, with all the talk of how hollow it is to pick off obvious religious targets while mainstream faith is allowed to go unchecked: is that not exactly, but exactly, the argument PZ makes (and Dawkins, and Hitchens, and etc and etc) for engaging with religion in the broadest terms rather than just criticising the worst examples? Rumbled, Baggini: you *are* a new atheist!

  97. #97 Null_Hypothesis
    April 14, 2009

    I think Atheism would be more publically accepted if they could 1) incorporate “spirituality” in a more meaningful way than dismissing it as a brain disorder, as Dawkins does, and 2) provide a plausible explanation for the emergence of biological complexity that didn’t involve huge leaps of faith across the chasms of ridiculous improbability.

  98. #98 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    April 14, 2009

    provide a plausible explanation for the emergence of biological complexity that didn’t involve huge leaps of faith across the chasms of ridiculous improbability

    As opposed to the more reasonable explanation that it was just poofed into existence?

    Or are you just spouting fairly uninformed hyperbole?

  99. #99 Free Lunch
    April 14, 2009

    “if we smile at them enough and become Unitarian, they’ll eventually accept us”

    The Culture Warriors have no use for Unitarians or Anglicans or UCC or even northern Methodists and the rest of the traditional Protestants. We’re just the far edge of their range of targets.

    Patricia, isn’t it fun knowing the Bible better than the religious reactionary who is trying to lecture you about his favorite hobby horse?

  100. #100 jennyxyzzy
    April 14, 2009

    frog, #66

    You always lose if you don’t fight. Repeat it with me: if we don’t fight, WE’LL LOSE.

    Do you really believe that, or was it just hyperbole? Straight off, the counter-examples of Gandhi, Mandela, and Martin Luther King come to mind.

  101. #101 Screechy Monkey
    April 14, 2009

    “Baggini is saying that in terms of tactics, New Atheism doesn’t go far enough, in that it only attacks the truth values of the explicit propositions of religious belief, and not the more squishy reasons that people are religious”

    I, for one, don’t really care about the “squishy reasons.” If someone doesn’t believe that the factual claims are true, but likes stained glass and hymns and the “sense of community” they claim to get, then I don’t really have anything to say to them. That seems to me to be a matter of taste. And it leads to those discussions I find so silly about what atheists propose to “replace” religion with.

    If Baggini wants to take on that project, he’s welcome to do so. But I don’t see why he assumes that it is the project of all atheists, such that any prominent atheist who does not address that issue is somehow failing.

  102. #102 Free Lunch
    April 14, 2009

    I think Atheism would be more publically accepted if they could 1) incorporate “spirituality” in a more meaningful way than dismissing it as a brain disorder, as Dawkins does, and 2) provide a plausible explanation for the emergence of biological complexity that didn’t involve huge leaps of faith across the chasms of ridiculous improbability.

    1) New Age woo is not an improvement.

    2) Scientists have already provided such explanations. Theism has no useful explanation.

  103. #103 Eric
    April 14, 2009

    “Eric,
    Let’s see, I’m at a party and an agnostic (non-scholarly type, maybe a tech degree) wants to know the basic arguments against theism.
    Do I give them “The Metaphilosophy of Naturalism” by Smith, or “The God Delusion” by Dawkins? Let me see, let me see…”

    That’s a false alternative, and you know it. How about Baggini’s ‘Atheism: A Very Short Introduction’ or Loftus’s ‘Why I became an Atheist’ or Ehrman’s ‘God’s Problem’? There are plenty of accessible introductions to atheism that are both accurate and thoughtful. Honestly, referring an agnostic to ‘The God Delusion’ because he’s not ready for Mackie’s ‘Miracle of Theism’ would be as smart (in terms of a concern for accuracy and thoughtfulness) as referring someone on the fence about evolution to ‘Of Pandas and People’ because he’s not ready for Gould’s ‘Structure of Evolutionary Theory’ (or whatever).

  104. #104 Null_Hypothesis
    April 14, 2009

    [quote]2) Scientists have already provided such explanations. Theism has no useful explanation.[/quote]

    No they haven’t. Am I going to have to walk y’all through it again? Just because Theism provides no explanation does not mean Atheism’s is complete.

  105. #105 Josh
    April 14, 2009

    and 2) provide a plausible explanation for the emergence of biological complexity that didn’t involve huge leaps of faith across the chasms of ridiculous improbability.

    And why exactly is atheism supposed to be responsible for explaining natural observations?

  106. #106 Avenel
    April 14, 2009

    jennyxyzzy,

    You are not seriously suggesting that Gandhi, Mandela, and Martin Luther King didn’t fight? They fought hard, just not violently. They made injustice visible, undeniable.

  107. #107 Null_Hypothesis
    April 14, 2009

    “And why exactly is atheism supposed to be responsible for explaining natural observations? ”

    Firstly, how do you make a block quote?

    Isn’t that what Dawkins and all of these other leading Atheists spend/spent all their time doing? Aren’t atheists all going on about how their conviction that observable phenomena can be explained by rational means using the scientific method, rather than reverting to some goddiddit exit strategy from rationalism?

  108. #108 Null_Hypothesis
    April 14, 2009

  109. #109 Josh
    April 14, 2009

    Firstly, how do you make a block quote?

    There are four basic steps:

    1. Write the word “blockquote” and enclose it in “greater than” and “less than” signs; the little symbols above the comma and period on most keyboards (I’m using the quotation marks for clarity; you don’t want to include these…).
    2. Immediately after this, copy the text that you want to quote.
    3. Immediately after the end of the text (put the punctuation IN the blockquote), write “/blockquote” enclosed in greater than and less than signs.
    4. PREVIEW. This is important. Blockquoting is easy to screw up if you type something wrong. You’re going to want to preview and then correct if make a typo. (in fact, when I was comprising this reply to you, made such a mistake with this next block of quoted text below–saved by preview)

    Isn’t that what Dawkins and all of these other leading Atheists spend/spent all their time doing? Aren’t atheists all going on about how their conviction that observable phenomena can be explained by rational means using the scientific method, rather than reverting to some goddiddit exit strategy from rationalism?

    Perhaps, but if they’re doing that, they should be doing it from within the realm of science, not atheism (if you can even call atheism a realm) if they are actually providing explanations. Or they could be using science to justify their lack of belief, but it’s still the science that lends the meat to the meal. Atheism doesn’t provide the explanations. Science does. Atheism is simply a lack of belief. That a lack of belief might provide an atheist with a hypothesis than can be tested is irrelevant. Belief could just as easily provide a theist with a testable hypothesis, I think.

  110. #110 Josh
    April 14, 2009

    That last comment is pretty rough–sorry. Typed it in a serious hurry.

  111. #111 black_wolf
    April 14, 2009

    #107 Null Hypothesis,
    write ‘blockquote’ in <>, the closing one with / in front of the word.

  112. #112 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    April 14, 2009

    Firstly, how do you make a block quote?

    If you use firefox download the text formating (yes spelled that way) add-on. It has all kinds of good html-ish formatting options

  113. #113 'Tis Himself
    April 14, 2009

    Okay, I understand Eric’s whines now. He doesn’t like Dawkins’ book for some reason and prefers Baggini’s for some different reason. Having read both The God Delusion and Atheism: A Very Short Introduction, I think they’re both good and describe the rational for atheism in different ways. Personally, I think Dawkins is a better writer, but Eric apparently disagrees.

  114. #114 Eric
    April 14, 2009

    “Personally, I think Dawkins is a better writer, but Eric apparently disagrees.”

    Dawkins is a much better writer, but a much worse philosopher.

  115. #115 CJO
    April 14, 2009

    Baggini is saying that in terms of tactics, New Atheism doesn’t go far enough, in that it only attacks the truth values of the explicit propositions of religious belief, and not the more squishy reasons that people are religious

    Dennett usually gets lumped in with “New Atheism.” Have you (hell, has Baggini) read Breaking the Spell? It’s mostly about just those reasons.

    There’s more to it than TGD, and restricting criticism of “NA” to that one book, by a zoologist, doesn’t cut it.

  116. #116 Aquaria
    April 14, 2009

    It is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees. –Emilio Zapata, who knew a few things about standing by idly.

    As for Gandhi and the like, they kept resisting. They didn’t accommodate. There’s a difference.

  117. #117 frog
    April 14, 2009

    jenny: Do you really believe that, or was it just hyperbole? Straight off, the counter-examples of Gandhi, Mandela, and Martin Luther King come to mind.

    Bzzzzt… you lose.

    Every last one of those individuals was a fighter, pushing the edge of what was considered acceptable. Satyagraha is not “passive resistance”, but “non-violent resistance”.

    That doesn’t mean shut your mouth, it means fight, fight, fight, but not by killing your opponent.

    Nelson Mandela is a particular bad example, because he isn’t even a proponent of Satyagraha. He was a leader of the ANC, and was quite willing to use violence if necessary to advance his agenda — he was head of the ANC military arm.

  118. #118 calladus
    April 14, 2009

    Hey Null Hypothesis…

    Please define the word “spirituality” for us?

    I’ve noticed that when people start talking about something being “spiritual”, what they actually mean is all over the map.

  119. #119 AJ Milne
    April 14, 2009

    Dennett usually gets lumped in with “New Atheism.” Have you (hell, has Baggini) read Breaking the Spell? It’s mostly about just those reasons.

    ‘Course, we know Baggini hasn’t. Since he’s said he’s yet to deign to sully his fingers with any of the popular works.

    That said: I would absolutely agree you want to take on those squishy reasons. Damn straight, absolutely do. And not in squishy terms, either. Get at psychology, sociology. Take it apart at that level, you’re getting at the belly of the beast, in my ever so humble opinion. People don’t convert because of apologetics, not usually, not primarily. They call ‘emselves what they do usually because mom and dad told ‘em they should, and whether or not that’s the case, less because of what’s said as the frame of mind they’re put in when it’s said. There’s a whole cultural approach surrounding the practice of each religion that makes it what it is, makes it spread the way it does, makes it survive the way it does…

    Ironically, however, I’d add that I’m pretty confident that reverential attitude that so many cloak ‘emselves in is frequently a key part of the ground game. Hush, quiet, respect, please… ‘Cos, let’s face it, if (a) the practitioners of a religion insist the word ‘bullshit’ is off the table, but (b) they’re really spouting grade A bullshit that reeks to high heaven, it does create a bit of a problem… And if you’re sitting their while they’re selling the line, you’re as much noticing the flickering votive candles and how everyone around you seems to be taking it so terribly seriously… And nevermind in any other context it might come across as somethin’ spit out by a mental patient off his meds… So whining ‘let’s try to be polite, here’ really isn’t a smart move, I’m afraid.

    And speaking of, there’s a psychological difference between saying (i) your religion’s ideas are incoherent, absurd, and clearly a rather mangled and bizarre result of centuries of evolution within the peculiar social spaces it’s needed to create for itself to survive, versus saying (ii) okay, you know what you profess to believe is an utter and hilarious load of complete bullshit, right?

    … And that difference doesn’t always recommend either as the first phrase you want to use. Both got their place. So you need to have room to say both.

  120. #120 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    April 14, 2009

    Isn’t that what Dawkins and all of these other leading Atheists spend/spent all their time doing? Aren’t atheists all going on about how their conviction that observable phenomena can be explained by rational means using the scientific method, rather than reverting to some goddiddit exit strategy from rationalism?

    And what part of a lack in belief in gods fits that explanation? It’s a result of the same type of thinking but not the cause of that thinking.

  121. #121 Aquaria
    April 14, 2009

    Dawkins is a much better writer, but a much worse philosopher.

    That’s because he’s not a philosopher, and he doesn’t have to be one–just like most of the people who will be reading his books. The God Delusion is an examination of not religion as philosophy, but the effect of its practice in society.

    Despite that, though, Dawkins seems to have a philosophy, imminently obvious to anyone who read the book well enough to extrapolate what it was.

    His basic premise is that all claims come down to evidence. The claim either has evidence to back it up, or it doesn’t. If there’s no evidence, then we can’t analyze the properties of it, and any claims made that way are specious speculations. We can’t know, one way or another, without evidence. This is also the basis of PZ’s Courtier’s Reply. Religion is the Emperor’s New Clothes, and people are just making shit up about what clothes that don’t exist look like.

    And it has to be one of the best foundations of philosophy, as It’s a strong basis for critical thinking.

  122. #122 frog
    April 14, 2009

    Eric: Dawkins is a much better writer, but a much worse philosopher.

    He’s a biologist and a propagandist. Being a better writer is much more important when you’re writing the intro-stuff — being a much better philosopher is important when your “philosophizing” at an academic level.

    Pamphletting is not a job for philosophers. Pretending that pamphletting is unimportant or below us is just unjustifiably arrogant — that’s the path to losing. By your logic, PZ should just shut his blog down, and everyone should go to a university to discuss these matters.

  123. #123 Chiroptera
    April 14, 2009

    Null_Hypothesis, #104: Am I going to have to walk y’all through it again? Just because Theism provides no explanation does not mean Atheism’s is complete.

    I guess you’re going to have to. Start with walking us through what it means for atheism “to be complete.”

  124. #124 GaryB, FCD
    April 14, 2009

    I may be missing something here, but just when did Baggini suggest we not fight?

  125. #125 frog
    April 14, 2009

    Null_hypothesis: Aren’t atheists all going on about how their conviction that observable phenomena can be explained by rational means using the scientific method, rather than reverting to some goddiddit exit strategy from rationalism?

    No, you don’t appear to get it. The argument is that rational, empirical explanations are the only kind of explanations useful in describing objective reality; that they are inseparable from the concept of objective reality, if objective reality is supposed to be self-consistent.

    All we have to do on that score is show that goddidit is a less powerful explanation — more complicated, vaguer, lacking precise predictions, inelegant and continually reduced. That it has basic self-contradictions necessarily, if goddidit has any substance, and is anything more than “mystery” as Catholics describe the loop hole..

    Atheism is just the negation of theism. You can believe in fairies and still be atheistic. Maybe you’re pissed at science? That you expect it to tell you why you should be good and love mommy and be nice to bugs?

    It’s not meant to be complete in that sense. That’s the field of writers and sculptors and poets — the masters of the subjective world (which of course should not contradict the objective).

  126. #126 Menyambal
    April 14, 2009

    Aren’t atheists all going on about how their conviction that observable phenomena can be explained by rational means using the scientific method, rather than reverting to some goddiddit exit strategy from rationalism?

    Um, no. Atheists are simply not going on about a god. That’s the definition of atheist–no god. And that’s all.

    Atheistic persons may have various philosophies–atheism isn’t organized, there are no other criteria. Some may be going on about science, but that’s not a given.

    BTW, that sentence that I blockquoted doesn’t really make sense.

  127. #127 Bobwama
    April 14, 2009

    How dare we criticize religion and try to explain that they are completely wrong! I mean, it’s not like any religion tries to actively convert us. And nobody would DARE criticize us- definitely not tell us we are awful people and we are going to hell. Of course not…

  128. #128 IST
    April 14, 2009

    Easy there, pardner! Did you read what I actually wrote? I was referring specifically to what was in the first Baggini article that PZ linked to.

    I did, which is why I asked if you read the entire article… and then I went and responded to the other article like an ass…

    I do disagree with the sentiment in Baggini’s first link as well, because it supports the need for discourse with a position that is complete and utter bullshit. However nuanced a religious argument can become, it is still grounded in first class imagination which makes falsifiable claims about the material world. Whether or not the practitioners of religion choose to make a god of the gaps argument is immaterial, because it’s still an irrational argument. Allowing for that still opens the door to the rest of the irrational arguments presented by more fundamentalist theologians and believers.
    I actually defended Baggini on RD.net until he posted his asinine response, because a number of the criticisms were personal rather than directed as his arguments. Nonetheless, his point is seriously flawed, and reduced in credibility more by the fact that he neglected to actually read the works of the people he critiques.
    Want to compare me to a fundamentalist? Enjoy… the difference is that I’m basing my argument on reality and evidence, and will happily abandon my part when confronted with solid evidence that is contrary to my point.
    The last sentence you quoted I can whole-heartedly agree with… the key is having beliefs that stand up to intellectual scrutiny. I’m not sure that bashing the likes of Miller and Francis Collins is benefical. On the other hand, people like that aren’t going to suddenly abandon the cause of rationality and science just because someone questioned their compartmentalisations.
    Correction to #55 The critique of Baggini on RD.net was by George Williamson, not Grayling. The tone and writing I remembered were Grayling-worthy, perhaps that’s why I made the error.

  129. #129 Foggg
    April 14, 2009

    Null_Hypothesis:

    …if they could provide a plausible explanation for the emergence of biological complexity that didn’t involve huge leaps of faith across the chasms of ridiculous improbability.

    You mean “…alleged chasms of apparently ridiculous improbability, as calculated by necessarily ignorantly assuming uniform probability distributions — since the very lack of exquisitely detailed conditionals prevent any realistic calculation not based apriori on the principle of indifference.”
    No doubt you will always be careful to add that from now on.
    Or you could simply stop at “…complexity.”

  130. #130 Aquaria
    April 14, 2009

    I’ve found the likes of Mr. B and his puppy dog here, Eric, amusing for actually thinking that it’s okay to write off Dawkins for not being philosophical enough. They don’t understand the number one rule of writing: Write in a way that your intended audience will understand.

    Dawkin’s was not speaking to an audience familiar, philosophically (so to speak), with academic theologians like Plantinga (ask a fundie sometime who he is–BLANK STARE).

    He was talking to the crowd that thinks Pat Robertson is a brilliant philosopher. Or Joel Osteen. Or pastor at the local Protestant church they’ve attended most of their lives. In other words, he’s talking to a crowd that didn’t come by faith with advanced thinking. They were brainwashed into it, and never questioned it, really.

    So there was no need to muck around with the finer points of philosophy. He just needed to get their attention, and get a conversation going.

    And he did.

  131. #131 melior
    April 14, 2009

    Curiously, the wisdom of Foghorn Leghorn seems strangely pertinent in this context.

    “Okay, I’ll shut up. Some fellas have to keep their tongues flappin’ but not me. I was brought up right. My Pa used to tell me to shut up and I’d shut up. I wouldn’t say nothin’. One time darn near starved to death. WOULDN’T TELL HIM I WAS HUNGRY!!”

    “I don’t think this kid’s got all his marbles. Shakes his head when he means yes and nods when he means no.”

    And for the Catholic priests out there, “Son, I say, Son, I say, I am NOT a chickenhawk.”

  132. #132 Rorschach
    April 14, 2009

    Reading Pharyngula would probably be a great learning tool for those “tolerant and respectful” atheists,and it would change their mind about the necessity to be loud and in-their-face in no time.Worked for me !

    And it is only my impression,or has the number of comments declined sharply since registration started?

  133. #133 Wowbagger, OM
    April 14, 2009

    He was talking to the crowd that thinks Pat Robertson is a brilliant philosopher. Or Joel Osteen. Or pastor at the local Protestant church they’ve attended most of their lives. In other words, he’s talking to a crowd that didn’t come by faith with advanced thinking. They were brainwashed into it, and never questioned it, really.

    Exactly. The vast majority of Christians didn’t come to Christianity because of the ‘subtle and compelling’ philosophical arguments – and nor did most those who use them; it’s all sophistry concocted to make them feel better (and deflect criticism) about having made an emotional decision.

    I’d love to see the numbers on the proportion of Christians who got that way because they were convinced by the philosophical arguments as opposed to those who happened to be born to Christian parents.

    Heck, even heddle doesn’t claim to have been convinced by the arguments; his god changed his brain, apparently.

  134. #134 the_ignored
    April 14, 2009

    If you truly want “intolerant”, or demonizing of one’s enemies, look no further than this You Tube video by Answers in Genesis.

    It’s that old message of: “without god, your life has no meaning”, etc.

  135. #135 harpie
    April 14, 2009

    It’s a mistake to think that atheism and theism can only coexist in open war or fuzzy, feel-good tolerance. Open war has the unfortunate effect of polarizing people who would otherwise remain moderate. The somewhat silly idea of accommodation, by which I mean the idea that everybody’s belief has equal merit and we should avoid discussion for fear of causing offense, is just as bad for stifling debate. Constructive debate is not made up of two sides competing to see who can yell the loudest. (Ever seen question period in the Canadian House of Commons? It’s unfortunate proof that yelling people can get very little accomplished.)

    I can see where a more moderate, less-strident atheist like Baggini might be frustrated that his point of view isn’t being given any airtime. Please correct me if this is completely wrong, but to paraphrase his ideas: Religion itself isn’t actively harmful, just the dogmatic beliefs held by most of its practitioners. Rather than trying to eradicate religion entirely, atheism should be going after the root superstitions and leaving the traditions and practices mostly alone.

    Strategically, this kind of makes sense to me. It seems like it would be easier to convince people to gently open their minds and question a few key beliefs than it would be to convert them by telling them that their entire tradition and way of thinking are evil and damaging to society.

    Why do most of the people on this site disagree with religion? Personally, it’s because I dislike the way the acceptance of superstition seems to stifle rational inquiry and impede progress, be it in science, society or morality. It’s those very same superstitions that Baggini wants us to engage.

    I don’t think religious people are universally stupid or fundamentalist any more than I think that all atheists are enlightened geniuses. I also don’t think that calling people idiots is a good way to get them to carefully consider your point of view. Baggini is just pointing out that, whatever the ACTUAL message they’re trying to get across is, the New Atheists are publicized as doing just that- insulting and ridiculing the beliefs that most people have based their lives upon. While this can have its place, the debate is not as black-and-white as many people on both sides to make it out to be. At the very least, it could do with more subtle handling from both sides.

    Wow. For my first post ever, that’s pretty epic :P

  136. #136 IST
    April 14, 2009

    epic? that’s a temptation to add the word fail, and you know it…

    I find your use of the word strident to be telling: People who’ve read criticisms of Dawkins et. al. tend to use it (Baggini included), whereas people who’ve heard/read the same authors find them to be polite, funny, and charismatic. (Ok, Hitch can be pretty testy in debate when he’s a few drinks in) Perhaps it’s a matter of audience perception, but it seems more to be a matter of “Well, I read the title and it sounds provocative. Besides, it contradicts the warm fuzzies I get from my invisible friend in the sky, so the person who wrote this must be mean.” Sometimes the truth hurts

    Religion itself isn’t actively harmful, just the dogmatic beliefs held by most of its practitioners.

    Religion is something other than dogmatic beliefs, intended to perpetuate control of people, wrapped in ceremony? News to me.

  137. #137 Kel
    April 14, 2009

    And please, don’t give me a ‘Courtier’s Reply’ in response to this. I’m not saying, ‘Ah, if only the New Atheists had read theologian x, then they’d see that god exists,’ but that you can’t be said to have presented a meaningful or substantial critique of a position if you don’t know what the other side is actually saying.

    And you’ve misunderstood the Courtier’s Reply. The argument is that the other side isn’t saying anything substancial to begin with. Do you really need to read up on the history of homoeopathy to call it bunk? How much investigation do you need into psychics to be able to say that telekenesis is impossible? If the foundations for a topic are fundamentally flawed, then the arguments are irrelevant. That’s what the Courtier’s Reply is about.

    Religious claims fails on foundational merits, you don’t need to have read the words of Nostradamus before saying it’s impossible to look into the future. Likewise if the claims of gods are bunk (as Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens all claim) on a foundational level, then why go into the deeper arguments?

    Do you need to show that the orbits of the planets are not as Ptolemy’s system predicts to discredit geocentrism, or can a demonstration of the earth orbiting the sun be enough?

  138. #138 Kel
    April 14, 2009

    And the New Atheists are simply bringing a message to the people. Do you honestly think eric that the likes of Dawkins don’t have a place in providing a channel of communication? Do you not think that maybe Dawkins wrote a book to appeal to the layman as opposed to writing a philosophical piece? Why is it that Dawkins is being criticised for not writing a highbrow philosophical text when you even say that he’s not a philosopher to begin with?

    Each time I pick up a book by one of these new atheists, I see it telling a different story. Being part of a different market, giving a different rationalisation and appealing to a different audience. Only a couple of weeks ago John W Loftus complained that sceptics were harassing him for not being like Dawkins, why is it that you are complaining that Dawkins isn’t being like Loftus? Assess each book on it’s own merit and intended audience. If you think Dawkins was honestly writing the ultimate book on atheism, then you’ve missed the point badly.

  139. #139 Nusubito
    April 14, 2009

    In other words, he’s talking to a crowd that didn’t come by faith with advanced thinking.

    Does anyone? I know, many people employ very advanced sounding arguments for their religions, but I have yet to meet a Christian who actually *converted* to the faith after reading Plantinga or William Lane, or any theologian. More often, these philosophers are used to put a sophisticated sheen on beliefs that were inherited unquestioned while the believer was a child. Or beliefs that a person turned to for emotional reasons.

    Let’s not kid ourselves; the philosophy of Christianity didn’t come first. Rather, unsupported beliefs came from a primitive cult in Greece and Rome, and only later did people rationalize the claims made by this cult.

    The same is usually true in the course of a person’s life.They get the garbage fed to them early, buy into the delusion, and later find that they’re in so deep that to admit they’re wrong would be (embarrassing/heart-breaking/relationship ending, etc.). In other words, they have a vested interest in their position being correct, no matter how silly it might begin to sound. Then they start turning to long winded justifications for why they believe what they do.

    I’ve seen it happen to people around me over and over in my life. I have never seen the other occur(atheist reads compelling reason for Christianity in a philosophical journal, and is forced to reconsider his position, or something of the sort). Out of curiosity, has anyone else?

  140. #140 Aquaria
    April 14, 2009

    Strategically, this kind of makes sense to me. It seems like it would be easier to convince people to gently open their minds and question a few key beliefs than it would be to convert them by telling them that their entire tradition and way of thinking are evil and damaging to society.

    Yeah, it was epic. Epic Fail.

    We tried nice. Look where we are. Having to scrape and claw our way to hang on to the very basics of our Constitution.

    A rights struggle of this kind gets nowhere without good cop/bad cop. Every civil rights movement must have that, or it will fail. Too radical, and the man shuts it down. Too appeasing, and the status quo steamrolls over it.

    It’s just stupid to always be accommodating. No, it’s fucking suicidal.

  141. #141 frog
    April 14, 2009

    IST: Religion is something other than dogmatic beliefs, intended to perpetuate control of people, wrapped in ceremony? News to me.

    That’s because you’ve got it backwords. Religion is the ceremony, often wrapped up in dogmatic beliefs to perpetuate the ceremony. You think in terms of doctrine, logical structure, etc, but religious believers primarily think in terms of ceremony, with doctrine as post-hoc and ad-hoc rationalizations to justify the continuation of the ceremony. The ceremony survives doctrine — most Christian ceremony is in fact much older than Christianity, older than Judaism… It’s the organism that lives and evolves.

    People come to Christianity in one of two ways: a) they are born to it; b) they come to church because they are lonely, or need help, fall in love with the social scene, and then “convert” to the doctrine. The doctrine comes very late in both those cases — it’s the ritual that really is driving the conversion, the ability to become part of a social movement.

    It’s also why the most aggressive forms of Christianity are strongly against social services — they need to have a monopoly to hook people on their ceremonies. It creates a social opening for them.

  142. #142 Wowbagger, OM
    April 14, 2009

    Let’s not kid ourselves; the philosophy of Christianity didn’t come first. Rather, unsupported beliefs came from a primitive cult in Greece and Rome, and only later did people rationalize the claims made by this cult.

    Definitely. The only reason the philosophical ‘arm’ of Christianity exists is because the bible is so flawed. If it had been well-written and well-edited then no-one would need anything more ‘explained’ to them, would they?

    Augustine certainly realised that, hence why he started pointing out that it shouldn’t be read literally; it was a case of ‘holy shit – has anyone read this thing? It’s a mess. We’d better sit down and think of a way to cover our asses or there’ll be nothing in the collection plate come Sunday’.

  143. #143 Aquaria
    April 14, 2009

    Nusubito:

    I agree entirely, but ivory tower thinkers like Eric seem to think that the philosophy matters to anyone besides, well, philosophers.

    Most people, especially in America, just don’t care, even among the “educated.” If you say “philosopher” to them, I can pretty much guarantee that the first thing that pops into their head is Socrates in a toga. They might even have him swallowing hemlock. And that’s bout as far as their knowledge of the matter goes. They can’t really tell you what his philosophy was. Sad, but true.

    When that’s your audience, why bother them with eschatology, ontology, teleology, tautology and all the rest? Throw those terms around, and the average reader will think you’re talking about medicine, and wonder what you’re on about.

  144. #144 IST
    April 14, 2009

    frog> the ceremonies are indeed the hook, the dogma is what manages control for the clergy, who in any religion have had a nice free ride… you niggling at details doesn’t mean I have anything backwards, thanks. The way believers perceive their religion doesn’t bear on what it actually is. Hell, they think it’s true also.
    Your second point is dead on, however. Just not new.

  145. #145 John Scanlon FCD
    April 14, 2009

    What’s this GLBT stuff?
    Guocamole, lettuce, bacon & tomato?

    Mmmm, bacon…

    Seriously now, what’s new or different about the New Atheism? I think (and don’t claim to be totally original) it’s that the leading alternative to religion these days is not Cynicism (as in classical times, or Twain) or Humanism (think of Russell, or Julian Huxley) but something trans- and post- all that because it’s informed by modern science, particularly biological evolution (but also geology and astronomy). It works, bitches.
    I guess I’m being elitist now. Fuck yeah.

  146. #146 frog
    April 14, 2009

    IST: you niggling at details doesn’t mean I have anything backwards, thanks. The way believers perceive their religion doesn’t bear on what it actually is.

    Hmm, what believers perceive is exactly what a religion is. There’s no objective “religion” object out there in the world — it’s a system of perceptions. You seem a little bit confused on the matter here; we’re not talking about a chemical reaction, where your “beliefs” are irrelevant to the objective reality, but a social system where your beliefs are irrelevant — it’s the believers beliefs that are the actual structure.

    If you want to objectively quantify it externally, then what you are measuring is what is conserved over time in people’s behavior and minds. What is conserved is the ceremony and not the doctrine. You may prefer doctrine for personal reasons; but that’s just your personal belief, and not a reflection of the sociological phenomena.

    Remember the cases in the early medieval period, where priests were found praying to the fatherland instead of the father, since they didn’t speak Church Latin, and knew next to nothing about the doctrine; but they were still Christians — because the church has always known that ceremony is what matters, not words. It’s about eating the cracker, not about the words muttered, that keeps the clerics in fancy robes.

  147. #147 Kel
    April 14, 2009

    Every time I see a theist harp on about the philosophy of belief, the Shermer quote “smart people are great at rationalising things they came to believe for non-smart reasons” pops into my head. All those arguments are nothing more than rationalisations of beliefs that are already there. And in that, I don’t think eric would ever lose his faith. Even if all the philosophical arguments were shot down (arguably they have been), even if science conclusively demonstrated a theory of everything that could make a self-contained reality – eric simply wouldn’t budge from his position. And in that, I would put it to eric that he can dismiss what Dawkins says without even considering the arguments, because ultimately it comes down to faith… and even that gets rationalised away by the tool that is so bad for understanding everything else is a good thing with God because God demands it. Convenient, no?

  148. #148 harpie
    April 14, 2009

    @ Aquaria:

    ALWAYS be accommodating? Absolutely not. Allow Sharia law, child abuse in religious cults and other infringements of human rights under the banner of religion? Definitely not.

    We’re talking about two completely different arenas in our posts. First off, there’s the political struggle. When you’re trying to influence legislators and get yourself heard, sure the idea is to yell as loudly as possible until somebody in power listens. Picket Washington naked with the atheist bus slogan tattooed on your butt if that’s what it takes.

    That’s not the way to go about changing people’s minds, though. Assuming that everybody is too dumb or apathetic to understand if something is explained to them is completely counterproductive. There are extremists, who won’t listen to reason no matter what you do. Don’t lump the ones you have a chance with in with the extremists. There do exist sensible, moderate, nominally-religious or culturally-religious people that are open to dialogue. If you don’t run around insulting them, they might even sit still long enough to hear you out. Attack the superstitions, not the people holding them.

  149. #149 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    April 14, 2009

    The Framingstein monster awakes in a dark musty castle. Aware that his master is away he plans his escape…

  150. #150 tmaxPA
    April 14, 2009

    Someone asked earlier “just what is a ‘New Atheist’?”

    If I might, I believe that the difference is illustrated by the subject at hand. For the ‘old wave’ Atheists, there were only two choices:

    A) Nihilism and depression
    B) Delusionism and warm fuzzies

    By “Delusionism” I mean the belief that, given the nature of existence, it is better to “have faith in God” even if there is no God, due to the comfort and community it can bring. (The strain of Delusionism which appends “especially if you’re not very smart” is a particularly insidious form.)

    This dichotomy is premised on an assumption that Atheist philosophy was perfected by Kierkigarrd and Neitzhe and other people’s names I have no ability to spell. The first alternative (call it ‘naive nihilism’) was illustrated here on Pharyngula just a few days ago; the ‘you have to be depressed to be an atheist’ thread, is how I remember it. Mr&Ms B. illustrates the second alternative, one of effective collaboration with liberal protestants, a capitulation supposedly mandated by the limits of human goodness and the cold uncaring nature of the universe.

    The New Atheists have found a new way. And the acid test for whether one is part of the parade was beautifully illustrated by the incomparable PZ. WE HAVE FUN.

    A New Atheist is anyone who recognizes that nihilism is for chumps. If Nothing Exists, what’s that you’re sitting on? And why are you sitting on it and not dancing and leaping?

    New Atheists recognize that morality does not (indeed can not) come from either A Supernatural Creator OR a logical philosophical consideration. It comes from emotions and our inherent sense of fairness. In short, New Atheists are those who, unlike most of the Old Atheists (who were philosophers, and thus useless) know a bit about the world around them. Biologists who study embryonic development, polemicists who write about wars, scientists who explore evolution. These people all know something that the religionists are desperate to deny: human decency comes from human evolution, not supernatural forces.

  151. #151 Kel
    April 14, 2009

    God in that sense is the ultimate philosophical dodge. Dawkins talking about complexity making complexity? It doesn’t matter because God is immaterial. God is simple, even with omnipotence, omniscience and consciousness – so complexity making complexity only counts in the material world… apparently. In this way one can dismiss the argument on material grounds without considering it might be talking about aspects that theists demand be explained in us. If God can be conscious through simplicity, then why can’t we? If God can have knowledge through simplicity, then why can’t we? By taking the argument that God is simple, it’s conceding that many aspects of humanity can simply exist without explanation. But no, they’ll just dismiss it because God is immaterial – nevermind those traits in us are the result of 3.7 billion years of evolution…

  152. #152 Wowbagger, OM
    April 14, 2009

    Dawkins wants people to think about their religion and what adherence to it means in regards to their daily lives and practices. Most of them didn’t get there by studying higher-level philosophy; ergo he doesn’t need to deal with the higher-level philosophy of religion.

    Were he trying to influence the Plantignas and Lane Craigs of the world I imagine he’d try something different. But there are people who write philosophical criticism of religion at their level, so why would he need to?

  153. #153 IST
    April 14, 2009

    frog> Nope, not at all confused, thanks again for a poor assumption. I’m referring to the rules inherent in the dogma as the religion itself. Praying to a country instead of a deity does not qualify as Christianity, because there are a set of beliefs that constitute Christianity. So if you’ve chosen to conflate the beliefs that compose that dogma with the what believers think their religion is (and you have), you have an excellent point. Unfortunately for that point, it’s not remotely what I said or meant. That, and if you’d bothered to read the rest of my post I ceded the point that the ritual and ceremony is what attracts the worshippers. But by all means, pull another line out of a long post to turn your condescending rant. You’re obviously far too intelligent to be doing this by mistake, so I’ll let you enjoy being contrarian with someone else. Glad to have been this evening’s entertainment.

  154. #154 Kel
    April 14, 2009

    Wowbagger @#152 – Exactly!

  155. #155 Kel
    April 14, 2009

    2) provide a plausible explanation for the emergence of biological complexity that didn’t involve huge leaps of faith across the chasms of ridiculous improbability.

    We have one, it’s called evolution. There’s a reason that Dawkins and Dennett both use the theory when talking about atheism…

    If you are saying that evolution cannot provide an answer for that, then perhaps the real course of action is to get people better educated on how the theory works.

  156. #156 aratina cage
    April 15, 2009

    Let’s not kid ourselves; the philosophy of Christianity didn’t come first… only later did people rationalize the claims made… The same is usually true in the course of a person’s life… they have a vested interest in their position being correct, no matter how silly it might begin to sound. Then they start turning to long winded justifications for why they believe what they do.

    I’ve seen it happen to people around me over and over in my life. I have never seen the other occur(atheist reads compelling reason for Christianity in a philosophical journal, and is forced to reconsider his position, or something of the sort). Out of curiosity, has anyone else? – Nusubito #139

    Well, there was C.S. Lewis who thought long and hard over it, and before him Vladimir the Great who rationally tested out Judaism, Islam, and Christianity for selfish reasons before deciding. But seriously, you don’t even need to restrict your observation to people with belief in a god or religion. I would guess that spiritual healers, psychics, diviners, and probably most other woo believers follow the pattern you have described, too. The refreshing thing about New Atheism is that it doesn’t allow you to kid yourself.

  157. #157 Wowbagger, OM
    April 15, 2009

    The refreshing thing about New Atheism is that it doesn’t allow you to kid yourself.

    Which is probably why certain people dislike it so much. They need to be able to kid themselves, and hate those who call them on it.

  158. #158 Aquaria
    April 15, 2009

    That’s not the way to go about changing people’s minds, though. Assuming that everybody is too dumb or apathetic to understand if something is explained to them is completely counterproductive. There are extremists, who won’t listen to reason no matter what you do. Don’t lump the ones you have a chance with in with the extremists. There do exist sensible, moderate, nominally-religious or culturally-religious people that are open to dialogue. If you don’t run around insulting them, they might even sit still long enough to hear you out. Attack the superstitions, not the people holding them.

    That’s not what these people like Nisbett and this moron Mr. B and the like are doing, and you damned well know it. They are telling us to sit down and shut up–political acts in and of themselves–acts of appeasement. Acts of yielding to the status quo.

    And the political is the social! What part of Politics 101 did you sleep through to miss that? You don’t change minds socially or politically without the radicals. Name one time when being sitting down and shutting up and being oh so fucking nice and respectful to them has gotten a subjugated group a voice? Do you think gays have become as socially accepted as they are compared to 1968 without being political–and without being loud? Do you think that any political change happens in a damned vacuum? It takes a massive social change to affect the political. And you don’t get a massive social shift in an attitude without first pissing off a bunch of people.

    But go ahead and live in your My Little Pony fantasy Disney world where everyone will listen to you and give you a voice if you’re just so fucking nice to everybody all the time. It’s worked so well for atheists these past 20 years, hasn’t it?

  159. #159 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    April 15, 2009

    The refreshing thing about New Atheism is that it doesn’t allow you to kid yourself.

    Can I still taunt myself?

  160. #160 Aquaria
    April 15, 2009

    And, by the way, thanks for missing my whole point that always being radical is a mistake, just like always being accommodating. Which you would have picked up if you’d read the whole thing, and not borrowed the creationist tactic of cherry-picking part of what I said.

  161. #161 Aquaria
    April 15, 2009

    BTW, that wasn’t for you Rev. But a continuation of my 158. I hate that “too many posts” thing. Ugh.

    What I get for being a fast typist.

  162. #162 John Morales
    April 15, 2009

    John Scanlon @145,

    Seriously now, what’s new or different about the New Atheism?

    That its most recent public manifestation?
    Until (and if) the Newer Atheists come along…

  163. #163 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    April 15, 2009

    Yeah i know.

  164. #164 Aquaria
    April 15, 2009

    #162:

    Well it could also be that the theists misread the appeasement tactic and thought they’d made all the atheists go away, never to be heard from again. But then we popped up…again, and they’re having to deal with us anew.

  165. #165 Patricia, OM
    April 15, 2009

    Damn it, I’ve been hoeing and missed the whole damn thing.

  166. #166 Patricia, OM
    April 15, 2009

    Oh quit Chimpy, you’re just showing off.

  167. #167 Wowbagger, OM
    April 15, 2009

    Damn it, I’ve been hoeing and missed the whole damn thing.

    At this time of night? My, you americans have such odd habits.

  168. #168 aratina cage
    April 15, 2009

    Can I still taunt myself?

    Hah! Are you kidding? Of course you can‘t. But your self-taunting must incorporate the one or more of the following: it must allude to munchables (preferably of the most boaring kind), contain an easily-corrected-on-preview typo, a blockquote fail, and/or be administered from a sockpuppet to be consistent with New Atheist dogma.

  169. #169 vinraith
    April 15, 2009

    “LEARN YOUR HISTORY.”

    Learn yours. I’m not suggesting we don’t fight, I’m suggesting we fight smarter than this numbskull overt “us vs. them” crap that’s not going to get us anywhere. When you have a smaller, smarter military than that of your enemy you don’t face your opponent head on, do you?

  170. #170 Kel
    April 15, 2009

    If it was just an “us versus them” situation then there would be no point to having Dawkins put out works like he does because it would just hasten our defeat. Rather having his voice as one of many different ones is what is needed – I’ve lost count of the number of former theists I’ve talked to who were having doubts about their religion and upon reading Dawkins became an atheist. Not to mention all the atheists who didn’t really know they were or didn’t know they could speak out – Dawkins has provided a voice for them. It doesn’t apply to everybody, but so what? The fact that the book has sold over 1.5 million copies, that it’s brought atheists out of their shell and made it okay to be an atheist is something that should be commended. It’s not going to convert the world, but that doesn’t take away from what it has done.

    Contrast it with The Demon-Haunted World. This is possibly the best book on scepticism ever written and it operated from start to finish being sympathetic to believers. Even taking that approach, it doesn’t guarantee that anyone will abandon faith. Yet it could appeal to some, just as Dawkins’ in-your-face attitude can appeal to others. Yet despite raising awareness for atheism, despite bringing the question of religion’s role in society under criticism, he’s still criticised for not producing a magic bullet to kill God. Hume killed God over 2 centuries ago, what more does Dawkins need to do other than to let people know that God is dead?

  171. #171 harpie
    April 15, 2009

    @158 & 160

    And, by the way, thanks for missing my whole point that always being radical is a mistake, just like always being accommodating. Which you would have picked up if you’d read the whole thing, and not borrowed the creationist tactic of cherry-picking part of what I said.

    Pot, meet kettle. Fancy seeing you here! My apologies if I missed your point! It was so cleverly hidden behind insults and generalizations that I would probably have passed right on by if you hadn’t pointed it out. Are you saying, then, that there are times when it’s necessary to be radical and times when it’s necessary to be open to discussion? Huh. That sounds familiar. In fact, it sounds a lot like my position, and a whole lot like Julian Baggini’s.

    That’s not what these people like Nisbett and this moron Mr. B and the like are doing, and you damned well know it.

    er…

    “We now need to turn down the volume and engage in a real conversation about what of value is left of religion once its crude superstitions are swept away. If we don’t, we will only have ourselves to blame if the vague platitudes of Bunting and Armstrong win the war for hearts and minds.” -Julian Baggini

    In other words: Dialogue is necessary. We need to have a vision of what we’re aiming for when we attack religious structures and institutions. If we don’t, we are playing right into the hands of people who try to justify religious belief as nothing more than a metaphor; people who take tradition and cultural relativity to the extremes and use it to look the other way when horrible abuses are being carried out.

    I’m pretty sure that “Sit down and shut up” wasn’t in there anywhere, but you’re welcome to check again.

  172. #172 Screechy Monkey
    April 15, 2009

    “I don’t think eric would ever lose his faith. Even if all the philosophical arguments were shot down (arguably they have been), even if science conclusively demonstrated a theory of everything that could make a self-contained reality – eric simply wouldn’t budge from his position. ”

    By the way, I’m not sure at all that Eric has any faith to begin with. Has he said otherwise?

    I suspect Eric is simply one of those atheists who is simply a “better” atheist than the rest of us, because he has read the appropriate philosophers.

  173. #173 Kel
    April 15, 2009

    My impression from lots that I’ve read of him is that he’s a theist. unless he’s playing devil’s advocate or I’ve completely misread him. If he’s not a full-blown theist, I’d be really surprised.

  174. #174 JBlilie
    April 15, 2009

    @42:

    I can go with you on racism.

    But gay-bashing? Does anyone thinnk we’d have gay-bashing in the US if it weren’t for fundamentalist Christians (and now Muslims)?

    “Religion just gives us one more excuse to express this horrid but probably inevitable tendency.”

    Yes, it gives us extra people to toss into the out-group bucket: People like gays.

  175. #175 JBlilie
    April 15, 2009

    @62 GaryB

    “I personally don’t see much being left of religion once you strip away the superstition”

    If you strip away the superstition, then the only thing that can be left is a naturalistic metaphysic and perhaps a few nice aphorisms and bits of nice poetry from their “holy” books.

  176. #176 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    April 15, 2009

    But gay-bashing? Does anyone thinnk we’d have gay-bashing in the US if it weren’t for fundamentalist Christians (and now Muslims)?

    Yes. I know completely nonreligious (not atheist, just nonreligious) idiots who for whatever reason have a problem with homosexuals. I don’t know if it is a masculinity thing or what but it has nothing to do with religion.

  177. #177 tmaxPA
    April 15, 2009

    I agree, JB. Harpie@171 is mistaken, as is Baggini. No “discussion” is needed. All that is required (or acceptable) is the complete and utter capitulation of the religionists.

    “But, ritual and tradition and community works are necessary for the health of human beings and so religion has a purpose…”

    If these are necessary for human health, they are a matter of medicine, sociology, psychiatry, and other SCIENCES, not religion. Any benefit (indeed, any aspect, beneficial or not) that religion might have is accessible to rational exploration, or it is imaginary. As Dawkins points out, this even includes the numinous and the transcendent.

    In that “Five Woos V C. Hitchens” panel from the other day, I recall one of the religionists trying to claim that nothing can be described as ‘transcendent’ if there is no supernatural, as there is nothing to transcend. But I can’t see any reason transcendence needs to be objectively true in order to exist; as a subjective description of an emotional response, it is quite real.

    And, therefore, a potential avenue of scientific exploration.

  178. #178 RobertDW
    April 15, 2009

    In Soviet Russia, gays bash you… wait, no they got thrown in the gulag. My mistake.

    (If the intro makes no sense, then congratulations for not hanging out on Slashdot…)

  179. #179 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    April 15, 2009

    If the intro makes no sense, then congratulations for not hanging out on Slashdot…

    Or not knowing who Yakov Smirnoff is.

  180. #180 JBlilie
    April 15, 2009

    Eric@80:

    “you can’t be said to have presented a meaningful or substantial critique of a position if you don’t know what the other side is actually saying”

    What they are saying is nonsense. Often dressed up in fancy sophistry, fake science, and arm-chair data-free metaphysical word games. I’ve read them.

    Every “serious” theist eventually comes down to belief without evidence (if they are honest, plenty aren’t), faith, and this is the main place that the NA beard them.

    Talking nice to the theists won’t help. Wasting time dissecting their sophistry is fruitless. That’s how they’ve bogged down all critics since the beginning of time. Keep throwing out blobs of fakery that have to be dealt with and the rational people can’t win. Why accede to this demand on their part?

    They make claims about reality that cannot be supported. Why should they get a pass for that?

    We never would have had Obama’s “and non-believers” in his first important speech as President without loud noises from the NA. They aren’t going to bring in the hard-core theists and none of them expect to. The hard-core theists think of us as sub-human. They explicity state that because we are not religious we don’t deserve full citizenship:

    In 1987, Republican presidential candidate George H. W. Bush, later our 41st President, was asked by Robert Sherman, a reporter for the American Atheist news journal, if he recognized the “equal citizenship and patriotism” of atheists in America.

    Bush responded: “No, I don’t know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered as patriots. This is one nation under God.”

    The NA demonstrably are rallying the secular in this country and elsewhere. This is immensely more important than coddling the theists.

    “Baggini’s fundamental point is simple and uncontroversial, really: There’s a world of difference between a critic who understands the subject of his critique and one who doesn’t”

    No, this isn’t his point. His point is that the tone of the NA is too loud/strident/assertive. He wrote to me that he wants to meet reasonable theists on common ground and chat. Well, there’s never going to be common ground on faith: It is by definition antithetical to rationality. People like Ken Miller will admit it is so: They believe not on evidence.

    Has being nice gotten us anywhere? I don’t think so. Just like cringing never got gay people anywhere or blacks anywhere. You assertions fly in the face of the data.

    “referring an agnostic to ‘The God Delusion’ because he’s not ready for Mackie’s ‘Miracle of Theism’ would be as smart (in terms of a concern for accuracy and thoughtfulness) as referring someone on the fence about evolution to ‘Of Pandas and People’ because he’s not ready for Gould’s ‘Structure of Evolutionary Theory’ (or whatever).”

    When you imply that giving an agnostic TGD would drive them away from atheism, this indicates that you have looked into the data. Check the RichardDawkins.net site for many, many testimonials to the contrary. And again I will harken back to President Obama’s inaugural speech and his recent speech in Turkey, standing up for the secular basis of the US. These didn’t happen because of well-behaved atheists not ruffling the theist feathers.

  181. #181 JBlilie
    April 15, 2009

    tmax@177:

    “In that “Five Woos V C. Hitchens” panel from the other day”

    I listened that the other day and Hitch did a fine job.

    In his closing statement (after Hitch finished of course) ne of the 5 woos had the nerve to go after Hitch for not responding to all their vapid arguments. Well, duh, it was 5 on 1! Unless they were going to give him 5X the time the others got, how could he respond? (And to try to would have ceded the offense entirely to the woos!)

    I think he was very brave to go 1 against 5 and of course none of them acknowledged this. Craig just kept trotting out his nonsequiturs and beaming like he’d made a point. Holy hopping horse shit!

  182. #182 Steve_C
    April 15, 2009

    I agree JBlilie. Hitch did the best he could considering even the moderator piled on. Plus every argument the apologist cited has been previously refuted. Hitch didn’t need to go through Philosophy 101 and all the supposed arguments for a Deist god. He just had to go after the Christian god of which they all believe in.

  183. #183 frog
    April 15, 2009

    IST: Nope, not at all confused, thanks again for a poor assumption.

    That’s not an assumption — that’s an analysis, whether right or wrong. You’re being a bit careless in word choice.

  184. #184 cicely
    April 15, 2009

    Nusubito @ 139:

    More often, these philosophers are used to put a sophisticated sheen on beliefs that were inherited unquestioned while the believer was a child. Or beliefs that a person turned to for emotional reasons.

    I agree, but would substitute “emotional or pragmatic reasons”. If converting will put food in your family’s bellies (“rice Christians”) or put your people on the side of the people with the death-dealing thundersticks and big ships and who are unaccountably not dying of disease in unbelievably high numbers (the Americas), I imagine most people will bend the knee. Rational reasons, if you will.

  185. #185 cicely
    April 15, 2009

    Oh, yes, and I should add, and who would just as soon kill or enslave you and your people, so as to clear the land for New Development, i.e., their own use.

    Everyone wants to be on the winning team.

  186. #186 Bryn
    April 15, 2009

    I’d like to ask B&B how far gays got on the road to civil rights before the Stonewall riots? Or women before the Suffragettes starting chaining themselves to lamposts? Or blacks before Rosa Parks said, “Hell, no! I’m not moving to the back of the bus any more!”? Hiding in the closet, waiting for better days didn’t do a damned thing for any of those groups except delay them getting the freedoms they rightfully deserved. Being an atheist hiding in the closet, being oh-so-careful not to offend, not to step on any toes, isn’t going to get us anywhere either.

    Screw ‘em. Got a parade? I’ll bring my bagpipes and happily play the whole route.

  187. #187 Eric
    April 15, 2009

    “I’ve read them.
    Every “serious” theist eventually comes down to belief without evidence (if they are honest, plenty aren’t), faith, and this is the main place that the NA beard them.”

    If this is what you think, you haven’t read them (or haven’t understood what you’ve read). Heck, even (somewhat) popular treatments, such as Craig’s ‘Reasonable Faith’ or Feser’s ‘The Last Superstition’ are (1) filled from cover to cover with arguments and ‘evidence,’ and (2) explicitly dismissive of your facile, but common, conception of ‘faith’ as ‘belief without evidence.’ In fact, (2) makes my point for me: you obviously don’t know what they’re saying when they use fundamental terms such as ‘faith,’ so how can you claim to be addressing them?

    “He wrote to me that he wants to meet reasonable theists on common ground and chat.”

    One would think that a necessary condition of meeting people on common ground and ‘chatting’ would be to attempt to understand what the other side is actually saying instead of dealing with easily refuted caricatures of their position…

    “When you imply that giving an agnostic TGD would drive them away from atheism, this indicates that you have looked into the data.”

    You’ve missed my point. I wasn’t saying that no one is being persuaded by Dawkins’s poor arguments — I’m sure plenty of people are, just as plenty of theists are persuaded by the poor arguments of the J.P. Holdings of the world — but that Dawkins’s arguments are poor.

    “And you’ve misunderstood the Courtier’s Reply. The argument is that the other side isn’t saying anything substancial to begin with. Do you really need to read up on the history of homoeopathy to call it bunk?”

    No, but you do have to know what homoeopathy is before you call it bunk – that’s the point.

    And I think many of the regulars here will disagree with you about the nature of the Courtier’s Reply. If it means what you claim it means, it’s question begging. When I presented your interpretation on this blog previously, I was immediately attacked by those who claimed I had misunderstood it, and that it was meant to be used against theists who simply rattle off theologians and texts instead of presenting their arguments. But hey, if you want to stick with the easily refuted question begging interpretation (which, incidentally, could also be characterized as an argument from personal incredulity on some formulations — sort of a buy one fallacy, get one free deal), then that’s fine with me.

  188. #188 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    April 15, 2009

    Philosophy without evidence is sophistry. In other words, mental masturbation. This is why all theists arguments are sophistry.

  189. #189 John Morales
    April 15, 2009

    Eric:

    One would think that a necessary condition of meeting people on common ground and ‘chatting’ would be to attempt to understand what the other side is actually saying instead of dealing with easily refuted caricatures of their position…

    First, chatting is supposed to be insignificant, idle talk; second, what is actually said is very often not what is intended to be said.

    So you raise the issue of whether to respond to what’s said, without contextual interpretation, or to what you consider has been said. I don’t think it’s a caricature of someone’s position to refer to what they actually stated about that position.

  190. #190 Eric
    April 15, 2009

    “I don’t think it’s a caricature of someone’s position to refer to what they actually stated about that position.”

    Nor do I, except in obvious cases in which the principle of charity applies.

    However, surely we would agree that is is problematic to claim to have refuted someone’s position if you take someone else’s understanding of it and attack that.

  191. #191 John Morales
    April 15, 2009

    Eric, yeah, but we are aware of that. It’s the straw man fallacy.

    What I do, at that point, is say “this is what you actually said, is it what you meant”, at which point obfuscation is usually employed.

    As it is, whenever I try to “meet reasonable theists on common ground”, for any number of them their only ground they will stand upon is a faith-based one; I must meet them there or nowhere. How can an atheist truly do other than try to guess what a theist mindset is like? We can but interpret our simulation of one.

  192. #192 John Morales
    April 15, 2009

    PS Should’ve said our simulation and/or recollection of one.

  193. #193 Kel
    April 15, 2009

    No, but you do have to know what homoeopathy is before you call it bunk – that’s the point.

    Are you saying that any of the New Atheists are oblivious to what God is? Just because you can put lipstick on a pig, it’s still a pig underneath. And all it takes to see that is knowing what a pig is.

  194. #194 CJO
    April 15, 2009

    Heck, even (somewhat) popular treatments, such as Craig’s ‘Reasonable Faith’ … are (1) filled from cover to cover with arguments and ‘evidence,’

    What is Craig’s ‘evidence’? I haven’t read the book, but he’s been coming up a lot around here lately, since the post about the Hitchens debate, and I went and looked at the blogs and web content associated with Reasonable Faith, and I see a great deal of apologetic hand waving and assertion, but no ‘evidence.’

  195. #195 Kel
    April 15, 2009

    However, surely we would agree that is is problematic to claim to have refuted someone’s position if you take someone else’s understanding of it and attack that.

    Sure, but again you are missing what the arguments that come from the new atheists are. It’s not an attack on just Christianity – it’s an attack on all religions. Why aren’t you criticising Dawkins and Harris for not listening to the arguments made for Islam or Hinduism? Where’s the criticism for the lack of understanding Jainism or Scientology? Why not attack the New Atheists for not talking to people like Deepak Chopra or John Edward when debunking that new age woo?

    The New Atheist books attack the underlying basis for belief – that the entire enterprise of religion is built on a bad foundation. It’s fair to say that the emperor has no clothes because we can see a naked emperor. Furthermore, we can see the nature of credulity time and time again in individuals; we can see how and why people believe otherwise incredulous things. So not only can we see a naked emperor but we can explain just why the emperor got suckered in. That’s the case that The God Delusion sets out, it’s not a philosophical piece debunking modern Christianity. The case against Christianity needs nothing more than to show there is no foundation for belief.

    Why is it that Christians keep putting themselves at the centre of the universe?

  196. #196 Eric
    April 15, 2009

    “Are you saying that any of the New Atheists are oblivious to what God is?”

    A celestial dictator (Hitchens); a necessarily complex creative intelligence (Dawkins); the author of a book(Harris); a supernatural agent whose approval is sought (Dennett) — you’re right, they’re not oblivious — oblivious is too kind a word for them!

    “As it is, whenever I try to “meet reasonable theists on common ground”, for any number of them their only ground they will stand upon is a faith-based one;”

    This is true (though I’d question your description of them as ‘reasonable theists’), but it’s not just the case when it comes to theists. See the Craig Wolpert debate, or the Craig Atkins debate (I’m trying to pick publicly available examples): In each case, you will see a theist presenting arguments and evidence (which may be good or bad) and atheists dogmatically averring to their position with hardly a mention of evidence or the presentation (or critique) of arguments.

    “I must meet them there or nowhere. How can an atheist truly do other than try to guess what a theist mindset is like? We can but interpret our simulation of one.”

    I don’t think this is the case. It depends on your goal. For example, a happily ignorant fideist of the sort you’re referring to (let’s call him an ‘unintentional fideist,’ as opposed to those who are fideists on principle) may simply never have thought much about whether his beliefs need to be supported with evidence or argument; he need not be averse to evidence and argument. If your goal is to ‘convert’ him in one conversation, you’ll most likely not get anywhere, but if you instead set the more modest goal of introducing him to the importance of evidence and argument — planting a seed, as it were — then perhaps you’ll have laid the groundwork for more productive conversations in the future. I attempt to do the same thing with (some) atheists by trying first to explain to them the nature of evidence, knowledge and proofs, the distinctions that need to be drawn among different types of beliefs, and the various relationships that obtain among different types of beliefs.

    “What is Craig’s ‘evidence’?”

    Craig uses a great deal of evidence to defend, for example, the premises of his kalam cosmological argument (especially the second premise). Now, you may disagree with his use of the evidence, or with his understanding of the evidence, but I fail to see how you can claim that he’s not attempting to justify his premises with appeals to evidence (which is the issue you’re raising).

  197. #197 Kel
    April 15, 2009

    A celestial dictator (Hitchens); a necessarily complex creative intelligence (Dawkins); the author of a book(Harris); a supernatural agent whose approval is sought (Dennett) — you’re right, they’re not oblivious — oblivious is too kind a word for them!

    Honestly I have heard theists time and time again express God in one or more of those views. And again, calling God simple while attributing intelligence, knowledge and consciousness to such a character either means that those aren’t complex and thus need no justification in humans – eliminating the explanatory need for God or that they are complex traits that require an explanation. It’s just another case of theists worming out of having their version of their deity criticised.

  198. #198 Kel
    April 15, 2009

    Futhermore on the complexity issue – we can explain complexity in nature through a series of natural processes. It takes us back to a simple explanation. Even if God were simple, the fact that the universe can boil down to but a few physical laws means that a simple god is still more improbable than a universe without god. The universe exists, there is emergent complexity. It goes all the way back to a singularity. Just what do we need god for?

  199. #199 John Morales
    April 15, 2009

    Eric:

    What is Craig’s ‘evidence’?

    Craig uses a great deal of evidence to defend, for example, the premises of his kalam cosmological argument (especially the second premise).

    What about if something is adduced as evidence but is not in fact evidentiary? This is more like the level of the disputation.

  200. #200 Kel
    April 15, 2009

    Eric, understand where the new atheists are coming from. You complain that they don’t understand you, yet you show no ability to actually see where they are coming from. You were there praising Loftus earlier, but how is Loftus’ argument of The Outsider Test For Faith any different to what Dawkins is arguing about in The God Delusion? The difference as far as I can see in the two books is scope – Loftus goes after Christianity specifically while Dawkins takes an abstract look at the nature of belief in general. Now what is wrong with doing the latter as opposed to the former?

  201. #201 Eric
    April 15, 2009

    “Honestly I have heard theists time and time again express God in one or more of those views.”

    So have I; how is the opinion of benighted theists relevant? I’ve also heard benighted atheists claim to know with certainty that god doesn’t exist, but this doesn’t mean that I take all atheists to be making such a claim, or that such a claim is representative of atheism as such.

    “And again, calling God simple while attributing intelligence, knowledge and consciousness to such a character either means that those aren’t complex and thus need no justification in humans – eliminating the explanatory need for God or that they are complex traits that require an explanation. It’s just another case of theists worming out of having their version of their deity criticised.”

    You simply don’t know what it means when theists attribute those characteristics to god (by way of argument, not as a mere assertion), or what they mean when they argue that god is simple.

  202. #202 Kel
    April 15, 2009

    So have I; how is the opinion of benighted theists relevant? I’ve also heard benighted atheists claim to know with certainty that god doesn’t exist, but this doesn’t mean that I take all atheists to be making such a claim, or that such a claim is representative of atheism as such.

    So you think that the claims of the New Atheists are simply not representitive of mainstream theism? Of how God plays out in general society?

    You simply don’t know what it means when theists attribute those characteristics to god (by way of argument, not as a mere assertion), or what they mean when they argue that god is simple.

    Do you not think that the New Atheists actually have arguments of why God must be complex? Or do you think that Dawkins and Dennett merely assert it?

  203. #203 Eric
    April 15, 2009

    “The difference as far as I can see in the two books is scope – Loftus goes after Christianity specifically while Dawkins takes an abstract look at the nature of belief in general. Now what is wrong with doing the latter as opposed to the former?”

    Nothing. But that’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying that Dawkins’s arguments are poor, and that part of the reason his arguments are poor is that he doesn’t understand what he’s critiquing. (A great example is given in a one sentence refutation of the God Dlusion by John Lennox — Dawkins’s argument targets a created god, but no one believes in a created god.) I’m not the only one who has said this, as you well know. Also, if you read the reviews John’s book is getting, you’ll see the point I’m making being made consistently by both theists and atheists alike. John knows what he’s talking about, and Dawkins doesn’t — that’s the issue; it’s not at all a question of scope. John’s arguments are *much* stronger than Dawkins’s, and theists are recommending John’s book for this very reason.

  204. #204 Kel
    April 15, 2009

    In situations like this, I take the words of my favourite “New Atheist”: “Smart people are great at rationalising things they came to believe for non-smart reasons” – Michael Shermer. Here’s a question Eric, how did you come to God? Was it through your parents? Through your peers? Through the bible? Or were you an atheist until you heard philosophy that demonstrated the divinity of Jesus? Even if you can justify your god through philosophy, how is that anything more than rationalisation of beliefs that you came to for non-smart reasons?

  205. #205 Kel
    April 15, 2009

    I’m saying that Dawkins’s arguments are poor, and that part of the reason his arguments are poor is that he doesn’t understand what he’s critiquing. (A great example is given in a one sentence refutation of the God Dlusion by John Lennox — Dawkins’s argument targets a created god, but no one believes in a created god.)

    Do you understand why atheists ask “who designed the designer”? Do you think Dawkins is oblivious to the notion that theists think God is eternal? Or that he just thinks it’s a bad argument?

    I’m not the only one who has said this, as you well know. Also, if you read the reviews John’s book is getting, you’ll see the point I’m making being made consistently by both theists and atheists alike. John knows what he’s talking about, and Dawkins doesn’t — that’s the issue; it’s not at all a question of scope.

    On the issue of Christianity, I agree. Loftus does know about what fundamentalists believe and is arguing against that. His book (as far as I can tell) is one long argument against Christianity. Dawkins’ book isn’t. I can fully see why Dawkins’ book isn’t recommended by theists while Loftus’ is. Hell, I’d even recommend Loftus’ book to theists. I wouldn’t recommend Dawkins’, but personally I’ve found TGD book much more enlightening than WIBAA. (though to be fair to Loftus, I’m still only part of the way through his book, so he has time to win me over).

  206. #206 Wowbagger, OM
    April 15, 2009

    Theists are just playing the shell game. They’ll define their god a certain way and then, when the atheist points out the flaws in a god meeting that description, the theist will switch the shells around – changing the definition and making the atheist start again.

    And they can keep doing this because they aren’t limited to a concrete, objective definition of god to work with; they can change it to whatever suits their argument at the time.

    It’s not just moving the goalposts – it’s changing the game being played from football to baseball to a marathon to competitive ballroom dancing and back again, all in the course of a single debate.

  207. #207 Ken_Cope
    April 15, 2009

    Whinged Eric: …he doesn’t understand what he’s critiquing

    If there is no god there is nothing to understand; in the absence of evidence, there is only obfuscatory sophistry that contributes nothing of value to science, so we take Occam’s Twenty Ton Weight and hope somebody else is around to clean up the mess.

    The very best of the philosophical salons spinning invisible thread have, at best, conditional arguments claiming they’re entitled to their conclusion (whatever flavor of god they peddle) because it would have to be true if their premises were. Eric wants us to believe scientists have nothing to contribute on the front of whether or not philosophers are entitled to their premises. Philosophy has not been able to hold a candle to science for a very long time. The only customers that philosophers have left are theists who can find few scientists dishonest enough to offer apologia, students who want to take a less stringently challenging mathematics course in order to satisfy collegiate quantitative reasoning requirements, and computer science majors. The last two sets of people will not be first in line for the “B” Ark.

    Anybody who posits that the question of whether or not a god exists is a philosophical, rather than a scientific one, is only looking for or peddling reasons to cling to beliefs; philosophy can rationalize any conclusion it likes while science cannot. Blowhards like Eric are playing the game of attempting to discredit science, which provides no evidence to support any religious belief. Eric has nothing to offer but shrill, repetitive whinging, because only philostophers and theists think that the game at which Eric tries to pretend to be competent, has any real stakes that matter, and it doesn’t.

  208. #208 CJO
    April 15, 2009

    Craig uses a great deal of evidence to defend, for example, the premises of his kalam cosmological argument (especially the second premise). Now, you may disagree with his use of the evidence, or with his understanding of the evidence, but I fail to see how you can claim that he’s not attempting to justify his premises with appeals to evidence (which is the issue you’re raising).

    No, that’s not the issue I’m raising. Craig can appeal to generally accepted cosmology all he wants; obviously cosmological evidence does not lead those who understand it invariably, or even mostly, to adopt theism, much less Christian theology. Forget arguments like kalam. The issue I’m raising is that Craig doesn’t have any evidence for the objective truth of the Christian narrative, and believers by the droves assert that he does. It’s not like he’s a deist.

  209. #209 Eric
    April 15, 2009

    “Anybody who posits that the question of whether or not a god exists is a philosophical, rather than a scientific one, is only looking for or peddling reasons to cling to beliefs; philosophy can rationalize any conclusion it likes while science cannot.”

    Um, most philosophers by far would agree with the notion that the question of god’s existence is a philosophical, not a scientific, question, and most philosophers by far are atheists. So, do you want to try again?

    “Blowhards like Eric are playing the game of attempting to discredit science, which provides no evidence to support any religious belief.”

    Please show me a single sentence I’ve ever written that can be accurately characterized as an attempt to ‘discredit science.’ That’s utter nonsense. Your inability to provide an iota of evidence in this regard will instead evidence the notion that you haven’t the slightest idea what you’re talking about.

  210. #210 Ken_Cope
    April 15, 2009

    Um, most philosophers by far would agree with the notion that the question of god’s existence is a philosophical, not a scientific, question, and most philosophers by far are atheists. So, do you want to try again?

    In the absence of any evidence for such an otiose premise such as “god did it” the only people left to prattle on about it are philosophers, while the scientists are busy being productive. The atheists who are talking philosophy are telling the rest that there are productive things to pribble on about instead.

    Want to go do something useful? Didn’t think so.

  211. #211 Kel
    April 15, 2009

    Um, most philosophers by far would agree with the notion that the question of god’s existence is a philosophical, not a scientific, question, and most philosophers by far are atheists. So, do you want to try again?

    But many claims of God’s nature are interactive with the natural world – how are they not scientific claims? This is the frustration that many atheists feel, almost every claim attributed to God has some naturalistic component to it, but when it comes time to actually test those claims then we hear that God isn’t natural and cannot be tested. How is this not trying to have your cake and eat it too?

  212. #212 Wowbagger, OM
    April 16, 2009

    Um, most philosophers by far would agree with the notion that the question of god’s existence is a philosophical, not a scientific, question,

    Yes, but that’s only because they – and everyone else – now know that science can’t answer the question (well, with anything other than ‘hell, no’). The existence of gods was considered a scientific question for a very long time, and the answer was always ‘yes – how else do we explain how ‘x’ happens?’

    Science kept on finding ways to explain how ‘x’ – and ‘y’ and ‘z’ and all the other letters of the alphabet – happens, and that none of them required gods. Eventually, the number of things they considered gods to be responsible for ran out.

    So, it was out of desperate necessity that theists gave up trying to prove gods exist by science and turned to a philosophy-only approach – not because it was always the case.

  213. #213 Eric
    April 16, 2009

    “Craig can appeal to generally accepted cosmology all he wants; obviously cosmological evidence does not lead those who understand it invariably, or even mostly, to adopt theism, much less Christian theology. Forget arguments like kalam. The issue I’m raising is that Craig doesn’t have any evidence for the objective truth of the Christian narrative, and believers by the droves assert that he does. It’s not like he’s a deist.”

    CJO, I don’t think you understand the kind of case Craig is making. He’s making a cumulative case argument, so he appeals to different sorts of evidence with different arguments to support different conclusions. Some arguments, such as the kalam argument or his version of the Leibnizian contingency argument, make use of cosmological data and are simply meant to show the plausibility of belief in a general conception of god (one that most Muslims, Jews or Christians, for example, could accept); other arguments appeal to historical evidence (e.g. wrt his support for Christianity), and others to philosophical premises (e.g. in his response to the POE).

    Here’s the key, I think: theists today tend not to think that their arguments are rationally coercive (i.e. one can be a rational atheist), but they do think that theism is a rationally tenable position. Atheists, on the other hand — and the New Atheists in particular — seem to think that their arguments are rationally coercive, and that all theists are irrational.

  214. #214 Ken_Cope
    April 16, 2009

    How is this not trying to have your cake and eat it too?

    The cake is a lie.

  215. #215 Ken_Cope
    April 16, 2009

    all theists are irrational

    Fixed that for you.

  216. #216 Kel
    April 16, 2009

    Atheists, on the other hand — and the New Atheists in particular — seem to think that their arguments are rationally coercive, and that all theists are irrational.

    They don’t think that all theists are irrational – the resonating thought ideas held through faith are irrationally-held beliefs. Hell, even Craig argues that one should abandon reason when it conflicts with faith. How is that not irrational?

  217. #217 Eric
    April 16, 2009

    “The existence of gods was considered a scientific question for a very long time [by some people], and the answer was always ‘yes – how else do we explain how ‘x’ happens?’”

    I disagree with this, unless you’re willing to qualify it as I did above. In other words, don’t fall for the lie that the Paleys of the world are representative of the manner in which god’s existence was defended in the past (i.e. as an ‘explanation’ of certain natural phenomena). Paley represents a very small and insignificant strand of theistic thought, and he was severely criticized by a number of philosophers and theologians in his day.

  218. #218 RobertDW
    April 16, 2009

    Um, most philosophers by far would agree with the notion that the question of god’s existence is a philosophical, not a scientific, question, and most philosophers by far are atheists. So, do you want to try again?

    I’ve never heard a philosophical case for the existence of God, at least not one that wasn’t full of logical fallacies. They boil down to wish fulfilment (“I _want_ a God!”) or limited imagination (“I don’t know how there can NOT be a God”).

    I’ve heard a number of good philosophical arguments that, once you take the existence of a deity as an assumption, go on to establish what the nature of such a deity would be, consistent with what we know about the world.

    On the science front however, good progress in the search for God has been made via both positive and negative fronts. Negatively, we have found nothing that indicates divine intervention. Positively, we are building a good case that nothing requires divine intervention. Together, this is an extremely strong argument for the non-existence of a deity – strong enough that it should be the default assumption, just as the default assumption of what will happen when I let go of an object held at arms length is that it will fall down; unless you have compelling evidence that the object is, say, a helium balloon, you will expect it to fall.

    I mean, I can build a philosophical argument for a Hollow Earth, but it’s not going to be taken seriously because the base assumption has no evidence. The same goes for arguments about the nature of God.

  219. #219 Eric
    April 16, 2009

    “Hell, even Craig argues that one should abandon reason when it conflicts with faith. How is that not irrational?”

    That’s not what Craig says. This is a perfect example of the sort of caricature I was talking about. Craig is arguing, in this context, that belief in god is properly basic (through the ‘self-authenticating witness of the holy spirit’), and that properly basic beliefs are ‘intrinsic defeaters’ for any ‘extrinsic defeaters’ brought against them. However, like Plantinga, Craig thinks that while god belief is properly basic, there are nonetheless good arguments to support the notion that god exists.
    Now, you may have problems with Craig’s argument here about the proper basicality of god belief — and that’s fine — but it’s clearly not reducible to the caricature you’ve presented.

  220. #220 CJO
    April 16, 2009

    other arguments appeal to historical evidence (e.g. wrt his support for Christianity)

    There is no historical evidence that supports Christianity. And in its absence his “use of cosmological data … to show the plausibility of belief in a general conception of god (one that most Muslims, Jews or Christians, for example, could accept)” is an example of exactly the multifarious bait-and-switch approach to ‘evidence’ we’re talking about. Your “cumulative case argument” is, as was said above, a shell game. Even if I grant the cosmological argument for the sake of discussion, you have to start all over again with why that should support belief in a transcendent personal agent with an interest in humanity or an afterlife or any kind of salvation theology.

  221. #221 Kel
    April 16, 2009

    The cosmological argument for God IS a scientific argument. It happens to sit outside the limits of observable reality, but it’s still a scientific question.

  222. #222 Ken_Cope
    April 16, 2009

    I don’t think you understand the kind of case Craig is making.

    I don’t think you understand that people who don’t want to waterboard reason until it confesses that it can support their belief give a rat’s ass about the kind of case Craig is making. It’s special pleading, bait and switch, platonist drivel, throwing everything and the kitchen sink and hoping something will stick. To start with some sort of vague deism and wind up claiming belief in John 3:16 philosophically justifiable is not even vaguely “rationally tenable,” it’s obscene.

  223. #223 Eric
    April 16, 2009

    “There is no historical evidence that supports Christianity.”

    You can assert that, but plenty of competent scholars disagree. See N.T. Wright’s case for the resurrection in ‘The Resurrection of the on of God,’ for example. If you can make a good historical case for the resurrection, you’ve made a historical case for the truth of Christianity. Now, I’m not saying that the case is rationally coercive, but there is a case to be made. And if you can make a case through the kalam and contingency arguments that god exists, the plausibility of the resurrection increases, so these arguments are related as part of a cumulative case.

  224. #224 CJO
    April 16, 2009

    A blunt restatement of absurdities whose author rendered them in elevated language is not caricature.

    Unreserved belief in the testimony of a “self authenticating witness” is not rational. It’s abandoning reason, which could be contextually defined as “not letting witnesses self-authenticate”.

  225. #225 Eric
    April 16, 2009

    “Unreserved belief in the testimony of a “self authenticating witness” is not rational. It’s abandoning reason, which could be contextually defined as “not letting witnesses self-authenticate”.”

    It’s not irrational or abandoning reason if it’s a properly basic belief; that’t the issue.

  226. #226 Wowbagger, OM
    April 16, 2009

    CJO, I don’t think you understand the kind of case Craig is making. He’s making a cumulative case argument, so he appeals to different sorts of evidence with different arguments to support different conclusions.

    I don’t believe the sub-arguments (for want of a better term) can be assembled together to create a compelling über-argument.

    It like the existence of a painting of an impossible scenario – say, Winston Churchill and Stephen Hawking riding horses through the sky to the moon – being used to support the claim that that event actually happened.

    Of course we accept as fact that Winston Churchill existed, that Stephen Hawking exists, that horses exist and the moon is quite close by – but to agree that accepting those things means we have to accept the overall picture as anything other than fantasy is something else entirely.

  227. #227 Eric
    April 16, 2009

    It’s late here on the East coast, so I’m letting you know, as a courtesy, that I’m going now.

  228. #228 Kel
    April 16, 2009

    “reason is a tool to help us better understand our faith. Should faith and reason conflict, it is reason that must submit to faith, not vice versa” – William Lane Craig (Apologetics, an introduction)

  229. #229 Ken_Cope
    April 16, 2009

    “There is no historical evidence that supports Christianity.”

    You can assert that, but plenty of competent scholars disagree. See N.T. Wright’s case for the resurrection in ‘The Resurrection of the on of God,’ for example. If you can make a good historical case for the resurrection, you’ve made a historical case for the truth of Christianity. Now, I’m not saying that the case is rationally coercive, but there is a case to be made. And if you can make a case through the kalam and contingency arguments that god exists, the plausibility of the resurrection increases, so these arguments are related as part of a cumulative case.

    What a load of conditional crap. If Eric telling us that his hovercraft is full of eels was a “rationally coercive” argument, we’d all be Christians now.

  230. #230 Ken_Cope
    April 16, 2009

    It like the existence of a painting of an impossible scenario – say, Winston Churchill and Stephen Hawking riding horses through the sky to the moon – being used to support the claim that that event actually happened.

    Thank you Wowbagger. That’s so useful I’ll be compelled to attribute it to you the next time I’m tempted to steal it. It is a scenario no less absurd than any in the Bible.

  231. #231 Kel
    April 16, 2009

    If you can make a good historical case for the resurrection, you’ve made a historical case for the truth of Christianity. Now, I’m not saying that the case is rationally coercive, but there is a case to be made. And if you can make a case through the kalam and contingency arguments that god exists, the plausibility of the resurrection increases, so these arguments are related as part of a cumulative case.

    The historical case for Jesus is one that is impossible. You’d have to firmly establish that God exists before even starting to take a greater probability that Jesus rose from the dead. If there is even a slight doubt that God exists, then any of the explanations that don’t require conquering death should be preferred to an explanation where death is conquered.

  232. #232 Ken_Cope
    April 16, 2009

    any of the explanations that don’t require conquering death should be preferred to an explanation where death is conquered.

    It comes down to W. C. Fields’ dictum and movie title, “You Can’t Cheat an Honest Man.” The only reason such a stupid religious con succeeds is because it appeals to the greed of the marks who are taken in by such an audacious grift. Atheists are honest, and call bullshit, and the con-men (theists, philosophers, whatever their stupid hat/collar/false beard combination declares them to be) don’t want to surrender turf on account of their game being called for what it is, i.e. a con, an assault on reason masquerading as reason.

  233. #233 RobertDW
    April 16, 2009

    Craig thinks that while god belief is properly basic, there are nonetheless good arguments to support the notion that god exists.

    Well, we think that there aren’t, but it doesn’t matter because even if there were no good arguments to support the existance of God, and plenty to support his non-existence, then…

    properly basic beliefs are ‘intrinsic defeaters’ for any ‘extrinsic defeaters’ brought against them

    So belief in God, being “properly basic”, is an “intrinsic defeater” (and thus trumps) any external argument like evidence and reason. How is this not an irrational belief?

    Hmm… so what ideas can be “properly basic”? Well, Wikipedia has an interesting definition: basic beliefs are axioms of a world view. So they can’t be proved wrong without proving the world view wrong (kind of how “1 + 1 = 2″ is an axiom in conventional mathematics). They are so-called self-evident beliefs.

    You know – like “two parallel lines can never intersect”. That’s an axiom (simplified) of Euclidean geometry. For a couple of thousand years, nobody could come up with a consistent alternative. Then Bolyai managed to come up with a consistent geometry (derived from the other four axioms of Euclidean geometry) where parallel lines could intersect, based on a parameter. Einstein’s general theory of relativity relies on the universe being non-Euclidean. The universe has been proven to be non-Euclidean by astronomical observation.

    A rule in maths is to have as few axioms as possible, and only include them if they are absolutely necessary. The axiom “There is a God” is not necessary, as science increasingly demonstrates.

    “Je n’avais pas besoin de cette hypothèse-là.” – Pierre Simon, Marquis de Laplace to Napoleon on the existence of a God.

  234. #234 CJO
    April 16, 2009
    “Unreserved belief in the testimony of a “self authenticating witness” is not rational. It’s abandoning reason, which could be contextually defined as “not letting witnesses self-authenticate”.”

    It’s not irrational or abandoning reason if it’s a properly basic belief; that’t the issue.

    And properly basic beliefs come from self authenticating witnesses. It’s all so clear!

  235. #235 Wowbagger, OM
    April 16, 2009

    eric’s gone to bed, but I’ve got to deal with this now or I’ll lose momentum:

    I disagree with this, unless you’re willing to qualify it as I did above. In other words, don’t fall for the lie that the Paleys of the world are representative of the manner in which god’s existence was defended in the past (i.e. as an ‘explanation’ of certain natural phenomena). Paley represents a very small and insignificant strand of theistic thought, and he was severely criticized by a number of philosophers and theologians in his day.

    Agreed – but Paley died in 1805, roughly 1,800 years after Christianity began. And for most of those years natural phenomena were still being attributed to god. Non-scientific, philosophical-only Christianty, even if it’s two hundred years old, still leaves 90% of the religion’s history spent with its adherents believing in a scientifically explicable god.

    And if these current, philosophical arguments represent the correct understanding of Christianity, how come there’ve been Christians for so long?

  236. #236 Ken_Cope
    April 16, 2009

    Philosophy is welcome to play with all the questions that are so poorly phrased that science can do nothing with them.

  237. #237 Wowbagger, OM
    April 16, 2009

    If you can make a good historical case for the resurrection, you’ve made a historical case for the truth of Christianity.

    Actually, this relates to my current bugbear so I’ll mention it.

    Proof of the resurrection does not make a case for the truth of Christianity, it makess a case for Jesus possessing supernatural powers*. Even if Jesus did what is attributed to him it doesn’t mean that everything else he’s alleged to have claimed – that he was the son of God and the saviour of man and so forth – is automatically true; they’re two completely independent claims and need to be treated as such.

    For starters, there are any number of arguments one can make for why Jesus wasn’t the son of God, starting with the reasonably obvious ‘why the hell couldn’t God just forgive us without anyone having to get tortured and executed? He is omnipotent, after all – whose rules was he being forced to follow?’

    *Don’t for a second think I believe this to be true; I don’t. But that’s not the point.

  238. #238 Kel
    April 16, 2009

    Agreed – but Paley died in 1805, roughly 1,800 years after Christianity began. And for most of those years natural phenomena were still being attributed to god.

    Natural phenomena is still attributed to god my most theists most of the time. While earthquakes are no longer the result of Egyptian men having gay sex and that we are no longer magical animated clay, God is still a force on earth. While some still attribute tsunamis, bushfires, floods and hurricanes to human immorality, there are others who still think God heals the sick; that prayer works; that God causes bleeding statues; that people hear the voice of God; that God manipulates the economy; that God works through world leaders; etc…

    This modern hands-off God is almost completely at odds with theism, and almost certainly at odds with mainstream Christianity. This philosophical view of God, it is nothing more than lipstick on a pig… plus a full-body makeover wrapped up in an elegant evening gown. Just how much do the eric-type of theists think they need to dress up the pig before it’s unrecognisable (to us) as one?

  239. #239 Kel
    April 16, 2009

    Methinks eric will believe a dressed-up pig is not a pig long before he can convince others of the idea. But even if you teach the pig to walk upright, teach it to talk, teach it to dance, even give it enough plastic surgery that it looks like a human – it is still a pig. It always was a pig, it will always be a pig, please stop pretending otherwise.

  240. #240 Ken_Cope
    April 16, 2009

    You know, Kel, with a pig like that, there’s just not enough bacon on it to bother with. I’m also going to keep a lot of distance between me and mine, and people who can’t spy such a pig without slathering lipstick on it, while accusing me of flunking cosmetology.

  241. #241 Steve_C
    April 16, 2009

    Mmm. Did someone say bacon?

  242. #242 Ken_Cope
    April 16, 2009

    Did someone say bacon?

    Yes. But you may notice I said nothing whatsoever about lesbians.

    Oh, bother.

  243. #243 Kel
    April 16, 2009

    Careful with that bacon, eric will slather it in cosmetics then complain that you’re misrepresenting it by calling it bacon ;)

  244. #244 Wowbagger, OM
    April 16, 2009

    I’ve been thinking of ways to extend on the Courtier’s Reply, because there are other ways to use the ‘naked Emperor’ analogy, because it’s so perfect for theism

    So, there’s the genre-defence courtier who tries to explain that the Emperor’s always been naked, and no intelligent, educated subject has ever believed that he wore clothes – only the stupid fundamentalists who read the history books of the empire (which clearly describe the emperor as wearing clothes, in front of people, all the time) the wrong way.

    I haven’t yet worked out what someone holding eric’s position might say. Any ideas?

  245. #245 Zarquon
    April 16, 2009

    Bacon lance of Death (via BoingBoing)

  246. #246 Kel
    April 16, 2009

    I just want to explain my concept of why I use the term “lipstick on a pig.”

    You say eric that God is purely a philosophical issue, and if you truly subscribed to a philosopher’s god I could agree with you. But you and those other theologians don’t. They subscribe to the bronze-age myth of Yahweh, just dressed up. The god of the philosophers is not the god of the bible, rather the god of the bible has been dressed up to be the god of the philosophers. That Yahweh in it’s inception was there to explain what science explains now – that Yahweh gave order in the universe that was otherwise incomprehensible. It would be hard-pressed to argue that the God of the bible was anything but an explanation of order in the universe at a time of incomprehensibility.

    And this is where I see the god of the philosophers being misused – Yahweh is being dressed up to appear like the god of the philosophers, but in reality it’s existence is that same bronze age myth that was there 2500 years ago. By dressing it up as the god of the philosophers, it allows for the incredulous dogma to pass through without question; that because there’s a philosophical god that god must be Jesus incarnate. And I like many others reject that notion, we can see that the lipstick in on a pig. And either way you try to justify that one is the other (either by showing that Jesus rose from the dead and is thus God, or that there is a God and that means that the claims of Jesus are true) all it feels like to the New Atheist is that you are trying to pull a con.

    Maybe the god of the philosophers is valid, but the god of the philosophers is so nebulous that it ceases to tell us anything. Why does the cosmological argument point to a conscious deity that takes interest in the affairs of humans? Why doesn’t it simply say that there must be a causeless cause or point to an eternal source? It seems so anthropic to state that there must be a cause that takes affairs into the doings of humans – especially as we are now a product of evolution in a universe that has more stars than there are grains of sand on all the beaches on earth. This is my problem, it’s that Christian theology is bunk and has been for a long time.

    If you base your arguments on pure philosophy then I could see where you are coming from. But to me it seems that if you believe, it’s most likely that you were born into a religious family and thus the philosophy is nothing more than a justification for beliefs you came to for non-smart reasons. Perhaps it would be good to answer why the philosophical god implies Jesus or that Jesus implies the philosophical god, because I honestly can’t see the connection beyond trying to dismiss any legitimate criticism of the concept of Yahweh.

  247. #247 Aquaria
    April 16, 2009

    Pot, meet kettle. Fancy seeing you here! My apologies if I missed your point! It was so cleverly hidden behind insults and generalizations that I would probably have passed right on by if you hadn’t pointed it out. Are you saying, then, that there are times when it’s necessary to be radical and times when it’s necessary to be open to discussion? Huh. That sounds familiar. In fact, it sounds a lot like my position, and a whole lot like Julian Baggini’s.

    Once again, since you can’t seem to read, here is what I said, in its entirety:

    We tried nice. Look where we are. Having to scrape and claw our way to hang on to the very basics of our Constitution.

    A rights struggle of this kind gets nowhere without good cop/bad cop. Every civil rights movement must have that, or it will fail. Too radical, and the man shuts it down. Too appeasing, and the status quo steamrolls over it.

    It’s just stupid to always be accommodating. No, it’s fucking suicidal.

    I’ve bolded the part you must have missed. Did you see the too radical? Did you see the too accommodating?

    Clearly not, since you took only the last sentence and leapt on that. Bewhatthefuck is saying that people like Dawkins and PZ need to tone it down.

    No, they don’t. They play a vital role in this, too. If he thinks otherwise, then why the whining about the New Atheists, who are quite distinctive now for their “loudness?” If you’re complaining about the way the New Atheists present their arguments, that’s not allowing the radicals to do their thing–which is vital.

    So you have EPIC FAIL. Once again.

    And I don’t care if you don’t like my tone. How something is expressed does not change the validity or invalidity, truth or lack of truth of what is being said. But you, and Nisbett, and Mr. B seem to think otherwise.

    I guess if someone very nicely said, “Snuggum sweetie pie, I dont’ mean to tell you what to do, but swallowing this cyanide won’t hurt you,” while the person next to him said, “Don’t be a fucking moron, it will kill you!” the former would deserve to be heeded because he said it soooooo nicely.

    This is exactly the kind of nonsense that leads to moronic thinking.

  248. #248 Ken_Cope
    April 16, 2009

    Eric the half a bee defends against accusations of Craig advocating irrationality if it challenges faith:

    Craig is arguing, in this context, that belief in god is properly basic (through the ‘self-authenticating witness of the holy spirit’), and that properly basic beliefs are ‘intrinsic defeaters’ for any ‘extrinsic defeaters’ brought against them.

    The “holy spirit” is not properly basic, unless the schizophrenic hearing voices is properly basic. This bullshit from Craig is worse than irrational, he’s privileging madness over reason. Of course madness can defeat any challenge to whatever form of mania has taken hold. Abraham, hearing voices to sacrifice his son, should have been locked away, not venerated. You’d have to be crazy to take Craig seriously.

  249. #249 cicely
    April 16, 2009

    Wowbagger @ 237:

    Proof of the resurrection does not make a case for the truth of Christianity, it makess a case for Jesus possessing supernatural powers*.

    Alternative interpretations are possible. The supernatural powers need not be possessed by Jesus. It could be a frame-up or joke on the part of someone/someThing else…say, a noodly appendage. Or, there’s always the Undead Jesus approach (conventionally zombie, but I favor the vampire hypothesis).

    Just sayin’

  250. #250 cicely
    April 16, 2009

    Or possibly, it’s Quantum.

  251. #251 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    April 16, 2009

    I take your bacon-lance and raise you a BA-K-47

  252. #252 Eric
    April 16, 2009

    “You’d have to be crazy to take Craig seriously.”

    Here’s just a short list of those crazies:

    Frank Zindler, Graham Oppy, Keith Parsons, Paul Draper, Peter Atkins, Garrett Hardin, Antony Flew, Theodore Drange, Quentin Smith, Michael Tooley, Douglas Jesseph, Corey Washington, Massimo Pigliucci, Edwin Curley, Ron Barrier, Victor Stenger, Brian Leiter, Brian Edwards, Austin Dacey, Bill Cooke, John R. Shook, Ray Bradley, Richard Taylor, Kai Nielson, Walter Sinnott Armstrong, Eric Dayton, Henry Morgentaler, Paul Kurtz, Louise Antony, John Dominic Crossan, Gerd Ludemann, Robert Price, Hector Avalos, Bart Ehrman, James Crossley, Roy Hoover, Marcus Borg, Richard Carrier, Richard Gale, J. Howard Sobel, Michael Martin, Wes Morriston, John Taylor, Adolf Grünbaum, Wallace Matson, etc.

    The (very much incomplete) list above contains people — some of whom are at the top of their respective fields — who have taken Craig seriously enough to engage his arguments either in print or in debates (or both), with the exception of Brain Leiter, whom I only mentioned because he recently listed Craig among the hottest philosophers writing on metaphysics today.

    “Maybe the god of the philosophers is valid, but the god of the philosophers is so nebulous that it ceases to tell us anything.”

    I’m not sure what you have in mind when you refer to ‘the god of the philosophers,’ but it’s not the god of Aquinas, who is determined *through argument alone* to be eternal, incorporeal, simple, universally perfect, one, omniscient, perfectly good, an agent, loving, omnipotent, the creative and sustaining cause of everything that exists, and the final cause towards which everything is directed. Now sure, that’s not the triune god of Christianity, but it’s much closer to it than the ‘nebulous god of the philosophers’ you seemed to have had in mind.

    “It would be hard-pressed to argue that the God of the bible was anything but an explanation of order in the universe at a time of incomprehensibility.”

    This is an all too common, but nonetheless gross oversimplification (resulting, no doubt, from our tendency to take ancient writings and concepts and force them into a Procrustean fit with modern categories of thought). See, for example, Robert Alter’s translation and commentary on the Torah (The Five Books of Moses: A Translation with Commentary).

    “I’ve been thinking of ways to extend on the Courtier’s Reply, because there are other ways to use the ‘naked Emperor’ analogy, because it’s so perfect for theism…I haven’t yet worked out what someone holding eric’s position might say. Any ideas?”

    Someone above suggested calling it the ‘that’s-not-*my*-naked-emperor-you’re-seeing’ move. Not bad, eh?

    “Proof of the resurrection does not make a case for the truth of Christianity, it makess a case for Jesus possessing supernatural powers*.”

    No one treats it as a proof, but as an abductive argument. The question is, what’s the best explanation, given all the data? Arguably, within the context of second temple Judaism, the best explanation of the resurrection (supposing like you, for the sake of argument, that it could be defended) is the Christian one. The ‘supernatural’ explanation you posit is more ad hoc, and lacks both explanatory power and scope (again, especially given the context).

    “And if these current, philosophical arguments represent the correct understanding of Christianity, how come there’ve been Christians for so long?”

    See Polkinghorne’s critical realist approach to understanding the developments of Christian conceptions of god. But more importantly, these arguments aren’t all current. Christians have been attempting to understand Christianity with secular categories throughout its history. And, if Aquinas’s conception of the unity of truth obtains, we should expect our understanding of god to change with time (as our understanding of the world and ourselves improves).

  253. #253 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    April 16, 2009

    Yawn, meaningless sophistry.

  254. #254 Eric
    April 16, 2009

    “Yawn, meaningless sophistry.”

    Yawn, a contentless response.

  255. #255 CJO
    April 16, 2009

    John Dominic Crossan, Hector Avalos, [and] Bart Ehrman… have taken Craig seriously enough to engage his arguments either in print or in debates (or both)

    These three authors (whose names I picked out because with them I know of what I speak) “take Craig seriously” on the subject of historical evidence for Christianity only to the extent that they recognize the cultural currency of his style of conservative Protestant apologetics and his standing within that community. They don’t “take Craig seriously” in the sense that they think his approach to the subject has any merit, which I believe is the sense in which the phrase was used in the claim you’re responding to.

  256. #256 Eric
    April 16, 2009

    “They don’t “take Craig seriously” in the sense that they think his approach to the subject has any merit, which I believe is the sense in which the phrase was used in the claim you’re responding to.”

    If that’s the sense in which the phrase was being used, then I agree with you. However, it wasn’t the sense in which I understood it.

    I don’t think we can identify ‘take seriously’ with ‘see merit in an approach.’ If this is the case, then we can say that most academics don’t take their colleagues’ work seriously, even though they engage with it voluminously; that, however, doesn’t seem to make much sense to me. This is why I prefer to think of ‘take seriously’ as (loosely) ‘judging an argument worthy of refutation.’ Most work in most disciplines is lost in the ether; next to no one recognizes it or comments on it. In other words, the academic community doesn’t ‘take it seriously’ in my sense. By contrast, work that is heavily responded to tends to generate as many, if not more, critical responses than positive responses, much of which could be characterized as ‘not thinking such and such an approach has any merit.’

  257. #257 Kel
    April 16, 2009

    I’m not sure what you have in mind when you refer to ‘the god of the philosophers,’ but it’s not the god of Aquinas, who is determined *through argument alone* to be eternal, incorporeal, simple, universally perfect, one, omniscient, perfectly good, an agent, loving, omnipotent, the creative and sustaining cause of everything that exists, and the final cause towards which everything is directed. Now sure, that’s not the triune god of Christianity, but it’s much closer to it than the ‘nebulous god of the philosophers’ you seemed to have had in mind.

    How can anyone argue in the 21st century that some of those properties could be attributed to god? Aquinas may have argued that, but with our modern understanding of humanity, how can they hold water anymore? We know that love is a product of the brain designed to help with social bonding, just as one example. Though how is that description not nebulous. What does it mean for a deity to be “loving”? What does it mean for a deity to be “simple”? What does it mean for a deity to be “universally perfect”?

    This is an all too common, but nonetheless gross oversimplification (resulting, no doubt, from our tendency to take ancient writings and concepts and force them into a Procrustean fit with modern categories of thought).

    Even if it oversimplifies, doesn’t it have a kernel of truth at the core of it? Are you going to argue that the god of the bible was not there as a replacement for human knowledge? And are you going to argue that even today that this is not the case? I suppose all those Christians who think that God created us from magic dirt aren’t True ChristiansTM which only includes the overwhelming majority for the best part of 1900 years and even now a large minority. You may say it’s an oversimplification, but that doesn’t take away that there is truth in what is being said. Why can’t you concede that: yes, god was once used as a means of explaining order in a seemingly chaotic world? Why can’t you concede that many atheists are seeing theists who try and distance themselves from that yet it’s clear as fucking day that it’s the case – and it’s still the case for many today. This is why I say lipstick on a pig, you are trying to dress up Christianity as anything but what God used to (and still for many) represent – claiming that somehow modern thought on Christianity doesn’t require God to be a crafter of magic dirt (according to Craig, he’s a tweaker of bosons)

  258. #258 Kel
    April 16, 2009

    Here’s just a short list of those crazies: Antony Flew

    It’s not nice to make fun of his dementia ;)

  259. #259 Eric
    April 16, 2009

    “Why can’t you concede that: yes, god was once used as a means of explaining order in a seemingly chaotic world?”

    I thought I did concede this; remember my mention of Paley? And yes, people still do this today, but again, it’s not relevant. Many people who think evolution is true also harbor many misconceptions about it; does this say anything whatsoever about how someone like PZ understands it? And what should opponents of evolution like The Discovery Institute (sic) be addressing (sorry, I’ve seen Brian Leiter do that move with the [sic] in the past when mentioning that ridiculous institution, and I get a big kick out of it): the position of the guy who believes evolution is true, but who also thinks that we evolved from ‘monkeys,’ or people like PZ who actually understand evolution?

    “How can anyone argue in the 21st century that some of those properties could be attributed to god? Aquinas may have argued that, but with our modern understanding of humanity, how can they hold water anymore?”

    First, the time in which an idea is proposed has nothing whatsoever to do with its truth or falsity. Second, why in the world would our understanding of, say, how humans experience love tell us anything about god’s love (a term which is used analogically, btw, when referencing god)? Third, Aquinas’s arguments (which lead to the god I described) are metaphysical arguments, which is to say they’re not the kind of argument that is likely to be revised in light of ‘future discoveries’ (this is a huge misunderstanding, which often leads to the misapplication of explanatory principles such as Ockham’s razor and the like).

    “It’s not nice to make fun of his dementia ;)”

    Yeah, I could’ve been a little more careful with that one, eh?

  260. #260 'Tis Himself
    April 16, 2009

    Let me see if I have this right. Dawkins, a non-philosopher, makes non-philosophical arguments against theism, therefore he should be spat upon, his name never mentioned, his portrait turned to the wall. However Baggini and Craig, proper card-carrying, certified philosophers, are to be venerated and adored because they make proper philosophical arguments. Because, as we all know, philosophy is the only way to look at nature and non-nature, all other methods are base, vile canards, fit only to be ignored and discarded.

    Or am I giving too much credit to Dawkins, who will be the first against the wall when the philosophical revolution takes place?

  261. #261 Eric
    April 16, 2009

    “Let me see if I have this right. Dawkins, a non-philosopher, makes non-philosophical arguments against theism, therefore he should be spat upon, his name never mentioned, his portrait turned to the wall.”

    No!

    Dawkins is trying to portray his obviously philosophical arguments as scientific arguments, and his de facto philosophic arguments are poor. That’s the complaint, in a nutshell.

    “However Baggini and Craig, proper card-carrying, certified philosophers, are to be venerated and adored because they make proper philosophical arguments.”

    Well, I’m not sure about ‘venerated and adored,’ but let’s at least respect the fact that they understand the nature of the subject they’re dealing with. What would you think about a philosopher who claimed that evolution is a philosophic issue, not a scientific one? If you’re sensible, about as much as I think about a scientist who thinks that god’s existence is a scientific question, not a philosophic one.

    “Because, as we all know, philosophy is the only way to look at nature and non-nature, all other methods are base, vile canards, fit only to be ignored and discarded.”

    Again, no. Philosophy is next to useless when it comes to properly scientific questions, but science is next to useless when it comes to properly philosophic questions. (Incidentally, how to distinguish philosophic and scientific questions is itself a philosophic question, and in many cases an extremely complicated one.) However, I am open to new ideas, so if you can come up with a sensible scientific approach to the question of god’s existence (please, no absurd ‘prayer experiments’), I’m all ears.

  262. #262 Ken_Cope
    April 16, 2009

    “You’d have to be crazy to take Craig seriously.”

    Here’s just a short list of those crazies:

    So what, you can be bughouse nuts and still do acceptable theology, philosophy, even physics (after all, look at heddle, who can compartmentalize sufficiently well to do all three). Eric ignored my point, which is that Abraham would today, and should be, after his aborted attempt on his son’s life, regarded as what we call in California, 5150, or, a danger to himself and others. Craig would privilege Abraham’s belief that God (or the Holy Spirit, or whatever the fuck the crazies in the fashionable salons are calling it now in philostopheze) told him to slaughter his son Isaac like a lamb in some bizarre ritual, and some imaginary angel told him it was OK at the last minute, he was no longer supposed to do it.

    Dawkins would call what Abraham was suffering from a “God Delusion” and he’d be right to do so; I imagine Oliver Sacks would agree. Craig wants to privilege Abraham’s sociopathic psychotic episode and call Abraham’s ‘self-authenticating witness of the holy spirit’ a properly basic belief, and it would be irresponsible to release Abraham today after a mandatory 72 hour hold, kept away from sharp objects and his family, and anybody who’d take Craig’s testimony on behalf of Abraham today seriously and reject Dawkins, is utterly mad to to do so. This is not to say they’re not functional for the most part, but they are also crazy.

  263. #263 Ken_Cope
    April 16, 2009

    For some more sad cases who do great mathematics but who were very messed up, look at Kurt Gödel, and John Forbes Nash, the subject of the film A Beautiful Mind.

    Science and medicine are the expert witnesses in the court that must decide whether or not a person’s mental states approximate reality with sufficient fidelity that their autonomy and freedom should not be abridged. To the extent that a philosopher wants to claim such questions are its turf, and claim a religious exemption, telling science, medicine and the law that it isn’t their jurisdiction, philosophy is, or should be, overruled.

  264. #264 Wowbagger, OM
    April 16, 2009

    First, the time in which an idea is proposed has nothing whatsoever to do with its truth or falsity.

    Actually, I suspect it does; if people at the time didn’t believe it was true, no-one would have bothered to write it down.

    I’m not sure what you have in mind when you refer to ‘the god of the philosophers,’ but it’s not the god of Aquinas, who is determined *through argument alone* to be eternal, incorporeal, simple, universally perfect, one, omniscient, perfectly good, an agent, loving, omnipotent, the creative and sustaining cause of everything that exists, and the final cause towards which everything is directed.

    That you can consider such a thing – that a god about which nothing at all is known but about which everything proposed is asserted without any valid basis for doing so – to be useful as anything other than the worst kind of sophistry illustrates exactly why the philosophy of religion is an entirely pointless exercise outside of the classroom, or as a form entertainment for those who enjoy the process.

    Christians don’t have faith because of philosophy; the philosophy exists solely for those faithful who are perceptive enough to realise they’ve bought a lemon but want to find a way of avoiding admitting it – to themselves and others.

  265. #265 Kel
    April 16, 2009

    I thought I did concede this; remember my mention of Paley? And yes, people still do this today, but again, it’s not relevant.

    I’m not talking about the likes of Paley, I’m talking about the tribe who invented God. That they were a superstitious people who used god to give a sense of order in the world – but they were not the only ones. All tribes throughout history have done this, are you honestly arguing that the Christianity is the exception to the rule?

    First, the time in which an idea is proposed has nothing whatsoever to do with its truth or falsity. Second, why in the world would our understanding of, say, how humans experience love tell us anything about god’s love (a term which is used analogically, btw, when referencing god)?

    Completely agree, but it does raise questions as to how we can attribute those to god in anything other than an anthropomorphic fashion. Now we know that love, morality, knowledge, etc. are products of evolution as opposed to being God-given, why can they just exist in god but within us have an emergent quality? Again, how is this not lipstick on a pig? These traits were attributed to God initially to explain them in us. Now that we know how traits arise (and for them to ‘just exist’ seems absurd) why would a deity need to embody these traits?

    I agree with you that if God exists, it exists external to our understanding of God. I seem to remember saying this to you in a previous thread.

    To me the question is how we can know this taking into account the modern interpretation of our place in the universe and of our origins. And it seems a great double standard that god can have attributes naturally that in humans require an explanation – that theists demand how we can explain consciousness or love yet allow god to embody both those without explanation. That something must have come from nothing for the universe to exist, but god is eternal. In that god can never die, there’s no attempt to falsify the idea, but a means to protect the concept regardless of whether it’s true or not.

  266. #266 Kel
    April 16, 2009

    However, I am open to new ideas, so if you can come up with a sensible scientific approach to the question of god’s existence (please, no absurd ‘prayer experiments’), I’m all ears.

    Shouldn’t you be looking for your own way to falsify your idea? Many of us already feel god has been falsified. Can you think of a way in which you could feel that God is a dead idea?

  267. #267 Wowbagger, OM
    April 16, 2009

    However, I am open to new ideas, so if you can come up with a sensible scientific approach to the question of god’s existence (please, no absurd ‘prayer experiments’), I’m all ears.

    And yet, if a prayer experiment actually worked, I’d be very surprised if eric – and all the other ‘god isn’t a scientific hypothesis’ people – didn’t make an extremely big deal out of it.

  268. #268 Eric
    April 16, 2009

    “I’m talking about the tribe who invented God. That they were a superstitious people who used god to give a sense of order in the world – but they were not the only ones. All tribes throughout history have done this, are you honestly arguing that the Christianity is the exception to the rule?”

    I think it’s obvious that Christianity is indeed an exception to the rule (if it is indeed a rule; and, I’d add, it’s not the only exception): Christianity didn’t arise because people needed to ‘[use] god to give a sense of order in the world,’ but because a small group of people became convinced that Jesus had been resurrected.

    “And it seems a great double standard that god can have attributes naturally that in humans require an explanation – that theists demand how we can explain consciousness or love yet allow god to embody both those without explanation.”

    Kel, it’s simply not true that these attributes are simply asserted to belong to god without explanation. For example, I referred you earlier to Aquinas’s SCG, in which he lays out a number of extremely rigorous arguments defending the existence of god and his attributes. You can of course criticize the arguments, but you can’t say that Aquinas was content to assert these attributes without explanation.

    “Completely agree, but it does raise questions as to how we can attribute those to god in anything other than an anthropomorphic fashion.”

    See Aquinas’s doctrine of analogy, where he distinguishes the univocal, equivocal and analogical uses of various terms.

    “That you can consider such a thing – that a god about which nothing at all is known but about which everything proposed is asserted without any valid basis for doing so – to be useful as anything other than the worst kind of sophistry illustrates exactly why the philosophy of religion is an entirely pointless exercise outside of the classroom, or as a form entertainment for those who enjoy the process.”

    See my reference above to Aquinas’s SCG. It’s simply not the case that ‘everything proposed is asserted without any valid basis for doing so’; as I said, it’s not asserted, but argued for, and argued for rigorously over hundreds of pages in various works (look for yourself).

  269. #269 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    April 16, 2009

    Properly controlled studies have shown no benefit to prayer. Just as would be expected if god doesn’t exist. So, until new studies are carried out and actually show the proper responses with the proper controls, god doesn’t exist.

  270. #270 SAWells
    April 16, 2009

    Eric, do you seriously believe Aquinas’ arguments for a god hold any water at all? Really?

    Let’s have a look at them. Grabbing from Wiki:

    >The Argument of the Unmoved Mover
    * Some things are moved.
    * Everything that is moving is moved by a mover.
    * An infinite regress of movers is impossible.
    * Therefore, there is an unmoved mover from whom all motion proceeds.
    * This mover is what we call God.

    This one fails at steps 1 and 2 as it assumes an Aristotelian physics with absolute rest and forced motion. It also fails at 3 (infinite regress is logically possible, consider the infinite regress of negative integers) and at 4 (assumes _one_ unmoved mover, and a standard of absolute rest) and 5 is unjustified (the mover is Barry, the Space Ox. He’s as dumb as a post.)

    >The Argument of the First Cause

    * Some things are caused.
    * Everything that is caused is caused by something else.
    * An infinite regress of causation is impossible.
    * Therefore, there must be an uncaused cause of all that is caused.
    * This causer is what we call God.

    Fails, again, at 3, at 4 (assumes one uncaused cause) and at 5 (The uncaused cause is Flargthorn the Uncaused. He hates you.)

    >The Argument from Contingency

    * Many things in the universe may either exist or not exist. Such things are called contingent beings.
    * It is impossible for everything in the universe to be contingent, for then there would be a time when nothing existed, and so nothing would exist now, since there would be nothing to bring anything into existence, which is clearly false.
    * Therefore, there must be a necessary being whose existence is not contingent on any other being or beings.
    * This being is whom we call God.

    Fails at 4 (Whipwhop the Necessary is not your god), at 3 (assumes _one_ necessary being) and at 2 (if nothing exists, no reason exists for something not to exist!).

    >The Argument from Degree

    * Varying perfections of varying degrees may be found throughout the universe.
    * These degrees assume the existence of an ultimate standard of perfection.
    * Therefore perfection must have a pinnacle

    Fails at 1 (perfection of what?) and at 2 (different lengths do not imply an ultimate standard of infinite length).

    >The Teleological Argument

    * All natural bodies in the world act towards ends.
    * These objects are in themselves unintelligent.
    * Acting towards an end is characteristic of intelligence.
    * Therefore, there exists an intelligent being that guides all natural bodies towards their ends.
    * This being is whom we call God.

    Fails at (1) due again to an assumption of Aristotelian physics and fiat declaration that what’s happening in nature is “action towards ends” rather than, say, gravity and instinct; at (3) because this is a fiat declaration and because action towards an apparent end (by, say, an ant) is also characteristic of evolved creatures; at (4) by assumption of _one_ intelligent being and at (5) by, you guessed it, Wongthroop the Guider is not what you call god.

    Notice, Eric, that what you claim to be inevitable metaphysical truths aren’t. Aquinas had physical and biological and mathematical theories in mind, and since the poor fellow lived before Galileo and Darwin and Einstein and Cantor and so many others, he had _wrong_ theories in mind and came to wrong conclusions. Good thinker, but limited by his time, as are we all.

    So, now you don’t have to believe in Aquinas’ gods any more. No charge.

  271. #271 RobertDW
    April 16, 2009

    Re the supposed evidence for Jesus’s supernatural powers.

    Given that we know that the sources of testimony for this (the Bible) was deliberately edited to promote a supernatural Jesus (with several texts and versions of the gospels that depicted a non-supernatural Jesus, up to and including denying the Resurrection) during the canonisation process, the most probable answer is that the books _lie_.

    The textbook approach to this problem, when you’re studying history, is to find corroborative sources. Strangely enough, there aren’t any for the Bible.

    Even if you assumed the Bible to be an accurate description of the events, none of the feats described are impossible to stage. My favourite is the “water-to-wine” version; this one was a reasonable common street-magician trick, where you took some poor quality wine and evaporated all the liquid away, leaving a lot of vegetable pulp behind. When you add water again, you get “wine” – it’s non alcholic (but wines back then were typically very low alchol anyway), but it will fool a lot of people.

    Kind of like Moses’ “stick-to-snake” trick is a snake, paralysed by the way you hold it, covered in mud.

    Walk on water? Prepare the water first with planks underneath. Nobody’s likely to notice if your feet get a bit wet.

    Heal the lame and sick? Faith healers pull this particular piece of charlatanism all the time. It takes accomplices, make up, and a credulous audience.

    Even the Resurrection itself requires no more than 2 or 3 accomplices to be staged.

  272. #272 Kel
    April 16, 2009

    I think it’s obvious that Christianity is indeed an exception to the rule (if it is indeed a rule; and, I’d add, it’s not the only exception): Christianity didn’t arise because people needed to ‘[use] god to give a sense of order in the world,’ but because a small group of people became convinced that Jesus had been resurrected.

    Again, lipstick on a pig. Are you going to argue that Christianity is not built on the foundation of Judaism where the concept of God came from?

  273. #273 Eric
    April 16, 2009

    “Can you think of a way in which you could feel that God is a dead idea?”

    Absolutely. Provide a conclusive argument from evil. Demonstrate that god’s attributes are inconsistent, or that the very concept of god is incoherent. Wrt Christianity, if someone found Jesus’ ossuary, I’d concede that Christianity would be falsified.

    “And yet, if a prayer experiment actually worked, I’d be very surprised if eric – and all the other ‘god isn’t a scientific hypothesis’ people – didn’t make an extremely big deal out of it.”

    Wowbagger, good point. But let’s say that the experiment did work — what would follow from that? At most, it would follow that I was wrong, and that god’s existence can be tested scientifically. But can we conclude from this hypothetical that the question of god’s existence *is* therefore a scientific one? It doesn’t seem to me that we can. Think of it this way: take any X about which it is disputed whether X is a scientific question. Wouldn’t it follow, from any successful set of experiments, that X is a scientific question? Sure, but what does that tell us about the nature of the question before we come up with those successful experiments? In short, your hypothetical may be true, but it’s trivially true given that it’s reducible to a tautology.

  274. #274 Wowbagger, OM
    April 16, 2009

    See my reference above to Aquinas’s SCG. It’s simply not the case that ‘everything proposed is asserted without any valid basis for doing so’; as I said, it’s not asserted, but argued for, and argued for rigorously over hundreds of pages in various works (look for yourself).

    Then how is it possible for a philosopher who has read Aquinas to be an atheist? Surely if his arguments are as rigorous and powerful as you seem to be claiming they are, it wouldn’t be possible to not accept them?

    And I stand by my claim of making assertions without valid bases; particularly in regards to the assumptions of the qualities or characteristics of God.

    Heck, I’m glancing at the online version of the SCG right and it’s filled with presumptions regarding God’s existence, which he then goes on to argue for; such as:

    This notion is formed in the understanding by whoever hears and understands the name ‘God,’ so that God must already exist at least in the mind.

    Emphasis mine. ‘Must’? To me it seems he’s claiming humans are predisposed to believe in god – that’s an assertion, without any valid basis for doing so.

    It’s exactly the same way the creation ‘scientists’ approach the problem – they assume their god exists and go looking for things which they think will help prove that. Aquinas (and Lane Craig and so forth) assume their god exists and go about finding philosophical arguments to support that claim.

    The expression, I believe, is ‘putting the cart before the horse’.

  275. #275 Kel
    April 16, 2009

    Absolutely. Provide a conclusive argument from evil. Demonstrate that god’s attributes are inconsistent, or that the very concept of god is incoherent.

    tbh, I don’t think this could ever happen. When God can commit genocide and still be called good, there simply is no way that evil can top that.

  276. #276 CJO
    April 16, 2009

    I think it’s obvious that Christianity is indeed an exception to the rule (if it is indeed a rule; and, I’d add, it’s not the only exception): Christianity didn’t arise because people needed to ‘[use] god to give a sense of order in the world,’ but because a small group of people became convinced that Jesus had been resurrected.

    There’s zero evidence that any such person lived in the time of Pilate, so if you’re imagining that some actual, singular, historical event kicked off Christianity, you’re just wrong. (Yes, it’s an assertion, but if you want me to make the case, I’ll be glad to.)

    Granted, not in the same way as the (ahem) Iron Age figure Yahweh the Sky God living on the highest local mountain and sending rain, or not, but, the idea of the resurrection was very much invented to “give a sense of order in the world.” A sense of order to Jews interested in a new kind of native piety amidst the upheaval of the 1st Century in an Eastern Mediterranean region that was expected by its new overlords to settle down and become a busy, docile client people in the glorious Pax Romana. A way to make sense of the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple in the later part of the century and a way for Gentiles to partake of what was perceived as the solemnity and essential dignity of the Hebrew epic, but which had heretofore spoken only to the Chosen People.

    It is not at all obvious that Christianity is exceptional in the way you want it to be.

  277. #277 SAWells
    April 16, 2009

    Eric, I’ve had a little pick through SCG and found the Mover argument. The killer line is this: “A thing is in motion because something else puts and keeps it in motion.” In the Latin, “omne quod movetur, ab alio movetur”. That’s a statement of physics, and it’s wrong. Your timeless metaphysical truth just isn’t.

  278. #278 Eric
    April 16, 2009

    “So, now you don’t have to believe in Aquinas’ gods any more. No charge.”

    SAWells, that comment was no more substantive than a comment from a creationist grabbing Darwins remark about the eye from a wiki quote, and proceeding to tell you that you have no need to believe in evolution anymore, would be. Now, do you honestly think that none of the brilliant Thomists of the twentieth century were aware of the 101 level criticisms you posted?

  279. #279 SAWells
    April 16, 2009

    Eric, you don’t make a criticism not exist by claiming it’s “101″ level. Brute fact: Aquinas makes claims based on what’s now a known-false physics. I’m sure many brilliant Thomists have successfully pretended otherwise. So what? Your argument from authority fails. I hate to say “Courtier’s reply”, but, well, that was one; how _dare_ I so crudely point out the swinging imperial nutsack when so many erudite fashion critics have described his logically necessary jockstrap so elegantly?

  280. #280 RobertDW
    April 16, 2009

    Also, Aquinas’ god couldn’t be the god of the Bible, even if it existed:

    From wikipedia:

    * God is simple, without composition of parts, such as body and soul, or matter and form.[58]
    * God is perfect, lacking nothing. That is, God is distinguished from other beings on account of God’s complete actuality.[59]
    * God is infinite. That is, God is not finite in the ways that created beings are physically, intellectually, and emotionally limited. This infinity is to be distinguished from infinity of size and infinity of number.[60]
    * God is immutable, incapable of change on the levels of God’s essence and character.[61]
    * God is one, without diversification within God’s self. The unity of God is such that God’s essence is the same as God’s existence. In Aquinas’s words, “in itself the proposition ‘God exists’ is necessarily true, for in it subject and predicate are the same.”

    God is simple, without parts? But Man was made in his image. That means he looks like a human male (or, more accurately, we look god-like). So he has toes, feet, genitalia, face, beard, etc. He also mooned one of his prophets, so he’s got buttocks as well.

    God is perfect? Yet he consistently makes flawed creations. Not just humans – even his angels are screwed up. He also performs acts out of jealousy and rage that he then decides later was a mistake, or at least an overreaction (kicking Adam from the Garden, the Flood)

    God is infinite? Aquinas didn’t even have a good understanding of what infinite meant. Infinity as a concept was very immature in Aquinas do.

    God is immutable? Crap – the Bible has lots of examples of God changing. The whole point of Jesus coming to Earth was for God to learn and change.

    God is one? His argument was that “God exists” is a predicate. No, it’s an assertion. It also doesn’t go anywhere to prove that said God is the God of the Bible, which his other claims of God’s nature disprove.

    Aquinas was unable, due to the limitations imposed on him by his environment, to conceive of a world without God. This is also evident in his arguments for God’s existence that SAWells takes apart above.

    I’d like to add one other example to SAWell’s post that demonstrates Aquinas’ ignorance. The argument of the Unmoved Mover relies on a misunderstanding of physics. Consider the classic two-body problem of gravitation – place two objects a distance apart, at rest, in a closed system, and they will move together by themselves – each is the mover of the other. Aquinas couldn’t have known this, of course – gravity wasn’t understood for centuries after his death.

  281. #281 Kel
    April 16, 2009

    “Either God wants to abolish evil, and cannot; or he can, but does not want to. If he wants to, but cannot, he is impotent. If he can, but does not want to, he is wicked. If God can abolish evil, and God really wants to do it, why is there evil in the world?” – Epicurus

    “Is he willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then is he impotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then is he malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Whence then is evil?” – David Hume

    “Only if the theist expects very little from such a being can she defend what God has done. Either God isn’t smart enough to figure out how to create a good world, or he doesn’t have the power to do it, or he just doesn’t care. You pick. These are the logical options given in this world.” – John W Loftus

  282. #282 SAWells
    April 16, 2009

    Wowbagger at 274, that’s a lovely example of the old dodge where philosophers claim “X exists in my mind” when they really mean “the idea of X exists in my mind”. I can think of the Taj Mahal and it doesn’t _exist in my mind_, it exists in India and the idea of it exists in my mind.

  283. #283 Feynmaniac
    April 16, 2009

    Eric,

    Perhaps you can clarify matters by giving us :

    (1) What your conception of God is
    (2) What your proof/evidence of said God is

  284. #284 RobertDW
    April 16, 2009

    brilliant Thomists of the twentieth century

    a) they’re just as guilty of wish fulfilment as Aquinas was. They are taking a pre-desired outcome (the existence of God) and rationalising reasons for it.

    b) If their arguments hold water better than Aquinas does, it’s because they are different arguments – not Aquinas’ “timeless logic”. Because those “101 level criticisms” posted by SAWells do debunk, 100%, every one of Aquinas’s arguments by exposing errors and logical fallacies.

    The real problem is that you are holding up Aquinas as an example of logic when all it takes is 101-level arguments to debunk him.

  285. #285 RobertDW
    April 16, 2009

    Wowbagger at 274, that’s a lovely example of the old dodge where philosophers claim “X exists in my mind” when they really mean “the idea of X exists in my mind”.

    There’s also lots of examples of ideas existing inside the mind that don’t exist. It’s called “fiction”. Humans are quite capable of devising concepts that have no connection to reality.

    (Heh – my local bookstore recently re-arranged. It now has non-fiction books near the entrance, fiction books in the middle, then the religious & new age books. The fiction is graduated – “real-world” fiction is closest to the entrance, then sci-fi & fantasy. Next to that is the religious section, and finally the new age. One of the employees told me it was based on how silly you have to be to believe the book is true)

  286. #286 Eric
    April 16, 2009

    “A thing is in motion because something else puts and keeps it in motion.”

    SAWells, your criticism of this proposition, viz. it violates our current conception of physics, is simply false, and the problem is that you’re reading into Aquinas post-Humean assumptions. It’s a huge problem with amateurish ‘secular-web’ quality analyses of Aquinas’s arguments. Remember, Aquinas doesn’t think of causation (‘puts and keeps’) in terms of efficient and material causation alone (which, in an emaciated form, is all that modern science methodologically considers); he also considers formal and, more importantly, final causes. Also, you have to keep in mind what Aquinas means by a ‘mover’; he took his conception from Aristotle, who defines a mover not as what is in constant conjunction with what is moved, but as what first began some motion. Further, Aquinas is referring to essentially ordered causal series here, not to accidentally ordered causal series (an important distinction!). Finally, modern physics only considers causation from a mathematical perspective, but it doesn’t follow that if X can’t be described mathematically, X can’t be caused. The problem here is your false identification of a metaphysical principle with a physical principle.

  287. #287 Wowbagger, OM
    April 16, 2009

    It seems to be a case of ‘well, if all these philosophers almost proved the existence of god, surely when you add that all up together, with the fact that most historians believe Jesus existed, and some physicists believe certain things that might imply the existence of a deity, then it must be a fact that my god – and only the specific god of my particular religion (and subset of that religion), not anyone elses – exists.’

  288. #288 Kel
    April 16, 2009

    So the arguments for God don’t work in reality, but that’s okay because they work in metaphysics? Fuck, how is this not shifting the goalposts? If the concept of God has no basis in reality, no predictive or explanatory power of anything we see in nature – then why God?

  289. #289 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    April 16, 2009

    We’re back where we started. A god that doesn’t interact with the physical world exists only between peoples ears. A god who does interact with the physical world should leave evidence of his passing. No conclusive evidence for that has been shown to date. So, this god is very unlikely.

  290. #290 RobertDW
    April 16, 2009

    Eric, your last counterargument @286 makes no sense.

    Aquinas considers formal and final causes? What he said was everything has a cause, but because you can’t have an infinite series of causes, you need something special to be the first cause and you call that God.

    The problem is that modern physics, which is based on real world knowledge and not mental masturbation, has demonstrated that this is false. Or, more accurately, events can be their own cause. Aquinas assumes a deterministic universe; the universe is not deterministic but probablistic. This includes the probability that “shit just happens”.

    “Essentially ordered casual series” – um, presumably that wouldn’t include “accidentally ordered casual series”, what with that important distinction and all. So, if the universe includes “accidentally ordered casual series” (which I _think_ you are claiming our examples to be), then the universe is not “essentially ordered”…

    The real problem here, Eric, is your false identification of a metaphysical principle as being connected to reality. And then using it to try and prove the existence of something.

  291. #291 Kel
    April 16, 2009

    We’re back where we started. A god that doesn’t interact with the physical world exists only between peoples ears. A god who does interact with the physical world should leave evidence of his passing. No conclusive evidence for that has been shown to date. So, this god is very unlikely.

    Yep, it’s all circular. And eric wonders why we don’t take theists seriously, they live in a fantasy world where they can abstract their god to the point of being untouchable. God is a failed hypothesis that explains nothing in the natural world – any attempt to do so is met with spectacular failure. Instead God has become transcendant and suddenly the failed arguments for God are back on. Could we in 2009 infer the Judeo-Christian God using philosophy? I would contend not, nothing shows the trinity, nothing shows that the universe has an eternal creator that is both conscious, all-knowing and above all else has a vested interest in the human race. Given the size of the universe, given what we know about evolution, the evidence to the contrary is staggering.

    Do you understand why the New Atheists are not wanting to indulge in your philosophical sophistry? It’s because it’s nothing more than mental masturbation, a fantasy that exists not in reality. Hell, even the String Theorists try to make their Theory Of Everything fit observations in the real world.

    “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.” – Philip K Dick. God fails this basic test, Christianity (like all other religion and new age woo) is bunk.

  292. #292 windy
    April 16, 2009

    And if you can make a case through the kalam and contingency arguments that god exists, the plausibility of the resurrection increases, so these arguments are related as part of a cumulative case.

    It seems that you are referring to some sort of Bayesian analysis. But that doesn’t mix very well with the concept of properly basic beliefs. It’s rather naughty to try to apply both in the same discussion.

  293. #293 Kel
    April 16, 2009

    I jsut checked up on Craig. Apparently he’s a fellow of the DI and he doesn’t think evolution happened. Yep, completely rational person here…

  294. #294 Ichthyic
    April 16, 2009

    “Yawn, meaningless sophistry.”

    Yawn, a contentless response.

    …and yet, it was indeed a short walk to show your arguments to be nothing but sophistry.

    so it wasn’t a contentless response, it more likely was a precognitive response.

    for that matter, you’ve made essentially the same arguments previously, so one could also conclude that the response was entirely based on deduction, based on previous experience.

    Good things come in small packages.

  295. #295 Screechy Monkey
    April 16, 2009

    eric writes: ” how to distinguish philosophic and scientific questions is itself a philosophic question”

    How convenient for the philosophers.

  296. #296 CJO
    April 16, 2009

    how _dare_ I so crudely point out the swinging imperial nutsack when so many erudite fashion critics have described his logically necessary jockstrap so elegantly?

    I’m going to quote one of my fave commenters here, one David M. (y’all know of whom I speak), and just say

    Thread, meet winner.

    And don’t take it as crowing at your expense, Eric. It’s just the greatest riff off of the Emperor’s New Clothes I’ve ever heard.

  297. #297 Ken_Cope
    April 16, 2009

    Eric has identified himself in previous repetitive yawn-fests that he’s a Thomist, so if you go and dis Aquinas, you’ll make him cry. Medievalism is dead, but necrophiliacs like Eric keep digging up its corpse and venerating it, at least that’s how he tried to describe what he was doing.

    Eric, if you think Jesus got crucified and learned how to make a whistle with his hands in Hell when he was hanging out with Adam and Moses, I’ve got news for you; he didn’t. Dead people stay that way. To be polite, if you think people can die and come back from the dead in the era of bronze age medicine, you’re delusional. Note that I’m being charitable, since I didn’t say you were being deceitful or wicked.

    For Eric to be consistent, he has to acknowledge that 9/11 hijackers held a properly basic belief, assure by the ‘self-authenticating witness of the holy spirit’ that they would wake up in paradise with 72 virgins. I’m consistent. I’m saying that Abraham and the hijackers were both 5150, a danger to themselves and others, they were delusional. Tolerating such behavior and giving it a pass because it’s religious would be wicked.

  298. #298 Wowbagger, OM
    April 16, 2009

    eric wrote:

    Wowbagger, good point. But let’s say that the experiment did work — what would follow from that? At most, it would follow that I was wrong, and that god’s existence can be tested scientifically.

    This is a particularly telling response. So, you refuse to admit that science not finding god means that god doesn’t exist, but if science found something that strongly implied that god did exist you’d accept it and claim it as support for your position?

    That’s a bit like being dealt a hand in poker but, instead of just playing, looking the cards and only choosing to play if you’re dealt a royal flush.

    Funny, I’d have thought the intellectually honest answer would be that you’d reject it as irrelevant, since God is outside the boundaries of science and state that whatever it was that’s causing this statistical anomaly couldn’t possibly be god.

  299. #299 Ichthyic
    April 16, 2009

    So, you refuse to admit that science not finding god means that god doesn’t exist

    IMO, all theists MUST choose this path. All theists MUST insist that “you’re just looking for god in the wrong place”.

    I’m sure, someday, we’ll stop looking where the light is good, and just stumble upon God lying in a heap in the corner.

    I can only conclude that those like Eric must think we simply cannot logically BE atheists. At best, we must be agnostics.

    Someday, Eric will get lost looking for his pink unicorn.

  300. #300 Kel
    April 16, 2009

    Again, no. Philosophy is next to useless when it comes to properly scientific questions, but science is next to useless when it comes to properly philosophic questions.

    I would go on to say that philosophy that doesn’t appeal to science is useless in being used as a descriptor for reality. And when the concept at hand is whether something is real or not, to me the philosophy is absolutely meaningless if it doesn’t map to the real world. Consider all those who say that information theory disproves evolution, it may be that evolution is impossible and that information theory could demonstrate. But while it throws around numbers without regard to how it maps to the change in DNA over time, they simply do not have a case. Likewise any philosophical thinking may have a philosophical justification for God – but if all you are doing is ignoring observations in reality and creating a metaphysical construct in which for it to reside, then you aren’t making the case for the reality of God.

    Talking in metaphysics will get you nowhere with a scientifically-minded audience. Do you not realise that yet eric? Do you not think that maybe that while a mathematical, logical or philosophical argument can be air-tight yet have no basis in reality? As H Allen Orr put it to Dembski in his review of No Free Lunch: “Nice answer, wrong question”

  301. #301 Ichthyic
    April 16, 2009

    CJO, I don’t think you understand the kind of case Craig is making. He’s making a cumulative case argument, so he appeals to different sorts of evidence with different arguments to support different conclusions.

    If I collect a number of different colored pieces of crap, at the end of the day I still only have a pile of crap.

  302. #302 Kel
    April 16, 2009

    Just curious eric, how did you go with the Outsider Test For Faith that Loftus made in WIBAA? Have you posted a refutation of his argument on Debunking Christianity, or have it written down somewhere? I’d be curious to see what you feel makes Christianity genuinely different from all other world religions.

  303. #303 Wowbagger, OM
    April 17, 2009

    I can only conclude that those like Eric must think we simply cannot logically BE atheists. At best, we must be agnostics.

    What he appears to think is that we’re not well-educated enough in the ways of philosophy to understand why it’s wrong to not be a Christian.

    Which might be relevant if all Christians became Christians by virtue of being educated in philosophy; however, since that’s far from the truth by virtue of both the low proportion of Christians meeting that description and the even lower proportion (by eric’s own admission) of high-level philosophers who are Christians, it kind of looks like eric’s not really paying attention.

    Or perhaps he just wants his years of effort spent learning the philosophical arguments for religion recognised, rather than being dismissed by the arguments of people who just call it as they see it.

    A feudal analogy: he’s kind of like a member of the nobility who refuses to fight a commoner he knows he can’t beat – but not because he’d be beaten. He’d be fine if it were another noble handing out the thrashing, but couldn’t ever bring himself to be beaten by the member of a lower class.

  304. #304 RobertDW
    April 17, 2009

    If I collect a number of different colored pieces of crap, at the end of the day I still only have a pile of crap.

    No, if you’re that obsessive, what you will have is several different piles of crap, each organised by their own characteristics (size, shape, colour, texture, smell and, for the really strong in faith, taste). Each pile will, to you, be intrinsically valuable and beautiful in its own right. You will wonder why other people don’t appreciate the differences between your piles.

    Of course, the rest of us will think it’s just crap, and wonder why you apparently have chocolate on your chin…

  305. #305 Kel
    April 17, 2009

    What he appears to think is that we’re not well-educated enough in the ways of philosophy to understand why it’s wrong to not be a Christian.

    Which would be just fine if he could show that philosophy logically leads to Christianity. Though I would contend that nothing in philosophy points to the trinity god that is Jehovah. If it did, I would love to see it.

    If anyone can show me one example in the history of the world of a single spiritual or religious person who has been able to prove either logically or empirically the existence of a higher power that has any consciousness or interest in the human race or ability to punish or reward humans for their moral choices or that there is any reason other than fear to believe in any version of an afterlife… I will give you my piano, one of my legs, and my wife – Tim Minchin

  306. #306 CJO
    April 17, 2009

    What he appears to think is that we’re not well-educated enough in the ways of philosophy to understand why it’s wrong to not be a Christian.

    To be fair, I understand Eric’s position that way, but with a minor yet crucial difference: “…why it’s not wrong to be a Christian.”

    That is, he’s admitted that none of the arguments he brings up are coercive; he just wants to hear the same from atheists. What he seems to be arguing against primarily is the claim that theism is inherently irrational.

  307. #307 Kel
    April 17, 2009

    What he seems to be arguing against primarily is the claim that theism is inherently irrational.

    I’ll stop calling theism irrational the minute they stop using faith as anything more than a consolation that they believe despite the absence of evidence / evidence to the contrary. Unless he can explain how “reason is a tool to help us better understand our faith. Should faith and reason conflict, it is reason that must submit to faith, not vice versa” (WLC) is not inherently irrational. Faith = irrationality, so when it’s at the core of a belief system it makes that belief system irrational.

    To be honest, I admire those who argue without faith. Those who are willing to put their beliefs on the line based on experimental or historical evidence in order to test them – i.e. the ones who truly believe the evidence is on their side. Though most of the time it’s obvious that they have faith because despite showing them that contrary evidence. I am reminded of the Bedford Level Experiment where John Hampden wagered £500 pounds on that the earth was flat unless demonstrated otherwise. Even after Wallace demonstrated that the earth wasn’t flat, Hampden refused to accept the result.

    One who is willing to put their beliefs on the line and accept the results of the experiment, that is not irrational. One who defends their beliefs at all costs, that is irrational and that’s exactly what faith is.

  308. #308 SAWells
    April 17, 2009

    Eric @ 286, it’s really about the question of rest. There _is no_ absolute standard of rest against which things are or are not in motion, and objects can interact and set each other into relative motion. Appeals to final causes then become meaningless as the very existence of a final cause for motion becomes a mere assertion rather than a reliable proposition that can be used for proof. Your elegant verbiage is nicely constructed but your argument is flawed at the base.

  309. #309 Ichthyic
    April 17, 2009

    Or perhaps he just wants his years of effort spent learning the philosophical arguments for religion recognised, rather than being dismissed by the arguments of people who just call it as they see it.

    I think you might have nailed it on the head with that one.

    let’s see…

    Eric, I acknowledge the hard work you put in trying to recapitulate the apologetics of past sophists.

    I hope this recognition doesn’t make you think the arguments are any more cogent by your repetition of them.

    good luck in your future endeavors.

    I hope you find your pink unicorn.
    :P

  310. #310 Kel
    April 17, 2009

    That was brutal there Ichthyic, very brutal. Nice one

  311. #311 windy
    April 17, 2009

    Also, you have to keep in mind what Aquinas means by a ‘mover’; he took his conception from Aristotle, who defines a mover not as what is in constant conjunction with what is moved, but as what first began some motion. [...] The problem here is your false identification of a metaphysical principle with a physical principle.

    Err, Aristotle derived the metaphysical principle from his understanding of the physical principle, so why the heck shouldn’t a modern understanding of the physical principle be considered?

  312. #312 SAWells
    April 17, 2009

    @311: Because that would invalidate Thomism and eric will have wasted so much time and effort. Since eric can’t be wrong, Aristotle and Aquinas must be right.

  313. #313 Eric
    April 17, 2009

    “Since eric can’t be wrong, Aristotle and Aquinas must be right.”

    No! See CJO here, who hit the nail on the head:

    CJO: “To be fair, I understand Eric’s position that way, but with a minor yet crucial difference: “…why it’s not wrong to be a Christian.”
    That is, he’s admitted that none of the arguments he brings up are coercive; he just wants to hear the same from atheists. What he seems to be arguing against primarily is the claim that theism is inherently irrational.”

    Right! All I would add is that I also don’t think atheism is inherently irrational.

  314. #314 Eric
    April 17, 2009

    “how _dare_ I so crudely point out the swinging imperial nutsack when so many erudite fashion critics have described his logically necessary jockstrap so elegantly?”

    “I’m going to quote one of my fave commenters here, one David M. (y’all know of whom I speak), and just say
    Thread, meet winner.
    And don’t take it as crowing at your expense, Eric. It’s just the greatest riff off of the Emperor’s New Clothes I’ve ever heard.”

    Even I can concede that one!

  315. #315 RobertDW
    April 17, 2009

    Eric, I’m sorry, but theism is inherently irrational. It’s based on an irrational foundation.

    I will concede that there is a lot of rational and logic thought built up in theistic theology; the contortions the Jesuits in particular do are incredible. But it’s started from a faulty, irrational premise – your “properly basic beliefs” are axioms that we dispute.

    In computing, we have a saying for this: Garbage In, Garbage Out. If you run faulty data through brilliant logic, you end up with erroneous results.

    Oh, and it’s not wrong to be a Christian – you are fully entitled to your beliefs, irrational or otherwise. Everyone has irrational beliefs – we just differ in what they are.

  316. #316 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    April 17, 2009

    Eric, if you are a theist, just keep your beliefs to yourself on this blog. One can be a theist and be a respected poster, as exemplified by Scott Hatfield. But Scott does not argue religion on this blog.

    For most of us, the only logical position is that no physical evidence has been produced that god exists. So, the default position is that god doesn’t exist until the physical evidence is found that can be confirmed by scientists, magicians, and professional debunkers as being of divine, not natural, in origin. Such evidence would get even Dawkins to change his mind. Neither Dawkins nor myself are expecting this evidence to be found anytime soon.

    If you are offended that we deride religion as being irrational, remove us from your bookmarks, and stop viewing and posting here.

  317. #317 bastion of sass
    April 17, 2009

    OK. I’ve read all of Eric’s posts on this thread, and I’d like to sum up my understanding of them:

    Baggini…blah, blah, blah…naked man…blah, blah, blah…the courtier…the Emperor…New Atheist vs. Old Atheist…blah, blah, blah…philosophy…metaphysics…blah, blah, blah, blah…serious theists…Craig…blah, blah, blah…Kalam cosmological argument…blah, blah, blah…god’s characteristics…blah, blah, blah…Lennox…Paley…blah, blah, blah…you don’t know what you’re talking about…Leibnizian contingency argument…blah, blah, blah…Frank Zindler, Graham Oppy, Keith Parsons, Paul Draper, Peter Atkins, Garrett Hardin, Antony Flew, Theodore Drange, Quentin Smith, Michael Tooley, Douglas Jesseph, Corey Washington, Massimo Pigliucci, Edwin Curley, Ron Barrier, Victor Stenger, Brian Leiter, Brian Edwards, Austin Dacey, Bill Cooke, John R. Shook, Ray Bradley, Richard Taylor, Kai Nielson, Walter Sinnott Armstrong, Eric Dayton, Henry Morgentaler, Paul Kurtz, Louise Antony, John Dominic Crossan, Gerd Ludemann, Robert Price, Hector Avalos, Bart Ehrman, James Crossley, Roy Hoover, Marcus Borg, Richard Carrier, Richard Gale, J. Howard Sobel, Michael Martin, Wes Morriston, John Taylor, Adolf Grünbaum, Wallace Matson, etc….blah, blah, blah…theologians…blah, blah, blah…self-authenticating witnesses…the resurrection…blah, blah, blah…Aquinas…blah, blah, blah…Procrustean fit…Thomists…blah, blah, blah…post-Humean assumptions…blah, blah, blah, blah, blah…

  318. #318 Ichthyic
    April 17, 2009

    blah, blah, blah, blah, blah…

    I think perhaps you could have summed up more succinctly, see?

    Maybe MAJeff needs to provide more instruction on how to do that correctly.

  319. #319 Eric
    April 17, 2009

    Bastion of Sass, I can sum up your contributions in the same way, but with this difference: My summation will be literally true. After all, your post consisted of my words interspersed with your blah blahs.

    Way to go. I think I can unpack an example of self-referential inconsistency out of that one somehow…

  320. #320 Ichthyic
    April 17, 2009

    Bastion of Sass, I can sum up your contributions in the same way

    no, Eric, just because you wish it to be so, doesn’t make it so.

    His point is entirely accurate, if not concise. You’ve brought nothing new to the realm of apologetics, nothing but a courtier’s reply and a ton of ancient sophistry that has been debunked long ago.

  321. #321 Kel
    April 17, 2009

    Has eric justified that faith is not irrational or that Christianity is not based on faith yet?

  322. #322 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    April 17, 2009

    Yawn, Eric still thinks he is a good philosopher. Yawn, boring git.

  323. #323 Ken_Cope
    April 17, 2009

    Kel, that would be a big “no” and don’t hold your breath. So far, we’ve been promised that we should expect a succulent dish of fresh sashimi, and instead, Eric has pooted forth nothing but a slab of half-chewed baloney from the trash can out back.

  324. #324 Kel
    April 17, 2009

    Honestly, if he expects us to think that it’s not inherently irrational to believe in Jesus, then he needs to show that it’s not based on a foundation of irrationality. That either the concept of Yahweh was not born out of a general ignorance in the society, that Jesus’ death was not written down by a group of credulous superstitious people, and that there is a direct line between the god of the philosophers (one that can be derived from argument) and the conscious, all-knowing being that takes affairs in the human race that satisfies both A is B is C and A is not B is not C at the same time.

    Hell, if he would just take Loftus’ Outsider Test For Faith that would be enough.

  325. #325 bastion of sass
    April 17, 2009

    At #318, Ichthyic wrote:

    blah, blah, blah, blah, blah…

    I think perhaps you could have summed up more succinctly, see?

    I considered that, but I didn’t feel a succinct summary would give anyone a good idea of my impression of Eric’s comments. Unless I wrote “blah, blah, blah” several hundred times.

    And, frankly, I feel that writing and entire post of several hundred repeats of “blah, blah, blah” would end up with a summation reading much more brilliant than what Eric actually wrote.

  326. #326 bastion of sass
    April 17, 2009

    Eric @ #319 wrote:

    I think I can unpack an example of self-referential inconsistency out of that one somehow…

    [shrug]
    Consider: I’m not the one trying to convince readers of the correctness of my position and the validity of my reasoning.

  327. #327 windy
    April 17, 2009

    “Since eric can’t be wrong, Aristotle and Aquinas must be right.”
    No! See CJO here, who hit the nail on the head:
    CJO: “To be fair, I understand Eric’s position that way, but with a minor yet crucial difference: “…why it’s not wrong to be a Christian.”

    That doesn’t really answer the question, why was it OK for Aristotle to apply physical principles in metaphysics, but not for SAWells?

  328. #328 Danny Boy
    April 18, 2009

    Baggini’s vacuous critique of the “New Atheists” is a disappointment. Without reading any of the major works of the four horsemen, he would blindly accept Bunting’s claim that they were noisy “foghorns” with no real substance. I think religion is big enough for a two-pronged approach. The ivory tower academics can debate with muddle-headed theologians, while the rest of us can confront the real believers and their arguments.

    Don’t worry Julian, there are enough Karen Armstrongs in the world to keep you gainfully employed.

  329. #329 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    April 18, 2009

    That was extremely sassy

  330. #330 Eric
    April 18, 2009

    This is too funny not to pass along, given our intermittent references to Dawkins throughout this thread. (Note, I said it’s funny, not that it’s completely accurate as satire.)

    “no, Eric, just because you wish it to be so, doesn’t make it so.”

    Ichthyic, I think you need to reread what I wrote. There was kinda a joke in there. If all Bastion of Sass did was copy my words and add blah blahs, then all he/she *literally* added to the conversation was ‘blah blah’ — the very nonsense he/she was attempting to complain about on my part. See?

    “You’ve brought nothing new to the realm of apologetics, nothing but a courtier’s reply and a ton of ancient sophistry that has been debunked long ago.”

    Since when is it my job to bring something ‘new’? When you debate creationists, do you make new contributions to the study of evolution, or do you attempt to get them to understand their misunderstandings of arguments and evidence they falsely consider to be ‘sophistry that has been debunked long ago’?

    “There _is no_ absolute standard of rest against which things are or are not in motion, and objects can interact and set each other into relative motion.”

    SAWells, again you’re reading something into Aquinas that isn’t there. When Aristotle and Aquinas speak about ‘motion,’ you have to understand that they’re using the term much more broadly than our modern day usage (which tends to be limited to locomotion) to comprise *any* kind of *change*. That said, the lack of an absolute standard of rest is more a practical result of the way physicists look at the world (e.g. Newton’s laws of motion apply whether we consider one object to be at rest and the other in motion, or vice versa, and cannot be used to distinguish between the two) as opposed to being a metaphysical conclusion about the nature of the world (e.g. for an ‘absolute time’ analog, see Lorentz’s interpretation of Special Relativity, which cannot be observationally distinguished from Einstein’s, or, on the quantum level, the Bohmian interpretation versus the Copenhagen interpretation; think ‘underdetermination’ here).

    “That doesn’t really answer the question, why was it OK for Aristotle to apply physical principles in metaphysics, but not for SAWells?”

    This comment doesn’t make much sense, since it contains an anachronism, viz. that the modern divide between physics and metaphysics obtains when applied to Aristotle. For him, physics and metaphysics were part of a continuum (indeed, Aristotle never used the term ‘metaphysics’; rather, it was a name given hundreds of years after his death to the book that was to be studied after his ‘physics,’ literally the ‘meta physics,’ the book ‘after physics.’ He called it ‘first philosophy,’ by which he meant the study of fundamental principles). Now, what we would today call his physics was wrong in any number of ways, but it doesn’t follow that what we call his metaphysics was therefore necessarily wrong, so even if we apply your anachronism, we don’t get very far. Think about it: he may not have understood how (scientifically) A caused B, but that doesn’t entail that his (metaphysical) understanding of ‘causation’ was false. Similarly, he may have gotten the (scientific) relationship between A and B wrong, but that doesn’t entail that his (metaphysical) conception of ‘relationships’ is wrong.

    In short, physical principles evince an elasticity (as it were) that metaphysical principles don’t, and this is only to be expected, given the specific nature of the former, and the general nature of the latter.

  331. #331 Eric
    April 18, 2009

    Here’s the link, since it doesn’t seem to be working in my post above:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QERyh9YYEis

  332. #332 Eric
    April 18, 2009

    “Hell, if he would just take Loftus’ Outsider Test For Faith that would be enough.”

    According to John, I am taking the OTF.

    https://www.blogger.com/comment.g?blogID=21219785&postID=524278070519127385

  333. #333 Ken_Cope
    April 18, 2009

    According to John, I am taking the OTF.

    I wouldn’t go bragging about results like that, spewing twaddle about methodological naturalism, and praising Collins and C. S. Lewis, two of the stupidest FCCing morons ever to come down the apologetics pike. My Spidey senses tingle whenever I hear somebody like Eric, who likes to play coy about whether or not he’s really a theist, quote Strauss. If Eric’s a Straussian, then I reserve the right to withhold charitable interpretations of whatever it is that Eric appears to be argueing for. Straussians are advocates of the noble lie, an application that Eric would find appealing due to its origins in Plato’s Republic, and, judging by his dishonesty in basic discourse, because he gets out of jail free for lying.

    Bored now[/Willow]

  334. #334 Ichthyic
    April 18, 2009

    Since when is it my job to bring something ‘new’?

    when is it our job to be interested in anything you have to say?

    you could try to be interesting, or at least fresh.

    I know, it’s beyond you.

    When you debate creationists, do you make new contributions to the study of evolution

    you’re about as bad at analogies as Pete Rooke was.

  335. #335 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    April 18, 2009

    you’re about as bad at analogies as Pete Rooke was.

    Shudder….

  336. #336 Ichthyic
    April 18, 2009

    this was supposed to be after the last sentence in the previous post:

    Using that analogy, what you’re saying is that what you have brought to the discussion is little more than creationist level logic, which being the poor wanna be philosopher you are, you yourself failed to debunk, and somehow are relying on us to do it for you.

    truly, truly pathetic.

  337. #337 Kel
    April 18, 2009

    According to John, I am taking the OTF.

    “Then you just fail to see.

    Pluck out your eyes, my friend. You need new ones.” – John W Loftus to eric… now that is funny.

    One thing about your methodological naturalism not applying to miracles – I can see where you are coming from. If there is a supernatural cause, then methodological naturalism cannot apply. But how consistent are you with this? Do you think that any claims of supernatural intervention in order religions are also exempt from examination from methodological naturalism? What about modern examples of “miracles” in your own religion? I can think of plenty of alleged miracles that turned out upon investigation could be and were explained by methodological naturalism.

    This is what I find odd about those claiming supernatural forces at play. I can’t think of a single example of a supernatural occurrence that doesn’t involve the natural world – take for instance ghosts, how would we see them if they were truly supernatural entities, isn’t the fact that they are visible sign of a natural entity? Likewise I see this problem with the supernatural claims of religion – even if there were a supernatural cause, the effect is in the natural world. All authors of the bible, all eyewitnesses who first passed down the stories – all of them would have perceived these miracles with natural senses.

    Now to me this hits a stumbling block in a supernatural explanation – firstly we are explaining natural events (the effect regardless of the cause) because that’s all we can explain; unless, it is that there is a component of us that is supernatural – and again there’s an interface problem. When things happen in reality, surely it’s pertinent to exhaust all other explanations before jumping to a supernatural one. Do you think the claims of Hindu fakir’s levitating should check to see whether they are cheating or jump immediately to that they have divine insight into the workings of Brahman? Or would you agree that we should check to see whether there is a natural explanation?

    To me, this is what I see the problem. If there is a supernatural realm, then we either have to have an ability to interface with it or it will remain unknowable. If a supernatural entity is acting within this world, then there has to be a means for it to do so otherwise it would have no influence. So for anything to be supernaturally-caused it would have a natural effect and thus be subject to testing – otherwise you are conceding that it’s unknowable. We cannot avoid methodological naturalism because we are natural creatures and everything we can observe is natural. So of course we would apply it in the case of miracles because the phenomenon has to be natural for us to observe it in the first place.

  338. #338 Kel
    April 18, 2009

    When you debate creationists, do you make new contributions to the study of evolution

    No, but we don’t bring up Piltdown Man as an example of a transitional form either. When ideas have been debunked, there’s no point in bringing them up.

  339. #339 Eric
    April 18, 2009

    “you’re about as bad at analogies as Pete Rooke was.”

    I don’t know a thing about Rooke, but I do know that if he had a reputation for making poor analogies, you’re in the process of building a reputation for misunderstanding analogies, to wit:

    “Using that analogy, what you’re saying is that what you have brought to the discussion is little more than creationist level logic, which being the poor wanna be philosopher you are, you yourself failed to debunk, and somehow are relying on us to do it for you.”

    Uh, no. What is it that you people say here — epic fail? You criticized me for adding ‘nothing new’ to ‘apologetics.’ My counter was, do you add anything new to evolution when you’re explaining it to benighted creationists? Let me answer that for you — *no*. What do you do when dealing with benighted creationists? You clear up there misunderstandings by telling them what the rest of us already know. In short, you add nothing new, and are under no obligation to do so, since you’re only clearing away the rubbish. There, you’re ready to work on that analogy now…

    Kel wins the prize for selective quoting.
    Here’s John’s later response to me:

    “And Eric, there is something about you I admire. Not only are you smart, but you’re willing to test what you believe. You’re taking the Outsider Test in my opinion, just by visiting so often.”

    How pathetically dishonest of you to avoid that quote, and instead quote an earlier one.

    “praising Collins and C. S. Lewis, two of the stupidest FCCing morons ever to come down the apologetics pike.”

    More ‘reading comprehension’ failures. Did I praise Collins’s apologetics? I challenged you previously to back up an assertion you had made, namely that I was discrediting science. You failed that challenge. Now show me where I praised Collins for anything other than his science. You’ll fail this one too. I brought up Collins to point out the rather obvious fact that one can effectively use the methodological naturalism of the natural sciences, and produce superior results, without buying metaphysical naturalism.

    As for Lewis, though I never defended him in that thread either — I brought him up to clear up what had brought Collins to Christianity — I would certainly disagree with your absurd characterization of him. One of the tests of a bad argument is whether there are any good arguments in its vicinity (to the extent that there aren’t, it’s a bad argument), and another is whether a general or even superficial presentation of an argument can be fleshed out; Lewis’s arguments pass both tests in many cases (see, for example, Victor Reppert’s development of Lewis’s Argument from Reason).

    “If Eric’s a Straussian, then I reserve the right to withhold charitable interpretations of whatever it is that Eric appears to be argueing for.”

    If Kel wins the prize for quote mining, you win the prize for the most blatant non sequitur. Even implying that quoting someone in a general context (the context of my Strauss quote) permits even the weakest inference that he therefore may buy into his specific philosophy is beyond ridiculous, but it’s the quality of reasoning I’ve come to expect from you. Actually, this is better than most of what you spew, since it actually rises to the level of being fallacious.

    “When ideas have been debunked, there’s no point in bringing them up.”

    A creationist could make the same reply to you about evolution. The point is that they haven’t been debunked, just misunderstood (as evidenced by my sundry corrections of one premise in Aquinas’s First Way above), just as evolution has in no sense been debunked by creationists, just misunderstood (or, in some cases, rejected on less respectable grounds).

    “I can think of plenty of alleged miracles that turned out upon investigation could be and were explained by methodological naturalism.”

    Sure — they were shown not to have been miracles, which is well within the province of methodological naturalism. Nothing I said in that previous thread (what is this, the fourth or fifth ‘changing the issue’ move you guys have made since I first commented on this thread?) contradicts this.

  340. #340 Kel
    April 18, 2009

    How pathetically dishonest of you to avoid that quote, and instead quote an earlier one.

    I saw both, I found the earlier one funny.

    If Kel wins the prize for quote mining

    I didn’t quote mine! Quote mining is taking something out of context in order to give the impression it’s saying something opposite. Are you saying I took that out of context, or just annoyed that I didn’t quote his later comment commending you on being there? Hell, out of all the theists I’ve seen on there, you are the only one who can actually argue their position and at times have made me think about my position on things. But that doesn’t mean I took Loftus out of context. Everyone can read the post themselves and see I didn’t quote mine him.

  341. #341 Eric
    April 18, 2009

    “Are you saying I took that out of context, or just annoyed that I didn’t quote his later comment commending you on being there?”

    Kel, you quoted me saying that John has admitted my taking the OTF, and then followed it with a quote from John at least implying that he thinks I haven’t (‘blind’ people, in the sense John was suggesting, aren’t good candidates for the OTF). Anyone who simply read your post, and didn’t check the thread I linked, would conclude that I was lying — and I clearly wasn’t. That’s what annoyed me. If you say it wasn’t your intention to mislead anyone, I believe you, but you have to admit that my point here is legitimate.

  342. #342 Kel
    April 18, 2009

    yes, John later admits it. So what? I found that description of you funny, especially given some of the posts you do here. Though if you found it misleading, I apologise. The intention was that other people besides people here find your tactics frustrating.

    But that was one line and it shouldn’t take away from the core of my point: that the supernatural has to interface with the natural in order for us to observe it. That’s the real issue at play in my view, and why we should not forsake methodological naturalism when it comes to the reporting of miracles. Focusing on me quoting Loftus saying something negative about you when he said something positive later is entirely irrelevant. You’re no facilis when it comes to stupidity… ;)

  343. #343 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    April 18, 2009

    that the supernatural has to interface with the natural in order for us to observe it.

    Philosophy without evidence is sophistry. (To be repeated until the theists/deists get it.)

  344. #344 Eric
    April 18, 2009

    “That’s the real issue at play in my view, and why we should not forsake methodological naturalism when it comes to the reporting of miracles.”

    I agree, and don’t think we should. That wasn’t the point I was making (though, as I reread parts of that thread, I see that I made my point clumsily in places). In fact, I said on that thread that I have no problem with starting out the investigation of any miracle claim with methodological naturalism. I was arguing that the fact that no miraculous claim can survive methodological naturalism (since there will always be a possible natural explanation, however improbable) doesn’t entail either that miracles are impossible, or that every investigation of a miracle that comes up with a possible natural explanation (which will, as I argue, be every investigation) has shown that no miracle has occurred (think of the Virgin Mary statue *in fact* — this is important: it’s not a hallucination, a trick, etc., but actually happens — walking out of the museum, into a bookstore, grabbing a bible, handing it to you, and going back to its place in the museum; it’s physically possible for such an even to occur naturally, but improbable to the highest degree. Now, if that happened, we could use methodological naturalism and come up with the natural explanation — chance movements of its jostling molecules in the same direction to enable the necessary motion — but it wouldn’t follow that the natural explanation was the best one).

  345. #345 Ichthyic
    April 18, 2009

    In short, you add nothing new, and are under no obligation to do so, since you’re only clearing away the rubbish.

    then…

    why

    won’t

    you

    die.

  346. #346 John Morales
    April 18, 2009

    Eric:

    [1] Anyone who simply read your post, and didn’t check the thread I linked, would conclude that I was lying — and I clearly wasn’t. [2] That’s what annoyed me. [3] If you say it wasn’t your intention to mislead anyone, I believe you, [4] but you have to admit that my point here is legitimate.

    Sheesh.
    1. You can’t have everyone concluding that which clearly isn’t.
    What a weird thing for a philosopher to say. Do you even think about how you express yourself?
    2. You sure? I think what annoys you is having come in with orotund assertions you can’t sustain and get called on them.
    3. Generous of you.
    4. Hardly. It’s not about what someone said about you, but about your claim.

    Remember – your claim was that ‘new atheists’ do not understand that which they criticise. ‘Twas a silly claim.

  347. #347 Kel
    April 18, 2009

    Well going further than that NoR, eric (like many others) believes that Jesus is a historical figure and thus the miracles are historical events. And that’s fine, hell, I even think that. I just don’t see how he can say methodological naturalism should not apply when we are natural beings and thus our observations can only be of the natural. On the one hand you can’t say it’s supernatural then on the other call it historical fact. And when there are miracles by the supernatural in every other religion, I’m sure even eric would agree that these supernatural events are susceptible to methodological naturalism.

    It’s why Christianity is special, why it is exempt from inquiry, that I don’t get. Maybe it’s my own stupidity, maybe I’m ignorant of something, but I just don’t see why the scepticism we put towards every other religion in history – to every other quasi-deity that lines our history books, and every supernatural explanation from the African tribal myths to Scientology should not either be a) afforded the same suspension of inquiry that is asked of Christianity or b) that Christianity should be exempt from this systematic inquiry. maybe the Christian God is true, I don’t know. I contend that it is unknowable, though I would loved to be shown otherwise. But it seems that Christianity and apologetics in particular works on special pleading and has not made a suitable case for why it’s different.

    If eric could show me why, then maybe I could understand where he’s coming from. But to me, making the case for the philosophical god does not give enough of a grounding in order to appeal to the eyewitness accounts of the gospels. Likewise on the gospels alone, the type of evidence is not enough to back the claims therein. There seems to be a big logical jump in the middle that’s unaccounted for. Maybe it’s faith that bridges the gap, I don’t know. But while that gap is there, and it is a big gap, why shouldn’t scepticism be the default?

  348. #348 Ichthyic
    April 18, 2009

    I see that I made my point clumsily in places

    one might almost think you had half a brain.

    sometimes.

    The only thing you have going for you is that you make slightly better fodder than the likes of previous trolls like Silver Fox or Facilis.

    the problem is, it’s become stale fodder.

  349. #349 Eric
    April 18, 2009

    “1. You can’t have everyone concluding that which clearly isn’t.”

    ‘Anyone who simply read your post, and didn’t check the thread I linked’ = everyone? I think we have a quantification problem here…

    “What a weird thing for a philosopher to say. Do you even think about how you express yourself?”

    Good question, but I’d redirect those indexicals toward a different referent, in this case (i.e. of your four points) ‘John Morales.’

    “2. You sure? I think what annoys you is having come in with orotund assertions you can’t sustain and get called on them.”

    Yep, I’m sure. If I may paraphrase George Will (Uh Oh! Kope will jump on this one!), I’m the world’s foremost authority on matters like ‘what annoys me.’

    “4. Hardly. It’s not about what someone said about you, but about your claim. Remember – your claim was that ‘new atheists’ do not understand that which they criticise. ‘Twas a silly claim.”

    More than one claim comes up in these forums. I was addressing the specific claim that John had said that I’m taking the OTF in response to Kel who said it would be sufficient if I were to take the OTF. I wasn’t addressing my claim about the New Atheists. In fact, since I first made that point, I’ve been asked to address everything from William Lane Craig to Aquinas to physics to methodological naturalism. I didn’t change the subject, pardner.

  350. #350 Kel
    April 18, 2009

    In fact, I said on that thread that I have no problem with starting out the investigation of any miracle claim with methodological naturalism. I was arguing that the fact that no miraculous claim can survive methodological naturalism (since there will always be a possible natural explanation, however improbable) doesn’t entail either that miracles are impossible, or that every investigation of a miracle that comes up with a possible natural explanation (which will, as I argue, be every investigation) has shown that no miracle has occurred (think of the Virgin Mary statue *in fact* — this is important: it’s not a hallucination, a trick, etc., but actually happens — walking out of the museum, into a bookstore, grabbing a bible, handing it to you, and going back to its place in the museum; it’s physically possible for such an even to occur naturally, but improbable to the highest degree.

    Didn’t Dawkins make a point like this in The Blind Watchmaker – that some events while being able to occur through naturalistic causes, are just so damn improbable that it’s safe to conclude that a supernatural explanation?

    Is there anything in Christianity can is so improbable that it warrants a supernatural explanation? Have all methods of inquiry been undertaken, all possible explanations been ruled out, and the evidence is strong enough that a supernatural explanation is warranted? Again, it might be my ignorance and it might be poor thinking, but I don’t think that there is anything in the gospels or in other historical evidence that demonstrates this at all; that there are far better naturalistic explanations to explore and exhaust long before reaching a supernatural conclusion. This is surely where Carl Sagan’s “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” comes into play.

    Take evolution for example; it’s a theory that makes a very extraordinary claim. Yet there’s a mountain of evidence for each step along the way – a plethora of transitional fossils, morphological similarity correlating with genetic silimarity, the biogeographic distribution of life, observed speciation, observed mutation causing adaptation through selection, embryological development, vestigial traits and genes, same genes, observed gene duplication, etc… point is that the extraordinary claim is backed by enough evidence in order for it’s backing.

    Can Christianity and the claims of the miraculous by the followers of Jesus survive in the 21st century if one were to claim them now? (remember we do have similar claims with alien abductions, the new age movement, etc.)

  351. #351 Eric
    April 18, 2009

    “one might almost think you had half a brain.
    sometimes.”

    Ichthyic, let’s look at your contributions to this thread. Hmm, almost all insults. Some of them are pretty good, sure, but you’ve said next to nothing of substance. That’s empirical, ol’ boy. Anyone can go through this thread and compare my posts with yours, and I fail to see how even those who disagree with me on every point could conclude that you’ve been anywhere near as substantive as I’ve been. However, I know that you have a ‘band of brothers (and sisters)’ here on Pharyngula, so everyone will deny this and support you. However, I suspect that you and they know the truth, whether anyone wants to admit it…

    “the problem is, it’s become stale fodder.”

    My responses are multifarious, yours are almost all insults. You have an odd conception of ‘staleness’…

  352. #352 Ken_Cope
    April 18, 2009

    You criticized me for adding ‘nothing new’ to apologetics.’ My counter was, do you add anything new to evolution when you’re explaining it to benighted creationists? Let me answer that for you — *no*.

    When there is nothing to apologetics apart from post hoc rationalization for the leap of faith, cognitive dissonance duct taped over with the word “logic” written on it in crayon, nobody is surprised when we find no “there” there when Eric employs apologetics. Refreshing honesty would be, “I believe because I FCCing well feel like it despite the lack of any rational, observational, or evidential warrant,” but honesty like that is beyond Eric.

    Did I praise Collins’s apologetics?

    Nobody has accused Eric of being quite as FCCing retarded as Collins in that department, merely otiose, comparatively, since in rock paper scissors comparison, “science administrator” trumps “philostopher” any day.

    I challenged you previously to back up an assertion you had made, namely that I was discrediting science.

    Eric betrays too much contempt for science to bother to take his squawking seriously. His inept conflation of metaphysical with methodological naturalism on the Loftus link is standard issue courtier’s reply. Waitaminute! Did I say courtier’s reply? No. Eric is not even up to the rhetorical standards of the Brave Little Tailor, believed to have killed seven in one blow.

    Now show me where I praised Collins for anything other than his science.

    Eric the obfuscatory could have praised plenty of scientists for their science; the only point in bringing up Collins is because he’s a fatuous, insipid, lame-ass come-to-jesus-cuz-three-frozen-waterfalls-is-a-trinity embarrassment to people with half a brain. Eric’s plausible deniability schtick is transparently stale.

    I brought him up to clear up what had brought Collins to Christianity

    Lewis brought Watergate criminal Chuck Colson to Christianity too. What idiot would be proud of swallowing Lewis’s lame trichotomy?

    One of the tests of a bad argument is whether there are any good arguments in its vicinity (to the extent that there aren’t, it’s a bad argument), and another is whether a general or even superficial presentation of an argument can be fleshed out; Lewis’s arguments pass both tests in many cases (see, for example, Victor Reppert’s development of Lewis’s Argument from Reason)

    No sale on the polished turd, although I can see why Eric would present such a defense, in hopes that we’ll take Eric seriously because he can match a few claims to names in M. Python’s Philosopher’s Song.

    Even implying that quoting someone in a general context (the context of my Strauss quote) permits even the weakest inference that he therefore may buy into his specific philosophy is beyond ridiculous, but it’s the quality of reasoning I’ve come to expect from you.

    Fine. This does not settle the question I hereby formally raise as to whether or not Eric is a Straussian. I presented it not as a conclusion but as a hunch, that would explain Eric’s slipperiness and insistence that we play guessing games so he can accuse everybody of failing to win at “So Just What Was My FCCing Point Anyway.” Apologetics is nothing more than lying to oneself and others that, rather than greed, ignorance and arrogance, it was reason that was the closer on the Christian grift; Straussianism is merely the insistence that belief in a noble lie has utility, whether or not the belief is true or justified/justifiable.

  353. #353 Ichthyic
    April 18, 2009

    My responses are multifarious

    roflmao

    I can see no reason to not continue with insults, frankly.

  354. #354 Eric
    April 18, 2009

    “Didn’t Dawkins make a point like this in The Blind Watchmaker – that some events while being able to occur through naturalistic causes, are just so damn improbable that it’s safe to conclude that a supernatural explanation?
    Is there anything in Christianity can is so improbable that it warrants a supernatural explanation? Have all methods of inquiry been undertaken, all possible explanations been ruled out, and the evidence is strong enough that a supernatural explanation is warranted?”

    I think that a case can be made for the resurrection — not that it was undeniably a miracle, but that the claim that a miracle occurred is stronger than any naturalistic explanations that have been presented. Again, the best evidence based defense of this abductive argument has been made, IMHO, by Wright in his nearly eight hundred page ‘The Resurrection of the Son of God,’ which is the third book in a series of books he’s writing, and which itself depends in many places on conclusions defended in his previous two books in the series, ‘The New Testament and the People of God’ and ‘Jesus and the Victory of God.’ And no, I could not do justice to the roughly 2,000 pages of detailed, technical, rigorous argumentation that these books contain: first, it’s not my area — I’m not a historian, I’m not a specialist on second temple Judaism, and I’m not a classicist. Then again, I couldn’t do justice to a defense of evolution against a clever creationist like Stephen Meyer, even though I understand the arguments. I simply haven’t mastered the technical terms and the fine details; however, I know enough to conclude that evolution is as close to factual as we get in science, and that creationism is buncombe, even though I’m sure that a David Berlinski could make me look stupid If I tried to defend evolution in a debate with him. It’s the same with the resurrection: I’d say I’ve studied the issue enough to be satisfied that the conclusion I’ve reached is more rational than its alternatives, but I haven’t mastered the technical terms and the details to boil down Wright’s case and present it to a number of intelligent skeptics with any confidence. Note, however, as John Morales has made clear, the topic I initially addressed was the New Atheists, not miracles or the resurrection.

    “Eric betrays too much contempt for science to bother to take his squawking seriously.”

    Put up or shut up: where specifically have I ‘betrayed a contempt for science’?

    “His inept conflation of metaphysical with methodological naturalism on the Loftus link is standard issue courtier’s reply.”

    Let me ask you again: where did I conflate methodological naturalism with metaphysical naturalism? I’d love to see this, especially since my argument in that thread was premised on the distinction. But you’ll fail to provide any examples here, too. What’s that old saying about ‘three strikes’…

    I see the strategy now: Kel asks the legitimate questions, Ichthyic entertains us with insults, and Kope attempts to distract me with unsubstantiated charges (I’m not sure where to place John Morales: I’ve been *very* impressed with him on other threads, but here he seems to be struggling a bit).

    “I can see no reason to not continue with insults, frankly.”

    No, don’t stop. I get a kick out of some of them. Just don’t go on to suggest that a lack of substance is somehow a bad thing. I can handle the insults any day, but not the inconsistency.

    “This does not settle the question I hereby formally raise as to whether or not Eric is a Straussian.”

    No, I’m not a Straussian. (Of course a simple ‘no’ won’t satisfy you, though.) I’ve read some of his work, and I admire the careful reading evinced in his books on Hobbes and Machiavelli, but that’s about it.

    I do tend to prefer Straussian philosophers when it comes to translations, though (e.g. Bloom’s translation of ‘The Republic’ or Mansfield’s translation of ‘Democracy in America’). In this case, their peculiar adherence to esoteric reading/writing compels them to render the translation as literally as possible.

  355. #355 Kel
    April 18, 2009

    I think that a case can be made for the resurrection — not that it was undeniably a miracle, but that the claim that a miracle occurred is stronger than any naturalistic explanations that have been presented.

    Honestly? What about resurrection claims in other religions and mythologies?

  356. #356 Anonymous
    April 18, 2009

    I’m sure that a David Berlinski could make me look stupid If I tried to defend evolution in a debate with him.

    This is just another way of saying that standing next to a turd, Eric makes the turd look good.

    Kel asks the legitimate questions, Ichthyic entertains us with insults, and Kope attempts to distract me with unsubstantiated charges

    Gosh, I’ve gone from having just about every direct question being ignored, to having my name deliberately misspelled. It really is past time for getting hit on the head lessons.

  357. #357 Kel
    April 18, 2009

    I just don’t know how anyone can reconcile eyewitness accounts with being satisfactory for the justification of an extraordinary claim. Is there actually something more to the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus beyond eyewitness accounts?

  358. #358 Ken Cope
    April 18, 2009

    Wow, that’s more anonymity than I expected to be permitted, even under PZ’s newly lax policies. I avoid posting anonymously, and thought I was still logged in in that tab under tyepepad. It musta been a miraculous suspension of the lawsanature.

  359. #359 Ken_Cope
    April 18, 2009

    Is there actually something more to the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus beyond eyewitness accounts?

    Like the eyewitness accounts of Frodo and Bilbo sailing into the West together? No, nothing so well-documented–the gospels can’t even keep the tales of zombie jesus consistent with each other, so what we have here is the testimony of a pathologically credulous fool, unless, of course (wouldn’t want to make an unsubstantiated charge) Eric is smart enough to have concluded that they are fictional hyperbole, containing somehow a metaphorical truth that offers hope to mankind. Nah, Eric has cited McGinn and advocated Mysterianism like a good little platonist drualist, so I take that back about Eric being smart.

  360. #360 Eric
    April 18, 2009

    “Honestly? What about resurrection claims in other religions and mythologies?”

    Do you have any specific cases in mind?

    Here’s a test: Give me an example of a resurrection claim that is attested to by at least three independent sources all of which are within sixty years of the supposed event; that contain within their accounts number of other historical claims (e.g. about people, places, practices, etc.) that have been verified (not all, but most); that contain information about the supposed event that even many skeptical scholars would place within five to ten years of the supposed resurrection; that so motivated its earlier followers that it went from a barely recognized movement to attracting the attention of leading political figures in correspondence with their superiors (e.g. Pliny the Younger’s letter to Trajan) within seventy five years; that refers to an historical figure and involves a resurrection, not a revivification — and I’ll stop there. Can you give me a single example that meets these criteria? Note, I’m **not** saying that these points, even if granted, lead to ‘resurrection’; I’m just trying to see if we even have any decent examples to compare it with. I have yet to see one, but I’m open to new evidence.

  361. #361 Eric
    April 18, 2009

    “Nah, Eric has cited McGinn and advocated Mysterianism like a good little platonist drualist”

    Yet another claim you can’t back up, Cope (sorry for misspelling your name). Where specifically have I *advocated* Mysterianism?

    I guess you don’t know much about philosophy after all — not many Thomists can be characterized as Platonic dualists!

    “Gosh, I’ve gone from having just about every direct question being ignored”

    Oh please! You’ve consistently made demonstrably false charges; I’ve called you on each of them, and you’ve completely failed to defend a single one! I just presented a new challenge above — see if you can even attempt an answer to that one!

  362. #362 John Morales
    April 18, 2009

    Eric @349:
    1. The subject of your first clause is “Anyone who simply read your post, and didn’t check the thread I linked”, the predicate is “would conclude that I was lying — and I clearly wasn’t”.

    I don’t see how you keep confusing what you wrote to what you meant to write – I know you meant the “I clearly wasn’t” to refer to the complementary of your subject.

    Either way, I didn’t check the link nor did I thereby think you were lying, so I’m a counterexample to your claim.

    2. So your annoyance is about an imagined problem, but it’s real. Got it.

    Anyway, about your overall point from which you’re distracted, I imagine you’re trying to convey that you’re skeptical of skepticism, or something similarly profound, but failing to.

  363. #363 Ken Cope
    April 18, 2009

    Do you have any specific cases in mind?

    It ain’t history, it’s a trope, one with mythological barnacles on it:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Life-death-rebirth_deity

    I’m sure there would have been many more historical documents supporting the veracity of Galaxy Quest, er, zombie jesus, had the Library of Alexandria not been torched. I, personally lack the imagination to accuse anybody of having the motivation to, you know, make shit up about how shit-hot their god was, especially in such a crowded messiah market.

  364. #364 Eric
    April 19, 2009

    “Either way, I didn’t check the link nor did I thereby think you were lying, so I’m a counterexample to your claim.”

    Fair enough. I should’ve written, ‘some people’ or even ‘many people’ as opposed to ‘anyone.’

    “Anyway, about your overall point from which you’re distracted, I imagine you’re trying to convey that you’re skeptical of skepticism, or something similarly profound, but failing to.”

    No, not at all. I’m of course as skeptical of radical skepticism as I’d imagine you are, but I don’t see anyone advocating such a position, and have not attacked such a position. What made you think I’m trying to defend ‘skepticism about skepticism’ here?

  365. #365 Kel
    April 19, 2009

    Give me an example of a resurrection claim that is attested to by at least three independent sources all of which are within sixty years of the supposed event;What are those three independent sources for the record?

    Just reading that, do you think that eyewitness accounts are actually enough evidence to suspend scepticism? Hell, even if the eyewitness accounts were immediately after the events (let alone decades later – by 2nd hand sources) I would still be highly sceptical. It’s anecdotal evidence, I’ve heard people all independently tell me a story of a ghost account, but that isn’t enough to verify it’s truth. I have no doubts all of them believe they saw a ghost, but to me it’s far more likely that the brain failed them than there are incorporeal entities that are the dead souls of humans floating around the earth. Just as in this case, I would accept that those who wrote the gospels believed in the resurrection. But I don’t think that alone is enough, the word anecdotal means something.

    This is why I asked if the claims would hold up in the 21st century, and to that I don’t think they would and thus it’s not enough to hold it as true on t he anecdotal alone. Alien abductions, witchcraft, psychic powers, talking to the dead, Sathya Sai Baba, Near Death Experiences, OBEs and astral projection, telekinetic powers, etc. the list is endless of pseudoscience and extraordinary claims that pass through anecdotal accounts that have no basis in reality. Just be involved in the new age community for a while and you’ll hear a plethora of extraordinary and weird claims that they’ve either witnessed personally or have been passed on by a trusted source. Yet all these things are believed no matter how absurd they are in reality, and I can actually verify these people. They aren’t mentally ill or have delusions. They are normal functioning people who believe in the extraordinary through personal experience or eyewitness accounts.

    Why shouldn’t I believe them when they exist in the 21st century compared to the 2nd hand eyewitness accounts written at a time when the supernatural was an explanation for most things?

  366. #366 Ken Cope
    April 19, 2009

    Nah, I’m just continuing to flail, making the unwarranted presumption that Eric holds any vaguely rational position.
    Here is Eric’s trichotomy in his “critique” of methodological naturalism from his link @332:

    Sure. Richard Dawkins says that physics is still waiting for its Darwin. And I have no problem with this. But when no natural explanation is available, the response is, ‘Yes, but one may be coming,’ as with Dawkins, or, ‘Yes, and one is not possible, so we’ll simply have to settle for no answer’ as with the ‘mysterians’ such as Colin Mcginn with respect to consciousness. (Now, I’m not making a god of the gaps argument here — rather, I’m sticking with the theme, i.e. the limits of MN.) Can you give me an example of a case in which MN could lead to the conclusion, ‘Wow, it’s a miracle!’ If you can’t, it seems to me that my argument about the a priori nature of naturalistic conclusions, given MN, still stands.

    Science must plead agnosticism, or throw up its hands and cry “it’s made of unexplainium!” or else admit ‘Wow, it’s a miracle!’ Gosh, C.S. Lewis would be proud.

  367. #367 Eric
    April 19, 2009

    “What are those three independent sources for the record?”

    Mark (I know about the appended ending to Mark; the resurrection is *clearly* implied, however), Paul (the creedal statements in particular) and John. If you want to reject John, there are a number of other places we could go (e.g. L, M, etc.).

    Now, you asked about other resurrection accounts, but failed to provide a similar example we could evaluate, i.e. one that minimally met my criteria.

  368. #368 John Morales
    April 19, 2009

    Eric @364:

    What made you think I’m trying to defend ‘skepticism about skepticism’ here?

    Well, it all started at your first comment,
    @80:

    There’s a world of difference between a critic who understands the subject of his critique and one who doesn’t, and it’s frustrating when, because of their media appeal, the loudest and most ignorant critics of a subject are taken as representative of critics of that subject as a whole.

    You associate skepticism with wilful ignorance by this, and do so apparenty maliciously. It is, in short, the Courtier’s Reply.

    BTW, to characterise the most mediagenic atheists as “the most ignorant critics” is a risible.

  369. #369 Ken Cope
    April 19, 2009

    Watch out! Eric’s got a Bible, and he’s not afraid to use it!

    Oh, and for those still keeping track, Eric’s historical miracle has somehow become the null hypothesis.

    I was at the gym the other day, and caught a glance at a cute young Mom wrangling a little toddler just a bit younger than my little girl, but then I noticed the mom’s shirt had a big picture of a book with the words “Holy Bible” on it. I had to tell her she turned my scowl into a grin, because a minute later, I caught the phrase beneath the picture of the Bible: “Warning: May Impair Judgment.”

  370. #370 Kel
    April 19, 2009

    Now, you asked about other resurrection accounts, but failed to provide a similar example we could evaluate, i.e. one that minimally met my criteria.

    because there are none that meet your criteria because you chose criteria that was specific to Christianity. So of course I could find none that meet that exact same criteria. Instead I talked about why your criteria was no good – why anecdotal evidence is flawed. I didn’t even take point with the fact that none of those accounts were eyewitness, rather that they were second hand because I don’t think it matters. Anecdotal evidence is not enough to justify the impossible – do you think we dismiss perpetual motion devices off hand to stop people raking in the billions?

  371. #371 Eric
    April 19, 2009

    Ken, if we’re evaluating X with MN, and we as yet have no natural explanation for X, what alternative, consistent with MN, am I missing besides:

    (1)be patient; we’re working on it
    (2)there is a natural explanation, but our minds aren’t equipped to understand it

    Note, I was specifically *excluding* the miracle possibility there, per MN, so there’s no ‘trichotomy’; hence my question, viz. “Can you give me an example of a case in which MN could lead to the conclusion, ‘Wow, it’s a miracle!”

    So you got it wrong *again*.

    Yet again, it’s late on the East coast, and I’ve been working on something else (‘bare dispositions’) while posting here. I’m falling a bit behind now, though, so, as a courtesy, I’m letting you know that I’m signing off for the night.

  372. #372 Ken Cope
    April 19, 2009

    Anecdotal evidence is not enough to justify the impossible – do you think we dismiss perpetual motion devices off hand to stop people raking in the billions?

    No fair Kel! You can’t honestly expect those people to write their perpetual motion secrets in a book, can you? Of course, if it’s in a book, it’s gotta be true. That was back before they invented fiction.

  373. #373 Kel
    April 19, 2009

    No fair Kel! You can’t honestly expect those people to write their perpetual motion secrets in a book, can you? Of course, if it’s in a book, it’s gotta be true.

    All perpetual motion devices break at least one law of thermodynamics, just like the resurrection of Jesus breaks the one law about life – if you are born then you will die. Apparently it’s okay for the anecdotal to break that but not break thermodynamics. Maybe that’s why creationists go on about the 2nd law so much, it’s that thermodynamics is real…

  374. #374 Ken Cope
    April 19, 2009

    Note, I was specifically *excluding* the miracle possibility there, per MN, so there’s no ‘trichotomy’; hence my question, viz. “Can you give me an example of a case in which MN could lead to the conclusion, ‘Wow, it’s a miracle!”

    Says Eric, after claiming reason and evidence entitles him to conclude that zombie jesus is an historical miracle. Eric continues to claim that science is wrong to exclude miracles “a priori.”

    Here, I’ll make an argument every bit as sophisticated and compelling as Eric’s: “No it isn’t.”

  375. #375 Kel
    April 19, 2009

    “Can you give me an example of a case in which MN could lead to the conclusion, ‘Wow, it’s a miracle!”

    Turning water into wine. A staff coming to life as a snake. The sun stopping dead in the sky. Instantaneously regrowing an amputated limb. etc. I could think of many examples of what is impossible happening, and a lot of it comes straight from various mythology. Human history is littered with fantastical tales, which would require our laws of nature being so wrong to the point that only a supernatural explanation would suffice.

  376. #376 Ken Cope
    April 19, 2009

    Human history is littered with fantastical tales, which would require our laws of nature being so wrong to the point that only a supernatural explanation would suffice.

    “It would take a miracle.”

  377. #377 Ichthyic
    April 19, 2009

    mythology

    that being the key term needing to be stressed, of course.

  378. #378 Ichthyic
    April 19, 2009

    Nah, I’m just continuing to flail, making the unwarranted presumption that Eric holds any vaguely rational position.

    good for you.

    I gave up the last time he went on an inane tour de force.

    which is probably why he only notes sarcasm and insults in response to his continuation.

  379. #379 aratina cage
    April 19, 2009

    I don’t know about you, but every Christian miracle I’ve ever heard of from witnesses or watched on video has made my stomach churn because of the obvious physical pain it causes in the receivers or because of the obvious delusion of the observing believers. (How could they be so gullible? And why do they expect me to join them in being so daft?) Not to mention, Christian miracles typically go hand-in-hand with chicanery–somebody is likely gaining wealth or notoriety from such stunts, and that somebody isn’t the person being ‘healed.’ I think I would feel the same about the water walking, the water-wine switcheroo, the zombie resurrection and the rape by deity had any of those taken place.

  380. #380 Ken Cope
    April 19, 2009

    Ichthyic, I am more concerned about my shameful youtube-fu, since, in response to your 377 I was supposed to be able to summon Carol Kane responding “Yeth?” to Kermit exclaiming, “It’s a myth! A myth!”

  381. #381 Ken Cope
    April 19, 2009

    Aratina, like the desert-topping that’s also a floor-polish remover, Christianity is the grift that keeps on fleecing, and it’s snuff porn. The futility of warning them that “It’s evil!” would tie anybody’s stomach up in knots.

  382. #382 aratina cage
    April 19, 2009

    @Ken: LOL. That was FCCing funny. You must be talking of Shimmer Floor Wax? (Apologies to people outside the U.S.)

  383. #383 RobertDW
    April 19, 2009

    Eric, in response to your test:

    1) The disciples can not be counted as independent witnesses; they were part of an organisation that had a vested interest in promoting the divinity of Christ. Claiming Mark, Luke and Paul as independent witnesses would be like saying Bush, Cheney and Rumsfield are independent witnesses of the events leading to the invasion of Iraq.

    2) Within 60 years? Mark may have been written as early as the mid 50s AD, or as late as the late 2nd century. John is generally dated to the end of the first century, but may have been as early as the 60s or as late as the mid-2nd century. As for Paul, I assume you mean Paul of Tarsus – he never even met Jesus, and did not witness the Resurrection.

    Not to mention that during the canonisation of the Bible, every one of the eventually accepted texts existed in multiple versions, some of which had no reference to Jesus’ supernatural ability and which denied the Resurrection occurred.

    3) Dating the Resurrection? Within 5-10 years? Yes, except that some of the accounts say it took place before particular events, and other accounts say it took place after. The main mechanism of dating the Resurrection is from Paul’s letters – his dating has his conversion taking place around 33AD, and as stated above, he converted after the death of Jesus.

    4) Obscure books causing great change, or political groups growing from nothing to huge quickly is hardly new. Look at, say, Mohammed – in his own lifetime, he built an empire that lasted 1300 years, and a religion that spans the world. For a more recent example, look at Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto: published in 1848, leading to the Communist takeover of Russia in 1917 – 69 years later. Besides, Jesus’ group wasn’t that obscure; you don’t get sentenced to death by the ruling elite for political dissent if you’re penny-ante.

    5) What evidence is there that the Resurrection actually occurred, and that it wasn’t faked? The Bible doesn’t count, because it’s not independent – as mentioned, it went through an extensive editing process by people with a vested interest in promoting the Resurrection myth. Bring forward one account of the Resurrection not documented by someone heavily involved with the early Christian movement. Just one.

    6) What evidence is there even that the Crucifiction itself took place? The historicity of the Crucifixion of Jesus is itself questionable, with many details not matching those of other, well documented, crucifixions performed in the area at the time.

    7) What evidence of Jesus is there, other than the Bible? I mean, the Bible can’t even get the account of his birth or his death consistent.

    Here’s another point: the Resurrection of Jesus was necessary to match up Jesus with various Judaic prophecies – all of which were made a lot earlier, and are highly likely to be derivative of other local mythologies (like the Flood myth). The early Christians were not the first group to try to produce a Messiah – Messiah figures had been popping up for a few centuries, both before and after the time of Jesus, many of whom also claimed to fill Judaic prophecy, including being a descendent of David and in some cases a resurrection as well. Given this documented evidence of several other fake Messiahs, why would it not be rational for us to conclude that Jesus is also a fake, albeit one with a better political group backing him?

  384. #384 Ken Cope
    April 19, 2009

    why would it not be rational for us to conclude that Jesus is also a fake

    Here Eric, I’ll get this one for you:
    There you go again, with your Methodological Naturalism and its a priori rejection of miracles. Belief in the resurrection is properly basic (through the ‘self-authenticating witness of the holy spirit’).

  385. #385 windy
    April 19, 2009

    “That doesn’t really answer the question, why was it OK for Aristotle to apply physical principles in metaphysics, but not for SAWells?”
    This comment doesn’t make much sense, since it contains an anachronism, viz. that the modern divide between physics and metaphysics obtains when applied to Aristotle. For him, physics and metaphysics were part of a continuum (indeed, Aristotle never used the term ‘metaphysics’; rather, it was a name given hundreds of years after his death to the book that was to be studied after his ‘physics,’ literally the ‘meta physics,’ the book ‘after physics.’ He called it ‘first philosophy,’ by which he meant the study of fundamental principles). Now, what we would today call his physics was wrong in any number of ways, but it doesn’t follow that what we call his metaphysics was therefore necessarily wrong, so even if we apply your anachronism, we don’t get very far. Think about it: he may not have understood how (scientifically) A caused B, but that doesn’t entail that his (metaphysical) understanding of ‘causation’ was false. Similarly, he may have gotten the (scientific) relationship between A and B wrong, but that doesn’t entail that his (metaphysical) conception of ‘relationships’ is wrong.

    Eric, this sophistry is unworthy of you. I’m not talking about the names of the disciplines, or anything like that, and I did not say anything about whether Aristotle was wrong or not (yet). I’m talking about the general idea of using nature to inform one’s metaphysics. Which Aristotle obviously did in deriving his ideas of causation.

    Here’s an analogy. Let’s say some people are discussing William Paley’s argument from design in relation to living creatures.

    A: “Paley gave it a good shot, but evolutionary biology has shown that his conclusions about design are simply untenable. The appearance of design does not require a supernatural ‘watchmaker’.”

    B: “Your problem is your false identification of the metaphysical idea of design with the purely physical ‘design’ of the organism. Modern biology only considers design from a materialist perspective. Paley was doing natural theology, which is much more general than that. It’s anachronistic to try to apply evolutionary biology to his natural theology. The modern divide of theology and biology does not apply to Paley.”

    A: “Wait a minute, who cares about the name of the discipline? Paley’s idea was derived from his observation of a bunch of critters. Now you are saying that we can’t use modern observations of critters to criticize Paley’s theology? What’s up with the double standard?”

    B: “Anachronistic, la la la, can’t hear you!”

  386. #386 SAWells
    April 19, 2009

    Eric, since Aquinas treats unmoved mover and uncaused cause as _separate_ proofs, your attempts to claim that the Mover argument is actually a Cause argument because “move” doesn’t mean move are uncompelling. In any case, both the Mover and Cause arguments fail because the proposition “all chains of causation, traced backwards, lead to either an infinite regress or something uncaused” leads to exactly one conclusion, which is that all chains of causation, traced backwards, lead to either an infinite regress or something uncaused. Aquinas wrongly claims that the infinite regress is impossible (he’s wrong about this as later mathematicians make clear) and that there’s one ultimate uncaused cause/unmoved mover/ and he can call it God- a honking great arbitrary assertion.

    I think you should have more respect for what Aristotle and Aquinas _actually argued_ instead of insisting that they had to be right. That’s an unfair burden to put on people who thought the sun went round the earth.

  387. #387 SAWells
    April 19, 2009

    Oh, while we’re on the subject, I found this:

    “modern physics only considers causation from a mathematical perspective”

    amusing, speaking as a modern physicist.

  388. #388 Eric
    April 19, 2009

    There’s a lot to respond to, so I’ll have to be somewhat laconic.

    re John Morales @ 368: I’m still unclear about your point. Do you take me to be saying that the New Atheists are skeptical because they are ignorant? I certainly haven’t said that; indeed, I’ve made it clear that the arguments for god’s existence, even if properly understood, are not rationally coercive, so one could both understand and remain skeptical.

    re Kel @370: the criteria for a comparable resurrection account aren’t specific to Christianity: I’m asking for an account we can reasonably compare, and such an account must minimally involve multiple, independent early sources, concern a resurrection and not something similar (e.g. revivification) about an historical figure, contain incidental references we can independently check (e.g. to people, places, practices, etc.), and have had some real effects on people at the time (e.g. resulting in the dynamic growth I referred to in a hostile environment).

    re Kel@373: “the resurrection of Jesus breaks the one law about life” No, it doesn’t. The claim isn’t, Jesus rose naturally from the dead; this would violate a ‘law’ of life. Rather, the claim is that god raised Jesus from the dead.

    re Kel@ 375: “Turning water into wine. A staff coming to life as a snake. The sun stopping dead in the sky. Instantaneously regrowing an amputated limb. etc.”

    Of course we could come up with highly improbable natural explanations for these examples. Take the sun example, tweak it a little, and you get Fatima. It was predicted that something amazing would occur at a particular place and time, which led to the assemblage of thousands of people from a variety of backgrounds, nearly all of whom claimed to have witnessed the so-called ‘miracle of the sun.’ Now, this meets all the standard criteria one would desire in the case of a miracle, but it’s still explained by many people naturalistically (or, rather, some attempt to explain it naturalistically, since the whole thing is still mysterious). Note, I’m not saying that I’m persuaded a miracle occurred here, I’m just presenting a counterexample. One could, with appeals to highly improbable quantum events, or to aliens and time travel, or other such nonsense naturalistically explain the other ‘miracles’ you referred to as well — or any miracle claim whatsoever (which is the point of my question).

    re aratina@ 379: I agree. I’m no ‘Benny Hinn’ supporter.

    re RobertDW@383: I’ll address each of your points.
    1. You’re confusing independence with objectivity. Independence only means that they didn’t rely on the same source (e.g. Matthew and Luke rely heavily on Mark, which is why I didn’t mention them as a whole along with Mark; I did refer to M and L — material in Matthew and Luke that cannot be traced to Mark — as alternatives to John, given the minority view that John relied on Mark, and the possibility that Kel might object to John as an independent source on these grounds).
    2. Yes, within sixty years. If we place the crucifixion at 30 ce, and the latest source I mentioned (John) at 90 ce, then the sources I mentioned fall within 60 years of the supposed resurrection. As for Paul, I specifically referred to his creedal passages, which are not original to him, and which are frequently attributed to Peter, James or John (the disciple, not the evangelist), or to the early ‘Christian’ community in Jerusalem (again, within a decade of the event, or, according even to some liberal scholars and skeptical scholars, such as Crossan and Ludemann, within 3 to 5 years of the supposed resurrection).
    3. Not dating the resurrection, but the creedal material in Paul concerning the resurrection.
    4.Yes, obscure books cause great change, but remember, that was one point among many. And, remember, that wasn’t an argument for the resurrection, as I made clear, but a set of criteria to analyze other resurrection accounts. Further, the changes in the first century were well underway before any of the texts were written (again, see the creedal material in Paul which antedates Paul’s letters and any gospels, though the gospels do contain numerous pericopes which are also thought to contain kernels of earlier oral traditions).
    5. The bible isn’t a single book, but a collection of texts by numerous authors. Further, your demand for objective historiography in the first century is farcical — history wasn’t written that way in the ancient and classical world. The biases of our many ancient ‘historians’ are well documented.
    6. The crucifixion is hardly questionable among historians, unless you mean by ‘questionable’ only that at least one historian questions it. By that standard, evolution is questionable because of people like Behe. There is an overwhelming consensus among historians that Jesus existed and was crucified, and this is evidenced by remarks by liberal scholars like Crossan who say that we can be as certain of the crucifixion as we can of any other historical event (I take him to be implying, ‘any event in the first century’).
    7. Jesus is mentioned in a legitimate passage in Josephus (about his brother James), and even the disputed passage (the Testimonium Flavianum) is judged by top Josephus scholars like Feldman to contain an original core about Jesus.
    Your last point about other messianic figures supports my point: there movements died with their leaders. Second temple Judaism expectations were dominated by hopes of a political and military leader; no one expected a dying or rising messiah. This ‘mutation’ (to use Wright’s term) is one of the facts that must be explained.

    re Windy@385: I was using the terminological differences to bring out more clearly the methodological differences, and not suggesting that you were talking about the names of books or disciplines. However, as I said, even after we admit that much (most) of what we would call Aristotle’s physics was wrong, it doesn’t follow that his metaphysics was wrong. He may not have understood the causal relationship that in fact obtained between A and B, but it doesn’t follow that his conception of causation is therefore wrong (it may be, but you’ll have to do more work to show it).

    re SAWells@386: My point about ‘movement’ and change is uncontroversial. It’s simply a fact that when Aristotle or Aquinas refer to what we frequently translate ‘movement,’ they are not limiting themselves to locomotion, but are referring to change instead. Heck, this is evident when you understand the first two ways: they do not refer to change through time, but to *simultaneous* change. This was the point about distinguishing accidentally ordered series from essentially ordered series. Think about a man moving a lever that moves a stone. His arm, the lever and the stone move simultaneously. This brings me to the next point: when he argues that an infinite regress is impossible, he’s referring to an infinite regress of simultaneously changes. Indeed, Aquinas never argues, for example, that the universe must have had a beginning — he acknowledges the possibility of an infinite series of past events; what he denies is an infinite series of simultaneous events. If the hand doesn’t move, neither do the lever nor the rock.

    The part about identifying the conclusion of the first two ways as god is not a logical move, but a pedagogical one. Aquinas goes on to argue for the attributes we commonly ascribe to god, but, at the early stage of the first or second way, the reader might miss the significance of the conclusion.

    And I don’t *insist* Aristotle and Aquinas were right; I only insist that those criticizing them understand what they were saying. As my responses to various questions about them make clear, they are often very poorly understood by their critics.

    With respect to my remark about physics and mathematics, I will certainly concede that I was wrong if you can explain the other ways in which physicists, *qua physicists*, consider causality. I was under the impression that physicists explain, or attempt to explain, all relationships and entities mathematically, and that until something has been mathematically expressed, it’s at best a pointer in the direction of the real work of physics (e.g. Einstein’s gedanken experiments).

    Phew! Sorry for the long post. I guess I could’ve been a bit more laconic than that…

  389. #389 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    April 19, 2009

    I’m amazed that Eric still thinks he has an argument. Everything was trashed earlier. Continuing a losing argument is not a sign of intelligence.

  390. #390 Ken Cope
    April 19, 2009
  391. #391 CJO
    April 19, 2009

    2. Yes, within sixty years. If we place the crucifixion at 30 ce, and the latest source I mentioned (John) at 90 ce, then the sources I mentioned fall within 60 years of the supposed resurrection. As for Paul, I specifically referred to his creedal passages, which are not original to him, and which are frequently attributed to Peter, James or John (the disciple, not the evangelist), or to the early ‘Christian’ community in Jerusalem (again, within a decade of the event, or, according even to some liberal scholars and skeptical scholars, such as Crossan and Ludemann, within 3 to 5 years of the supposed resurrection).

    The problem is that, for about 1800 years, Christians have been reading their earliest sources backwards. You’re just assuming that the background for those creedal passages in Paul is a historicized narrative of a ministry and martyrdom set in the regime of Pontius Pilate, a la the synoptic tradition. But the synoptic tradition didn’t exist yet, and Paul gives no indication anywhere in the genuine epistles that he understood Jesus to have been a near contemporary crucified in Jerusalem around that time. Indeed, there’s every reason to believe that it was theoloogically significant for Paul specifically that the savior’s earthly existence and crucifixion were ordinary and unremarkable –and unremarked upon. For Paul and his contemporaries (the communal authors of your creedal formulas), what was important was that the risen Christ had begun appearing to the Saints, announcing the imminence of the End of the Age. Paul is adament, in fact, that he received the gospel directly from the Lord, that is, he received it in a vision of the risen Christ. Given his own reports of his visit to the bretheren in Jerusalem, there’s no reason to believe that they (Peter, James, others?) were not in possession of the same kind of revelation. They were not disciples and Paul never says they were. They were apostles, just like him. The idea that they had been the actual followers of a historicized figure had to wait for the invention of that iteration of the figure –in the synoptic tradition. Now, you can go on appealing to the consensus among historians about this and that. But note that I am making an argument directly from the content of the texts we have and not to any given interpretation of them.

    I was going to get into the synoptics as theological fictions (not historical sources in the first place) and their relationship to John, but it’s a beautiful day here in NoCal, and the boy and I are going to go run around in the park. More later.

  392. #392 SAWells
    April 19, 2009

    Eric, you might want to ponder the relationship between Aquinas’ take on Aristotle’s physics- the bit about omnia quod movetur ab alio movetur- and a little thing we call “Newton’s Third Law”. The chain you want to invoke of A moving B moving C… is physically a network of _interactions_ and the problem of infinite simultaneous causal regress simply doesn’t exist. A tragic loss, I’m sure.

    Quick hat tip to CJO and to Robin Lane Fox’s “the unauthorised version”, currently rereading.

  393. #393 Eric
    April 19, 2009

    “Paul gives no indication anywhere in the genuine epistles that he understood Jesus to have been a near contemporary crucified in Jerusalem around that time.”

    This isn’t true for a number of reasons.

    (1) Let’s get a preliminary point of agreement out of the way: Paul clearly thinks Jesus was a historical figure, since he thinks he died by crucifixion (whether on a tree or a cross is irrelevant). So, since I assume we both agree here, when is it *most reasonable* given *all the evidence* to suppose that Paul thought Jesus lived?

    (2) Paul refers to meeting with Peter, James and John to check his gospel. This indicate that, *with respect to the gospel*, he thought that they could confirm or disconfirm what he had been preaching, which supposes some primacy on their part. They may simply have been church leaders in the political sense, of course, and if all we had were Paul’s letters, or if our other sources were far removed from Paul’s letters, you may have a case. However, we do have other, independent reasons, to place Jesus as a near contemporary of Paul.

    (3) Paul refers to meeting with James Jesus’ brother. If Paul met Jesus’ brother, and knew that James was his brother, then he knew that Jesus was a near contemporary. We have an independent source here for James’s existence, namely Josephus, who mentions James Jesus’ brother in a relatively uncontroversial passage. (Also, we know Josephus refers to John the Baptist, a fact that will be important below.) We also have references to a James the brother of Jesus in the synoptics, so we have multiple lines of independent evidence pointing to (a) a brother of Jesus who was (b) a contemporary of Paul. I know the linguistic and logical contortions skeptics go through to avoid this conclusion, but they aren’t more plausible than their denial, and they’re certainly not more plausible than the alternative, traditional account (e.g. they involve reading into the accounts details that aren’t there, and reading out details that are; they involve arbitrarily privileging some sources over others to obviate conflicts that don’t exist on the traditional account; etc.).

    (4) Josephus and the Gospels refer to John the Baptist, and place him as a contemporary of Jesus (Josephus does this, of course, by implication, i.e. by putting him in roughly the same time as James, and hence Jesus). This is in accord with our earliest gospel, Mark (written within 10 years of Paul’s references to Peter, James and John), and with Q, which is thought to be an early sayings document, and which is usually given an early date (some dates are pre-Markan).

    (5) Finally, we have reasons to think that Paul was in contact with many of the oral traditions concerning Jesus’ life and (mostly) teachings that ultimately made their way into the gospel accounts (e.g. Romans 14:14 and Matthew 15:10-11; Paul’s familiarity with Jesus’ teaching in Luke 11:35-36; his familiarity with the (a)Last Supper and (b)Jesus’ betrayal (c)at night in 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; 1 Corinthians 9:14 and Matthew 10:10; 1 Corinthians 7:10-11 and Mark 10:9; 1 Thessalonians 4:15-19 and Matthew 24:30-31; 1 Thessalonians 5:2 and Matthew 24:43; 1 Corinthians 1:25, 2:7-8 and Luke 10:21; Galatians 5:14, Romans 13:8-10 and Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 2:1 and Luke 6:37; 1 Corinthians 6:7 and Luke 6:28-30; and so on). Now, most of these refer to teachings, but these teachings made it into the gospel accounts within 10 to 20 years of Paul’s letters. Is it likely that the teachings, the Last Supper, the betrayal at night and the crucifixion were all circulating at Paul’s time in a vacuum without any cohesive narrative tying them all together?

    Since we have a number of sources converging on the same time period (Josephus, the gospels and Q place Jesus in the time of John the Baptist; Paul claims to know Peter, James the brother of Jesus and John, which places Jesus in the same time as Josephus; our early sources, such as Q and Mark, are close in terms of the time of composition — i.e. within a decade — to Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians; and so on), and the obvious reliance of Paul’s teachings on sayings of Jesus, the details of the Last Supper and the crucifixion, and *no explicit evidence whatsoever* pointing to your alternative, we have, IMHO, every reason to accept the traditional account as at least more reasonable than your alternative account.

  394. #394 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    April 19, 2009

    Yawn, bible quotes mean nothing, since the bible is a proven work of fiction. Godbots just don’t get that.

  395. #395 Ken Cope
    April 19, 2009

    Go ahead, pull the godbot’s finger again.

  396. #396 Anonymous
    April 19, 2009

    re Kel @370: the criteria for a comparable resurrection account aren’t specific to Christianity: I’m asking for an account we can reasonably compare, and such an account must minimally involve multiple, independent early sources, concern a resurrection and not something similar (e.g. revivification) about an historical figure, contain incidental references we can independently check (e.g. to people, places, practices, etc.), and have had some real effects on people at the time (e.g. resulting in the dynamic growth I referred to in a hostile environment).

    You haven’t established that there were ANY eyewitness accounts, and that anecdotal evidence is suitable enough to get over the impossibility of the dead rising…

    re Kel@373: “the resurrection of Jesus breaks the one law about life” No, it doesn’t. The claim isn’t, Jesus rose naturally from the dead; this would violate a ‘law’ of life. Rather, the claim is that god raised Jesus from the dead.

    In which case, there needs to be an establishment that God exists- it’s getting very circular here…

    One could, with appeals to highly improbable quantum events, or to aliens and time travel, or other such nonsense naturalistically explain the other ‘miracles’ you referred to as well — or any miracle claim whatsoever (which is the point of my question).

    They could, but again I’m going to take Dawkins’ position in the blind watchmaker that even if it’s possible through the laws of quantum physics, the extreme improbability of it doing so makes the notion of causation through quantum physics so unlikely that a supernatural explanation is preferred.

    You’re confusing independence with objectivity. Independence only means that they didn’t rely on the same source (e.g. Matthew and Luke rely heavily on Mark, which is why I didn’t mention them as a whole along with Mark; I did refer to M and L — material in Matthew and Luke that cannot be traced to Mark — as alternatives to John, given the minority view that John relied on Mark, and the possibility that Kel might object to John as an independent source on these grounds).

    Well there is the 2 source hypothesis, which as far as I can tell is where the majority of biblical scholars are at. And as such, not being a biblical scholar I will not argue with. But this means 4 things: 1. Mark by all accounts was tampered with later on, early manuscripts ends at the empty tomb. 2. That Matthew and Luke are derived from mark and thus not independent. 3. John makes the most fantastic claims about Jesus’ life and was written up to 80 years after the events. 4. That there is not a single eyewitness account, everything is 2nd hand.

    Though again, I must stress that even if 100 independent eyewitnesses wrote what they saw immediately after the event happen (not decades later by 2nd, 3rd or possibly 5th hand sources) it’s still anecdotal evidence. I’m not going to argue that the people who wrote the bibles didn’t believe that Jesus resurrected, and this is why I gave multiple examples of where eyewitness accounts in the modern world have been testament to the impossible. And as such, it should be apparent that eyewitness testimony is unreliable – especially when it comes to the paranormal.

  397. #397 Eric
    April 19, 2009

    “is physically a network of _interactions_ and the problem of infinite simultaneous causal regress simply doesn’t exist.”

    Aquinas views cause and effect, especially in an essentially ordered series, as different ways of looking at the same event, so I fail to see how a reference to interactions has any purchase here. It sounds entirely consistent to me. Think about the man moving the rock with a lever. The rock doesn’t move on its own; it’s moved by the lever. The lever doesn’t move on its own; it’s moved by the man’s arm. The man’s arm doesn’t move on its own; it’s moved by his muscles. The man’s muscles don’t move on their own; they’re moved by (I’m sure many of you could go on to fill in the blanks here, ‘all the way down,’ as it were, to fundamental principles of chemistry and physics better than I could); and so on. That’s the point of an essentially ordered causal series: at no part of the simultaneous series of interactions — not a series backward in time, but a simultaneous series — can we say, ‘*this* is what moved on its own.’

    On the topic of physics and causation, I was looking forward to hearing about the non-mathematical conceptions physicists use, as physicists, of causality (and I mean that sincerely). My friends who are studying physics at both the undergraduate and graduate level tend to think that until some relationship is (well) expressed mathematically, it’s too wooly to be considered physics proper.

  398. #398 SAWells
    April 19, 2009

    Eric, Matthew 27, 52-53 specifies that large numbers of dead people rose up and walked around Jerusalem and “appeared to many”. One would imagine that people would have noticed, no? Yet non-gospel accounts of Resident Evil 33AD: Zion Zombies are conspicuous by their absence. So much for your witnesses.

  399. #399 CJO
    April 19, 2009

    Nerd, I respect that you are not interested, but Bible quotes actually mean a great deal; it’s how to prove the Bible is fiction.

    Eric:
    Let’s get a preliminary point of agreement out of the way: Paul clearly thinks Jesus was a historical figure, since he thinks he died by crucifixion (whether on a tree or a cross is irrelevant). So, since I assume we both agree here, when is it *most reasonable* given *all the evidence* to suppose that Paul thought Jesus lived?

    Jesus is a mythical figure to Paul, which doesn’t mean what it would mean for us to say that. In antiquity, the conception would simply been an event with supernatural connections far in the past. He may have had in mind the mass crucifixion of Jews under the High Priest Alexander Jannaeus; in any case it’s perfectly clear (if you’re not reading Paul with synoptic glasses) that the crucifixion was not a recent event for Paul, and it wasn’t one you could check up on the details of. It happened, the Lord told him so, and that’s all Paul and hs contemporaries cared about. As the tradition developed, people were no longer satisfied with vagueness and generalities such as “according to the scriptures.” The synoptic tradition can be read as a reaction to this dissatisfaction, a long answer to the question, “okay, which scriptures?”

    the obvious reliance of Paul’s teachings on sayings of Jesus, the details of the Last Supper and the crucifixion

    Paul says nothing about a betrayal. It’s part and parcel of that long-standing tradition of reading the earliest sources backwards that demands that the English translation read this way, but it’s just not there. Jesus was “delivered up.” In the Greek, this is simply not the term Paul would have used if he had in mind a scenario even remotely similar to the historicized (and mutually contradictory) accounts in the gospels of the betrayal by Judas. Judas is a very late part of the tradition, and we can clearly see its legendary character and its development as fiction.
    As regards the meal tradition itself: yes, it is very early, but what does Paul say about where he got it? “For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you…” Perfectly consistent with my thesis, that these are the content of revelations understood by Paul to be coming from this figure who had risen, and was soon to appear to the whole world in power and glory, bringing the Age to an end and ushering in the Kingdom.

    Is it likely that the teachings, the Last Supper, the betrayal at night and the crucifixion were all circulating at Paul’s time in a vacuum without any cohesive narrative tying them all together?

    I’m going to look up your scriptural references and get back to you on “teachings,” because one of the most striking things about Paul is his silence on the teaching tradition. At many points in the genuine epistles, he’s making a point that would be admirably illustrated by one or another parable or beatitude. He doesn’t make use of them, though, for the simple reason that they are not yet part of the tradition.

    As for “in a vacuum,” my position doesn’t require this kind of inventiveness on the part of Paul. It’s perfectly obvious that a new kind of Jewish piety was attracting adherents at the time. What’s not obvious, and certainly wouldn’t have been required, is that the burgeoning tradition had any recent, historical figure as a founder figure.

    I’m also going to have to address James in another post, but let me just say that I view this: “I know the linguistic and logical contortions skeptics go through to avoid this conclusion, but they aren’t more plausible than their denial, and they’re certainly not more plausible than the alternative, traditional account (e.g. they involve reading into the accounts details that aren’t there, and reading out details that are; they involve arbitrarily privileging some sources over others to obviate conflicts that don’t exist” as pure projection on the part of defenders of the traditional view. The early record of how the apostles got turned into disciples and family members of Jesus is very confused. Pretending that there’s a clear picture there that skeptics have to muddy up to make their point is somewhat disingenuous. The picture was muddy, exceedingly so, when I got here.

  400. #400 Eric
    April 19, 2009

    “Eric, Matthew 27, 52-53 specifies that large numbers of dead people rose up and walked around Jerusalem and “appeared to many”. One would imagine that people would have noticed, no?”

    It’s amazing how many similarities one finds between skeptics and fundamentalists: here, both insist on reading every word of the bible literally. The passage you’re referring to is almost always read as apocalyptic imagery, and with good reason (e.g. it only appears in Matthew, it’s consistent with themes Matthew emphasizes throughout his gospel, etc.).

    “Though again, I must stress that even if 100 independent eyewitnesses wrote what they saw immediately after the event happen (not decades later by 2nd, 3rd or possibly 5th hand sources) it’s still anecdotal evidence. I’m not going to argue that the people who wrote the bibles didn’t believe that Jesus resurrected, and this is why I gave multiple examples of where eyewitness accounts in the modern world have been testament to the impossible. And as such, it should be apparent that eyewitness testimony is unreliable – especially when it comes to the paranormal.”

    First, I hope you consistently apply the view that eyewitness testimony is unreliable in general and more-so when it comes to paranormal events to both history and your own life. Historically, you must be quite the skeptic, given our overwhelming reliance on eyewitness testimony. In your own life, *you* are as much of an eyewitness to any event you observe as anyone else, and hence must judge yourself equally unreliable. And in other areas you no doubt hold dear, viz. science, *nearly everything you believe* is based on the testimony of others. Somehow, I doubt you apply this standard with any consistency.

    Second, it’s obvious that we’ve reached an impasse. You’ve just conceded that no historical data would suffice for you to conclude that it’s more rational than not to believe that a miracle had occurred, and that’s fine. I appreciate the discussion, though.

  401. #401 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    April 19, 2009

    CJO, I acknowledge your point.

    Eric still doesn’t seem to understand that science doesn’t require concepts, except as to explain the physical evidence. Tentative concepts, based on mathematics, like the Higg’s particle will either be confirmed or busted based on the evidence. There is no physical evidence for Jebus, and very little that the earlier bible was anything other than a work to maintain Jewish identity during their exiles.

  402. #402 SAWells
    April 19, 2009

    Eric, I find it amusing that you claim Matthew as an eyewitness account of the resurrection of one guy, but suddenly when he talks about a horde of the walking dead, I’m a fundamentalist. I know it’s apocalyptic imagery. That is a problem for _you_, not me, as it makes your supposed sources _fiction_. And you’ll have a hard sell explaining why _one_ resurrection is fine, _two_ is fine (Lazarus, anyone?), but a crowd of them? Ridiculous! Everyone knows raising the dead is a bespoke, hand-crafted business.

    And you do, in all seriousness, have a big problem explaining why the evidence we have, that _many early Christians believed that Christ rose_, is actually evidence that he _did_. I’m going to assume you don’t actually believe that Gabriel dictated the Koran to Mohammed, right? You need to explain why _resurrection is more likely than fiction or fraud_. Bible quotes just aren’t going to cut it.

  403. #403 SAWells
    April 19, 2009

    Oh, and @397: in physics we use maths to build a rigorous model of something and see what it would do. _Maths does not tell you what model to build_. So first you need to understand _what physics you’re modelling_, before you try to build the math model.

  404. #404 Kel
    April 19, 2009

    It’s amazing how many similarities one finds between skeptics and fundamentalists: here, both insist on reading every word of the bible literally.

    Yeah, I knew that resurrection was allegorical. I blame the Christians for telling me it was literal!

  405. #405 Eric
    April 19, 2009

    “In the Greek, this is simply not the term Paul would have used if he had in mind a scenario even remotely similar to the historicized (and mutually contradictory) accounts in the gospels of the betrayal by Judas.”

    Then you’re going to have a heck of a hard time explaining why the four gospels use *the same verb* when referencing the *betrayal* of Jesus by Judas:

    http://www.studylight.org/lex/grk/view.cgi?number=3860

    “Jesus is a mythical figure to Paul, which doesn’t mean what it would mean for us to say that.”

    There isn’t a jot of evidence to support this reading. It’s all clever conjecture, but that’s it. That’s why it’s such a minority view. Paul refers to Jesus’ brother, to apostles associated with Jesus in other traditions, to Jesus’ teachings, to the Last Supper, to the betrayal at night (see above), to his death by crucifixion, and to his burial. This is obviously more consistent with a historical figure than not.

  406. #406 Anonymous
    April 19, 2009

    Eric wrote:

    It’s amazing how many similarities one finds between skeptics and fundamentalists: here, both insist on reading every word of the bible literally. The passage you’re referring to is almost always read as apocalyptic imagery, and with good reason (e.g. it only appears in Matthew, it’s consistent with themes Matthew emphasizes throughout his gospel, etc.).

    Therein lies the problem, Eric. The idea that we’re to accept one supernatural event as fact and another as fiction seems more than a little unreasonable to me. If you’re allowed to argue away the risen saints as ‘apocalyptic imagery’ then you can’t possibly expect us to treat the risen Jesus any differently.

    If Matthew was a man prone to inserting fictional stories into his historical recounting, how are we to tell which is which?

    The usual response to this is what I’ve called the ‘genre defence’, where it is explained the storytelling style of the period often fused fact with fiction (i.e. it’s not the genre of historical recording) – but that still doesn’t explain how they may be differentiated with any accuracy.

  407. #407 Eric
    April 19, 2009

    “And you’ll have a hard sell explaining why _one_ resurrection is fine, _two_ is fine (Lazarus, anyone?), but a crowd of them? Ridiculous!”

    Lazarus wasn’t resurrected, he was revivified. Lazarus went on to die after coming back, Jesus didn’t. That’s the primary difference between resurrection and revivification. So, we have one resurrection, and one bit of apocalyptic imagery. These are complicated texts that use complicated literary devices (inclusio, anyone?). It’s only an apparent problem for those who haven’t studied how these texts are read, by which I mean there are good reasons to read come parts literally and not others.

    “That is a problem for _you_, not me, as it makes your supposed sources _fiction_.”

    That’s a non sequitur. A text can use apocalyptic imagery, metaphor, etc. without being ‘fiction.’ Does it follow from Matthew 27 that Caiaphas and Pilate are fictional characters? Does it follow from Jesus calling himself the way — ‘hodos’ in Greek, which also means ‘road’ — that he was a dirt or stone path?

  408. #408 Kel
    April 19, 2009

    Just one more thing. For the most part of modern history, the 4 gospels were seen as eyewitness testimony; written by the apostles as well as other parts of the new testament. Modern scholarship has put an end to that, it’s now widely accepted that the synoptic gospels were derived from Mark and another unknown source known as Q. Given the dates for the authorship of Mark being 70CE, it is very unlikely that Mark was one of the apostles – thus none of the gospels can now be considered the word of eyewitnesses.

    Personally I don’t think this matters as it’s anecdotal evidence regardless. But surely a believer who is relying on the historicity of jesus through eyewitness accounts would be shaken to realise that fact. But this is where I feel faith comes into it, the default position is the belief and not scepticism. So even when the evidence is shown not to be as strong as previously believed, people will still accept it.

    Honestly I think there is a far better explanation in memes than of any actual events. The pagan myths of the time were filled with God-men, with supernatural beings who did similar miracles to Jesus and even had similar stories. The Horus/Osiris myth has particular parallels with the Jesus story to the point where it could only be explained that parts of the Jesus story were derived from the older myth. I think of it as competing ideas for the minds of the population, and by having Jesus given the power that the other gods had and a historical figure as a grounding, it’s a strong enough basis to get support. Quite simply, the Jesus story was embellished in order to win over others.

    I’m not saying this happened, and it’s ultimately something that is largely unknowable. But competing memes far better explains the story of Christ when compared to other mythology of the time than an actual resurrection. Bart Ehrman makes this point in Jesus Interrupted – that there are so many other explanations that don’t require us to appeal to the impossible that all should be preferred to the impossible.

  409. #409 Wowbagger, OM
    April 19, 2009

    Post #406 is me. I don’t know why my TypeKey dropped out, but it did.

  410. #410 Stephen Wells
    April 19, 2009

    So when the text claims flat-out that hordes of the dead rose, and many people saw them in the city, that’s just apocalyptic imagery, and it’s not true, but it’s not fiction, and when it claims Jesus rose, that’s actual fact. Riiight. Very convincing.

    I nominate “Lazarus wasn’t resurrected, he was revivified” for funniest line from Eric so far. Obviously when Jesus said “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die”, he actually meant “I am the revivification”, right? :) And, you know, Lazarus is only in John, not the synoptics, but he also isn’t a metaphor or apocalyptic imagery or anything else, he’s a fact too.

  411. #411 Eric
    April 19, 2009

    “Just one more thing. For the most part of modern history, the 4 gospels were seen as eyewitness testimony; written by the apostles as well as other parts of the new testament. Modern scholarship has put an end to that, it’s now widely accepted that the synoptic gospels were derived from Mark and another unknown source known as Q. Given the dates for the authorship of Mark being 70CE, it is very unlikely that Mark was one of the apostles – thus none of the gospels can now be considered the word of eyewitnesses.”

    See Richard Bauckham’s (University of St. Andrews) recent book ‘Jesus and the Eyewitnesses’ for a fresh case that the gospels contain kernels of eyewitness testimony (which wouldn’t matter to you anyway).

    “Bart Ehrman makes this point in Jesus Interrupted – that there are so many other explanations that don’t require us to appeal to the impossible that all should be preferred to the impossible.”

    Ehrman also says that his case isn’t rationally coercive, and that he has friends who are as well informed as he is (wrt to the issues raised in ‘Jesus Interrupted’), who are smarter than he is, better read than he is and more philosophically sophisticated than he is who are believing Christians. Also, his mentor at Princeton, Bruce Metzger, was a much more accomplished scholar than Ehrman, and he remained a believing Christian until his death.

    “So when the text *claims flat-out* that hordes of the dead rose”

    Beg the question much? Um, that’s the issue!

    “I nominate “Lazarus wasn’t resurrected, he was revivified” for funniest line from Eric so far.”

    I’ll second that!

    “And, you know, Lazarus is only in John, not the synoptics, but he also isn’t a metaphor or apocalyptic imagery or anything else, he’s a fact too.”

    That’s one test, but there are others: care to elaborate on how the thesis of ‘Lazarus-as-apocalyptic-imagery’ works to bring out John’s primary themes (which would require you to enlighten us about those themes first), and what literary devices he employs that we can use to lend extra support to such an argument? Care to tell us why the story of Lazarus is so much more elaborate, containing other people, places, Jesus’ reaction, etc., than the story in Matthew? Care to explain why a tradition apparently developed about Lazarus as a bishop (the point isn’t whether the tradition is historical — it probably isn’t — but that the passage hasn’t been read as you suggest) while no tradition whatsoever followed Matthew 27? And these are just a few of the most basic questions one would have to ask and answer before the real work began…

  412. #412 Kel
    April 19, 2009

    See Richard Bauckham’s (University of St. Andrews) recent book ‘Jesus and the Eyewitnesses’ for a fresh case that the gospels contain kernels of eyewitness testimony (which wouldn’t matter to you anyway).

    It may contain kernels of eyewitness accounts, but you are right. It matters not, otherwise if I’m accepting eyewitness accounts I would have to believe in UFOs. Yet aliens visiting earth and abducting hilbillies however implausible is infinitely more likely than the impossible that is human resurrection.

    Ehrman also says that his case isn’t rationally coercive, and that he has friends who are as well informed as he is (wrt to the issues raised in ‘Jesus Interrupted’), who are smarter than he is, better read than he is and more philosophically sophisticated than he is who are believing Christians. Also, his mentor at Princeton, Bruce Metzger, was a much more accomplished scholar than Ehrman, and he remained a believing Christian until his death.

    So what, does it make his point any less valid? “Smart people are great at rationalising things they came to believe for non-smart reasons” – Michael Shermer. An intelligent and well-read true believer means nothing. I was recently told of an accomplished Turkish historian who is very well read on all matters of Turkish history, yet denies that the Armenian genocide happened. Hell, there are those who will call God all-loving in one sentence and then talk about how he drowned the entire world in the next.

  413. #413 Ken Cope
    April 19, 2009

    And these are just a few of the most basic questions one would have to ask and answer before the real work began…

    Oh, for the fear of Cthulhu, what real work? Sorting out what to mock this twit for first? Or the task of working out what it’s going to take to make this lying sanctimonious twit go away? Are we going to locate the lever for the trap door to the scorpion pits, or are we going to wait for him to start performing every part in Godspell in glorious mime-o-vision?

  414. #414 Sastra
    April 19, 2009

    Kel #412 wrote:

    An intelligent and well-read true believer means nothing.

    Two words: Mormon apologists.

    Some of them are quite brilliant. I personally think you’d have to be a genius to do even a poor job of reconciling or smoothing over some of the problems with LDS theology.

    Biblical scholarship isn’t an area I’m particularly familiar with, but my understanding is that many Christian scholars accept that the New Testament is not compelling evidence for the truth of Christianity — and even contains serious flaws if it’s to be viewed as any kind of credible history — but they are comfortable resting their faith on … faith.

    If you are familiar with groups like The Committee for the Scientific Examination of the Paranormal, JREF, and Skeptic Society, you find case after case of strong, well-attested testimony and studies concerning things like psychic powers, crop circles, and UFO’s falling apart on critical examination. It makes a person even more cynical on anything paranormal claimed in an ancient document expressly written so that people may believe.

  415. #415 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    April 19, 2009

    Ehrman also says that his case isn’t rationally coercive, and that he has friends who are as well informed as he is (wrt to the issues raised in ‘Jesus Interrupted’), who are smarter than he is, better read than he is and more philosophically sophisticated than he is who are believing Christians. Also, his mentor at Princeton, Bruce Metzger, was a much more accomplished scholar than Ehrman, and he remained a believing Christian until his death.

    Yet more reason to remind everyone that Faith is not something rooted in reason.

  416. #416 Eric
    April 19, 2009

    “So what, does it make his point any less valid?”

    Certainly not, and I didn’t mean to imply that it does. Remember, I’ve repeatedly said that one can rationally reach conclusions contrary to mine. My only point was that people as smart and well informed as Ehrman interpret and approach the evidence differently, i.e. the issue can’t be reduced to one of ‘the informed’ versus ‘the ignorant’ or ‘the intelligent’ versus ‘the stupid’ (which ties in to my main point in all these debates, i.e. that intelligent, informed, sincere people can reach different conclusions, and that it adds nothing to the debate to go around simplistically calling one side ‘rational’ and the other ‘irrational’).

  417. #417 Eric
    April 19, 2009

    “Or the task of working out what it’s going to take to make this lying sanctimonious twit go away?”

    I’ll gladly go away if that’s what you wish. But don’t go on to claim that I ‘ran away’ or some such nonsense. I’ve responded to sundry questions, criticisms, etc. You may disagree with everything I’ve said, of course, but that’s irrelevant to the issue of whether I ‘ran away.’ See, I was under the impression that these forums worked like this: if you want someone to go away, ignore him. If that doesn’t work, ban him. I haven’t been banned, and I *certainly* haven’t been ignored. You use a more direct method, I see. Fine. Your wish is my command…

  418. #418 Kel
    April 19, 2009

    Completely agree Sastra. There are enough examples now in the modern world of the paranormal and supernatural where people readily buy into completely bogus claims that fail under scrutiny. Yet there is still a large subset of the population who believe in these “weird” phenomena and being intelligent or well informed isn’t enough to stop that. When reading Why People Believe Weird Things, the figures of paranormal belief in Mensa were really shocking. I didn’t expect them to be eliminated, but to see them so high was amazing!

    Upon reading The Demon-Haunted World what I found most shocking was not that people believed in these insane things but jsut how willing people were to accepting them. The credulity of the human mind, the social nature of thoughts and the ability to construct a reality out of pure fantasy, we see time and time again the way the human mind fails. One issue I’ve had to deal with in recent times is the argument for naturalistic medicines over pharmaceutical companies. Now the people who I’m arguing with are not mentally ill, and are both very intelligent and widely read. They are far more widely read on the issue than I. But when they talk on the issue, it turns into a quasi-consiracy rant where through the use of selective facts and a distrust of capitalism when it comes to health, they have constructed an implausible reality in their own heads to the point where anyone demonstrating information to the contrary is ignored.

    So we have a strong basis for how the mind can be tricked into believing very weird things, we see it time and time again. Psychologists seek to understand why the mind does this, so we do have a scientific basis for inquiry into the matter. Why with all we know about how easily the mind can be tricked and how willing it is to believe the fantastical would we ever consider that some 2nd hand eyewitness accounts of one such event is proof enough that the event happened – especially given this time in history was very superstitious and prone to magical explanations.

  419. #419 Kel
    April 19, 2009

    Certainly not, and I didn’t mean to imply that it does. Remember, I’ve repeatedly said that one can rationally reach conclusions contrary to mine. My only point was that people as smart and well informed as Ehrman interpret and approach the evidence differently, i.e. the issue can’t be reduced to one of ‘the informed’ versus ‘the ignorant’ or ‘the intelligent’ versus ‘the stupid’

    Of course it can’t. But that’s not the issue at hand.

  420. #420 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    April 19, 2009

    Ah, people who look at the evidence, and are not persuaded by the lack thereof, like most atheists. Or people who go in with a presupposition that the alleged evidence is correct, and will lie and do anything necessary in an attempt to prove the veracity of the evidence, like godbots?

  421. #421 Ken Cope
    April 19, 2009

    one can rationally reach conclusions contrary to mine

    No shit, Sherlock.

    it adds nothing to the debate to go around simplistically calling one side ‘rational’ and the other ‘irrational’

    All your efforts at establishing that faith can be arrived at by rational steps, when it’s evident to everybody that you’re post hoc rationalizations are piss-poor special pleading, does not make the case you are making rational, quite the contrary; thanks for inviting us to share your delusion, but no thanks.

    if you want someone to go away, ignore him. If that doesn’t work, ban him.

    Always with the false dichotomy. You forgot “mock him.”

  422. #422 Kel
    April 19, 2009

    All your efforts at establishing that faith can be arrived at by rational steps, when it’s evident to everybody that you’re post hoc rationalizations are piss-poor special pleading, does not make the case you are making rational, quite the contrary; thanks for inviting us to share your delusion, but no thanks.

    Most the arguments I can gather from the New Atheists is not that believers are ignorant on all matters of science and philosophy (though a lot of them are) but that faith itself is irrational. And that’s been my charge throughout this conversation, faith is irrational and anything built on faith is inherently irrational. Furthermore, those who seek to throw out reason when it conflicts with faith are doing something irrational. Craig isn’t ignorant on matters of philosophy and biblical scholarship, but his sceptical credentials have been thrown out the window by his positive appraisal of faith.

    When it comes down to it, people will believe what they want to believe. If the belief is strong enough, it will be unshakable regardless of evidence to the contrary. And if the person is smart enough, they’ll be able to defend that position quite well. But neither of those take away the irrational foundation on which the belief is based, and that is what most of the New Atheists seem to be saying – that faith gets in the way of reason.

  423. #423 Sastra
    April 19, 2009

    Eric #416 wrote:

    My only point was that people as smart and well informed as Ehrman interpret and approach the evidence differently, i.e. the issue can’t be reduced to one of ‘the informed’ versus ‘the ignorant’ or ‘the intelligent’ versus ‘the stupid’ (which ties in to my main point in all these debates, i.e. that intelligent, informed, sincere people can reach different conclusions, and that it adds nothing to the debate to go around simplistically calling one side ‘rational’ and the other ‘irrational’).

    The crux of the matter has to do with the “different approach” which intelligent, informed, sincere people use when dealing with favored pseudosciences, conspiracy theories, and religion. It is an approach which these same people recognize — and disparage — as irrational when applied by other people in other areas.

    As Kel points out, maybe the fact that they are so intelligent, informed, and sincere makes the inconsistency more frustrating.

  424. #424 Kel
    April 19, 2009

    It is an approach which these same people recognize — and disparage — as irrational when applied by other people in other areas.

    Exactly. It feels like nothing more than special pleading when this is done.

  425. #425 Wowbagger, OM
    April 19, 2009

    Certainly not, and I didn’t mean to imply that it does. Remember, I’ve repeatedly said that one can rationally reach conclusions contrary to mine. My only point was that people as smart and well informed as Ehrman interpret and approach the evidence differently, i.e. the issue can’t be reduced to one of ‘the informed’ versus ‘the ignorant’ or ‘the intelligent’ versus ‘the stupid’ (which ties in to my main point in all these debates, i.e. that intelligent, informed, sincere people can reach different conclusions, and that it adds nothing to the debate to go around simplistically calling one side ‘rational’ and the other ‘irrational’).

    My problem with this, Eric, is that it is rationale which can be used to justify belief in anything, given enough time and effort by people who want their belief to be considered rational.

    What is also a problem is that, as I’ve said before, Christianity has been adhered to, faithfully, by millions of people and for thousands of years, and they have had no need of such sophisticated arguments to support them. That such things exist in the way they do indicates it is nothing more than a reaction to the changing views of society as a whole, and an attempt to cling to relevance amongst people who are more skeptical.

    Short version: science said ‘there is no god’; the Christians turned to philosophy instead.

  426. #426 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    April 19, 2009

    The essence of Christianity is told to us in the Garden of Eden history. The fruit that was forbidden was on the Tree of Knowledge. The subtext is, All the suffering you have is because you wanted to find out what was going on. You could be in the Garden of Eden if you had just kept your fucking mouth shut and hadn’t asked any questions.

    – FZ

  427. #427 Ken Cope
    April 19, 2009

    What I find infuriating (and thanks Kel, for invoking Sagan and Shermer, one of whom held out the promise of freedom from the deep irrationality in which I lived much of my misspent youth, and the other who helped to instill in me good habits in the effort to avoid fooling myself) is the very idea of a Thomist, a medievalist, who can blithely chuck out the enlightenment and cherry-pick quantum woo when it suits him, as his sole concession to modernity, in the twenty first century. Whatever gets you through the night, Eric, but you’re not fooling anybody else.

  428. #428 Kel
    April 19, 2009

    One more thing Shermer mentioned in Why People Believe Weird Things. There was a study done asking believers why they believed, and why they thought others believed. What they found was that while most people thought others believed for emotional reasons, and that evidence was the least likely reason that another would believe, that most people cited evidence as the reason they believed. When it comes down to it, we have a higher opinion of our own mental faculties than we do for others.

    So when it comes down to waht evidence is permissible, there I see special pleading done time and time again no matter what. That through a series of logical jumps and turns, something that should be otherwise highly improbable or even impossible is rationalised away because the evidence truly supports that. It’s very apparent in creationist camps, we can see the techniques they use to show Academia as a liberal elite that is trying to silence God’s truth. It’s absurd, millions would be involved including many Christians – yet the idea of towing the line for funding is apparently enough to demonstrate this. The same can be seen in the anti-vax camp, or global warming denial. The special pleading is usually waved away with “well ours is true”

    This is why, if you didn’t catch on eric, that I’ve asked you why Christianity is not special pleading when you are arguing on lines of evidence that we are normally sceptical of. Why faith is bad in all cases except when it comes to Christianity. Why that Christianity should be an exception to the rule, and I don’t think that case has been established – not with what we know now in the 21st century.

  429. #429 CJO
    April 19, 2009

    I *certainly* haven’t been ignored. You use a more direct method, I see. Fine. Your wish is my command…

    Well, I hope that “your” isn’t assumed to be a communal pronoun; I can’t see that you’re doing any harm. To the contrary, I haven’t ignored you because I welcome the direct challenge to my thesis (which is not shared by Kel, et al, who consistently take the [correct] line that, even if the gospels are based on eyewitness accounts we need not accept the claims as fact). Mostly, around here, my scriptural challenges based on study of the synoptic tradition are brushed away with unadorned appeals to scholarly consensus (e.g. maggie), which to your credit you have not done.

    Then you’re going to have a heck of a hard time explaining why the four gospels use *the same verb* when referencing the *betrayal* of Jesus by Judas

    I’m going to have to explain why I made the argument in a clumsy and overly concise way, yes. (The answer is I don’t read Greek, so I’m dependent on sources for stuff like this.) But the answer here isn’t that hard. First of all, the general point stands: you’re reading Paul in the light of the synoptic tradition, and not accepting that the influence runs the other way. Paul’s usage can be assumed to be what was current among the bretheren of his time. That the same verb should crop up again in the synoptics isn’t hard to understand; what is crucial is the way the term is used in the synoptics WRT Judas versus Paul’s usage.

    Paul never mentions a third party involved in this “handing over” or “delivering up” but is simply talking about the fate of the martyr. Where the synoptics have the subject of a phrase like “Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him” (Mark 3:19) as Judas, Paul has Jesus as the subject “[giving] himself for our sins” (Gal 1:4), or he has God himself doing the delivering: “He spared not his own son but delivered him up for us all.” (Romans 8:32). Paul’s usage does not correspond to the idea that a companion of Jesus betrayed him.

  430. #430 Sastra
    April 19, 2009

    Kel #422 wrote:

    Most the arguments I can gather from the New Atheists is not that believers are ignorant on all matters of science and philosophy (though a lot of them are) but that faith itself is irrational.

    Yes, I think that’s one of the uniting features of the so-called New Atheism. The problem isn’t the people: it’s the method. It’s a rebellion against the atheists who have taken the stance that the problem with religion has been the extremists: faith itself is fine — a disciplined virtue even — and no atheist wants to “take that away” from anyone. Yes, we do, actually. It’s not good for them, even when it seems to be good for them. Technically, there’s no such thing as “reasonable” faith.

    Earlier you mentioned alternative medicine. I recently realized that the so-called new atheist approach to religion can be thought of as similar to the science-based medicine approach to ‘alternative’ medicine.

    There are medical doctors who point out that alt med includes some things that are perfectly reasonable: diet, nutrition, exercise, and herbal remedies which can be tested and shown to work. So why not embrace alternative medicine as “complementary” to regular medicine, emphasize the reasonable parts, and encourage the alt med people to throw out the wacky stuff like homeopathy and reiki?

    Because the reasonable parts of alternative medicine are called “medicine.” The only reason alt med exists as a category is for wacky stuff like homeopathy and reiki. Those unproven, failed modalities are not extremist aberrations of alt med. They are alt med. The reasonable, moderate stuff is either there for cover, or shouldn’t be there at all. It’s not the “true” alt med, and the rest of it is fake.

    If it works, then bring it into the scientific mainstream, and stop allowing nonsense to use special rules.

    If religion is reasonable, then bring it into secular science, philosophy, and ethics — and stop allowing nonsense to use special rules.

    Maybe we need to start saying “there is no such category as religion” — there is only reality — the same way we say that there is no such thing as “alternative” medicine — only medicine. Religion is a kind of claim for an “alternative” reality, which you find using an “alternative” method, if you have “alternative” virtue.

  431. #431 SAWells
    April 20, 2009

    Eric, can you still not grasp the inconsistency in your position? We can’t take Matthew 27 to indicate that hordes of the dead rose because, you know, it’s a later interpolation and apocalyptic imagery and the like and the other Gospels don’t mention it… but you apparently do take John 11 to mean that Jesus literally did raise a guy called Lazarus from the dea, even though the whole of John is later than the synoptics, and the other Gospels don’t mention this unique case of Jesus actually raising a dead body. Why, it’s almost as though _somebody made the story up later_ because they needed an illustration of how Jesus, the Word, would resurrect the dead. If you seriously imagine that _the more complex use of literary tropes and incidental detail_ in John makes the Lazarus story more plausible than the Matthew 27 fragment, you need to step back and consider your whole position; the Lord of the Rings is much more complex than the Hobbit but this does not make Sauron more real than Smaug.

  432. #432 Kel
    April 20, 2009

    the Lord of the Rings is much more complex than the Hobbit but this does not make Sauron more real than Smaug.

    But Sauron crafted the one ring of power and Smaug didn’t, so Sauron’s probability of existence is greater than Smaug’s… wait, what do you mean it’s all fiction?

  433. #433 Wowbagger, OM
    April 20, 2009

    If you seriously imagine that _the more complex use of literary tropes and incidental detail_ in John makes the Lazarus story more plausible than the Matthew 27 fragment, you need to step back and consider your whole position; the Lord of the Rings is much more complex than the Hobbit but this does not make Sauron more real than Smaug.

    It’s amazing that these ‘literary tropes’ those fond of the genre defence like to trot out only seem to occur when the writer has referred to an event which is unsupported by any other evidence – including the other stories contained in the bible.

    What’s also amazing (not to mention convenient) is how often the writers of the bible seemed to move from the ‘literary trope’ of the plain, unembellished description of factual events to one of wild, fantastic speculation – and back again – within a few sentences.

  434. #434 windy
    April 20, 2009

    re Windy@385: I was using the terminological differences to bring out more clearly the methodological differences, and not suggesting that you were talking about the names of books or disciplines. However, as I said, even after we admit that much (most) of what we would call Aristotle’s physics was wrong, it doesn’t follow that his metaphysics was wrong. He may not have understood the causal relationship that in fact obtained between A and B, but it doesn’t follow that his conception of causation is therefore wrong (it may be, but you’ll have to do more work to show it).

    How are we to do this work if we are not allowed to “identify physical principles with metaphysical principles?” IMO, it’s not enough just to see if it’s logically consistent or not – what if Aristotle’s metaphysics is self-consistent, but not representative of causation in our reality?

    re SAWells@386: My point about ‘movement’ and change is uncontroversial. It’s simply a fact that when Aristotle or Aquinas refer to what we frequently translate ‘movement,’ they are not limiting themselves to locomotion, but are referring to change instead.

    True, but maybe not quite as devastating as you think it is, considering what Aristotle had to say on the subject:

    Now of the three kinds of motion that there are – motion in respect of magnitude, motion in respect of affection, and motion in respect of place – it is this last, which we call locomotion, that must be primary. (Physics 8.7)

    He goes on to explain all types of change as forms, or effects, of locomotion!

    …If SAWells or someone else here had made the same argument, would you have called it a “101 level” criticism?

  435. #435 SAWells
    April 20, 2009

    Since windy’s brought it up again: Eric, I was rather baffled by your argument that (i) Aristotle’s physics and “metaphysics” (first philosophy) are not separate but rather are a continuum and (ii) just because he was completely wrong about the physics doesn’t mean his metaphysics was wrong. The two claims do rather seem to militate against one another.

  436. #436 Cosmic Teapot
    April 20, 2009

    Does Eric remind anyone of a more polite version of Maggy.

  437. #437 John Morales
    April 20, 2009

    Ophelia at B&W has a post of relevance: Poor shivering baby.

  438. #438 CJO
    April 20, 2009

    Looks like Eric decided to go. (And just for my enlightenment: what is the motivation for heaping abuse on a commenter who is continuing a discussion on a thread three pages back? I fully understand getting rid of, or trying to by trial of excoriation, a useless fuck like Facilis who spams up multiple, active threads with his monotonous bulshit. But Eric… meh. Not like anyone was going to learn anything, I guess.)

    Re: Lazarus, though, In his book Gospel Fictions, Randel Helms makes the case that all that “incidental detail” in the Lazarus story was lifted from the Osiris resurrection myth. Among the parallels he identifies are: the name Lazarus (Hebrew Eleazar; semitized Osiris: El-Osiris); the location (Bethany; semitized ‘House of Anu’ = Beth-Anu); and the two sisters of Lazarus (Osiris also has two sisters, Isis and Nepthys).

    The central point I was trying to make is that, once you stop the special pleading and treat the New Testament as you would any other ancient text, the traditional attribution of the gospel stories to eyewitness accounts possibly transmitted orally simply falls apart. The gospels are scribal documents through and through; such oral sources as may have existed (the miracle stories in the synoptics being most likely) were early incorporated into a scribal tradition such that the fingerprints of borrowing and the hallmarks of sheer invention are all over the thing.

    It doesn’t really matter if a person answering to the vague description of Jesus’s career lived and died in the time of Pilate; I wouldn’t feel compelled to accept Christian supernatural claims or anything. But I’m convinced none of it happened, and I’m fascinated by the project of reconstructing what did happen that led to the rise of Christianity in the absence of such a founder figure or martyr for the cause.

  439. #439 Ken Cope
    April 20, 2009

    The central point I was trying to make is that, once you stop the special pleading and treat the New Testament as you would any other ancient text, the traditional attribution of the gospel stories to eyewitness accounts possibly transmitted orally simply falls apart. The gospels are scribal documents through and through; such oral sources as may have existed (the miracle stories in the synoptics being most likely) were early incorporated into a scribal tradition such that the fingerprints of borrowing and the hallmarks of sheer invention are all over the thing.

    But you can’t make that claim, CJO, because Eric can selectively ignore anything that challenges his “cumulative” case that the New Testament is dry documentary history, as if there were no other religious ideas, tropes, themes or stories floating around in the religious genre fiction stew. You can’t talk syncretism or literature with these guys, and you’re only going to get non-stop scorn and derision. Eric started with the courtier’s reply and it went downhill from there. I’ve got no patience for people who play the rhetorical game of “guess what my position is so I can tell you how wrong you are to think I would think such a thing,” because the principle of charity is inevitably wasted. It isn’t like it’s the first time Eric has jumped on to a thread calling us all lightweights because we’re all cricketers next to a real studly philosopher like himself, and his philosophical bluster is never more than a prelude to the most transparently blindered godbotting. “What dead and resurrected god motif?” Oh, please. He’s taken his philosophical ball and gone home to pout. Did I drive him away? I’m sure he’ll be back, to regale us with tales of how he vanquished us all.

  440. #440 SAWells
    April 20, 2009

    At least I got a threadwin out of it, so it was all worth while :)

  441. #441 Ken Cope
    April 21, 2009

    I got a threadwin out of it

    And you did it the old-fashioned way: you earned it.

  442. #442 Wowbagger, OM
    April 21, 2009

    It isn’t like it’s the first time Eric has jumped on to a thread calling us all lightweights because we’re all cricketers next to a real studly philosopher like himself…

    Cricketers?

  443. #443 Ken Cope
    April 21, 2009

    Cricketers?

    Aw, spit!

  444. #444 Kel
    April 21, 2009

    The blog where eric has been recently (Debunking Christianity) has closed off it’s comments section for no-one but mods, and one of the contributers left this great quote about the religion which was too good not to mention:
    “I think we need to remember that just about every Christian has two things in common: a belief in the sanctity of a book with talking animals – and the expectation of being taken seriously. Sometimes it’s good to step back and remember that.” – Jason Long

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