Pharyngula

A refreshing way to start the morning

Ah, what can be better than a good night’s sleep, a hot shower, a cup of coffee, and finding a book review by AC Grayling on a cool spring morning? In this case, it’s not so much a review as a cheerful dismemberment and deposition of the fragmented corpse into an acid bath. John Polkinghorne has written another of those books of religious apologetics that tries to claim the privilege of scientific thought while not engaging any.

John Polkinghorne’s former student Nicholas Beale runs a website on behalf of his mentor, on which questions about religion, and the relation of religion to science, can be posted. This apparently self-published book is a compilation of 51 of these website questions with Beale’s and sometimes Polkinghorne’s answers. The questions range over creation, the existence of evil, evolution, intelligent design and most of the other familiar old debating points, plus “How does the death of Jesus save the world?”, “Why believe Jesus rose from the dead?” and “How much do you need to believe to be a Christian?”

Since these latter questions premise membership of the asylum already, I shall focus just on the various questions that touch on the relation of science and religion, because the interest attaching to Polkinghorne is that he is a physicist who became a Church of England vicar, which makes people think that he has a special line into the science-religion question. Were he a vicar who gave up the Church of England to become a physicist he would not be regarded as anything more special than sensible; but this is how the world wags.

See? Bracing! Read the whole thing to wake yourself up fully and be prepared to meet the day with a happy contempt for foolishness.

Comments

  1. #1 seokso
    April 21, 2009

    I don’t know about the death of Jesus saving us all, but I think the death of Christianity would be a good start.

  2. #2 InfraredEyes
    April 21, 2009

    I can see why Grayling is annoyed with the Royal Society, but I think he’s missing the point. Polkinghorne is a fellow of the RS based on his work as a theoretical physicist. Refusing him a room to puff his book would invite a long whine about how he and his faith are being victimised. Anyway, being barking mad has never been a disqualification in the eyes of the RS.

  3. #3 seokso
    April 21, 2009

    I think this section says it all:

    “Of course the point is that Beale-Polkinghorne and their tuppence-halfpenny religious publishers wish to get as much of the respectability of the Royal Society rubbed off on them as they can. This is the strategy adopted by the Templeton Foundation too, of sidling up to proper scientists and scientific establishments and getting their sticky religious fingers on to respectable coat-sleeves in the hope of furthering their agenda….”

    The religious need to disguise their mindrot in the trappings of science, while the rational never need to hide science within religion -at least not since the Inquisition. What psychological acrobatics they must go through to both claim the truth and simultaneously disguise their claim as the other side.

  4. #4 Pablo
    April 21, 2009

    Honestly, I’d like to see an answer to the whole “How does Jesus’s death save the world” question that doesn’t beg the question in the first place.

    Let me guess…”God requires a sacrice to atone for sins”?

  5. #5 NC Paul
    April 21, 2009

    Seokso – you cut the best bit:

    “…their agenda – which, to repeat what must endlessly be repeated in these circumstances, is to have the superstitious lucubrations of illiterate goatherds living several thousand years ago given the same credibility as contemporary scientific research.”

    Zing!

  6. #6 ice9
    April 21, 2009

    ‘jesuitry’. Nice.

    ice

  7. #7 IST
    April 21, 2009

    Grayling is spectacular, as always…

  8. #8 MissPrism
    April 21, 2009

    I read some Polkinghorne once (there was a time when I was trying hard to believe this stuff; long story) and he got on my wick worse even than CS Lewis. Lewis at least tried to write with some elegance and clarity, which is why you can see the holes in his arguments so easily.

    Polkinghorne’s work has the same holes, but he tries to darn them with long woolly I-was-a-physicist-you-know paragraphs of obfuscation. And then the obscure words! I’ve got a decent vocabulary, but I had to have the compact edition OED at my elbow while reading. There’s no need for that kind of anfractuosity.

  9. #9 ColonelFazackerly
    April 21, 2009

    lucubrations, casuistry, speciousness, tendentious.

    If I continue to read Grayling I may eventually be able to dispense with the dictionary.

    “chief criterion being convenience” was probably the the deftest blow struck in the name of reason. The “illiterate goatherd” line was the most amusing (I see NC Paul enjoyed that one too).

  10. #10 heddle
    April 21, 2009

    Pablo,

    Honestly, I’d like to see an answer to the whole “How does Jesus’s death save the world” question that doesn’t beg the question in the first place.

    Me too.

  11. #11 Auraboy
    April 21, 2009

    British viewers may have been fortunate enough to see the comedy appearance of Polkinghorne on the BBC programme ‘The Narnia Code’, some hilarious gumpf about C.S.Lewis having cracked the cosmic answer for God in his books and it only being deciphered by an intellectual heavyweight who clearly thinks spotting a couple of God metaphors in the Narnia books is a novel approach to the Age Old Questions (TM).

    Anyway Polkinghorne, with no comment allowed from the New Atheists (TM) at all, starts blathering about how stupid atheists are because they miss the obvious scientific proof for God in that the universe is well tuned to our existence…

    But then it got even better when he started on the, well, Evil can’t be explained in general but y’see when Jesus died, creation restarted as a sort of V2.o and the laws of physics are slowly changing until God gets it right and eventually we’ll reach glory when the physical constants reach their new definition.

    Er…okay.

  12. #12 seokso
    April 21, 2009

    “They say that the deity allows natural evils to happen because “he” has given creation “freedom to be and to make itself” – thus imputing free will to “creation” to explain natural evil….”

    So something started creation then allowed the world to follow its own path, presumeably according to some predetermined laws? That explanation sounds more Deist than Christian.

  13. #13 CalGeorge
    April 21, 2009

    I adore AC Grayling!

  14. #14 Lilly de Lure
    April 21, 2009

    But then it got even better when he started on the, well, Evil can’t be explained in general but y’see when Jesus died, creation restarted as a sort of V2.o and the laws of physics are slowly changing until God gets it right and eventually we’ll reach glory when the physical constants reach their new definition.

    OK – well I suppose the religious only describe their god omniscient and omnipotent.

    Technically speaking we were never promised competence or intelligence! :-D

  15. #15 Auraboy
    April 21, 2009

    Quite!

    God in, ‘Shit, universe V1.0 all buggered up, inject Christ debug, no worries Lads, just hang on for Judgement Day and I’ll have these constants sorted…Yes Pi should be 3, I’ve no idea what happened there…’

  16. #16 Major Tom
    April 21, 2009

    And of course Beale-Polkinghorne have to be mind-brain dualists (see their chapter on this, in which their dualism is described in their own version of Newspeak as “dual aspect monism” in which “mind and brain are not identical” – work that one out!) in order for them to keep a place for the concept of “soul”, itself explained in a cloud of fudge by analogy with piano and the music played on it: “…layers…indeterminism…er…Penrose…chaos theory…quantum mechanics…er…blah blah…see my book chapter 9, all rather complicated…”

    This has to be the best & funniest run-on sentence ever written in the English language.

  17. #17 June
    April 21, 2009

    In Roman times, tens of thousands died by crucifixion, so how is JC’s death special? If he knew he would rise 3 days later and become a folk hero for 2000 years, where is the sacrifice?

  18. #18 co
    April 21, 2009

    That review alone makes me want to (and I perhaps will, in actual fact) plonk down my lucre and subscribe.

  19. #19 Andy
    April 21, 2009

    @8: “Polkinghorne’s work has the same holes, but he tries to darn them with long woolly I-was-a-physicist-you-know paragraphs of obfuscation. And then the obscure words! I’ve got a decent vocabulary, but I had to have the compact edition OED at my elbow while reading. There’s no need for that kind of anfractuosity.”

    Regrettably, the same could be said about many of Gould’s essays, too. . .

  20. #20 MZ
    April 21, 2009

    OK – well I suppose the religious only describe their god omniscient and omnipotent.
    Technically speaking we were never promised competence or intelligence! :-D

    Speaking for myself, I’ve never been able to take descriptions of any deity as omnipotent or omniscient seriously. It always looks to me like groveling behavior. As in:

    Oh, most magnificent and merciful majesty, master of the universe, protector of the meek, whose nose we are not worthy to pick and whose very feces are an untrammeled delight, and whose peacocks keep us awake all hours of the night with their noisy lovemaking, we beseech thee, tell thy humble servants the name of the section between the triglyphs in the frieze section of a classical Doric entablature.

  21. #21 Pablo
    April 21, 2009

    “They say that the deity allows natural evils to happen because “he” has given creation “freedom to be and to make itself” – thus imputing free will to “creation” to explain natural evil….”

    So something started creation then allowed the world to follow its own path, presumeably according to some predetermined laws? That explanation sounds more Deist than Christian.

    What is the theist justification for the assertion that we have free will? Any god worth his omnipotent salt could create the illusion of free will.

    By claiming that “god gives us free will” to account for the problem of evil, theists are just begging the question again. They have diverted the question from “does god exist” to “what are god’s motivations.”

  22. #22 Tulse
    April 21, 2009

    I’ve never been able to take descriptions of any deity as omnipotent or omniscient seriously

    Perhaps it’s my Catholic upbringing, but I’ve never been able to take seriously a deity that isn’t omnipotent and omniscient — if they don’t have those qualities, what makes them a god instead of just a very powerful being?

  23. #23 Ray S.
    April 21, 2009

    Scientists are working very hard to understand gravity. While we have equations that allow us to predict its effects and we can measure it, we’re still short of truly understanding how it really works.

    It seems to me that Christian theologists would be undertaking the same kind of effort to understand how an omniscient and omnipotent creator of the universe can require a death sacrifice in order to embrace that which he is said to have created. How could such a law or rule come into effect? I’m still very short of understanding this.

    Likewise, given the Christian promise of ‘everlasting life’ in return for belief, how is death even a significant event? Such a doctrine undermines the nature of sacrifice of the alleged crucifixion; something I’ve often heard described as the ultimate sacrifice. It would seem that even Christians don’t really believe this as they are not lining up to move on their eternal life after the usual one.

  24. #24 Ygrdsully
    April 21, 2009

    “?religious faith is extremely similar to the kind of conspiracy theory that sufferers from paranoid delusions can hold: the faithful see a purposive hand in everything, plotting and controlling and guiding – and interpret all their experience accordingly. ”

    Perfect comparison.

  25. #25 Sastra
    April 21, 2009

    And it happens that “lunatic” is appropriate here, for the painful experience of wading through this book gave me an epiphany: that religious faith is extremely similar to the kind of conspiracy theory that sufferers from paranoid delusions can hold: the faithful see a purposive hand in everything, plotting and controlling and guiding – and interpret all their experience accordingly.

    This was one of my favorite bits, because it applies to non-christian religions as well. When you think in religious terms, you enter a world structured like a narrative or story: everything has a purpose, and a running plot relates the universe as a whole directly to human beings and their concerns. I see people doing this all the time. “I got sick — what am I supposed to learn from this? A tornado blew the house away — what lesson am I being given? Look at the pretty rainbow — it must be telling me something!”

    Nothing is taken at face value. They must go below the surface to see social and moral meaning put in intentionally, up front, so that they may better act out their character’s role.

    No wonder they think atheism leaves the universe “without any meaning.” They’re not content with finding and creating our own meanings through how we choose to live. Oh, no. They want a conspiracy on the part of the entire cosmos, a Giant Parent setting up the Playpen of the World to guide and instruct and amuse and comfort. It’s like astronomy vs. astrology. If the meteor that flew by last night wasn’t a special signal to me on whether I should buy a new car, then how terribly shallow it all is.

    Faith is a personal commitment to spin-doctor every event to fit into a particular framework. As a method, it’s a problem — even if you can bend and twist faith to fit along with science, compatible with modern discoveries in the same sense that a dead bat on the table is ‘compatible’ with the good breakfast lying next to it. I appreciate AC Grayling taking on one of the “sophisticated” theists like Polkinghorne. Their arguments always seem to suffer from an after-the-fact shoehorning, if not dead-bat-ism.

  26. #26 Steven Carr
    April 21, 2009

    Beale’s blog has a line about atheists ‘The way in which they ally themselves with surging irrational prejudice untamed by religious wisdom ‘

    Well……

  27. #27 SAWells
    April 21, 2009

    @22: consider the gods of the ancient Greek pantheon, e.g. as presented in the Iliad. These gods _are_ just very powerful beings; it’s only after a lot of Thomism that omnipotence or omniscience become part of the definition. The god of Genesis isn’t either; he tells Abraham that he’s heard rumours about Sodom and is going there to check.

  28. #28 Pablo
    April 21, 2009

    Perhaps it’s my Catholic upbringing, but I’ve never been able to take seriously a deity that isn’t omnipotent and omniscient — if they don’t have those qualities, what makes them a god instead of just a very powerful being?

    Back in the days of alt.atheism, a regular by the name of Wen King Su used to basically kill every discussion with a theist with a simple question:

    “How do you know the being you worship is God and not a powerful deceiver?”

    My usual contribution was something like, “What if this being is similar to God in every way but one: he can’t beat God in arm wrestling?”

    This being could presumably produce every effect that theists attribute to God, but is not the real God. Just a powerful being.

    Of course, no one could ever answer the question. “Faith” is about it.

    My other common comment in a similar line is, “If I were Satan, I know the very first thing I’d do would be to convince the world that I was really God, and that the real God is the evil one.”

    How do we know the Bible is not a bunch of Satan propaganda?

  29. #29 heddle
    April 21, 2009

    Pablo

    Back in the days of alt.atheism, a regular by the name of Wen King Su used to basically kill every discussion with a theist with a simple question:

    “How do you know the being you worship is God and not a powerful deceiver?”

    Why did that kill the discussion? Did the theists leave in search of more intelligent atheists?

  30. #30 BlueIndependent
    April 21, 2009

    “…It seems to me that Christian theologists would be undertaking the same kind of effort to understand how an omniscient and omnipotent creator of the universe can require a death sacrifice in order to embrace that which he is said to have created. How could such a law or rule come into effect? I’m still very short of understanding this…”

    They actually have explained this, and to the exact resolution they usually do: God’s creation, God’s rules.

    Yeah I know, it’s a bit BC and all, but the logic is simply impeccable!

  31. #31 Major Tom
    April 21, 2009

    “you can bend and twist faith to fit along with science, compatible with modern discoveries in the same sense that a dead bat on the table is ‘compatible’ with the good breakfast lying next to it.”

    1000 points for that analogy, Sastra – pure win.

  32. #32 Tulse
    April 21, 2009

    Why did that kill the discussion? Did the theists leave in search of more intelligent atheists?

    Wow, what an incredibly convincing argument.

  33. #33 Peter Ashby
    April 21, 2009

    June you have it right, all he had to do was suffer some pain and discomfort. I do that on a regular basis since I have this serious drive to run really hard up the steepest, longest hills I can find, preferably after running some way to get there then seeing how well I hang together on the run home. Either that or I just run laps of them until my left patellar tendon begins to seriously hurt instead of just hurting and bearing in mind that this is through the fugue of endorphins. Now if Jesus had been properly fit and had trained his endorphins it would all have been much easier.

    I tested that one myself, i had two operations on my hands, one on each, joint removal and fusion. The first one I was unfit and it bloody well hurt, I needed lots of diamorphine (my wife says I’m crabby on diamorphine). The second one 6months later I was reasonably fit, I was out to 10miles at good pace, and apart from a shot in postop no opiates required. No pain relief was required for the first week post op in fact.

    Now given I know that my runs are finite, but I also know that next week, or even two days from now it’s do it all again. now if you’ll excuse me, I have a fast 6.6miles (with hills) to do, looks like a nice stiff breeze, lovely.

  34. #34 Kristine
    April 21, 2009

    Did the theists leave in search of more intelligent atheists?

    You mean the ones who know that, “If God is God, then God is not good; if God is good, then God is not God”?

    Or maybe they left to read Interview with the Vampire:

    “…Consequently, if you believe God made Satan, you must realize that all Satan’s power comes from God and so that Satan is simply God’s child, and that we are God’s children also. There are no children of Satan, really.”

    Make fun of the question of how one knows that God is God and/or good all you want, but can you answer it?

  35. #35 maddogdelta
    April 21, 2009

    TFA
    The gaps-god and best-explanation strategies (which both come down to “we don’t know the answer so let’s say Fred did it”)

    I prefer to say that Hank did it…http://www.jhuger.com/kisshank.php

  36. #36 Pablo
    April 21, 2009

    Why did that kill the discussion? Did the theists leave in search of more intelligent atheists?

    It killed the discussions because the theists would derail them with idiotic responses instead of answering the question. A tact you should recognize.

  37. #37 heddle
    April 21, 2009

    Tulse,

    Wow, what an incredibly convincing argument.

    It was a sarcastic question, not an argument. I’m am curious as to why the allegedly argument-stopping question was, in fact, an argument stopper. (If it really was, which I doubt, because I never believe accounts of jaw-dropping argument-stopping questions, whether atheists or theists claim to deliver them. And this one is particularly lame.)

    Kristine,

    The question was: how do I know God is not a great deceiver. And yes, I can answer that. The answer is: I don’t know. I don’t know if we are living in the Matrix either. What’s your point?

    That’s rather obvious, I think. The YECs have a similar question: How do you know that the universe wasn’t created with the appearance of age? Again the answer is trivial: you don’t. When a hypothesis tautologically fits all the data, and all the possible data, such as “God as the great deceiver” or “the appearance of age” or the Matrix, it can’t be ruled out, ever.

    The question would be more meaningful if it was worded: Why do I believe that God is the God I worship and not a great deceiver?

  38. #38 heddle
    April 21, 2009

    Pablo,

    It killed the discussions because the theists would derail them with idiotic responses instead of answering the question. A tact you should recognize.

    I just answered the question. No derailment. The question, as posed, is incredible stupid. Like a YEC question, as I mentioned. I would in fact have done what I suggested sarcastically–searched for more intelligent atheists to have a substantive discussion.

  39. #39 Holbach
    April 21, 2009

    I am awake and prepared, but I don’t have to meet the day with that religious crap, even with the contempt it deserves.

  40. #40 Mu
    April 21, 2009

    My answer would be simple; if he’s so powerful that he becomes indistinguishable from the God I worship, he’s not deceiving. If there’s a God, and he’s lying about the whole “life after death in glory” thing, we’re screwed either way. PZ because he told him off, me because I misplaced trust. We can only hope the hell story isn’t the only part that exist, that would surely blow.

  41. #41 PZ Myers
    April 21, 2009

    You didn’t answer it. You just reworded it from “How do you know the being you worship is God and not a powerful deceiver?” to “Why do I believe that God is the God I worship and not a great deceiver?”, a difference of no significance. Your non-answer hinges entirely on the sophistry of pretending there is a great difference between “know” and “believe” in this context.

    It’s why your contributions here are so worthless — you rely on playing word games rather than trying to actually address the issues. That’s also why the question is a theist-stopper…because rather than confronting the problem honestly, they do exactly as you’ve done, and dart and dodge rather than even try to answer a simple epistemological question.

  42. #42 MZ
    April 21, 2009

    Perhaps it’s my Catholic upbringing, but I’ve never been able to take seriously a deity that isn’t omnipotent and omniscient — if they don’t have those qualities, what makes them a god instead of just a very powerful being?

    Exactly! Thank you. There is a massive disconnect between the god that is described in Jewish and Christian bible and the Platonic view of what a god’s nature should be. Just another case of theistic doublethink.

    MZ

  43. #43 David Marjanovi?, OM
    April 21, 2009

    consider the gods of the ancient Greek pantheon, e.g. as presented in the Iliad. These gods _are_ just very powerful beings; it’s only after a lot of Thomism that omnipotence or omniscience become part of the definition. The god of Genesis isn’t either; he tells Abraham that he’s heard rumours about Sodom and is going there to check.

    Most gods that anyone is documented to have ever believed in are identical to superheroes, with only the following differences:

    • many gods are explicitly guaranteed to be immortal, while for superheroes it tends to just be a side effect of the convention that no good main character, if anyone, ever dies in a comic;
    • superheroes are omnibenevolent;
    • many gods are vain (or otherwise feel a need to prove their might to humans ? think Exodus), while superheroes aren’t ? some supervillains are, though.

    The question would be more meaningful if it was worded: Why do I believe that God is the God I worship and not a great deceiver?

    And how do you answer it, then?

    “…Consequently, if you believe God made Satan, you must realize that all Satan’s power comes from God and so that Satan is simply God’s child, and that we are God’s children also. There are no children of Satan, really.”

    The fusion of monotheism with Ahriman never quite worked?

  44. #44 Sastra
    April 21, 2009

    PZ Myersw #41 wrote:

    Your non-answer hinges entirely on the sophistry of pretending there is a great difference between “know” and “believe” in this context.

    Actually, I’m with heddle on this one, in that the wise thing for the theist to do is approach this question the same way atheists approach other such questions: inference to the best explanation, rather than absolute certainty. That’s a much more reasonable approach than invoking the Absolute Certainty of “I just know, that’s all, with my magic infallible sensus divinitatus.”

    So I think the value of the question lies more in getting the theist to accept their own fallibility, and temper their certainty, rather than revealing some fatal flaw in the whole system. It’s a chip at the faith which lies under the structure, and will only topple it if the theist puts great stock in a literal understanding of Certainty.

  45. #45 heddle
    April 21, 2009

    Your non-answer hinges entirely on the sophistry of pretending there is a great difference between “know” and “believe” in this context.

    That’s because there is a great difference between “know” and “believe” in this context. Words have meaning, and “know” means something quite different than “believe.” They are not synonymous. The question, as posed is stupid–because it essentially presents an unfalsifiable hypothesis and then challenges you to falsify it. And to add insult to injury, pretends that it is deep.

    What possible answer is there to this question? None. Because if it is answered as if asked “why do you believe?” the response, at each and every point, would be: but how can you be sure? It is an argument stopper, but not because of the reasons Pablo suggested.

    So your non-rebuttal of my legitimate answer is itself rather stupid and evasive.

  46. #46 Pablo
    April 21, 2009

    They actually have explained this, and to the exact resolution they usually do: God’s creation, God’s rules.

    Yeah I know, it’s a bit BC and all, but the logic is simply impeccable!

    To that extent, yes, it is. And there really isn’t much to argue with in terms of the mechanics. However, the failing is the concept of how a sacrifice is “required.” There is nothing inherent about God that requires a death sacrifice. This whole thing is due to God CHOOSING to insist upon a death sacrifice.

    Of course, in the end it is just a protection racket anyway.

  47. #47 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    April 21, 2009

    Heddle, you should take your tap dancing and evasion routine on the road. You could make a mint.

  48. #48 IST
    April 21, 2009

    Not that PZ needs defending, but…

    Heddle his point is that there is no knowing in the sense of that question, because you don’t have any evidence. So, you may find the question stupid, but that’s only because it’s been framed by someone who finds the whole supposition of a deity to be stupid, and you cling to that supposition. The emporer hasn’t any clothes at all.. that question is the boy yelling it out.

  49. #49 PZ Myers
    April 21, 2009

    No. If you were sincerely interested in discussion, you could say right up front that you are making a distinction between “know” and “believe”, and then go ahead and answer the damned question.

    I wouldn’t be rebutting you by asking “how can you be sure?”, but by asking “do you have even one reliable scrap of evidence for that?”. I don’t expect certainty. But I do expect a reasonable rationale…which you are incapable of presenting.

  50. #50 Pablo
    April 21, 2009

    My answer would be simple; if he’s so powerful that he becomes indistinguishable from the God I worship, he’s not deceiving.

    Presumably the most important distinction between God and the deceiver is that God has the ability to send you to heaven or hell.

  51. #51 heddle
    April 21, 2009

    IST,

    Heddle his point is that there is no knowing in the sense of that question,

    Exactly. That’s what I said. I don’t know.

    because you don’t have any evidence.

    For believing I have plenty of evidence in my own life that is compelling for me (but wouldn’t be for you.) If the question were asked: why do you believe then it would be reasonable. It has the implication, which I accept, that I might be wrong–but nevertheless it at least allows for a meaningful discussion.

    And if you want to talk about deception–the meaningful question to a theist is: do you ever consider the possibility that you are deceiving yourself? That’s a fair question. Pablo’s relayed question about God as the Great Deceiver is not. It’s just nonsense.

  52. #52 Pablo
    April 21, 2009

    I wouldn’t be rebutting you by asking “how can you be sure?”, but by asking “do you have even one reliable scrap of evidence for that?”. I don’t expect certainty. But I do expect a reasonable rationale…which you are incapable of presenting.

    No, I think it goes deeper than “what evidence do you have?” It is more of a quetion of “What evidence COULD you have?”

    As soon as you get into the realm of “supernatural being more powerful than humans” how are you going to distinguish them? How do you even tell a REAL God from an imposter in the first place?

    Well, I guess there could be an issue of evidence, in regards to once you know what you are looking for, how does the being you worship satisfy it, but that presumes such a property is even detectable. For example, if the only difference between God and the imposter is the ability to send your soul to heaven or hell, then the real one is unknowable. Not just unknown, but unknowable.

  53. #53 Tulse
    April 21, 2009

    the wise thing for the theist to do is approach this question the same way atheists approach other such questions: inference to the best explanation, rather than absolute certainty.

    Right, which is why such things as the problem of evil are, well, problems for inferring a omnibenevolent Christian deity. Indeed, these kind of issues led the Gnostics to a different explanation, namely, that the creator of the world (the Demiurge) was a being separate from and inferior to the real “god”, and thus the world was essentially flawed and imperfect. In some versions of Gnosticism the Demiurge acts in opposition to this unknowable god, and seeks to trap the divine spark in humans in the material world.

    This seems to me to be just as reasonable an inference, one that fits the data better than (or at least as well as) the standard Christian answer. And it seems to me up to folks like Heddle to argue why the Gnostics were wrong, and why the “god” Christians worship isn’t in fact the Demiurge of the Gnostics, or any of the other beings postulated by other religions.

  54. #54 Lambert
    April 21, 2009

    @ #2

    Polkinghorne is a fellow of the RS based on his work as a theoretical physicist. Refusing him a room to puff his book would invite a long whine about how he and his faith are being victimised.

    So if Albert Einstein, whose position at the Institute for Advanced Studies was based on his work in Physics, had in his latter years decided to take up the cause of the Homeopathic methods for discovering the nature of space-time, or something equally insane, you don’t think it might have behooved the IAS to take Albert aside and gently explain that that was not the kind of thing their Institute was about.

    Polkinhorne may have been a physicist at one time but he has plainly gone off the rails and his Royal Society membership should not permit him to promote his drivel from its high ground on the plane of rational though. He deserves to be ridiculed, and it is his option to call that victimization.

  55. #55 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    April 21, 2009

    For believing I have plenty of evidence in my own life that is compelling for me (but wouldn’t be for you.) If the question were asked: why do you believe then it would be reasonable. It has the implication, which I accept, that I might be wrong–but nevertheless it at least allows for a meaningful discussion.

    What standard of evidence do you base what you know and we wouldn’t accept that allows you to believe?

  56. #56 Pablo
    April 21, 2009

    Pablo’s relayed question about God as the Great Deceiver is not

    Penalty flag!!!!!

    I never said God is a Great Deceiver. I said “the being you worship” is a Great Deceiver. If you think that the “being you worship” is “God” then you are just falling into the trap the question exposes.

    But I, too, don’t think this whole “belief” vs “know” distinction is relevant. OK, so you don’t KNOW that it is God and not a deceiver. But let me ask this, then: why do you THINK it is God and not a deceiver? How can you tell them apart?

  57. #57 Sastra
    April 21, 2009

    I’m curious about something: isn’t Richard Dawkins also an RS fellow — and did he use the Royal Society to launch his book, The God Delusion? I’m not sure, but I don’t think so.

    If he did, would there have been much wailing and gnashing of teeth, coming from the direction of those who are just fine and dandy with Polkinghorne’s book? I wonder.

  58. #58 heddle
    April 21, 2009

    Rev.,

    What standard of evidence do you base what you know and we wouldn’t accept that allows you to believe?

    It would be that I have constructed a model based on the bible as to what should happen in my life if the God described therein is described accurately, and on my position as a regenerate believer. And, so far, the data fit the model. That’s more or less the template for why I believe anything that I believe. Would you find it compelling if I said the promises God made about how my life would change upon conversion have be borne out? And how I see the changes in the lives of others? I think not. But I take those changes to be compelling evidence for the validity of the model.

    I could be wrong. But that’s why I believe, from a human perspective (leaving aside the question of faith as a supernatural gift.)

  59. #59 Josh
    April 21, 2009

    And if you want to talk about deception–the meaningful question to a theist is: do you ever consider the possibility that you are deceiving yourself?

    I also think this is a reasonable question. I’ve posed it, I think, three times. Never gotten a straight answer, but the clearest one basically came out to a rather emphatic “no.” Anyone have other results? Heddle? Have you heard it posed in your presense?

  60. #60 Pablo
    April 21, 2009

    It would be that I have constructed a model based on the bible as to what should happen in my life if the God described therein is described accurately, and on my position as a regenerate believer. And, so far, the data fit the model.

    Why couldn’t a powerful deceiver make the same thing happen?

  61. #61 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    April 21, 2009

    It would be that I have constructed a model based on the bible as to what should happen in my life if the God described therein is described accurately, and on my position as a regenerate believer. And, so far, the data fit the model. That’s more or less the template for why I believe anything that I believe. Would you find it compelling if I said the promises God made about how my life would change upon conversion have be borne out? And how I see the changes in the lives of others? I think not. But I take those changes to be compelling evidence for the validity of the model.

    Would you also admit that this isn’t really the strongest model to base a belief, which I assume is strong, on? There are a lot of assumptions and confirmation bias involved there.

  62. #62 Pablo
    April 21, 2009

    do you ever consider the possibility that you are deceiving yourself?

    While that might be a good question to ask, it doesn’t address the real epistimological problem of belief in God: that an “all-powerful being” is for all intents and purposes indistinguishable from a “not-quite-all-poweful being” for humans.

  63. #63 Monado
    April 21, 2009

    Sastra, you deserve another Order of the Molly for your comment at 25. May I quote you?

  64. #64 Monado
    April 21, 2009

    Pablo [28], that’s just one example of a Very Good Question: How do monotheistic theists know that all those signals are coming from the same deity?

    And if they can’t prove it, what justifies their assumption?

    MZ [29], someone once wrote, “If you want to know how kings were addressed in those days, read the Bible.”

    The whole sacrifice meme makes sense only when you remember that a superstition of tribal herders was that you magically transfer all the sins of the tribe into a goat and then drive that goat out into the wilderness, hence “[e]scape-goat”.

  65. #65 Screechy Monkey
    April 21, 2009

    I suggest we add Grayling and PZ to the Four Horsemen — we could call them the Secular Six. Or maybe, from the theists’ point of view, the Sinister Six, which gets nerd points for being a Spider-Man reference. (PZ, of course, gets to be Doctor Octupus.)

  66. #66 The Sanity Inspector
    April 21, 2009

    There’s an interview with video of Grayling here, at http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/grayling09/grayling09_index.html

  67. #67 Marcus Ranum
    April 21, 2009

    Did the theists leave in search of more intelligent atheists?

    How do the theists know the atheists aren’t deceivers, too?

    Hm – could we take it as a given that any being more powerful or intelligent could always successfully play down to a lower level? So, power and intelligence can be assessed from a higher position but not a lower one.

  68. #68 heddle
    April 21, 2009

    Pablo,

    Why couldn’t a powerful deceiver make the same thing happen?

    Q.E.D.

    Rev.,

    Would you also admit that this isn’t really the strongest model to base a belief, which I assume is strong, on? There are a lot of assumptions and confirmation bias involved there.

    Yes, that’s possible. It’s not as good as if God transported me to the third heaven for a look-see.

    Josh,

    I do, at times, consider the possibility that I am deceiving myself. Again that gets weighed against how well the model works. And this really is a deeper theological question as well–if God grants the faith, does he grant it along with the evidence (even if it is only internal evidence, as it were), or does he grant it in spite of the evidence. In my life, since I was converted (or think that I was), God (or confirmation bias) has not made it difficult to believe, but rather he has made it easy to believe.

  69. #69 ConcernedJoe
    April 21, 2009

    PZ – heddle actually did answer the question and did quite honestly. Problem is he carried on after he made the sale.

    I read his answer as “I don’t know. I don’t know if we are living in the Matrix either. What’s your point?” and I accept that as an intellectually honest and direct answer. But that is my opinion and I am humbled by many here.

    heddle I think you are wrong in taking uncertainty and turning that into a justification for the least probable conclusion and an apologist at the bottom line, but if it means anything I appreciated your answer.

    I would argue that there is a LOT to discuss about what is implicit in your “so what?” part. That is really the meat of the discussion. Think about it.

  70. #70 CJO
    April 21, 2009

    The whole sacrifice meme makes sense only when you remember that a superstition of tribal herders was that you magically transfer all the sins of the tribe into a goat and then drive that goat out into the wilderness, hence “[e]scape-goat”.

    It’s a little more complicated than that (memes always are). Sacrifice was sort of an all-purpose ritual in the ancient Mediterranean. For everybody. Light a lamp, pour out a little libation of oil. Before a meal, spill a little grain and wine. Worship at the temple, buy a dove and have the priests slaughter it for you.

    What made the worship practices of the Jews unusual in that world was that there was one, and only one, place where sacrifices were legitimate –the Temple in Jerusalem. So, actually, the Judeo-Christian religious tradition was one where prayer took on greater significance than sacrifice, because after the Babylonian Exile, the majority of Jews could not conveniently sacrifice, and, after the destruction of the Second Temple, no Jews could ever legitimately sacrifice again. Many Jewish proto-Christians probably understood the “sacrifice” of Jesus as a “final” sacrifice that contextualized their loss of a sanctuary. For Mark, the resurrected Christ became the Holy of Holies (Mark has the veil of the temple, which set apart the inner sanctuary, “rent in two” at Jesus’s death on the cross, and John very explicitly identifies Jesus as the Paschal Lamb, the Passover sacrifice.)

  71. #71 Pablo
    April 21, 2009

    I read his answer as “I don’t know. I don’t know if we are living in the Matrix either. What’s your point?” and I accept that as an intellectually honest and direct answer.

    Yeah, but it is a discussion killer. Basically, it is a Courtier’s Reply.

    And I don’t think it is fair to compare it to a Matrix. In terms of Matrix vs not, we can still talk about a shared reality. However, Heddle has admitted that these things that send him the path he has gone are highly individualized to him, and he has even claimed that (basically) we can’t understand it. Moreover, when it comes to the discussion of the matrix, because it is a shared reality, we can legitimately say, it doesn’t matter. There aren’t a lot of theists who will say that it doesn’t matter whether the being they worship is actually God or not. In fact, that is the whole basis for different religions – it DOES matter which god you are worshipping. In fact, given the apparent importance of the topic (Pascal’s Wager, anyone?) it seems like it is IMPERATIVE that you get the answer right.

  72. #72 Josh
    April 21, 2009

    Heddle answered me thus:

    I do, at times, consider the possibility that I am deceiving myself. Again that gets weighed against how well the model works. And this really is a deeper theological question as well–if God grants the faith, does he grant it along with the evidence (even if it is only internal evidence, as it were), or does he grant it in spite of the evidence. In my life, since I was converted (or think that I was), God (or confirmation bias) has not made it difficult to believe, but rather he has made it easy to believe.

    Huh, interesting. If we look at your congregation, would you predict that a large fraction of your fellows (I don’t know–let’s say greater than 50%) would give a similar response, or would you predict that a small fraction (say less than 50%) would give a similar response?

    If it’s a small fraction, do you have any sense of the answer that might be given by that larger fraction?
    Apologies if you’ve answered this before. I don’t recall ever reading one of your comments where you’ve put it that way.

  73. #73 Kagehi
    April 21, 2009

    Heddle, your average OCD and others with messed up wiring, spend inordinate amounts of time repeating rituals and doing things they are “certain” will cause themselves, or others, all sorts of horrible consequences. To them, this is 100% perfectly justified, and any flaws are a result of “misunderstanding” what they “should have” been doing. And, it works for them. They manage to go entire life times, usually, without anything significant happening to them **while** performing those rituals. Once in a while they forget, and some minor thing happens, and that even “more” convinces them they where right.

    The problem with such people’s wiring isn’t that its completely screwed up, but rather than its hyper-wired. Everyone learns rituals that they follow, including things like putting one’s seat belt on, which become automatic, and when someone is hurt/dies in an accident without one, it “correctly” indicated that the behavior of not wearing one is bad, and that the ritual of wearing one was right. OCD are usually fairly normal people, until they snap over something, and simplistic nonsense rituals, like the ‘bread and butter’, or, ‘touch every post’, games some adults play with kids, take on the same level of importance as **significant** ones.

    Point being? All you are saying is, to you, your personal evidence suggests support for ritual and concepts that “you” learned, and failure to follow them has occasionally resulted in a negative outcome, thus, amplifying that belief. This no more speaks to the validity of the belief itself, without closer examination than that, than an OCD patients insistence that missing a lamp post will cause them to trip and fall, because they fervently believe it, and one time it “actually happened”. The difference between a seat belt and religion is that you can strap a dummy into a car and test if the seat belt does anything useful, not so much whether the dummy is carrying a Bible or not at the time.

    As such, pointing to a set of “rituals” that are codified as “doing something”, and which you are convinced by confirmation bias is valid, makes you no more or less sane than someone who reads books and “magic”, and uses confirmation bias to convince themselves that the 4 hours of chanting caused their neighbor to be cursed with a bad hair cut the next day. Its only “valid” if you test it more widely, and confirm that **everyone** has a bad hair cut if someone spends 4 hours chanting at them using the right “magic candles, symbols and words”. Same for any *personal* claims with regard to the effect, efficacy, or validity of faith in a god.

  74. #74 Kagehi
    April 21, 2009

    Should be “repeating rituals and doing things they are “certain” will cause themselves, or others, all sorts of horrible consequences, if they fail them.”

  75. #75 Major Tom
    April 21, 2009

    heddle wrote:
    “For believing I have plenty of evidence in my own life that is compelling for me (but wouldn’t be for you.)”

    This is the crux of the biscuit.

    Belief is a currency whose value is pegged to all sorts of standards. (Many of them worth less than the mind-paper they’re written on.)

    But if someone wants to discuss their knowledge with other sentient beings, then they’d better be prepared to talk in terms of evidence that is inter-subjectively meaningful. Better yet, compelling.

    Otherwise, all they are doing is making up declaratives about some form of self-consistent solipsism – which really isn’t that interesting for others.

    Knowledge implies a matter of fact.
    Deception implies a hidden matter of fact.

    Believe whatever gets you through the night.
    However, if you are seeking knowledge rather than affirmation, it’s the ‘matter-of-fact-ness’ of god that is the real issue.

  76. #76 ConcernedJoe
    April 21, 2009

    Pablo #71 — nicely put; hits the point I was trying to make.

    It is not a “so what” (in sense of: who cares, nothing of consequence). For one, much suffering and consternation has occurred and will occur in this world because people accept the dogma and doctrine of the delusion bubble they chose live in with no real evidence of truth but with only at best truthiness.

  77. #77 heddle
    April 21, 2009

    Pablo #71,

    It is not even close to a (the?) Courtier’s reply. The idea of the Courtier’s Reply, at least as I understand it, is “why argue theology against the religionists?which grants them a sort of undeserved credibility, when it is all nonsense?” But in theory you can argue theology against theists, and some atheists do it effectively. While God may not be falsifiable?an alleged self-consistent view of God based on the bible is falsifiable?at least to a certain extent. True, positions are not likely to shift much?but neither do they in political discussions. The Courtier’s Reply simply turns and walks away from arguments that could, at least in principle, be made.

    But there is no way to argue the question: “how do you know that you aren’t being deceived?” You can just keep repeating that mantra, as you did in #60.

    And what does “shared experience” have to do with it? The answer to: “How do we know if we are living in the matrix?” is the same as to the question: “How do you know you aren’t being deceived by someone pretending to be your God?” We don?t know. Shared experience or not.

    Major Tom,

    But if someone wants to discuss their knowledge with other sentient beings, then they’d better be prepared to talk in terms of evidence that is inter-subjectively meaningful. Better yet, compelling.

    Where is that written in stone? Look, there are at least three variants of the question. I’ve answered the first two:

    1) Q: How do you know? A: I don?t.
    2) Q: Why do you believe? A: Because of internal evidence that confirms my reading of scripture.
    3) Q: How can you convince me?

    I haven’t answered the third question, but the answer is: I can’t. If I could, I would. But I won’t even try?nor am I obliged to try. I am only obliged to present the gospel. If I were taking on the task of convincing you that you should adopt my beliefs, then you would have a point. Then I would be obligated to provide you with objective evidence.

    Kaghei,

    This no more speaks to the validity of the belief itself,

    You are right. I didn’t claim that it does. The question is: why do I believe. It could be that my seeing confirmation of the promises of the biblical God in my life is the result of mental illness. But that doesn’t refute what I said: that is why I believe.

    Josh,

    Huh, interesting. If we look at your congregation, would you predict that a large fraction of your fellows (I don’t know–let’s say greater than 50%) would give a similar response, or would you predict that a small fraction (say less than 50%) would give a similar response?

    I think nearly 99% would indicate that that they sometimes have doubts, and the other 1% would be lying. Actually, I think 100% would claim they sometimes have doubts.

  78. #78 Pablo
    April 21, 2009

    I do, at times, consider the possibility that I am deceiving myself. Again that gets weighed against how well the model works.

    It seems to me that the only way to know that the model “works” is if your soul goes to heaven when you die. You are trying to apply a mortal assessment of an immortal phenomenon.

    How can you assess the success of religion while alive? God and the Bible go well beyond leading a rich, fulfilling life on earth. You can get that without religion at all. The difference is in what it implies about the afterlife, which you have no insight into. In particular, if the bible were written by a great deceiver, then there is no reason that the activities described therein will result in your soul going to heaven.

    Even if the bible leads you to what one might consider to be a “good person,” that might not be sufficient to go to “heaven.” Perhaps God requires that you are not only a “good person,” but that you use the gift of rational thought that he gave you? What happens if you get to the Pearly Gates and get sent away. “But I followed the Bible!!” you protest. God says, “I had nothing to do with that. I gave you brains and the gift of rational thought. If you had used them to any extent, you would have realized this. I have no use for people who do not use the gifts I gave them.”

    I know you want to dismiss this as not serious, but it is. You cannot claim that following the bible is “working” from any religious sense. It may make you feel better about yourself, and in that regard, good for you. But it says nothing about God or religion.

  79. #79 Major Tom
    April 21, 2009

    heddle,
    My point – other than to agree with your distinction between belief-claims and knowledge-claims – was to suggest that beliefs can sometimes hold up rather badly when confronted with knowledge.

    Call me strange – but I prefer that my beliefs are as consistent as possible with the matters of fact that I find a can agree on with others. There is no ‘written in stone’ demand for this consistency.

    Perhaps I misunderstand you – If you are obliged to “present the gospel” to others – aren’t you trying to convince them? If so – please don’t expect others to give it a moment’s thought if all you have is your ‘internal evidence’. If not – then I assume you are ‘presenting’ simply for some sense of self-satisfaction.

  80. #80 Rick T
    April 21, 2009

    heddle says, “It would be that I have constructed a model based on the bible as to what should happen in my life if the God described therein is described accurately”.
    He bases what he knows and why he believes on the Bible.
    However, 3 times I have asked him this question without reply.
    I’ll ask again.
    Heddle, How do you know that the Bible is true when we see such contradiction therein and much error? There are no 2 manuscripts or parchements of scripture that are identical. In fact, there are more translation errors and discrepancies in these manuscripts than there are words in the New Testament. Yet you say the original writings (autographs) are surely true. We do not have these autographs because none exist. We don’t even have copies of them or even, copies of copies.
    So, again, how can you believe in that which doesn’t exist?
    You are basing your belief system on supposition. Or is there some Pauline experience you would like to share with us.

  81. #81 Pablo
    April 21, 2009

    Kaghei,

    This no more speaks to the validity of the belief itself,

    Heddle:

    You are right. I didn’t claim that it does.

    And this is why the question is a discussion killer.

    Are you listening to yourself? You admit that you aren’t speaking to the validity of belief. So why should anyone listen to it if you can’t provide any validity?

    Non-valid reasons for belief are about as interesting as talking about your favorite color.

    “I like red.”
    “Why?”
    “Just because.”

    What is there to discuss? Nothing.

    That is basically the same thing that happens with “I believe the being I worship is God because it makes me feel better.” What is there to discuss?

  82. #82 IST
    April 21, 2009

    Heddle> The Courtier’s Reply, as you have it, is backwards. The idea is that the religious person in the debate claims (as often happens) that without sufficient study of the nuances of said religion, the atheist should not be able to participate in the debate. This is typically followed by moving the goalposts repeatedly, demanding more justification to debate something that you can’t demonstrate the existence of in objective reality, which is whole bleedin’ point.

    I’m glad our fellow posters have more patience with you, but this is what you have slipped and ducked time and time again: the fact that we’re dealing in objetive reality, your religion makes claims in objective reality that affect how its adherents live their lives, and yet it has no actual evidence for those claims. If your belief, personally, is such that you feel no need to impose moral claims on others and you don’t make claims about the physical world, you’ve reduced yourself (for all practical purposes) to a Deist with some odd leanings, and I’m happy to let you have that. It’s not rational, but neither is everything I do. If you make demonstrably false claims about the physical world (special creation, among others) or attempt to impose your version of morality on others (legislating marriage laws, no beer on sundays, what have you…) then I have to take issue with those things. My problem with organised religion is that it does do those things, with frequency, and worse yet.

  83. #83 Sacoglassan
    April 21, 2009

    Heddle, you use the word model and data as though they have some inherent fairness or precision, but you describe “data” that is highly subjective (no more than anecdotes, really) being used to confirm a “model” which is extremely ambiguous and unfalsifiable as far as I can tell.

    Heddle:

    I do, at times, consider the possibility that I am deceiving myself. Again that gets weighed against how well the model works.

    We are all vulnerable to self-deception, as I am sure you know. It seems to be an unfortunate part of human cognition. We can minimize that deception by addressing and reducing factors like subjective validation and confirmation bias so that our beliefs are not insulated from falsification. I am not sure your model addresses either. If it doesn’t, then how well your model “works” actually has little bearing on your level of self-deception.

  84. #84 Pablo
    April 21, 2009

    Again, the problem I have is not that Heddle is “deceiving himself.” Even if Heddle were being perfect in his interpretation of everything that he sees, it doesn’t make him right because a being more powerful than him has the ability to manipulate what Heddle sees. Now, if that’s God, then all is good. But if it isn’t God? Heddle might be toast. So how do you tell the difference?

  85. #85 heddle
    April 21, 2009

    Pablo,

    You can get that without religion at all.

    No doubt. No doubt you can also get a sense of life worth living with other religions too. I didn?t claim otherwise. What I claim is: what the bible tells me will happen in my life has, in fact, happened. That is the human evidence as to why I believe. Not why you should belief. I have no doubt that a devout Moslem would say the same thing.

    Even if the bible leads you to what one might consider to be a “good person,” that might not be sufficient to go to “heaven.” Perhaps God requires that you are not only a “good person,” but that you use the gift of rational thought that he gave you? What happens if you get to the Pearly Gates and get sent away. “But I followed the Bible!!” you protest. God says, “I had nothing to do with that. I gave you brains and the gift of rational thought. If you had used them to any extent, you would have realized this. I have no use for people who do not use the gifts I gave them.”

    What if I get to heaven and Mohamed is there and he says: infidel, I am the true prophet! I?m in deep kimchee under that scenario, too. You are asking me: ?what if I am wrong?? I could ask you the same thing, but I won?t, because it is not a very interesting question. If either or both of us is wrong, then either or both of us is screwed, unless the universalists are right.
    As an aside, the requirement is neither that ?you are a good person? nor that you ?followed the bible.? I would say you are listing effects as causes.

    Major Tom,

    Call me strange – but I prefer that my beliefs are as consistent as possible with the matters of fact that I find a can agree on with others.

    Really?how do you view the heated discussions that break out on here regarding animal testing and libertarianism? Are the two sides making their beliefs consistent as possible with matters of fact?or is only one side (which?) or neither side? The facts have been discussed ad nauseum?when can we expect consensus?

    RickT,

    Heddle, How do you know that the Bible is true when we see such contradiction therein and much error?

    I don?t know that it is true, I believe it is true (in the sense of the Chicago statement.) And I deny that there is ?such contradiction therein and much error.? I claim there is only contradiction therein if you control the rules of engagement: 1) No appeal to figures of speech?I must take passages literally when it suits you. 2) No appeal to translation errors. 3) No appeal to possible alternative translations from the Hebrew or Greek or Aramaic. 4) No appeal to anachronistic literary customs, such as using exact numbers when they weren?t meant to be exact?e.g., ?a thousand hills?, 5) No deferring to cultural styles, such as eastern apocalyptic writing. 6) No appeals to what appear to most scholars to be additions appearing only in later manuscripts, such as the Marcan Appendix.
    Yes, under those rules then there are problems. Under sensible, scholarly discussions?where I can at least attempt to make such arguments without being dismissed as cheating?then I doubt you could present me with more than a handful of problems for which I cannot offer a plausible explanation.

    Sacoglassan,

    being used to confirm a “model” which is extremely ambiguous and unfalsifiable as far as I can tell.

    Not to me. The bible is specific. It says, for just one example, (paraphrasing) that if I am a believer I will joyfully worship God. Well, I do. If I didn’t, if I thought: Well, I believe in God, but I hate worshiping God. It’s demeaning and not fun at all. I’d rather be home watching the NASCAR prerace show. Then I’d consider that a falsification of sorts.

    IST,

    the atheist should not be able to participate in the debate.

    You have it wrong. The Courtier’s Reply is not: Dawkins really really wants to debate, and the mean theists won’t let him. The Courtier’s reply is Dawkins saying: why should I bother. They are so wrong I can just dismiss them out of hand. After he does that, then theists complain that he hasn’t done his homework.

    At least that’s how I see it.

  86. #86 IST
    April 21, 2009

    Heddle> you’re conflating the Dawkins’ response to the COurtier’s reply (it may even be PZ’s response that’s posted there) with the Reply itself… sorry mate, go re-read it. You have his response to it nailed though.

  87. #87 Fortuna
    April 21, 2009

    Major Tom,

    Call me strange – but I prefer that my beliefs are as consistent as possible with the matters of fact that I find a can agree on with others.

    (heddle)

    Really?how do you view the heated discussions that break out on here regarding animal testing and libertarianism? Are the two sides making their beliefs consistent as possible with matters of fact?or is only one side (which?) or neither side? The facts have been discussed ad nauseum?when can we expect consensus?

    Major Tom can speak for himself on this if he likes, but I daresay he’d view the participants as having beliefs consistent with the facts, barring ignorance, delusion or dishonesty on someone’s part. Oftentimes, such debates are not about matters of fact; both sides can agree that animals suffer, and that their suffering produces useful results for humans. What comes up for debate is whether and to what degree we should care about animal suffering. Ought questions are different from is.

  88. #88 Michelle
    April 21, 2009

    Why do you, the gentlemen and gentlewomen who write on these pages, pretend to seek the truth, when in fact you make it a sport to toss out a question and then wait gleefully to pounce when someone answers it not to your leanings? If a person truly wishes to learn and to understand, he searches. He doesn’t sit around a campfire with his buddies, all swapping clever comments and slapping each other on the back when once again they have discovered a new way to scorch the “enemy” named Christian.

    An honest seeker searches out what gifted men have already discovered and builds upon that. Why do so many commenters on this thread seem not to have read, say, Thomas Aquinas’ Summa? Surely you, who are so proud of the banner you raise above your heads, emblazoned with the word “open-minded”, can be open-minded enough to read even the first half of the first volume of the Summa. So many of your questions would be answered… nay, would be totally blown out of the water.

    Take it to the cottage this summer. Good stuff. (Um, you CAN handle the big words, right?)

  89. #89 Sacoglossan
    April 21, 2009

    The bible is specific. It says, for just one example, (paraphrasing) that if I am a believer I will joyfully worship God. Well, I do. If I didn’t, if I thought: Well, I believe in God, but I hate worshiping God. It’s demeaning and not fun at all. I’d rather be home watching the NASCAR prerace show. Then I’d consider that a falsification of sorts.

    That’s an awfully ambiguous and subjective example of something that might falsify it. It does nothing to address the influence of subjective validation or confirmation bias that may lead you to conclusions which feel supported, but aren’t.

    Plus, is it even true? If you experienced anything other than joyfulness while worshiping God would you consider it falsified, or just try again until the worship was joyful?

  90. #90 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    April 21, 2009

    Michelle, many of us have read the bible. That lead us to question the whole of religion, since the bible is nothing but a hack job of myths with slight history. God of the bible is best described as an ill tempered capricious gang leader that no sane man would follow. Reading the bible is one of the main causes of atheism. The commentators on the bible are just as bad, or worse.

  91. #91 Pablo
    April 21, 2009

    The bible is specific. It says, for just one example, (paraphrasing) that if I am a believer I will joyfully worship God. Well, I do.

    But how do you know the being you are joyfully worshipping is God and not a powerful deceiver?

    Here is the mistake: The bible says that if you are a believer, you will joyfully worship the being claiming to be the source of the bible, who is calling himself “God.” Whether he is or is not the True God (TM) is the question at hand. Saying that the bible makes you happy doesn’t answer the question of who the source of the biblical model is.

    I said it early on: I know that if I were Satan, the very first thing I would do is to convince everyone I was God. Among the things I would do would be to write a book fooling people into thinking that worshipping me makes them happy, such that they think it is from God. Now, I’m not as powerful as the True God, but I’m a lot more powerful than a simple human, so I can do it.

    Honestly, I’m just a fallible human, much less a “master of lies” like Satan, and I still see it as an obvious strategy. As soon as you acknowledge that there could be a more-powerful-than-human opposer whose mission is to sabotage God’s mission, then you have to recognize that you are at serious risk of being deceived. I would sure as heck hope you have a better justification than “Jesus loves me, this I know, because the bible tells me so”

  92. #92 Patricia, Queen of Fowls
    April 21, 2009

    How charming. A sow wearing

    Pious Pink

    lipstick.

  93. #93 Fortuna
    April 21, 2009

    Why do you, the gentlemen and gentlewomen who write on these pages, pretend to seek the truth, when in fact you make it a sport to toss out a question and then wait gleefully to pounce when someone answers it not to your leanings?

    Because it’s fun, and that’s how you learn. You may not believe this, but the back and forth really is an honest, if freewheeling and sometimes emotional, effort to hash things out.

    If a person truly wishes to learn and to understand, he searches. He doesn’t sit around a campfire with his buddies, all swapping clever comments and slapping each other on the back when once again they have discovered a new way to scorch the “enemy” named Christian.

    That actually does describe my weekend pretty well.

    An honest seeker searches out what gifted men have already discovered and builds upon that. Why do so many commenters on this thread seem not to have read, say, Thomas Aquinas’ Summa? Surely you, who are so proud of the banner you raise above your heads, emblazoned with the word “open-minded”, can be open-minded enough to read even the first half of the first volume of the Summa. So many of your questions would be answered… nay, would be totally blown out of the water.

    Take it to the cottage this summer. Good stuff. (Um, you CAN handle the big words, right?)

    Back in the stone age, I did in fact read some Aquinas as part of my education in the humanities, as well as some of the subsequent discussions of and responses to his work down through the centuries. Methinks “totally blown out of the water” is not the first response that comes to mind.

  94. #94 InfraredEyes
    April 21, 2009

    Why do so many commenters on this thread seem not to have read, say, Thomas Aquinas’ Summa?

    Now, this really is the Courtier’s Reply! Sorry, but I do not have to read all of the theologians whom you consider to be really, really important before I can form an opinion as to whether or not there is a God. If I were seeking the answer to a highly specific theological question, then you might have a point, but I’m not.

  95. #95 Sastra
    April 21, 2009

    Monado #63:
    Thanks; sure :)

    heddle #85 wrote:

    The bible is specific. It says, for just one example, (paraphrasing) that if I am a believer I will joyfully worship God. Well, I do. If I didn’t, if I thought: Well, I believe in God, but I hate worshiping God. It’s demeaning and not fun at all. I’d rather be home watching the NASCAR prerace show. Then I’d consider that a falsification of sorts.

    Really? That’s interesting: your failure to be properly entranced with God would, for you, be evidence against the existence of God. That does seem to imply that you believe in God because you enjoy believing in God.

    I suspect (but, of course, cannot know) that, if you were to prefer watching NASCAR to going to church one Sunday morning, you would gradually come to discover in the excitement, competition, and energy of NASCAR a kind of analogy to God’s relationship to His creation, and His creation to Him — our souls speed through the world’s path driven by love of the Engine that Drives All, perhaps. Thus, worship — and on a deeper level, too.

    Confirmation could be found everywhere, in anything. Not just in NASCAR, but in rebellion.

    You have it wrong. The Courtier’s Reply is not: Dawkins really really wants to debate, and the mean theists won’t let him. The Courtier’s reply is Dawkins saying: why should I bother. They are so wrong I can just dismiss them out of hand. After he does that, then theists complain that he hasn’t done his homework.

    That may be how you prefer to interpret the Courtier’s Reply, but the author of the phrase was PZ Myers, and of course he meant nothing of the sort. The Courtier’s Reply is easy dismissal of a thoughtful atheist critique of religion with the hand-waving complaint that the criticism is shallow, for you cannot argue against the existence of God unless you have read Aquinas in the original Latin, or Plantinga’s latest book, or so on and so forth.

    The analogy gets its name from the Courtier who explains that nobody can try to say that the Emperor has no clothes unless they completely understand court fashions of the last 100 years, and have read the latest descriptions of the Emperor’s dress written by the Royal Scribe.

  96. #96 Brownian, OM
    April 21, 2009

    An honest seeker searches out what gifted men have already discovered and builds upon that. Why do so many commenters on this thread seem not to have read, say, Thomas Aquinas’ Summa? Surely you, who are so proud of the banner you raise above your heads, emblazoned with the word “open-minded”, can be open-minded enough to read even the first half of the first volume of the Summa. So many of your questions would be answered… nay, would be totally blown out of the water.

    Similarly, an honest seeker doesn’t demonise her opponents with strawmen, just as you did in suggesting that we all carry banners claiming we’re ‘open-minded’ so you could tidily demolish the illusion and claim victory.

    If you’re going to pedantically lecture someone, try to follow the at-least-half-plus-seven rule with regard to your IQ versus theirs, you smarmy, hypocritical, and colossally self-unaware fuckwit.

  97. #97 Ineffable
    April 21, 2009

    “The Courtier’s Reply is easy dismissal of a thoughtful atheist critique of religion with the hand-waving complaint that the criticism is shallow, for you cannot argue against the existence of God unless you have read Aquinas in the original Latin, or Plantinga’s latest book, or so on and so forth.”
    Thoughtful atheist critique??
    The whole point of it is that Dawkins’ critique was lowbrow (at the level of “Neh,neh,neh Who made God?”).
    You don’t have to read Aquinas or Plantiga, but you would have to if the thesis of your book is that all religious people are dulusional. You cannot make such a strong claim and refuse to engage any of the intellectual believers or their evience for belief.

  98. #98 Patricia, Queen of Fowls
    April 21, 2009

    Sounds like Barb.

  99. #99 IST
    April 21, 2009

    @ Ineffable> just like you’d have to have read more than the title of TGD in order to dismiss it as lowbrow? It engages all of the major evidences for belief, so I’m inclined to think, all spelling errors aside, that you’ve not, in fact, read it. Whatever the point of the Reply, it amounts to the same… “We have more detailed and nuanced bullshit that you can possibly have read, so you can’t refute us.” Hence the goalpost moving… I strongly suspect that had Aquinas or others been specifically quoted, there would be something else considered missing. You have quite the house of cards, but there’s nothing on the bottom, as it were.

  100. #100 Ineffable
    April 21, 2009

    “If your belief, personally, is such that you feel no need to impose moral claims on others and you don’t make claims about the physical world, you’ve reduced yourself (for all practical purposes) to a Deist with some odd leanings,”
    But everyone makes moral claims. For example on a post a couple days ago PZ claimed it would be moral for scientists to create animal/human hybrid monsters. PZ also has claimed it would be moral for a mother to kill her baby at any point during pregnancy even during the 3rd trimester (how a 7-inch journey out of a uterus magically gives a baby rights to live it did not have before I’ll never know) and that it would be moral to murder babies born with certain condition.
    Everyone makes moral claims whether they be atheist or Christian of humanist.

  101. #101 Sastra
    April 21, 2009

    Michelle #88 wrote:

    Why do you, the gentlemen and gentlewomen who write on these pages, pretend to seek the truth, when in fact you make it a sport to toss out a question and then wait gleefully to pounce when someone answers it not to your leanings?

    It’s called debate, and it’s a perfectly legitimate way to seek truth. We do the same on science and politics. So should you.

    An honest seeker searches out what gifted men have already discovered and builds upon that.

    No, that is not a good description of a “seeker.” That is a description of an “acolyte” or follower.

    I have read parts of Aquinas, and summaries (though no, not in the original Latin — ironic that I used that as my Courier’s example before I read your post.) I’ve read various books, articles, and essays on apologetics, recommended to me by intelligent people as excellent defenses of the Faith. I think you over-estimate how convincing they are, to someone who is not already in agreement with their conclusions.

    Are you a “seeker?” Or have you found?

  102. #102 Bobber
    April 21, 2009

    You don’t have to read Aquinas or Plantiga Dungeons & Dragons books, but you would have to if the thesis of your book is that all religious people roleplayers who think that the game is real are dulusional. You cannot make such a strong claim and refuse to engage any of the intellectual believers or their evience which comes from a book of fantasy for belief.

    Hmmm.

  103. #103 Fortuna
    April 21, 2009

    Thoughtful atheist critique??
    The whole point of it is that Dawkins’ critique was lowbrow (at the level of “Neh,neh,neh Who made God?”).

    The whole point of said critique is that theists are fond of positing deities as the solution to the problem of an infinite regress of causes, without noticing that said solution begs the question.

  104. #104 IST
    April 21, 2009

    Ineffable> gorgeous quotemine… you’ve missed the key that you impose on others. Everyone does indeed make moral claims, and I don’t dispute that. The unwritten premise being that they lack authority for that moral claim in the first place, as it stems from a 2K+ yaer old tome written by numerous equally archaic authors. Unless you have some sort of grounding for that claim, it’s something you may impose upon yourself (without causing harm to others), but to attempt to force others to comply isn’t moral either. As I’m making a moral claim that I consider fair to impose on others with that, feel free to google “ethics do no harm” for multiple justifications of that position.

  105. #105 Fortuna
    April 21, 2009

    For example on a post a couple days ago PZ claimed it would be moral for scientists to create animal/human hybrid monsters.

    The level at which you have misunderstood that post is impressive.

    PZ also has claimed it would be moral for a mother to kill her baby at any point during pregnancy even during the 3rd trimester

    Link, or it didn’t happen.

  106. #106 Brownian, OM
    April 21, 2009

    Of course, theists had the monopoly on the Courtier’s Reply response to theology long before atheists did. Back then, they simply labelled all apologetics on religions other than theirs as mythologies; hence the hue and cry from the Christian public when Frazer failed to appropriately set aside the Christian resurrection story from the rest of the magicks he describes in The Golden Bough.

  107. #107 Nusubito
    April 21, 2009

    Why on earth would anyone read the Summa? Some apologist takes a book written a thousand years before he was born, and then makes excuses for all the places where it was miserably, horribly wrong.

    Suppose an historian took Homer’s odyssey, wrote a long commentary on it with the assumption it was correct in the first place, and then made excuses for the places where it didn’t agree with reality. Scylla and Charybdis? Well, those were really just metaphors for disaster. Circe? Just a local queen at the time. The cyclops? Well, some people were large in those days. Was Athena really Odysseus’ benefactor? No, that was just imaginative weaving of Greek religion into the story. So on and so forth, until what you’re left with might be plausible, but it isn’t the fucking Odyssey anymore. And more to the point, its truth would be completely unremarkable.

    This is what theologians do, time and time again, tinkering around to make ancient myths more palatable, until people can agree that, yes, the story as it is reworded is plausible. This does not make an argument for the religion itself, because the religion depends on the implausible parts. Maybe the story of Jesus is just a guy wandering the desert, who pissed off the Pharisees and got killed for it. In this form, the story is very plausible. But there is nothing spiritual or religious about it.

  108. #108 Sastra
    April 21, 2009

    Ineffable #97 wrote:

    Thoughtful atheist critique??
    The whole point of it is that Dawkins’ critique was lowbrow (at the level of “Neh,neh,neh Who made God?”).

    You are describing why you think it was justified to use what an atheist considers the Courtier’s Reply (and thus arguing that it’s not really a “Courtier’s Reply” to Dawkins.) But I was describing what the Courtier’s Reply means. The phrase was invented by PZ Myers.

    In the book The God Delusion Dawkins addresses numerous ‘proofs’ for the existence of God, including Aquinas, Bayesian, cosmological, ontological, etc. You may not have thought he dealt with them adequately, but he does consider them thoughtfully.

    I think you underestimate the force of his major argument, which deals with bottom-up design — and an unnecessary and inconsistent top-down designer, invented before we had better explanations, and now laid atop these explanations — and in the wrong direction.

  109. #109 astrounit
    April 21, 2009

    Mighty satisfying read.

    I love the scent of sense in the morning.

  110. #110 Damitall
    April 21, 2009

    I used occasionally to dip into Polkinghorne’s website. It was there that Acolyte Beale introduced (in answer to the usual difficult questions about why did an omnipotent/omniscient god allow the Boxing day tsunami, or did not at least warn those in its path to head for the hills)the concept of said god AS A LOVING ACT, “turning off” the omniscience/omnipotent power. He drew (whilst admitting it was weak) the analogy of a person possessed of x-ray vision capable of seeing through clothing switching off that vision whilst walking down the street as an act of social kindliness! Mustn’t worry the ladies!

    Not a word about a god voluntarily relinquishing its omnipotence so that it couldn’t be blamed for natural disasters being… what? Irresponsible? Cruel? Evil?

    At which point I kinda lost interest in anything either Beale or Polkinghorne had to say about anything.

  111. #111 Nusubito
    April 21, 2009

    Maybe the Genesis story is all made up, and Christians can believe this. If so, on what grounds can one assert he made the world at all?

    Maybe all the times God does anything in the Bible, there is a rational explanation, and a theologian can reconcile these stories with reason. But where does that leave the religion? One no longer can posit the existence of this powerful human-like entity, when all of his supposed actions are swept under the rug, and it is admitted that whenever he acts in the Bible, this goes against reason, and must be corrected, or omitted.

    This is apologetics/theology in a nutshell, with one glaring omission. Apologists refuse to change their interpretation of the Resurrection, because that is where their faith hinges. It is blatant special pleading. They refuse to do for this one myth what they have reluctantly done over the centuries to almost everything else in the Bible. And this inconsistency is glaring and unjustifiable. I am absolutely sickened by the selective use of reasoning displayed by apologists. So, no thanks, I can do without the Summa, or any other ad hoc rationalization of primitive myths.

  112. #112 Patricia, Queen of Fowls
    April 21, 2009

    I’ve read many of the early christian writings. It’s been my experiance that apologists aren’t called apologists because they are telling the truth. They are playing word games, and making shit up to keep the followers coming in to church, giving money and following their rules.

    Hector Avalos has a brilliant book out called The End of Biblical Studies open minded Michelle might want to try that one.

  113. #113 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    April 21, 2009

    You don’t have to read Aquinas or Plantiga, but you would have to if the thesis of your book is that all religious people are dulusional. You cannot make such a strong claim and refuse to engage any of the intellectual believers or their evience for belief.

    Show us the physical evidence for your god, that will pass muster with scientists, magicians, and professional debunkers as being of divine, and not naturral, origin, or you have a delusion. That is the definition of delusion, believing in something that isn’t there. Philosophy does squat on the subject, since philosophy without evidence is sophistry.

  114. #114 Dan L.
    April 21, 2009

    And if you want to talk about deception–the meaningful question to a theist is: do you ever consider the possibility that you are deceiving yourself? That’s a fair question. Pablo’s relayed question about God as the Great Deceiver is not. It’s just nonsense.

    I asked myself that long before I ever became an atheist, and I never stopped. Like many small children, I had a few years where I took it for granted that adults knew everything, so the fact that adults made me go to church was actually pretty good evidence that God existed (within that framework). Then I found out that no, actually, belief in God is always predicated on faith because there simply isn’t any actual evidence for such a thing.

    Of course, when your belief is predicated on the Bible, the question of whether you are being deceived is somewhat moot; you believe in whatever was the inspiration for the Bible, and if it’s a deceiver, there’s not much more you can say. I will say, though, that whatever sophistry you may threaten in your post above, Heddle, the Bible is pretty clearly the work of human beings trying to write down and translate oral histories that are not totally consistent with one another. I’ve seen people trying to square the four gospels with one another, and it’s pretty painful to watch.

    Yes, under those rules then there are problems. Under sensible, scholarly discussions?where I can at least attempt to make such arguments without being dismissed as cheating?then I doubt you could present me with more than a handful of problems for which I cannot offer a plausible explanation.

    Oh, so the standard is just a plausible explanation (as opposed to probable or likely I take it?). Carry on then.

    Incidentally, if we’re not allowed to criticize the fidelity of the Bible given the ambiguities involved in translation, which version of the Bible are we supposed to use, precisely? And what was so goldanged special about the opinions of attendants of the Nicaean conference, anyway?

  115. #115 Chiroptera
    April 21, 2009

    Ineffable, #100: …how a 7-inch journey out of a uterus magically gives a baby rights to live it did not have before I’ll never know….

    Because, in the end rights are a social convention, and so rights can be bestowed or taken away based on criteria set by society.

    Just like morality and ethics are social conventions, with no objective reality in the material world.

    I agree that this is an uncomfortable fact of life to have to deal with, but there it is.

  116. #116 CJO
    April 21, 2009

    I claim there is only contradiction therein if you control the rules of engagement: 1) No appeal to figures of speech?I must take passages literally when it suits you. 2) No appeal to translation errors. 3) No appeal to possible alternative translations from the Hebrew or Greek or Aramaic. 4) No appeal to anachronistic literary customs, such as using exact numbers when they weren?t meant to be exact?e.g., ?a thousand hills?, 5) No deferring to cultural styles, such as eastern apocalyptic writing. 6) No appeals to what appear to most scholars to be additions appearing only in later manuscripts, such as the Marcan Appendix.
    Yes, under those rules then there are problems. Under sensible, scholarly discussions?where I can at least attempt to make such arguments without being dismissed as cheating?then I doubt you could present me with more than a handful of problems for which I cannot offer a plausible explanation.

    Hell, I can find more than a handful of contradictions among the synoptics in a single pericope that can’t be resolved using solely the arguments you enumerate. But I get you anyway, because in such a discussion with you once, you flatly told me that you refused to continue the conversation if I was going to continue to treat the gospels as “theological fictions” (the term I was using). So is that #7, or some kind of rule 0?

  117. #117 Brownian, OM
    April 21, 2009

    open minded Michelle might want to try that one.

    I’d like her to tell us what she thought of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, the Pali Canon, or the Popol Vuh.

    Belief in any deity without a thorough investigation of those–well, at least as thorough as atheists are expected to investigate Aquinas–would be nothing short of close-minded cowardice.

    What’s the matter? Afraid they’ll change your mind or merely waste your time?

  118. #118 Robocop
    April 21, 2009

    It is no accident that the word “creditor” in English comes from the Latin credere, “to believe.” When a creditor makes a loan, s/he is acting on a belief in the trustworthiness of the debtor even though there can be no objective, verifiable evidence that the loan will be repaid. For many (important) things — ethics, morals, politics, economics, aesthetics, etc. — everything boils down to the need to believe. The current economic crisis arose because a number of actors misused the trust placed in them and made loans to individuals who were not qualified or who were encouraged to falsify their apparent creditworthiness and then pawned those loans off on other buyers, who mistakenly believed them to be low risk. This set of problems has now given way to something I think to be even more corrosive — endemic mistrust.

    A turkey has a thousand days of good reasons for believing that the good life of good feed will continue forever until the cold reality of a November hachet meets its scrawny neck.

    My point is simply that we all must make crucial decisions on the basis of far from conclusive evidence all the time. The idea favored here seems to be that if in doubt, one should do nothing. That’s certainly the easier and safer approach to take as it’s easier to destroy than to create and only when one attempts to build something can it get torn down. But I would suggest that, dangerous though it is, the better and braver approach is to try to build something (and that something will necessarily have a belief/trust component).

  119. #119 Robocop
    April 21, 2009

    “Show us the physical evidence for your god, that will pass muster with scientists, magicians, and professional debunkers as being of divine, and not naturral, origin, or you have a delusion.”

    So those who postulate — say — string theory or evolutionary psychology are necessarily delusional?

  120. #120 astrounit
    April 21, 2009

    Michelle asks, “Why do so many commenters on this thread seem not to have read, say, Thomas Aquinas’ Summa?”

    Because you seem to think so?

    “So many of your questions would be answered… nay, would be totally blown out of the water.”

    Only because you seem to think so.

    The only question that Aquinas ever answered (in his Summa or anything else he wrote) was “How does one write a promotion of foregone conclusions and make it sound as if logical reasoning is involved?”

    The answer turned out to be simple in principle, but effusively complicated in practice: “interminably”.

    Theologians have run with that baton ever since.

    What makes sense to a simpleton, dear, doesn’t have to be swallowed by anyone else who can see through a lie, no matter how craftily it is camouflaged within the context of occasional sensible propositions (sutably twisted for exploitation, of course) or what the word-count may be.

  121. #121 Nusubito
    April 21, 2009

    But I would suggest that, dangerous though it is, the better and braver approach is to try to build something (and that something will necessarily have a belief/trust component).

    Could you be a little more vague, please?

    Are you really trying to apply an argument based on economic necessities to religion? Or was this posted on the wrong thread? Or am I misinterpreting? I’m sorry, but I can’t tell.

  122. #122 Patricia, Queen of Fowls
    April 21, 2009

    I wonder Michelle if you have ever read Hesiod’s Theogony and Works and Days? It’s a small work, but quite remarkable.

  123. #123 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    April 21, 2009

    So those who postulate — say — string theory or evolutionary psychology are necessarily delusional?

    No, as both will be eventually verified with evidence in order to be accepted. There is no evidence for god.

  124. #124 Chiroptera
    April 21, 2009

    Robocop, #119: So those who postulate — say — string theory or evolutionary psychology are necessarily delusional?

    Those who have completely committed themselves to these theories being absolutely true without significant doubt…yes.

  125. #125 Nusubito
    April 21, 2009

    So those who postulate — say — string theory or evolutionary psychology are necessarily delusional?

    If they had absolutely no evidence to suggest they were correct, and yet were completely certain that they were, then I would say so.

    But I have yet to meet a physicist who is completely sure about their ideas. String theory is being developed as an hypothesis. If it answers questions about reality consistently and correctly, physicists will go with it. Same with evolutionary psychology. In the case of Evo Psych, we have some compelling reasons to think that it will turn out to be true, of course. Especially because the development of our brains as a species was driven entirely by the process of evolution. So I don’t think that is too far fetched.

    The problem here with religion, is that its conclusions were assumed in the first place, and everything since has been damage control, or suppression of evidence.

  126. #126 Emmet, OM
    April 21, 2009

    “Show us the physical evidence for your god, that will pass muster with scientists, magicians, and professional debunkers as being of divine, and not naturral, origin, or you have a delusion.”

    So those who postulate — say — string theory or evolutionary psychology are necessarily delusional?

    String theory and evolutionary psychology don’t make unsubstantiated existential claims. ?God exists?, OTOH, is an existential claim, the subject of which must be assumed not to exist until there’s empirical evidence that it does.

  127. #127 Robocop
    April 21, 2009

    With respect to the so-called courtier’s reply:

    1. It encourages intellectual ignorance. Essentially, the claim boils down to the bare assertion that it’s stupid to believe in God because His non-existence is so obvious. This claim is made notwithstanding centuries of gifted thinkers who came to a different conclusion and who made careful arguments in support of their ideas. Is it ever a good idea to remain willfully ignorant (and to rejoice in that ignorance) in the face of tightly argued opposition? I think not.

    Dawkins begins The Blind Watchmaker by conceding a noteworthy point. “Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose.” He even goes on to suggest that anyone before Darwin who did not believe in God was simply not paying attention. Thus, if one’s conclusion is based solely upon what is seemingly obvious and intuitive, evolution is patently ridiculous. In that context, we’re perfectly reasonable if we conclude that there are clear signs of functional design in nature — for example, that eyes were built for seeing — and that evolution is thus ridiculous on its face.

    Based upon the intellectual laziness postulated by the CR, seeing that “obvious” design is an appropriate end to the discussion and, accordingly, there is no obligation even to consider (much less analyze and refute) Darwin and his intellectual progeny. But doing so, as with Dawkins and Myers concerning the God question, would be nonsensical and silly. What seems obvious ain’t necessarily so.

    2. The CR enables and endorses intellectual arrogance. Karl Popper famously encouraged a sort of charity principle when examining and interpreting works with which one disagrees. The idea is to put the other side in as favorable a light as possible to begin the discussion. That way, one is looking at the best the other side has to offer before opposing it, requiring the best available counters. Popper even advocated the strengthening of an opposing position before criticizing it for the sake of ultimate understanding. The CR sees no need for such charity, despite the obvious benefits to such an approach described by Popper. Such arrogance is unbecoming, obviously. But more importantly, it neglects an obvious and crucial point of critical thought (also emphasized by Popper) — we may well be wrong. If CR advocates are so sure of themselves, they should be more than willing to meet the best arguments of theism charitably and directly. Arrogant dismissal simply doesn’t cut it.

    3. The CR epitomizes intellectual laziness. An atheist may reasonably conclude that there is not sufficient evidence of and that there are no good arguments for God. That atheist may even conclude that God’s non-existence is obvious, say so strongly and base that position entirely upon theism’s purported failure to carry its burden of proof. But writing a book about the subject demands more. Good scholarship means meeting the other side(s) carefully and fully. The intellectual laziness of demolishing strawmen and then declaring victory simply isn’t good enough, especially for a quality scholar like Dawkins (even when writing in an area of abject ignorance).

  128. #128 CJO
    April 21, 2009

    So those who postulate — say — string theory or evolutionary psychology are necessarily delusional?

    String theory, no comment, beyond noting that although obviously there is not confirmation in the form of physical evidence for any of its iterations, in theoretical physics a mathematically elegant and self-consistent solution is to some degree its own justification, at least for serious consideratioin.

    Evolutionary Psychology, you’ve got to be kidding. Sure, you could pick out a given hypothesis that stretches (your) credulity, and for which it would be practically difficult to acquire confirming physical evidence, but the only physical evidence needed for the contention that some hypotheses of EvPsych will be confirmed is the evidence that the human CNS is the product of evolution.

    Where your argument ultimately fails is that there are no problems in need of the God hypothesis.

  129. #129 Anonymous
    April 21, 2009

    Essentially, the claim boils down to the bare assertion that it’s stupid to believe in God because His non-existence is so obvious.

    And how would theologians combat this? Theologians start with the bare assertion that it’s stupid not to believe in God, and tailor all their arguments from there. So, if you want to offer an atheist a convincing read, please don’t recommend books presupposing you have already partaken of the kool-aid. If there is some convincing argument for God, then make it, and we can evaluate it here. If there is amazing, indisputable evidence, then link to it. We aren’t going to do both sides of the argument for you, sorry.

  130. #130 IST
    April 21, 2009

    Robocop> http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2006/12/the_courtiers_reply.php

    you’re making the same mistake that Heddle did, or appear to be.

  131. #131 Robocop
    April 21, 2009

    “String theory, no comment, beyond noting that although obviously there is not confirmation in the form of physical evidence for any of its iterations, in theoretical physics a mathematically elegant and self-consistent solution is to some degree its own justification, at least for serious consideratioin.”

    For centuries believers have seen their faith as an “elegant and self-consistent solution” to the problems of life. And I hasten to add for those who keep raising the issue that, in my experience, few believers claim anything like certainty.

    “Evolutionary Psychology, you’ve got to be kidding. Sure, you could pick out a given hypothesis that stretches (your) credulity, and for which it would be practically difficult to acquire confirming physical evidence, but the only physical evidence needed for the contention that some hypotheses of EvPsych will be confirmed is the evidence that the human CNS is the product of evolution.”

    Jerry Coyne’s on my side on this one.

    With respect to both string theory and EvPsych there’s (at least at present) no evidence in their support. Why aren’t those who believe them to be true necessarily delusional?

  132. #132 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    April 21, 2009

    Robocop, where is your physical evidence per my #113 post. Until then, you have nothing. Period.

  133. #133 Nusubito
    April 21, 2009

    Sorry, anonymous was me.

    But the courtiers reply is quite logical. When a theist recommends a theological book, they are recommending a book that elaborates on all the little minutia and details of the supposed deity, and the religion built around it. I don’t care about speculation as to the triune nature of god. I don’t care if Jesus was fully human, or part human, or fully god. In order to convince me to read a book by a theologian, what you would first have to do is convince me that the god whose attributes are detailed therein *actually exists*.

    Finally, have you read these books? If so, give the pearls of fucking wisdom here, and we’ll see how great the theologians are. The arguments contained therein can be summarized and explained, right? Or are you seriously going to argue that one cannot truly understand the secrets within until one is initiated? If we need interpretations for the interpretations of theologians, then you have to wonder how great their explanation actually was.

  134. #134 Robocop
    April 21, 2009

    “Robocop, where is your physical evidence per my #113 post. Until then, you have nothing. Period.”

    113: “Show us the physical evidence for your god, that will pass muster with scientists, magicians, and professional debunkers as being of divine, and not naturral, origin, or you have a delusion.”

    Sorry, that’s just nuts. If physical evidence is required for belief to avoid delusional status, those who believe in string theory, EvPsych, personal autonomy, ethics (or whatever stripe), democracy, etc. are all delusional.

  135. #135 PZ Myers
    April 21, 2009

    I see Heddle doesn’t understand the Courtier’s Reply, either.

  136. #136 Nusubito
    April 21, 2009

    I have long been critical of many evolutionary psychologists for their over-the-top stories

    Yes, Jerry Coyne seems to have a problem with Evo Psych. There is no problem with that. The issues he brings up are valid, but like I said above, we have reason to think the basic idea is true. Ask any biologist whether they think human psychology was shaped by evolution, and there is absolutely no way they will deny it. They might criticize many individual hypotheses, but the fact remains that we are a product of evolution. All of us, and every bit of us. Objection to some of the claims is perfectly normal, and rational. But in the face of the two statements, both of which Coyne would probably agree with:

    1. Our body is a product of evolution, and our evolutionary history.

    2. Our brain is not magically separated from the rest of our physiology. It develops in the same manner.

    There is no conclusion except that our brain and our thinking have been structured by our evolutionary history. Probably not everything about it, but definitely the structure and basic framework.

  137. #137 IST
    April 21, 2009

    Robocop>

    For centuries believers have seen their faith as an “elegant and self-consistent solution” to the problems of life. And I hasten to add for those who keep raising the issue that, in my experience, few believers claim anything like certainty.

    ~35% (102 mil)of the US population self-identified as fundamentalist Christians in the 2003, is that a small number? http://www.publiceye.org/magazine/v17n2/evangelical-demographics.html

    Re: Coyne and evo-psych: the premise underlying evo-psych is sound, which is what the posters above me are alluding to. That particular article is a mock-up of an evo psych article… so yes, the fact that he’s taking the piss implies that he thinks their stories are just that. It’s analogous to Gould critiquing adaptationist postulates in the 60’s and 70’s, and in neither case does that determine the field to be faulty, just lacking in evidence for some of the examples. Blind belief in a specific evo-psych hypothesis that has that lack of evidence would fall into the above definitions of delusion. Otherwise, you’re using too wide a brush.

  138. #138 Sastra
    April 21, 2009

    Robocop #127 wrote:

    Essentially, the claim boils down to the bare assertion that it’s stupid to believe in God because His non-existence is so obvious.

    No, this is not the message of the Courtier’s Reply. The Courtier’s Reply is made by a believer, who is saying “unless you have made an exhaustive study of theology, you cannot address whether or not God exists.”

    Dawkins (and other atheists such as PZ) point out instead that theology deals with “understanding God” — and that whether or not God exists requires a different approach.

    The CR enables and endorses intellectual arrogance… The idea is to put the other side in as favorable a light as possible to begin the discussion. That way, one is looking at the best the other side has to offer before opposing it, requiring the best available counters.

    The atheist who charges a theist with using the CR would not do so if they feel the arguments are relevant. Of course one needs to meet the challenge of the best arguments on the other side. And Dawkins does indeed address many of the most famous ‘proofs’ of God – he doesn’t just dismiss them with a wave of his hand, as not worthy of being considered.

    You may not feel he has dealt with them adequately, but that says nothing against the Courtier’s Reply.

    One of the hallmarks of a Courtier’s Reply is that the person making it almost never advances specific arguments. The Courtier does not say “but Aquinas dealt with the problem of an uncaused cause, and he said this. How would you answer that?” And then attends to the answer.

    No, the Courtier stands aloof from debate. He says “I’m sorry, Aquinas already answered your objections. No, I should not have to tell you how. You should have read him already. You did? Not well enough. I will say no more, for it is obvious you are a fool.”

    You may have other problems with atheistic arguments, but even a theist can accept the problem with Courtier’s Reply.

  139. #139 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    April 21, 2009

    Sorry, that’s just nuts. If physical evidence is required for belief to avoid delusional status, those who believe in string theory, EvPsych, personal autonomy, ethics (or whatever stripe), democracy, etc. are all delusional.

    Who said I believe string theory? There is no evidence to date showing string theory is right, but the developers know that, and use reality to check their theory. Hence I give them the benefit of doubt. The others are social sciences, with different burdens of evidence

    Your god has been put to the test for 2500 years without any quality physical evidence. Not the same situation, except in the minds of the deluded.

  140. #140 IST
    April 21, 2009

    ahem… PZ? Am I to understand that Robocop and heddle are one and the same? (I have neither the ability nor the inclination to look for IP’s) Or did I misunderstand that post? Either way, they’ve made identical misunderstandings,yes.

  141. #141 Emmet, OM
    April 21, 2009

    Sorry, that’s just nuts. If physical evidence is required for belief to avoid delusional status, those who believe in string theory, EvPsych, personal autonomy, ethics (or whatever stripe), democracy, etc. are all delusional.

    Your question was answered in #126.

  142. #142 Sastra
    April 21, 2009

    Robocop #131 wrote:

    With respect to both string theory and EvPsych there’s (at least at present) no evidence in their support. Why aren’t those who believe them to be true necessarily delusional?

    At least part of the reason for the perceived difference is that people who advocate string theory or evolutionary psychology do not think that belief in either is a test of one’s ultimate worth and character, and that a willingness to believe is the sign of a loving and honorable nature. The issue rests on evidence and argument, and can be separated from the person. One does not accept string theory by opening one’s eyes in wonder, and one’s heart in joy.

    They may think that those who disagree with them are being stupid, and perhaps stubborn: but they do not think those who disagree with them are wicked, caught upon the lower rungs of spiritual development, and/or blinded to Goodness through perversity. And string theorists and evpsych advocates do not insist that, if either theory is false, then life has lost its meaning, and there is no reason to do science any more, for all is dead to them, and the cosmos lost.

    At least, I don’t think they do this. If they did, we might consider their approach a bit delusional, yes.

  143. #143 CJO
    April 21, 2009

    IST,
    No, Robocop is not heddle. PZ’s comment Re: heddle just came up in the midst of Robocop’s maundering.

  144. #144 IST
    April 21, 2009

    CJO> thanks…

  145. #145 heddle
    April 21, 2009

    Dan L.,

    I’ve seen people trying to square the four gospels with one another, and it’s pretty painful to watch.

    And I?ve seen (read) people doing with ease and it was a pleasure to watch (read).

    Oh, so the standard is just a plausible explanation

    That is the standard. If, for example, the Greek or Hebrew word could be translated in a number of ways, and at least one way restores self-consistency, and there is precedent for choosing that translation in the language as it was used at that time, then that is sufficient for purposes of that debate.

    CJO,

    Hell, I can find more than a handful of contradictions among the synoptics in a single pericope

    I?m up for it.

    But I get you anyway, because in such a discussion with you once, you flatly told me that you refused to continue the conversation if I was going to continue to treat the gospels as “theological fictions”

    Where did I tell you that, so that I can retract it?
    Unless it was something like this: ?They are fiction, end of story!? Which indeed leaves you with no basis for a discussion.

    Pablo,

    But how do you know the being you are joyfully worshipping is God and not a powerful deceiver?

    Again, Q.E.D.

    I would sure as heck hope you have a better justification than “Jesus loves me, this I know, because the bible tells me so”

    At some level, I don?t. Such is the nature of presuppositional apologetics.

    Sastra,

    Really? That’s interesting: your failure to be properly entranced with God would, for you, be evidence against the existence of God. That does seem to imply that you believe in God because you enjoy believing in God.

    Why does it imply that? Though it is an oversimplification, suppose the only thing the bible told me was if I have been born again then I will enjoy worshipping God. Suppose I do believe in him and I do enjoy worshipping him. It might mean that I believe in him because I enjoy believing in him. Or it might mean that what it claimed was true. It doesn?t, as you suggest, imply the former.

    That may be how you prefer to interpret the Courtier’s Reply, but the author of the phrase was PZ Myers, and of course he meant nothing of the sort.

    I stand corrected. But is it not tantamount to what I suggested?that Dawkins does not do his homework, because he sincerely believes it is not worth the effort, and so then the theist complains? At any rate, I always did interpret it as this: There is no need to bother taking the theist’s arguments seriously, doing some research into the arguments of their so-called best and brightest, and generating a thoughtful response to such nonsense. They are no more worth it than studying star charts to make a response to astrologers. If I missed the boat, I apologize.

  146. #146 IST
    April 21, 2009

    Heddle re:CR: no, you are in fact using it, not giving an example of it…

    His point is dismissive, and could be taken as arrogant if you wish, and is simply that there is no need to take an argument, however nuanced, seriously if it’s built on a faulty premise. I don’t read works on homeopathy because I know without bothering to read them that they’re complete and utter bunk… drawn from the fact that the underlying concept is flatly refuted by physics. Likewise, Dawkins uses the same filter for theology due to a blatant lack of evidence on the part of theologians (on whom the burden of proof lies). If you’ve read TGD, you’ll note the the general form of their common arguments are addressed regardless; the dismissal is aimed at the numerous cries of “but you’ve ignored the slight variation produced by joepreacher!”

    shorter: your analogy falls because Dawkins isn’t claiming that they aren’t qualified for the discussion b/c they haven’t read X, or failing to present his own premise, but rather refusing to read their rehashed arguments.

  147. #147 Sastra
    April 21, 2009

    heddle #145 wrote:

    Though it is an oversimplification, suppose the only thing the bible told me was if I have been born again then I will enjoy worshipping God. Suppose I do believe in him and I do enjoy worshipping him. It might mean that I believe in him because I enjoy believing in him. Or it might mean that what it claimed was true. It doesn?t, as you suggest, imply the former.

    But the question isn’t “am I one of the elect?” It’s “does God exist?” If you did not enjoy worshiping God, it would be perfectly reasonable to conclude that you are not one of the elect.

    But to say that you would also doubt the existence of God means that, to you, a God that is not enjoyable is not believable. There can be no such thing. You would not believe in God, unless you found it fulfilling.

    This seems less like truth-seeking, and more like therapy.

  148. #148 CJO
    April 21, 2009

    Where did I tell you that, so that I can retract it?
    Unless it was something like this: ?They are fiction, end of story!? Which indeed leaves you with no basis for a discussion.

    It was here, I don’t remember when or what thread (it was some time ago). Perhaps you took my argument to be of that form, I don’t know. As always, it was at the tail end of a dying thread anyway.

    The reason it’s important to me, though, is that I’m aware you have plenty of experience, and plenty of examplars before you, in “resolving” these contradictions. For me, however, it is not sufficient simply to note the contradictions exist, claim that aplogist X cannot resolve them to my satisfaction, therefore I win, QED. What I’m interested in is explaining the contradiction better than the apologist, by showing that it is fully consistent with a scribal mythmaking tradition unhindered by the felt need to conform the narrative to any actual historical occurences or other matter of objective, verifiable fact.

  149. #149 Aquaria
    April 21, 2009

    The Courtier’s Reply boils down to countering an argument such as this:

    Santa Claus has reindeer and elves and he lives on the North Pole. He rewards good behavior and punishes bad. There was that movie about him, and he’s been written about numerous times, but if you haven’t seen the movie or read the book, you can’t doubt that he exists.

    The whole house of cards falls down because you can make up all the shit you want about Santa Claus, you can make it as detailed as you like…

    But it does not change the fact that there is no evidence that Santa exists. Show us the evidence, then we can talk about what Santa is. Until then, parsimony requires that we don’t assume existence.

    Theological arguments presume that a deity exists, and prance on from there, providing massive details about this deity, as if they know everything about it, without ever answering the essential question: where is the evidence of existence?

    What is so difficult for theists to understand about this? We’re asking you, before you get into assertions of details of what your deity is, to establish that it exists at all first. Because then we can talk about what it is. We can all examine it and pick over it. Until there is evidence, we can’t know what it is, and assigning properties to this deity is all conjecture. Until there is evidence, God, Vishnu, Thor–the whole lot of them are conjecture without some evidence, just like Santa Claus.

    Theists seem willfully incapable of grasping this essential point.

  150. #150 Josh
    April 21, 2009

    I think nearly 99% would indicate that that they sometimes have doubts, and the other 1% would be lying. Actually, I think 100% would claim they sometimes have doubts.

    Heddle, thanks. Do you have a speculation as to whether, during these times of doubt, most of your fellows consider the possibility that they are following the wrong faith, or whether they are contemplating the possibility that there isn’t any deity at all?

  151. #151 Aquaria
    April 21, 2009

    For the record, I’ve read Aquinas.

    Brilliant propagandist. And I mean that about the brilliant part. He really was brilliant, a well-read man with a great mind.

    But I don’t fool myself that he was anything but a priest justifying being a priest.

    Anyone who can read those arguments and not punch holes all through them (when you’re not laughing at just how quaint he is), needs to go back to grade school.

    Anyway, what the hell are you theists doing, using 13th century arguments that were discredited about five minutes after they were made? The world has changed a lot in the succeeding 8 centuries, in case you hadn’t noticed. Don’t you have some new arguments to entertain us with? Sheesh.

    What, will you next throw some Anselm at us?

  152. #152 Patricia, OM
    April 21, 2009

    For those wondering just what the heck the Chicago Statement is:
    http://www.sebts.edu/prospective_students/what_we_believe/articles_inerancy.cfm

    Here’s a small taste, so you’ll be forwarned not to read this with a beverage in your mouth –

    Article XII – We affirm that Scripture in its entirety is inerrant, being free from all falsehood, fraud or deceit. Blah, blah, blah..”

    It’s stunningly stoopid. If that offends you Heddle, then so be it.

  153. #153 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    April 21, 2009

    Aquaria #149, clap clap clap. Excellent rant. Dang, my lists are getting longer than my note pads.

  154. #154 Robocop
    April 21, 2009

    “Theists seem willfully incapable of grasping this essential point.”

    Instead, I would suggest that the problem is that atheists insist that their interpretation and evaluation of the evidence is the only one possible. There is clearly evidence for God by any reasonable standard, which is usually something like making a disputed matter more likely. One’s testimony about an experience of God is such evidence, for example. The real question is whether one accepts that (or other) evidence as meaningful and whether the totality of the evidence is somehow dispositive. But, of course, it’s less rhetorically satisfying to say “I reject your interpretation of the evidence” than to proclaim “You have no evidence!”

  155. #155 heddle
    April 21, 2009

    IST,

    I don’t read works on homeopathy because I know without bothering to read them that they’re complete and utter bunk… drawn from the fact that the underlying concept is flatly refuted by physics.

    Right–that is precisely my interpretation of the CR. I am willing to admit I have it wrong–I won’t even presume to argue that I have it right if the author is saying I have it wrong–but it doesn’t seem that you are saying anything very different from what I said.

    If you’ve read TGD, you’ll note the the general form of their common arguments are addressed regardless; the dismissal is aimed at the numerous cries of “but you’ve ignored the slight variation produced by joepreacher!”

    I did read it (twice.) I did not detect where Dawkins in any substantive way adressed theology at all. You make it sound like he did, but is being criticized because he, say, addressed the 1646 London Baptist Confession rather than the 1689 London Baptist Confession.

    Sastra,

    I see your point regarding the elect. That is, I could interpret that not enjoying God meant that the bible was true, but I was not converted.

    But what I said stands. As I said, your explanation could be correct, but it doesn’t have to be. You wrote for me a “God that is not enjoyable is not believable.” To which I would say: that’s true, because the bible said he would be enjoyed. If it was wrong about that, then it might be wrong about everything. The fact that it is not wrong about that contributes to my belief.

    Aquaria,

    We’re asking you, before you get into assertions of details of what your deity is, to establish that it exists at all first.
    Theists seem willfully incapable of grasping this essential point.

    Actually I think you don’t understand that we do grasp that. In my case, I don’t know how many times I’ve pointed out (including today) that I can’t convince you that God exists, all I can do is argue for self-consistency of my beliefs given that I believe the bible. Fortunately there are many atheists (you not being one of them) who sense that it is unreasonable for thesist to prove God exists (as you said, “establish that it exists at all first. “) before they will argue with us. Who sense that what you are demanding is: “first make me a theist, and only then I’ll argue the nuts and bolts.” In truth, while I grasp you point, I find it absurd.

  156. #156 heddle
    April 21, 2009

    Patricia OM,

    If that offends you Heddle, then so be it.

    It doesn’t. You don’t have it in you to offend me.

  157. #157 Emmet, OM
    April 21, 2009

    There is clearly evidence for God by any reasonable standard ? One’s testimony about an experience of God is such evidence, for example.

    By that rationale, there is ?evidence? for little green men in flying saucers, since there is no shortage of people who will testify that they were abducted by them and had their anuses probed.

    This is why we insist on empirical evidence to substantiate existential claims, rather than considering personal anecdotes like ?I saw a leprechaun? to be a ?reasonable standard? of evidence.

  158. #158 'Tis Himself
    April 21, 2009

    Robocop #154

    There is clearly evidence for God by any reasonable standard

    Theists make this claim over and over again. When asked for this evidence, it comes down to “I believe” or “the Bible says” or “are you calling Josephus a liar?” or some such. Nothing concrete.

    One’s testimony about an experience of God is such evidence, for example.

    Do you actually expect us to believe someone who says “God talks to me”? How can we tell the difference between this God and a schizophrenic’s voices?

    The [i]real[/i] question is whether one accepts that (or other) evidence as meaningful and whether the totality of the evidence is somehow dispositive. [emphasis in original]

    No, the real question is “is the evidence tangible, falsifiable, and replicable?”

    But, of course, it’s less rhetorically satisfying to say “I reject your interpretation of the evidence” than to proclaim “You have no evidence!”

    The problem is that you folks have no evidence. We’ve been asking you for your evidence for years. You’ve given us nothing but posturing, vague assurances that “god will tell you in his own way,” appeals to Biblical authority, and the biggie “ya gots ta believe.” Sorry, but we don’t gots ta.

  159. #159 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    April 21, 2009

    There is clearly evidence for God by any reasonable standard,

    Wrong, liar and bullshitter. There is no reasonable physical evidence for any of the 1000+ deities, much less Yahweh. And you expect us to believe you? What a delusional idiot.

  160. #160 Although I Promised to Lurk
    April 21, 2009

    Great thread.

    *clenched-tentacle salute*
    for heddle. Even though I think he’s full of about 8 kinds of shit.

  161. #161 SC, OM
    April 21, 2009

    Posted by: Although I Promised to Lurk | April 21, 2009 7:49 PM

    He’s baaaaaaaack! :D

    (And Cuttlefish! Yay!)

  162. #162 'Tis Himself
    April 21, 2009

    I did read [The God Delusion] (twice.) I did not detect where Dawkins in any substantive way adressed theology at all. You make it sound like he did, but is being criticized because he, say, addressed the 1646 London Baptist Confession rather than the 1689 London Baptist Confession.

    Bullshit, heddle. I don’t believe you. If you had read TGD then you would have seen him take on various proofs of god, particularly the argument from design.

    Then Dawkins moved on exploring the roots of religion and seeking an explanation for its ubiquity across human cultures. He considered morality, showing that belief in god is not required to have morals and ethics. Finally, Dawkins shows that society in general and individuals in particular are better off without religion or belief in factious deities.

    You may not like Dawkins’ book, but you cannot pretend (and yes, pretend is the right word) that he doesn’t discuss theology.

    Congratulations, heddle, you’ve just become a candidate for killfile. I cannot abide liars and you’re a fucking LIAR!

  163. #163 Patricia, OM
    April 21, 2009

    Good.

    It’s actually rather refreshing to see a rock solid sexist stick with his programming instead of weaseling. Better for you not to imagine what I might have in me.

  164. #164 Patricia, OM
    April 21, 2009

    Tis Himself – You are correct. Dawkins goes through several “Arguements For God’s Existence” in his book pgs. 75-105. Your other remarks on the book are also correct.

  165. #165 'Tis Himself
    April 21, 2009

    I had the book in my lap while I was writing my post, Patricia.

  166. #166 Patricia, OM
    April 21, 2009

    *smirk* So did I.

  167. #167 Wowbagger, OM
    April 21, 2009

    What the courtier in question also does is try to convince the non-believer that if they only moved slightly, they’d see that the emperor is wearing clothes – that the problem really is is that the non-believer is not looking in the correct way.

    ‘Move a little to the left – is he wearing clothes now?’
    ‘No’
    ‘Okay, try a little closer to the throne – anything?’
    ‘No’
    And so on, ad infinitum.

  168. #168 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    April 21, 2009

    Mr. Lurker, your damn pirates… my poor braves.

    ouch

  169. #169 Qwerty
    April 21, 2009

    I won’t be reading Beale-Polkinghorne’s BullPoop.

  170. #170 The aforementioned lurker
    April 21, 2009

    Chimp:
    10-0 ouch!
    1-11 also ouch!
    Can’t anybody pitch anymore? The fucking Indians scored 14 in one inning against the Stinkees Yankees the other day…

    Post something about the Dead show, man

  171. #171 Nusubito
    April 21, 2009

    “first make me a theist, and only then I’ll argue the nuts and bolts.” In truth, while I grasp you point, I find it absurd.

    Really? So if I were to state that the earth spins because a giant hamster is running in the opposite direction inside it, and you asked for evidence, you would find it perfectly reasonable if instead I submitted loads of garbage that assumed it was true. Books that listed in detail all the consequences of the hamster’s eating preferences, all the while deliberately avoiding testable predictions. Speculation as to the hamster’s fur color, and pages of vacuous explanations of the hamster’s *purpose*. Because that is the problem with the courtiers reply. It demands knowledge of all kinds of imaginary details in a subject that has no justification in the first place. And instead of actually listing the arguments in these pointless tomes on a public forum for debate, they are only hinted at, as being so great that they are unable to be refuted.

    If you really find it foolish that we don’t go out and read your favorite theologians, then place the meat of their arguments here. Surely they can be debated here, right? The problem with the courtier’s reply is that it is inevitably used as a dodge.

    “You *clearly* haven’t read any Aquinas, or this would be self evident.”

    Scenario 1:”Really? Could you present some of his arguments?”

    “No. You have to read it to truly understand his greatness.”

    Scenario 2: “Yes, I have, and I found his reasoning to be horrible. He was a fraud who had his conclusions in mind from the start.”

    “You clearly aren’t interpreting it correctly.”

    It is, in short, a shameless appeal to authority, usually very old, putting the onus on a dead person, or someone who is unavailable, for an explanation. Make the arguments here, if our theological insight is so horrible. Educate us. I’m willing to listen. But again, only to those parts that don’t presuppose I am a believer in your religion. I don’t believe in your god; you do.

  172. #172 John Morales
    April 21, 2009

    Nusubito, good one, if a touch verbose.

    Not to mention that that particular objection also applies to any old-time religious tradition, not just the Abrahamic ones – why does Heddle dismiss those (presuming he’s not studied their claims in depth)?

  173. #173 Nusubito
    April 21, 2009

    Nusubito, good one, if a touch verbose.

    Yeah, I felt it getting a bit ponderous at the end. I’m still working on improving my writing. Thanks, though.

    Not to mention that that particular objection also applies to any old-time religious tradition, not just the Abrahamic ones.

    Funny that you mention that. Just recently I read the De Natura Deorum, by Cicero, where he imagines a debate between the three schools of philosophy about the nature of God. The conclusion was, surprisingly, more honest than Christian theology. Basically, the consensus reached is that gods probably don’t exist, but that religion is so useful, and so important to the state, that it was important to act like they did. I was cracking up at the end of that one.

    But (to make the point clearer to Heddle), I must emphasize that I didn’t have to read that book to assert with confidence the non-existence of Roman gods.

  174. #174 Kel
    April 21, 2009

    You don’t have to read Aquinas or Plantiga, but you would have to if the thesis of your book is that all religious people are dulusional. You cannot make such a strong claim and refuse to engage any of the intellectual believers or their evience for belief.

    Have you read The God Delusion? The argument is that religious belief is a delusion, not that all religious people are delusional. I would summarise it as:
    1. religion is based on faith
    2. faith is inherently irrational
    Thus, religious faith is irrational. QED

    There are many different ideas for the supernatural, religions of all shapes and sizes, ideas for the supernatural that are part of every possible combination. When making a criticism of the problems with the entire practice, why should anyone need to pay particular attention to the arguments of one sect of one religion? If Dawkins spent time debunking the likes of McGrath and Craig, would it be fair to criticise him for not going after the sophisticated arguments of Islamic scholars or leading Buddhist thinkers? If not, why not?

  175. #175 plum grenville
    April 21, 2009

    heddle:

    I did read [The God Delusion] (twice.) I did not detect where Dawkins in any substantive way adressed theology at all.

    I have my copy of The God Delusion open in front of me. On pp. 77-150, Dawkins addresses (and finds wanting) the following arguments for the existence of god:

    1) The Unmoved Mover
    2) The Uncaused Cause
    3) The Cosmological Argument
    4) The Argument from Degree
    5) The Teleological Argument (#1 -5 are from Aquinas)
    6) The Ontological Argument (Anselm)
    7) The Argument from Beauty
    8) The Argument from Personal Experience
    9) The Argument from Scripture
    10) The Argument from Admired Religious Scientists
    11) Pascal’s Wager
    12) Bayesian Arguments
    13) The Argument from Improbabiblity/The Anthropic Principle

    Heddle, are you claiming that these arguments for the existence of god are not theology or that Dawkins didn’t address them “in a substantive way”?

  176. #176 Dan L.
    April 21, 2009

    Dan L.,

    I’ve seen people trying to square the four gospels with one another, and it’s pretty painful to watch.

    And I?ve seen (read) people doing with ease and it was a pleasure to watch (read).

    So how many people were at the tomb and who were they? Although all the writers of the gospels seemed to think this is relevant to the narrative, they don’t seem to agree on which persons are relevant to the narrative.

    Incidentally, I don’t really have a horse in that race, and I’m sure you can mop the floor with me re: Biblical apologetics. I reject theism because dualism doesn’t have a metaphysical leg to stand on, and in that light, the Bible looks like just another book to me. And that’s my problem with the courtier’s reply: scientific truths are usually corroborated through multiple avenues of investigation. But according to most religious traditions, there is only one avenue to God. This is my response to the courtier’s reply: why is it that the only evidence that seems to suggest the existence of God is the one book supposedly written by Him? Seems a little convenient to me.

    I have to say, though, you are pretty much the best apologist I’ve talked to online who isn’t an agnostic/atheist philosopher.

  177. #177 Sastra
    April 21, 2009

    Nusubito #171 wrote:

    Books that listed in detail all the consequences of the hamster’s eating preferences, all the while deliberately avoiding testable predictions. Speculation as to the hamster’s fur color, and pages of vacuous explanations of the hamster’s *purpose*. Because that is the problem with the courtiers reply.

    Your hamster analogy reminded me of what Dr. Harriet Hall over on Science-Based Medicine blog calls “tooth fairy science.” She uses the term to describe what alternative medicine proponents use to support reiki, homeopathy, or other pseudoscientific forms of “healing.” She writes:

    “This study falls into the category of what I call Tooth Fairy science. You could measure how much money the Tooth Fairy leaves under the pillow, whether she leaves more cash for the first or last tooth, whether the payoff is greater if you leave the tooth in a plastic baggie versus wrapped in Kleenex. You can get all kinds of good data that is reproducible and statistically significant. Yes, you have learned something. But you haven?t learned what you think you?ve learned, because you haven?t bothered to establish whether the Tooth Fairy really exists.”

    Alternative medicine is a form of religion. It often involves such spiritual ideas as the power of intention, healing life energy, and magical connections involving meaning. Proponents talk about the ‘holistic’ value of modalities which include “mind, body, and spirit,” and cite traditional ways of knowing, ancient wisdom, and personal experience as support. They argue just like apologists.

  178. #178 Patricia, OM
    April 21, 2009

    Nusubito #174 – very nice, I enjoyed your comments.

    Dan L. – No, he can’t mop the floor with you. Squaring the four gospels (which for some odd reason I read as ‘angels’) IS painful. And the further back you go in translations the worse it gets when you try to get it to make sense today. Heddle is a calvinist. A short search of the web on that doctrine, and TULIP will give you an idea of what riles some of us the most when he shows up.
    *especially me* :)

  179. #179 Patricia, OM
    April 21, 2009

    Damn cooties – #171.

  180. #180 Kagehi
    April 21, 2009

    It seems to me that the only way to know that the model “works” is if your soul goes to heaven when you die.

    This and several other comments have been made to Heddle’s “model”, but the flaw runs deeper than this. His model is the same model the rest of us use, but with bells, whistles and prayer beads added. He isn’t deluding himself about the “model”, any more than someone with a Pink Ferrari is deluding themselves about it being faster than a VW Bus, he is only deluding himself about the fact that it **must be** pink for it to still be faster.

    In other words, its highly likely that the majority of what he considers the model of behavior, ideals, principles and concepts that make up what “works” in the Biblical model are the same things that fill our model. However, they are hidden under a thin veneer of other stuff. Being kind of people doesn’t work **as well** without doing it for a god. Not stealing because its not something you would want other people to do to you isn’t as **good** as doing it because a god says it “bad” to do it, and so on. Someone has painted the world a uniform shade of pink for him, and when confronted with the need to justify how and why he acts, the result isn’t, “Because of X, Y and Z logical reason.”, but because, “X, Y and Z are logical, because they are all pink, therefor I do them.”

    And, that is why he doesn’t “get” our position. Its not so much that he can’t see that the emperor has no clothes, its that being without them is **unacceptable** in his set of definitions about how the world works, so he must conjure some, even when they don’t exist. The clothes become more important than the nakedness, which is presented as an “impossibility”, because, well, in his world, the emperor “must” have them for anything else to make sense at all.

    This presents a huge problem, because, we come to the table, to go back to the first analogy, with 15 Ferraris, which all just happen to have one thing, other than being faster than a VW Bus, in common, **they’re not pink**. And his answer is, “Yes, but I know mine is fast **because** its pink.” Flawed or not, we can’t win the argument by talking about all the examples of what “isn’t” fast, since the central problem is the “pinkness” of the vehicles, not which one of them is faster, and thus, no argument or example we might make about the validity of which car he has is going to work.

    Its the wrong issue. The problem isn’t, “Does his system work, or have data to back it?”, it is, “Is it, once you remove all the religious gibberish, sufficiently different to account for it working better or worse than ours?” If the answer is no, then fine, but if the answer is “inconclusive”, then… he is correct, as far as he is willing to argue, even if he insists on painting everything from his religion, to his car, to his underwear, pink, on the theory that its “better” that way. Frankly, even if the answer is, “Mostly no, its not equal, never mind better.”, if its at all *sufficiently* similar, at all, he isn’t going to change his mind over what he sees as “minor” issues. It might even make many people, including him, try harder to “make it better”, while completely failing to grasp why it isn’t in the first place. But, short of a massive failure, odds are, most people will “live with” something, and convince themselves that the flaws are unimportant, rather than admit that such a thing “doesn’t” work as well as something else.

  181. #181 Ray S.
    April 21, 2009

    With regard to the reconciliation of the four gospels, we have very weak provenance for the writings and cannot be confident just what the original text contained. I’d like to see Heddle approach those documents the same way he approaches scientific evidence. Most believers I come into contact with have no idea where and how their sacred documents came to be.

    Even if the result of such gospel investigation is contradictions, the fact that there are contradictions is taken by some apologists as evidence they are true. Lee Strobel once said of the resurrection, “It’s too unbelievable not to be true!”. With such logic, how can anything be false?

  182. #182 Leigh Williams
    April 22, 2009

    Sastra says:

    So I think the value of the question lies more in getting the theist to accept their own fallibility, and temper their certainty, rather than revealing some fatal flaw in the whole system. It’s a chip at the faith which lies under the structure, and will only topple it if the theist puts great stock in a literal understanding of Certainty.

    I agree. One of the failings of humankind is that we value Story above evidence. The stories we tell . . . which for most of our time here on earth were critical as a way to enculturate our children and pass on what knowledge we had . . . are deeply important to us, even now, when we have other and superior ways to preserve our knowledge. They are the framework on which we hang our individual experiences and try to make sense of our existence.

    We are wired to do this; it’s important to us emotionally as well as an intellectually. It’s how we form communities and expand our tribes.

    This strength is also our greatest weakness, because we cling to our tribal Story (I hate to use the word wordview, but it’s apt) even in the face of conflicting evidence. It takes considerable bravery and intellectual honesty to put it aside and consider the Other dispassionately.

    Most people don’t try to do it. Instead, they alter the Story to accomodate foreign ideas when social pressures make it advantageous. It’s usually done unwittingly and without self-awareness, as when Bible-believing Christians discard social mores contained in the Bible. How many white Baptist women, for example, cover their heads in church? Paul said to do it! But in all my time in Baptist churches, I never heard anyone say why we chose not to follow that rule. The fashion in appropriate feminine garb changed, and we changed with it.

    No “ick” factor, you see, with that one. But gay marriage, oh icky, that prohibition we’ll keep! But very few are self-aware enough to examine these behaviors, and many then just craft some kind of rationalization for the change.

    Josh asks how we know we’re not deceiving ourselves. I don’t think most people are ever able to stand outside the Story and ask that question. But I think it’s a very, very important question, one that every adherent to any faith system ought to ask. It brings to light all the unspoken assumptions we make every day as we sort our experiences and try to integrate them into the Story each of us tells herself about how the world works.

    Josh, to answer your question: I do ask myself if the personal experiences I’ve had with God are real. It’s entirely possible that the times I’ve thought I was in communion with the numinous were brainstorms, artifacts of mechanisms inside my brain. We know such things are possible, maybe even likely for some of us.

    Yet I seem to be a fairly sane person, and I furthermore know that some of the sequences of events in which I saw God moving were outside of me and outside of my control.

    Perhaps those events were merely coincidence. My reason tells me that’s entirely possible. But my heart still returns the answer: I believe. And, like Heddle, I see events playing out in my life as they would if what I believe is true.

    I’ve said before, and I will insist on it again: the unexamined faith is not worth having. We fumble toward the light, misinterpreting most of the brief flashes we see and distorting them through the prism of our own prejudices, grasping at trivialities and turning them on each other as weapons.

    It seems to me that the only appropriate posture for the believer is one of profound humility. What good is it to see an intimation of God, if you can’t reflect it outward? How can we be a witness of God’s love if we don’t love our fellow creatures?

    And, Dan L., if God exists, it’s pretty much guaranteed that there’s more than one way to him. If that’s not true, I’m worshipping the kind of monster who would damn most of his own creation . . . and I will choose Hell rather than worship such a being.

  183. #183 davek
    April 22, 2009

    So those who postulate — say — string theory or evolutionary psychology are necessarily delusional?

    Don’t tempt me.

  184. #184 Wowbagger, OM
    April 22, 2009

    I’d like to see Heddle approach those documents the same way he approaches scientific evidence.

    Considering in his earlier post his response to a similar request resulted in this:

    I claim there is only contradiction therein if you control the rules of engagement: 1) No appeal to figures of speech?I must take passages literally when it suits you. 2) No appeal to translation errors. 3) No appeal to possible alternative translations from the Hebrew or Greek or Aramaic. 4) No appeal to anachronistic literary customs, such as using exact numbers when they weren?t meant to be exact?e.g., ?a thousand hills?, 5) No deferring to cultural styles, such as eastern apocalyptic writing. 6) No appeals to what appear to most scholars to be additions appearing only in later manuscripts, such as the Marcan Appendix.

    This should probably give you an idea of the lengths to which he can go to argue that, for want of a better expression, black = white if the bible says it’s so.

  185. #185 heddle
    April 22, 2009

    Tis Himself #162,

    You may not like Dawkins’ book, but you cannot pretend (and yes, pretend is the right word) that he doesn’t discuss theology.

    I always encourage people to put me in their killfile. I especially urge you to do so because I have an intense dislike for having to deal with quote-miners. What I wrote was:

    I did not detect where Dawkins in any substantive way adressed [sic] theology at all.

    Yours is a particularly stupid quote-mine?because Dawkins’s book is called The God Delusion. Even without having read it I would have known that he discusses theology. TGD does discuss theology (duh). In the same way Lee Stroebel’s The Case for a Creator discusses science. That’s quite different than discussing in substantively. And on the pages of this blog (or maybe it was Brayton’s, but there is a lot of the same people on both) I have debated at length one of his particularly weak discussions in TGD?the discussion of morality.

    But you chose to be a quote-miner (or rather, a misquoter) of Discovery Institute proportions and threaten to killfile me (I shudder at the consequences) based on something I did not write.

    So go ahead, quote-miner, please do put me in your killfile.

  186. #186 heddle
    April 22, 2009

    plum grenville

    Heddle, are you claiming that these arguments for the existence of god are not theology or that Dawkins didn’t address them “in a substantive way”?

    The latter. And my criticism of Dawkins and TGD includes (but is not limited to) the fact that that he contributes nothing novel. Ironically I don?t disagree with Dawkins on the classic proofs of God?s existence?I don?t find them compelling either. But in those cases his lack of substance comes from contributing nothing new.

    Here are some of the topics from Strobel?s Case for a Creator:

    The Evidence of Cosmology

    The Evidence of Physics

    The Evidence of Astronomy

    The Evidence of Biochemistry

    The Evidence of Biological Information

    Very sciency sounding. But I am guessing that we would agree that Strobel does not discuss science substantively. A list of juicy topics is does not refute a claim of a lack of a substantive treatment.

  187. #187 heddle
    April 22, 2009

    Wowbagger, OM

    This should probably give you an idea of the lengths to which he can go to argue that, for want of a better expression, black = white if the bible says it’s so.

    In other words: A scholarly approach to alleged biblical inconsistencies is not fair! You must use an English translation only, one of my choice which may vary argument to argument, and defend it as written, in English. And you must, when I insist that you must, interpret the text literally! How else can I prove the bible claims the earth is flat?

  188. #188 Wowbagger, OM
    April 22, 2009

    heddle wrote:

    The latter. And my criticism of Dawkins and TGD includes (but is not limited to) the fact that that he contributes nothing novel.

    Novel to you, maybe. But, like I’ve noted before, the majority of Christians (including those you consider a ‘lesser’ kind of Christian) have never had those particular arguments presented to them before.

    So, it may have had no impact on ‘sophisticated’ Christians familiar with the vast sea of apologetics raised to combat the flaws Dawkins illustrated – but to those who know little more about it beyond ‘I’m a Christian because I was raised by my parents to be one’ it probably created a few more doubts.

  189. #189 Rorschach
    April 22, 2009

    but to those who know little more about it beyond ‘I’m a Christian because I was raised by my parents to be one’ it probably created a few more doubts.

    It seems to me,without having hard numbers to back it up,that the New Atheism and TGD in particular have made a huge impact,we get the odd conversion story here obviously,but also when I talk to christians,most of them have heard of the book,and quite a few have actually read it and at least started thinking.
    And,by the way,the best weapon ,and the one Im using more and more,is ridicule paired with patient refutation,noone likes to be shown their position and belief to be utterly ridiculous and a waste of energy,so most of the time,that makes them listen.

  190. #190 heddle
    April 22, 2009

    Kagehi , #180

    (Speaking of my model)

    However, they are hidden under a thin veneer of other stuff. Being kind of people doesn’t work **as well** without doing it for a god. Not stealing because its not something you would want other people to do to you isn’t as **good** as doing it because a god says it “bad” to do it, and so on.

    Of course I never gave any of these examples, and have argued on any number of occasions that there is no discernable difference between the morality and charitable behavior of believers and unbelievers. But feel free to invent examples for me, and then show silly they are.

  191. #191 Wowbagger, OM
    April 22, 2009

    heddle wrote:

    A scholarly approach to alleged biblical inconsistencies is not fair! You must use an English translation only, one of my choice which may vary argument to argument, and defend it as written, in English. And you must, when I insist that you must, interpret the text literally! How else can I prove the bible claims the earth is flat?

    Come talk to us when scholarship is a prerequisite for admission to the Christian faith, that an indepth knowledge of biblical history is considered a necessity amongst all congregations and when the ability to read scripture in its original languages is standard amongst all Christians.

    Because until you can, the ‘scholarly approach’ remains a dodge concocted by desperate apologetic sophists scrabbling to find a way to paper over the massive cracks that no-one had bothered deal with until enough people were free of the church’s restraint to engage in the critical thought that made atheism the intellectual honest option.

  192. #192 heddle
    April 22, 2009

    Wowbagger, OM

    Come talk to us when scholarship is a prerequisite for admission to the Christian faith, that an indepth knowledge of biblical history is considered a necessity amongst all congregations and when the ability to read scripture in its original languages is standard amongst all Christians.

    I don’t get that. Are you saying Christians who can argue in a scholarly manner, because they are versed in biblical Hebrew, Aramaic, and/or Greek, and because they do have knowledge of eastern and contemporary literary styles, and biblical history, cannot contribute to discussions of biblical inconsistencies until such time that such knowledge is required of all Christians? Is that what you mean? It can’t be–it’s too absurd of an argument.

    Because until you can, the ‘scholarly approach’ remains a dodge

    That speaks for itself.

  193. #193 heddle
    April 22, 2009

    Nusubito,

    “first make me a theist, and only then I’ll argue the nuts and bolts.” In truth, while I grasp you point, I find it absurd.

    Really? So if I were to state that the earth spins because a giant hamster is running in the opposite direction inside it, and you asked for evidence, you would find it perfectly reasonable if instead I submitted loads of garbage that assumed it was true.

    The blurb of mine was in response to Aquaria, in #149, who wrote:

    We’re asking you, before you get into assertions of details of what your deity is, to establish that it exists at all first.

    Yes, I stand on the claim that this is a bizarre requirement. But of course you are free to place any requirements you like as a threshold before you?ll engage in debate. It seems odd, and thankfully rare?because I enjoy discussions with atheists?to say, as Aquaria did, that you must prove that God exists (which if I did would make you into a theist) as the threshold.

    As for the hamptster, that?s a old argument that I understand, but I also think is na´ve. (I have to give you credit: you didn?t misuse Russell?s Teapot, which is what many invoke to make your point.)

    The reason I think it is na´ve is this. On some level I understand that my belief in God, to an atheist, is no different than the giant hampster believer. The difference is one of practicality. I can ignore the occasional hampster-ist. But O(108) Americans believe in God. I don?t know if you are an American, but if I were an American atheist, concerned about the level of superstition in the US, I?d certainly make it my duty to argue with theists and continue to ignore the rare hampster-ist. That they are of the same type, doesn?t mean they are of the same practical importance.

  194. #194 Wowbagger, OM
    April 22, 2009

    Are you saying Christians who can argue in a scholarly manner, because they are versed in biblical Hebrew, Aramaic, and/or Greek, and because they do have knowledge of eastern and contemporary literary styles, and biblical history, cannot contribute to discussions of biblical inconsistencies until such time that such knowledge is required of all Christians?

    No, I’m saying that such knowledge is totally irrelevant to all but a tiny minority of Christians, and has been totally irrelevant to all but a minority of Christians for the vast majority of Christianity’s history. It’s only come to the fore because Christians realised they were losing the fight and had to come up with answers to the questions asked.

    What I’m also saying is that that majority of Christians believe because they’ve never thought very deeply about the gospels and their contents, and are unaware of the gaping holes your ‘scholarly approach’ was invented to explain away.

    And, to add to that, I suspect that no small number of Christians would, were they to experience having the light of honest analysis shone upon the book they believe is ‘the truth’, recoil with horror at the lengths to which your desperate sophists have gone – and the veritable sea of text they’ve produced – in order to hide what is in plain sight to anyone with an ounce of intellectual honesty.

    In short, if it was pointed out to them what a turd the bible was, all your mountains of apologetic glitter would not serve to keep them from realising what it was.

  195. #195 386sx
    April 22, 2009

    People, I’m over here with Firefox web browser, and it keeps using 600 megabytes of memory all the time!! I will never find a good browser…

  196. #196 heddle
    April 22, 2009

    Wobagger, OM,

    No, I’m saying that such knowledge is totally irrelevant to all but a tiny minority of Christians, and has been totally irrelevant to all but a minority of Christians for the vast majority of Christianity’s history. It’s only come to the fore because Christians realised they were losing the fight and had to come up with answers to the questions asked

    That’s a nice little fantasy world you live in?that there was no serious biblical scholarship until the smart ‘ole atheists came along and started asking mean questions. Odd, given that there are scholarly biblical commentaries that predate Augustine. (By the way, speaking of Augustine?and his claim that the text of Genesis 1 did not demand six-day creation (and he wasn’t the first to say so)?which early “new atheist” was he scrambling to answer?)

    But even if your fantasy is true, that biblical scholarship is in response to the ingenious attacks of atheists, what does it matter? More work in the face of more criticism is rather standard and acceptable behavior, don’t you think? In your fantasy you are dismissing serious scholarship because it is defensive in nature. Does that seem like a valid reason?

    In fact, my common criticism of the new atheists is that they do not ask any tough questions. I wish they would do what you claim is the norm: put us on the defensive so that we have to flail about for an answer. The old atheists of acclaim were able to do that, and we are indeed better for it.

  197. #197 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    April 22, 2009

    People, I’m over here with Firefox web browser, and it keeps using 600 megabytes of memory all the time!! I will never find a good browser…

    Do you have a ton of add-ons?

    Firefox is a notorious resource hog and it just gets worse the more add-ons you have.

    What I did was go through one add on at a time and remove them until I found which one was being the pain in the ass.

  198. #198 386sx
    April 22, 2009

    Do you have a ton of add-ons?

    Yeah I do have a ton of addons…

    … to try and make it work like Opera. :P

    I’m goin back to Opera. IE is the best on memory, but, sadly, it’s not the greatest browser.

  199. #199 Ken
    April 22, 2009

    Aquinas advises not trying to use the inadequate arguments of theology against adversaries as they only exist to bolster the morale of the already faithful. He says that demonstrating the weakness of the arguments in front of your adversaries will only strengthen them in their error. Being so convinced of the truth of his own religion he seems not have to seen any problem here as faith and reason are kept in separate locked boxes.

  200. #200 Wowbagger, OM
    April 22, 2009

    That’s a nice little fantasy world you live in?that there was no serious biblical scholarship until the smart ‘ole atheists came along and started asking mean questions.

    Hmm, good point – it’s far more likely that it was the kind of people the church ended up burning as heretics who forced them to start scrabbling to defend the poorly-edited, half-assed hatchet job that the short-sighted compilers of the bible slapped together after excluding anything they did consider unworthy – like which might undermine their power and opportunity for personal gain.

    I mean, look at Gnosticism. Does a far better job of explaining things, but look what happened to them. When they didn’t buy the official line, what did the church do? Shrug its shoulders and let them live according to their own interpretations?

    Hardly.

    But they weren’t ‘true Christians’ according to you and your kind, were they, heddle? So they probably deserved to die.

    But we’ve established exactly how desperate Christians are to protect their interpretations. If they’ll kill those who don’t agree with them, what’s the harm in doing a little lying about how the bible was put together?

    Anyway, let’s dwell on the idea of the majority of Christians being serious biblical scholars for the greater proportion of Christianity’s history.

    Say, what year was the first ever printed bible produced? Would you say that was in the early days of Christianity or well into its existence? You know, if it wasn’t more than a thousand years after its inception then that kind undermines your claim, doesn’t it?

    Now, was the language the first bible written in able to be read by everyone? Was it printed in local languages, or perhaps only one dead to almost everyone other than the wealthy, the priests and the highly educated?

    Next there’s literacy. Are you saying that, even after the bible did become available in local languages, that the greater proportion of Christians were literate? And, more to the point, were they so well-schooled in the areas of narrative structure, literary tropes, the apocalyptic tradition and near-eastern genre styles that they were able to appreciate the subtle nuance of the gospels?

    More work in the face of more criticism is rather standard and acceptable behavior, don’t you think?

    So’s putting in more curry powder to cover the taste of rotting meat.

  201. #201 Aureola Nominee, FCD
    April 22, 2009

    I find Heddle’s position very telling.

    The questions that apologists have found some way to answer (no matter how weak or uncompelling anyone not already convinced may find such answers) he labels as “tough” (and of course his religion came out of the contest stronger than before). Those that apologists haven’t managed to respond to, he disparages as unworthy of consideration.

    Meanwhile, he keeps making weak or uncompelling arguments, when he deigns to respond at all.

  202. #202 Michael Kremer
    April 22, 2009

    Why didn’t anyone jump on Aquaria @#149 for misusing “The Courtier’s Reply” in exactly the way Heddle and Robocop were accused of misusing it?

    One reason Heddle and other theists use the label “The Courtier’s Reply” as they do is because some (lots of) atheists also use it that way.

    I know this will seem pedantic, but perhaps we should distinguish:

    The Courtier’s Reply: this is a maneuver theists are accused of making, in response to the arguments of someone like Dawkins.

    The “Courtier’s Reply” Reply: This is the response to a theist’s arguments, in which the atheist responder says “that’s just the Courtier’s Reply.”

    What Heddle is discussing and criticizing in some posts above is the “Courtier’s Reply” Reply.

    Now, having made that distinction, here’s why I don’t think the “Courtier’s Reply” Reply works.

    My problem with the “Courtier’s Reply” Reply is that, if it works at all, it should let atheists off the hook from discussing theist’s arguments at all. (Just as I am off the hook from discussing fairy-believers arguments and can happy be an a-fairy-ist without having to do so.) But then why write a book in which you *do* address theological arguments, but don’t do it very well, only to respond to the criticism that you haven’t done it very well by saying “I call Courtier’s Reply!”?

    Some people on this blog see this, and (unlike Dawkins) make no pretense to be engaging theistic argument. They engage in ridicule instead. This seems to me to be more intellectually honest than the charade of engaging with theistic argument at roughly the level of Philosophy 101, and then responding to the criticism that the arguments can be taken much deeper and farther with “Courtier’s Reply.”

    Alternatively, one can engage in the philosophy of religion at a more advanced level without becoming a theist. This is the route taken by more serious atheist thinkers like Quentin Smith.

  203. #203 Robocop
    April 22, 2009

    158: “…the real question is ‘is the evidence tangible, falsifiable, and replicable?'”
    159: “Wrong, liar and bullshitter. There is no reasonable physical evidence for any of the 1000+ deities, much less Yahweh. And you expect us to believe you? What a delusional idiot.”

    ‘Tissy and Nerdy, by claiming that religion can?t be or isn?t evidence-based, strain to create a false category of scientific (repeatable, experimental) evidence or insist on limiting evidence to physical evidence and then require that religion meet those standards. Such views are plainly, demonstrably and deceptively wrong. Evidence is any fact, thing, testimony or logic which tends to support the truth of the matter asserted. Testimonial evidence, along with demonstrative (perhaps a map), documentary (the contract at issue in a commercial dispute, for example) and real evidence (a thing, perhaps a knife in a murder trial), is one of the four major types of evidence. Unlike some ignorant atheist assumptions, the testimony itself is evidence — it isn?t offered to describe evidence. Indeed, The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, 2d edition (Cambridge University Press 1999), in its section on evidence states the following: ?The senses are a primary source of evidence. Thus, for most, if not all, of our beliefs, ultimately our evidence traces back to sensory experience. Other sources of evidence include memory and the testimony of others. Of course, both of these sources rely on the senses in one way or another.?

    Similarly, trying to limit acceptable evidence to that which is “tangible, falsifiable, and replicable” is a silly ploy designed to control the terms of discussion. If that were an appropriate standard, no one-time event could ever be evidenced. The ignorance is staggering. If I call a friend in another city and ask what the weather is like, if I’m told that it’s raining I have evidence that it’s raining there. Simple.

    157: “By that rationale, there is ‘evidence’ for little green men in flying saucers, since there is no shortage of people who will testify that they were abducted by them and had their anuses probed.”

    That we’re typically willing to believe that it’s raining in another city on a friend’s say-so but aren’t typically willing to accept a more unusual claim isn’t based upon the existence or lack of evidence, but rather upon our evaluation and interpretation of the evidence. As a starting point, we’re much more willing to accept the trivial and normal as having happened than the extraordinary. That only makes sense. Even so, I also hasten to concede that different people have very different standards of what they consider to be evidential. But that in no way means that no evidence exists.

  204. #204 heddle
    April 22, 2009

    Wobagger, OM,

    But we’ve established exactly how desperate Christians are to protect their interpretations. If they’ll kill those who don’t agree with them, what’s the harm in doing a little lying about how the bible was put together?

    Such an argument! What was something along the lines of Christians didn?t bother with scholarship for centuries until atheists began pointing out errors has transmorgified into Christians have behaved badly and killed people! So of course defenses of the bible are lies!

    The rest of your fantasy world ?elitist? argument in #200 is completely irrelevant. Suppose no Christian had access to the bible, except one, one who was, to use one of the adjectives you used derisively, a ?highly educated? scholar. It is still reasonable for that lonely scholar to use the scholarly means I suggested to see if the biblical inconsistencies are reconcilable. This has nothing to do with what ordinary Christians such as me can or cannot defend. It has to do with whether common claims of biblical inconsistencies can or cannot be addressed by a scholar versed in ancient languages and literary styles and the historical context.

  205. #205 Michael Kremer
    April 22, 2009

    Ken @#199: reference (primary source) please? (Or to quote Fortuna @#105, “link or it didn’t happen.”)

  206. #206 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    April 22, 2009

    Robocop, either religion shuts up about science, or science can use its well honed tools to examine religion. Religion then comes up short, starting with the inane idea of god. God doesn’t exist until you show proof positive, good physical proof, and mankind, and not just science, has been waiting for that proof. Until you can show it, go away. You are entitled to your beliefs, but we will not care about them, and are entitled not to be bothered by your irrationality and delusions.

  207. #207 Logicel
    April 22, 2009

    Sastra @ #147 in response to Heddle: This seems less like truth-seeking, and more like therapy.
    __________

    Heddle is quite inspirational in his self-medicating doping up (and down).

    Aureola @ #201, your comment, to me, won the thread.

  208. #208 SAWells
    April 22, 2009

    Heddle, Wowbagger’s point is that the refined and scholarly theology you seem to be advocating as true Christianity has nothing to do with the actual beliefs of the hundreds of millions of Americans you claim on your side. If you’re defending academic theological claims, you can only claim the support of a much smaller crowd; if that bothers you, you maybe need to make sure that all your (ten to the eighth power) American Christians are up to speed on your scholarly Biblical analysis before pretending that waht you’re defending has anything to do with popular religious belief.

    By the way, the bible is riddled with inconsistencies however scholarly you want to be; the Genesis 1/Genesis 2 contradiction does not go away by pointing out that they derive from different sources, it just shows that we can decompose the bible into its various mutually contradictory sources. It’s historically fascinating but does nothing to elevate any biblical claim to the status of historical truth.

  209. #209 Wowbagger, OM
    April 22, 2009

    Even so, I also hasten to concede that different people have very different standards of what they consider to be evidential. But that in no way means that no evidence exists.

    I tend to point out that the old testament is full of stories about Yahweh demonstrating his existence to his people; present day, however, is entirely unburdened by world-covering floods, parted seas, stone tablets, angels, chariots, talking snakes, talking donkeys (animations notwithstanding), manna from heaven and so forth.

    This, of course, tends to be rationalised by the claim that, after the performance art we know and love as the crucifixion and the David Copperfield-esque stunt that may or may not have been pulled after it, Yahweh was done with that sort of thing.

    I don’t really buy that, though.

  210. #210 Wowbagger, OM
    April 22, 2009

    heddle wrote:

    Such an argument! What was something along the lines of Christians didn?t bother with scholarship for centuries until atheists began pointing out errors has transmorgified into Christians have behaved badly and killed people! So of course defenses of the bible are lies!

    Are you engaging in typical (or even traditional) Christian intellectual dishonesty, heddle? Perhaps you should read my post again. I linked those two concepts together with these paragraphs:

    Hmm, good point – it’s far more likely< that it was the kind of people the church ended up burning as heretics who forced them to start scrabbling to defend the poorly-edited, half-assed hatchet job that the short-sighted compilers of the bible slapped together after excluding anything they did consider unworthy - like which might undermine their power and opportunity for personal gain.
    I mean, look at Gnosticism. Does a far better job of explaining things, but look what happened to them. When they didn’t buy the official line, what did the church do? Shrug its shoulders and let them live according to their own interpretations?

    See what I did there? The words in bold? I agreed with you that it wasn’t entirely atheism which inspired Christianity to get itself into the business of ass-covering, and illustrated how important it was to them to keep dissenters down – to the point where they had them killed rather than allow them to interpret scripture differently.

    I’ll say it again: Christians killed thousands of people to protect their interpretation of scripture; why would they balk at profound intellectual dishonesty to do the same?

    The pen is mightier than the sword, after all.

    Hang on – maybe it was my fault. Did I write those paragraphs in a different genre, one which allowed you to interpret it as never having occurred? Did I use a poetic device or two; is that what threw you? Something about it reeked of apocalyptic tradition?

    Damn, it must be difficult for you to read anything when at any point a passage might suddenly have a completely different meaning from all the passages – if not the other words in the same sentence – around it.

    I guess that’s the downside to ‘scholarly reading’, huh?

  211. #211 Ray S.
    April 22, 2009

    Heddle, back up @145 you said you’d read of at least one harmonization of the gospels wherein the contradictions were easy to reconcile. Perhaps you could post a link to this extraordinary account, or give us your own harmonization (the Gospel According to St. Heddle). I’m curious to know what you think happened that weekend and also to know how you’d grade the lab notebook for a student lab team whose documentation matched that of the gospel writers.

  212. #212 heddle
    April 22, 2009

    SAWells

    Heddle, Wowbagger’s point is that the refined and scholarly theology you seem to be advocating as true Christianity has nothing to do with the actual beliefs of the hundreds of millions of Americans you claim on your side.

    And where am I advocating this? Where have I ever said that you have to pass a theology exam to be saved? Because I can find where I have said the opposite?and where in fact I have stated people can be saved in total ignorance as taught in the great Calvinistic verse: God will have mercy upon whom God will have mercy. I think the repentant thief on the cross was saved while at the same time utterly ignorant of theology.

    You simply can not back up that I said ?refined and scholarly theology? was true Christianity. It can operate in the service of Christianity, but I never conflated the two.

    If you’re defending academic theological claims, you can only claim the support of a much smaller crowd; if that bothers you, you maybe need to make sure that all your (ten to the eighth power) American Christians are up to speed on your scholarly Biblical analysis before pretending that waht you’re defending has anything to do with popular religious belief.

    And where did I claim that? I am not claiming the support of anyone. The claim using ~108 Americans was limited to this: it is, in my opinion, not practical to dismiss Christianity is the casual manner you dismiss Large Hampsterism, because the country is full of theists, not Hampsterists. If there were 100 million Large Hampsterists in the US and seven Christians, then it would be foolish to ignore the former and sensible to ignore the latter,

    I did not claim one, nor is there any need, to ?get them up to speed? before defending the bible in a scholarly fashion. Do you think every American has to get up to speed on evolution before PZ can present a scholarly defense of it?

    Wowbagger, OM,

    No I grasped your argument, but thanks for repeating it in bold:

    I’ll say it again: Christians killed thousands of people to protect their interpretation of scripture; why would they balk at profound intellectual dishonesty to do the same?

    Yep that’s a convincing, OM quality argument as to why all scholarly activity regarding the bible can be summarily dismissed as lies.

    Here is the same piss-poor argument in a different form: Scientists have been known to engage in deception to protect funding, status, position, and reputation; so why would they balk at conspiring to hide evidence of an intelligent designer?

  213. #213 IST
    April 22, 2009

    Heddle>
    As one of our more educated and reasonable theist, I’ve attempted not to be overly rude towards you. However, didn’t you admit, a ways upthread, that you have no evidence for the existence of God that we’d accept? How can you possibly still be arguing for that existence then? Wouldn’t a “You know, I just believe for personal reasons, but I know I won’t be able to convince you, and neither can the theologians.” be prudent here?

  214. #214 Sastra
    April 22, 2009

    Michael Kremer #202 wrote:

    My problem with the “Courtier’s Reply” Reply is that, if it works at all, it should let atheists off the hook from discussing theist’s arguments at all. (Just as I am off the hook from discussing fairy-believers arguments and can happy be an a-fairy-ist without having to do so.) But then why write a book in which you *do* address theological arguments, but don’t do it very well, only to respond to the criticism that you haven’t done it very well by saying “I call Courtier’s Reply!”?

    I think this is a slight misunderstanding of the Courtier’s Reply. In order to be considered a Courtier, one or two factors have to be present. One must be seen as pointing out deficiencies that are irrelevant to the larger picture, and one must be seen as doing so in a very vague and nonsubstantial way, avoiding debate rather than engaging in it.

    The so-called New Atheists are distinguished (for the most part) by the fact that they attack the existence of God from a scientific, as opposed to a purely philosophical, perspective. Nobody has ever turned scientists aside from a successful theory by running up and crying out to stop — they were violating a philosophical precept! Dawkins deliberately examines the major apologetic ‘proofs’ of God on only a Phil 101 level mostly, I think, because he is preparing the way for a more devastating blow at a deeper level. He is not interested in dealing with what the nature of God might be like, with no contradictions. He’s formulating and approaching it stripped down to basics, as if it were a scientific hypothesis.

    You may not find the Attack from Science very persuasive, but in using the Courtier’s Reply Reply, the atheists are not dismissing more substantive critiques. They are claiming that the focus is wrong.

  215. #215 heddle
    April 22, 2009

    IST,

    As one of our more educated and reasonable theist, I’ve attempted not to be overly rude towards you. However, didn’t you admit, a ways upthread, that you have no evidence for the existence of God that we’d accept? How can you possibly still be arguing for that existence then?

    Where am I arguing for his existence? Where have I once said you should believe in God because of this, that, or the other?

    Wouldn’t a “You know, I just believe for personal reasons, but I know I won’t be able to convince you, and neither can the theologians.” be prudent here?

    Haven’t I said that, explicitly, in this thread? Have I not always claimed that theology and apologetics are for the purpose of strengthening and giving comfort to believers, not for convincing atheists, which is impossible?

  216. #216 SAWells
    April 22, 2009

    Heddle, if you don’t think the bible can be read in such a way as to constitute an accurate record of a history in which your god is active, why are you arguing for the accuracy of the bible? And if you _do_ think the bible can be read as an accurate record of events, patching up all the differences in the gospels etc., then you’re arguing that we should believe that account as accurate history, which rather implies a belief in your god. Are you even keeping track of the implications of your own claims? Does the resolution of biblical inconsistencies have any greater implications than, say, retconning Marvel Comics?

  217. #217 IST
    April 22, 2009

    Heddle>

    Haven’t I said that, explicitly, in this thread? Have I not always claimed that theology and apologetics are for the purpose of strengthening and giving comfort to believers, not for convincing atheists, which is impossible?

    If you have explicitly said that, I missed it, and I retract that line of questioning.

  218. #218 Anonymous
    April 22, 2009

    Heddle #37:

    When a hypothesis tautologically fits all the data, and all the possible data, such as “God as the great deceiver” or “the appearance of age” or the Matrix, it can’t be ruled out, ever.

    One you missed – ‘God did it’.

    As for the original question, I agree it’s an absurd question – but for much the same reason that assuming the existance of God is absurd, or that assuming that God created everything is absurd. As such, in order to avoid applying double standards, if you were to disregard the question, you would also have to disregard the assumption of God’s existance, and the assumption that God created everything.

    Rick T #80:

    Heddle, How do you know that the Bible is true when we see such contradiction therein and much error? There are no 2 manuscripts or parchements of scripture that are identical. In fact, there are more translation errors and discrepancies in these manuscripts than there are words in the New Testament. Yet you say the original writings (autographs) are surely true. We do not have these autographs because none exist. We don’t even have copies of them or even, copies of copies.
    So, again, how can you believe in that which doesn’t exist?

    I seem to remember seeing Heddle discuss this in another thread. His idea of ‘biblical inerrancy’ could be summarized like this:

    The original manuscripts of the Bible are absolutely, 100% accurate. However, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to know whether any modern version of the Bible bears any relation, at all, to those original manuscripts. But he’s confident they do.

  219. #219 heddle
    April 22, 2009

    SAWells,

    What are you talking about?

    Heddle, if you don’t think the bible can be read in such a way as to constitute an accurate record of a history in which your god is active, why are you arguing for the accuracy of the bible?

    I do think it can be. That’s why I am arguing for the accuracy of the bible. Except I’m not really. What I am rally arguing is that to defend the bible one should be allowed to address, in a scholarly, not a willy-nilly way, things like translation errors or alternatives, etc. But that if you try that you will often be accused of “cheating” or that “then you can prove anything,” which is utter nonsense.

    then you’re arguing that we should believe that account as accurate history, which rather implies a belief in your god.

    What have you been reading? I don’t presume to argue what you should believe. I said I believe the bible and I also believe that most of the alleged errors of which I am aware can be reconciled. I’m not arguing that you believe the bible. The only debate I can have with you is on the self-consistency and historical accuracy of the bible. And even if you and I agreed that the bible was accurate in its history and perfectly self-consistent–that would be as far as we could go. A book can be historically accurate and self-consistent and still be wrong. The bible is full of supernatural stuff. It is perfectly imaginable that an atheist might come to some acknowledgment that the bible is wrong, but more or less self-consistently wrong. The question we can address is limited to: are their contradictions? Not: here is why you should believe it.

    Whatever your points are, they are not implications of my position.

  220. #220 heddle
    April 22, 2009

    Anonymous, #218

    I seem to remember seeing Heddle discuss this in another thread. His idea of ‘biblical inerrancy’ could be summarized like this:

    The original manuscripts of the Bible are absolutely, 100% accurate. However, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to know whether any modern version of the Bible bears any relation, at all, to those original manuscripts. But he’s confident they do.

    No, not even close. But don’t let that stop you from repeating it. Maybe you could invent my explanation of a biblical inconsistency, which I used on “some other thread,” where I stated “Hmm. I can?t explain it, but I’m just sure it wasn?t in the original autographs. ‘Nuff said.”

  221. #221 Pablo
    April 22, 2009

    Heddle, why do you think my question was dismissive? It was a natural response to any similar statement. In fact, it is a very scientific response.

    I’m a chemist. Consider, if a colleague says,
    “I carried out a reaction of A with B, and obtained product C.

    The VERY FIRST question that gets asked in this scenerio is, “How do you know that A and B are what you say they are?” This is why chemists provide details about the source of their materials, and, if something is custom made, provide evidence that they have what they claim to have. This is paramout in any discussion of chemical reactivity. I’ve been on both ends of this (we work very hard to characterize the structures of our reagents).

    Recall your statement above: “The bible says that if I worship God, I will be happy. I am.” Like above, my first response is, how do you know the being you are worshipping is God?

    That’s not dismissive, that establishing a foundation. Think of it as a good thing. It is your opportunity to convert me to your religion. All we have to do is establish a reason for me to believe so.

    If my colleagues question my assertion that I have reagents A and B, I step back and try to convince them that I have A and B. I don’t ignore the question and accuse them of being dismissive.

  222. #222 heddle
    April 22, 2009

    Your question is entirely ridiculous. There is nothing I could present for which you could not say: ?How do you that was really God?

    The skies could open and God could float down all Cecil B Demille like, perform some miracles, lob some lightening bolts at major anti-Christian academic institutions, and raise my parents from the dead, and if I said: See Pablo: that’s God! you could say: How can you be sure? Maybe it’s a very clever lesser being deceiving you!

    If my colleagues question my assertion that I have reagents A and B, I step back and try to convince them that I have A and B.

    That is because, presumably, you have some desire to convince them that A and B are what you say they are. It is important to you for professional or ego reasons. As for God, it doesn?t matter to me at all if you believe that the God I worship is not deceiving me?it is only important that I find reasons to be confident, which I do, on the basis of the promises of scripture regarding my life as a believer. It is no skin off my back if you think me a madman. Not only do I not have any inclination to attempt to convince you, I recognize that it would be a fool?s errand to try.

    I can present the gospel. I can’t talk you into believing, anymore than I was talked into believing, which was not at all.

  223. #223 Dan L.
    April 22, 2009

    And, Dan L., if God exists, it’s pretty much guaranteed that there’s more than one way to him. If that’s not true, I’m worshipping the kind of monster who would damn most of his own creation . . . and I will choose Hell rather than worship such a being.

    I don’t think I expressed myself very well here. I’m arguing against the theist position that “we have the same evidence, we just interpret it differently.” Scientifically, I can start with any of a number of presuppositions leading me down any of a number of avenues of research, and arrive at the same conclusion as any of the other possibilities. Whether I’m studying solar system formation, radioactive decay, or geology, I’ll wind up with a similar value for the age of the earth. However, the only “evidence” that would lead me to believe that the Christian God is real is the Christian Bible, and the only way to make that work is to presuppose that the Bible is not what it appears to be — a rather long, boring, and unremarkable book.

    Which brings me to Robocop:

    Unlike some ignorant atheist assumptions, the testimony itself is evidence — it isn?t offered to describe evidence.

    You’re taking a remarkably naive view of what constitutes evidence in, say, a legal context. I could fisk you to that end. For instance, the gospels are almost certainly hearsay as they are not first-hand accounts, and so they would not legally be admissible as evidence. In a court of law, one can also impeach testimonial evidence on the premise that it’s inconsistent with the other evidence at hand. For example, testimony pertaining to a resurrection is inconsistent with what we know about human biology, and so must be doubted without a lot of other corroborating evidence. The lack of evidence corroborating the New Testament accounts is what is so damning. You have to assume that the Bible is good evidence before it starts to look that way.

    However, I think the more relevant point to make is that you’re asserting that God interacts with the universe, i.e. God has effects. Science, in principle, can study those effects — hypothetically, they would look like deviations from the known physical laws (unless you’re a Calvinist).

    Clearly, if God has effects, He has some way of transmitting forces or energy into physical systems, right? So where’s the evidence that this actually happens? That WOULD be scientific evidence satisfying all the requirements you’ve already rejected as just too gosh darned HARD to use as a standard of evidence.

    The standard notion of God is that “He exists, but not physically.” Well, what the heck does that even mean? It sounds to me like you’re saying some things exist which do not exist. So maybe you can clear up a) why you don’t think there can be physical evidence of a God, b) how God can actually be said to exist given your response to (a), and c) what substantial evidence do you have outside the material domain? On (c), please note the comments above about multiple independent consistent sources, which is the real benchmark for good evidence in any discipline.

  224. #224 Kagehi
    April 22, 2009

    Of course I never gave any of these examples, and have argued on any number of occasions that there is no discernable difference between the morality and charitable behavior of believers and unbelievers.

    Ok… Then what is the point again?

    But, more simply, you seem to want things both ways. You want to claim Biblical accuracy, but also claim, like someone searching for Atlantis, that “Plato” knew more than we did about the subject, or some similar BS. I.e., some prior “record” was more accurate. Well.. If all you do is read the Bible, then I suppose you could make such a claim. Its gets quite a bit harder when you drag the “Biblical scholar” out of his library full of Bibles and point out ***prior*** works that actually are plausible prior versions, and that in many cases they don’t say anything close to the same thing, or even get things entirely backwards (thinking Gilgamesh vs. Noah flood here, as one example, where it gets the “size” of the flood, who the corrupt people where, and how many died all backwards, but does manage to get the moral points, and the duration, the same). This hardly helps matters. It doesn’t make the Bible a reliable history, it doesn’t prove that other parts where not flat out **made up**, as we know (or I presume you would agree we know) the Norse Gods and the like where, nor does it present any sort of justification for believing that the *Bible’s* god is a real one, any more than Thor was. This is “especially” true since you can trace the “prior” versions of tales, not just of bits of the Jesus story, but even Yehweh, et al, to stories about El, his three “sons”, which include Yehweh as a “lesser” godling, Mithra, which was borrowed by Romans, then later apparently as part of Jesus, and even the whole “god + devil” thing in the tales of Ahura Mazda and Ahriman. If anything, tracing the “previous” works, without hand waving that the Bible is “older” somehow than them (never mind the fact that its own providence, as a work, dead ends “later” in time than any of these stories), undermines the idea that it is “accurate”, and not instead a hodge podge of stuff collected by wandering people from a dozen different religions. If they **at all** contained anything Aztec, American Indian, or even Korean or Chinese, one *might* presume an earlier corrupted work. However, the only adoption seems to have gone the other direction, and of parts of earlier tales, from which **entirely different** things where borrowed. Example: China, Korea and Japan all contain “fox spirits”, whose “power” is determined by the number of tails they have, and except for Japan, where “some” of them where declared sacred (if white), they where all semi-malevolent. While similar concepts show up in Egypt as Anubis, and in “some” American Indian groups, there are significant deviations, which can’t be traced to the same source. The ones in the Asian lands though, seem to have derived from Huan-Yang, a ten tailed fox women, with a penchant of corrupting and destroying emperors, and royal families. Perhaps you can point out to me where the “Bible”, in any form, manages to “keep” this particular concept in it. If not, then.. why is it tracable to the “same” set of written, pre-Biblical, myths that many of the Bible’s bits came from?

    Sorry, but unless you can find magic gold tablets some place, like another supposed “scholar”, which show the Bible to be older than all other belief systems, and every other mythology can be proven a derivative of “that” work, and not the other way around, as an “honest” examination of the evidence implies, your not going to get a lot of sympathy from people that think its rather hard to study the “Bible’s” real history, if the only things you allow as evidence are one that just “happen” to conveniently fail to contradict the time line needed for there to *be* such a grand history for it. Go look for Jesus’ tomb, along with the other twit that imagines every fact he uncovers as “fitting” his goal, while failing to find real compelling data. Together maybe you can find Solomon’s lost mine. Its probably right next to the Lost Dutchman’s.

  225. #225 heddle
    April 22, 2009

    Kagehi,

    Sorry, I don’t know what anything you wrote in your bizarro response has to do with anything I wrote on this thread. Which was, to reiterate: serious scholarship should be brought to bear on the question of biblical inconsistencies without it constituting “cheating.”

    For the most famous though not very interesting example, the Hebrew word yom translated as day in Genesis 1, as most people know, is also used in the same period of Hebrew writing, and in fact elsewhere in the Old Testament, for “an indeterminate period of short or long duration,” including an age. Is it not worthwhile, when discussing the problems of Genesis, to ask if some problems might be avoided or resolved by proposing that the translators chose the wrong word? Maybe it will turn out to create more problems than it solves?but isn’t it reasonable to examine the possibility rather than declaring such efforts as lying, as Wobagger OM did?

    That’s all I’m saying. Your rambling reply contains nothing that is relevant for what I have actually written, as far as I can tell.

  226. #226 Robocop
    April 22, 2009

    “You’re taking a remarkably naive view of what constitutes evidence in, say, a legal context. I could fisk you to that end. For instance, the gospels are almost certainly hearsay as they are not first-hand accounts, and so they would not legally be admissible as evidence.”

    Not necessarily, given the ancient documents exception in the FRE. But more to the point, my God belief is not primarily based upon the scriptures. Unlike heddle, I make no claim to inerrancy.

    “In a court of law, one can also impeach testimonial evidence on the premise that it’s inconsistent with the other evidence at hand.”

    Exactly. The evidence is admitted but subject to evaluation and interpretation.

    “For example, testimony pertaining to a resurrection is inconsistent with what we know about human biology, and so must be doubted without a lot of other corroborating evidence. The lack of evidence corroborating the New Testament accounts is what is so damning. You have to assume that the Bible is good evidence before it starts to look that way.”

    I agree with your premise even if I might, in some instances, evaluate the totality of the evidence differently.

    “Clearly, if God has effects, He has some way of transmitting forces or energy into physical systems, right?”

    Truly, I don’t know.

    “That WOULD be scientific evidence satisfying all the requirements you’ve already rejected as just too gosh darned HARD to use as a standard of evidence.”

    You misunderstand. Hard has nothing to do with it.

    “So maybe you can clear up a) why you don’t think there can be physical evidence of a God, b) how God can actually be said to exist given your response to (a), and c) what substantial evidence do you have outside the material domain? On (c), please note the comments above about multiple independent consistent sources, which is the real benchmark for good evidence in any discipline.”

    I don’t accept (a) even though I would suggest that any God worth His salt could avoid leaving physical evidence. Your (b) and (c) relate both to evidence and to my interpretation of that evidence. Since we’ve already established that some evidence (testimonial evidence at least) exists (even though I willingly concede that the vast majority of it — at least — is crap), these questions are quite beyond the scope of the discussion. That said, since I think the question is a reasonable one (and I don’t wish to appear to be avoiding the question), I’ll note that, for me, the most persuasive evidence for God is volitional freedom. Indeed, I think that freedom is the glory of God. As I see it, atheism/naturalism precludes it — it postulates a closed system. Since we have good evolutionary reasons for thinking that our senses are generally accurate and since my careful introspection leads me to conclude that I do have volitional freedom, I reject the pre-conceived philosophical notion (required by naturalism) that I can’t have it. Note too that I think that compatibilism is simply determinism in a nicer suit. I’ll add that if, as naturalism requires, I don’t have volitional freedom, my senses are essentially wrong 24/7. If that’s so, science itself (utterly dependent as it is on those self-same senses) is necessarily incoherent.

  227. #227 Pablo
    April 22, 2009

    The skies could open and God could float down all Cecil B Demille like, perform some miracles, lob some lightening bolts at major anti-Christian academic institutions, and raise my parents from the dead, and if I said: See Pablo: that’s God! you could say: How can you be sure? Maybe it’s a very clever lesser being deceiving you!

    Now you are catching on. How do you tell the difference?

    I have to hand it to you, though. There aren’t many bible believing christians who will admit they can’t tell the difference between God and the bible. Moreover, there are I suspect even fewer who will admit that they don’t care.

    Now, Heddle, think about what you have said. The evidence is very personal, I don’t get it, I don’t have to get it, etc. Then remember, YOU were the one who asked, “Why is it a discussion stopper?”

    No one is interested in discussing your favorite color. In the end, that’s about all you have.

  228. #228 heddle
    April 22, 2009

    Me:

    The skies could open and God could float down all Cecil B Demille like, perform some miracles, lob some lightening bolts at major anti-Christian academic institutions, and raise my parents from the dead, and if I said: See Pablo: that’s God! you could say: How can you be sure? Maybe it’s a very clever lesser being deceiving you!

    Pablo:

    Now you are catching on. How do you tell the difference?

    It’s almost like I woke up inside an Ingmar Bergman movie.

  229. #229 Pablo
    April 22, 2009

    That is because, presumably, you have some desire to convince them that A and B are what you say they are. It is important to you for professional or ego reasons.

    Man, you don’t get it at all.

    The reason it is important is because it doesn’t make sense to talk about the products of my reaction of A + B if I don’t have A and/or B.

    That’s not ego. That’s not “professional” behavior. It’s what’s required for a discussion of reality.

    Ego? Kiss my ass.

  230. #230 IainW
    April 22, 2009

    Robocop (#203):

    Evidence is any fact, thing, testimony or logic which tends to support the truth of the matter asserted.

    Not quite. Evidence is any fact, thing, testimony or logic which tends to support or contradict the truth of the matter asserted. You can evidence against a proposition as well as for it.

    Similarly, trying to limit acceptable evidence to that which is “tangible, falsifiable, and replicable” is a silly ploy designed to control the terms of discussion. If that were an appropriate standard, no one-time event could ever be evidenced.

    Chicxulub impact. One-time event for which the evidence is tangible (iridium layer, shocked quartz, impact crater etc) and replicable (multiple investigations covering a variety of sites and using a variety of techniques all point to the same conclusion).

    In order to have evidence for or against a one-off event, all you need is for the event to have observable consequences. The “replicable” refers to the tests that yield evidence, not the event itself.

  231. #231 heddle
    April 22, 2009

    Pablo,

    Ego? Kiss my ass.

    What’s wrong with ego? Don’t you have one?

  232. #232 Dan L.
    April 22, 2009

    As I see it, atheism/naturalism precludes it — it postulates a closed system.

    One of the more compelling arguments against naturalism, I agree.

    Since we have good evolutionary reasons for thinking that our senses are generally accurate and since my careful introspection leads me to conclude that I do have volitional freedom, I reject the pre-conceived philosophical notion (required by naturalism) that I can’t have it.

    But here is a great example of why it depends entirely on one or more fallacies. Your senses do not tell you that you have volitional freedom, and if that volitional freedom is an “illusion”, that does not necessarily discredit your senses. “Free will” is not a sensory experience.

    Anyway, the real problem here is that you have not even attempted to define “volitional freedom.” The fact is that you can only ever make a particular choice once, and so it is impossible to determine whether the choice was determined systematically or randomly.

    As far as I can tell, “free will” is merely the observation that the catalog of human behaviors is so large that it is almost impossible to predict what any particular human being (including oneself) is going to do. I’d love to hear a better definition.

    While you’re pondering that, here’s an analogy of how it might seem that we have free will. In card games, players make the assumption that the cards are randomly ordered. They aren’t, of course – they have a definite order and one can easily imagine designing software that could determine the order of a shuffled deck by being given the initial configuration and a video of the cards being shuffled. The cards are not randomly ordered, but our sensory equipment is not robust enough for us to determine the actual outcome of the shuffling operation, and so it seems random to us. Think of choices as cards and shuffling as the neurological processes that determine which choices are made given a particular situation. The fact that we cannot follow the “shuffling” is quite enough to give the situation the appearance that the “choices” are random, or at least not the result of the operation of a deterministic system.

    This is to say nothing of the fact that “free will” is a useful notion in jurisprudence and other aspects of life. A worthwhile conversation in its own right, but that conversation can only determine whether “free will” is useful, not whether it’s true.

  233. #233 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    April 22, 2009

    Robocop, still no physical evidence for your imaginary god. Which is how you prove he isn’t imaginary. That means your idea of god is a delusion between your ears, which you need to keep to yourself.

  234. #234 heddle
    April 22, 2009

    Dan L.,

    I don?t see the analogy of free will to a deck of cards. A shuffled deck give the appearance of randomness when in fact it is determined, agreed. But people’s choices do not, for the most part, appear random. I would say the statistical mechanics analogy of determined though effectively random?and where most of the gazillion possible states have the same “sensible” macro description, would be more reasonable.

    Personally I like the libertine Calvinistic view of free will: people always choose what they most desire, all things considered, at any given instant. We are free?no puppet master God, yet self-determined; a slave to our own desires.

  235. #235 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    April 22, 2009

    Heddle I’m sure you’ve been asked this a billion times but if predetermination is the way of the Big Guy, what good does subscribing to some set of rules of worship etc.. while you are here on earth do?

    Or is predetermination not a one way street?

  236. #236 heddle
    April 22, 2009

    Rev.,

    Predestination or not, we have a purpose for our existence, which is to glorify God. So on one level we worship God because we are told to. On the other hand, we do it because we enjoy it. I look forward to preparing and teaching Sunday School. I look forward to singing (quietly, I can’t carry a tune) and our sermon. I look forward to small groups and bible studies. I look forward to the times when I’m among believers–not that I don’t enjoy my unbelieving friends as well. In short, it does no good per se–it’s what we do because we are told to and conveniently (but not accidentally) we like doing it.

    As someone else pointed out on a previous thread, with great insight–we Christians are hedonists of sorts.

  237. #237 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    April 22, 2009

    No I understand that the enjoyment factor. I probably phrased my question poorly (shocker I know).

    More my intent was, if practicing the rites and ceremony of the religion makes a difference as far as what you understand concerning predetermination?

    Could one be “chosen” and never practice the religion one iota and it make a difference to the big guy concerning whether he gets a golden ticket?

  238. #238 Dan L.
    April 22, 2009

    Heddle:

    I agree the deck of cards analogy is a vast oversimplification. I was trying to demonstrate that the effects of a deterministic system with enough complexity can look like they’re not determined in a simple, understandable, every-day kind of way.

    Again, I find the notion of free will so poorly defined that I find it difficult to peg down what exactly it is that I’m arguing against, and the best I’ve come up with so far is that “human behavior is usually not random, but could be in principle.” So I’m arguing against the “in principle” part. Otherwise, the fact that people don’t behave randomly seems more consistent with determinism than free will in the first place.

    I agree that the statistical mechanics analogy is probably apt — that many, many brain states could give rise to the same outward effects (if I’m following you?). It’s not the point I was trying to make, but it’s a good one.

    Re: Calvinism,

    That’s part of why I don’t jump on the “bash Calvinism” boat. I don’t know all that much about it, but from what I do know, it does a much better job of dealing with the elementary philosophical criticisms than most other flavors of Christianity.

  239. #239 Anonymous
    April 22, 2009

    What’s wrong with ego? Don’t you have one?

    It has nothing to do with whether it makes any sense to talk about reactivity of molecules that you don’t know the structures of.

  240. #240 astrounit
    April 22, 2009

    Heddle, who says, “I can present the gospel. I can’t talk you into believing, anymore than I was talked into believing, which was not at all.”

    You almost made me laugh at that one.

    “It is no skin off my back if you think me a madman.”

    Fine. Good. EXCELLENT even.

    But don’t deny that you haven’t got some axe to grind in repeating over and over how we should be as unperturbed about what you believe as you fancy how mistaken we are. You keep posting, don’t you? The Gospel according to heddle. You are QUITE EVIDENTLY natural evangelical bastard.

    It runs in the family.

    For the record, as a reader, I don’t care what you think or believe.

    I don’t care that you can’t persuade.

    I don’t care that you can’t talk anybody into believing as you do.

    I don’t care if you feel that what you read here has something personally to do with you, or that you imagine any of the material (sans direct replies to your moans and groans to nip it) places you on an interminable defensive.

    I don’t care if you think your morality is superior to anyone else’s here just because you proclaim (constantly) to have found a source that adequately satisfies your standards.

    I don’t care if you exhibit a bright and shiny pseudo-martyr costume complete with outrage colors that let everyone know how oppressed you feel, while simultaneously beating that ostentatiousness so deep into the ground with every word you utter it would turn ordinary bullshit into an oil field. Or didn’t you know that the caliber of martyrs in extremus is determined by their total devotion to their One and Only avenue to salvation?

    I don’t care what you think or believe. You keep saying you don’t care if you are a madman because of what you think and believe.

    Yet you keep on whining, like a spoiled brat, because nobody wants to pay attention to your tantrums except to say, basically, KNOCK IT OFF.

  241. #241 Sastra
    April 22, 2009

    Dan L. #238 wrote:

    Again, I find the notion of free will so poorly defined that I find it difficult to peg down what exactly it is that I’m arguing against, and the best I’ve come up with so far is that “human behavior is usually not random, but could be in principle.”

    The entire concept of “free will” is very fuzzy indeed, but most concerns about whether or not we have it seem to focus on what Dennett calls “a god-like power to exempt oneself from the causal fabric of the physical world.” It often plays on a false dichotomy that either we are making our choices, or we are having our choices made for us, through a determinist stream we cannot control.

    My own sympathies are with compatibilism, which I think is much more than “determinism in a nicer suit,” but an argument that the free-will- worth- wanting is not only compatible with determinism, but the necessary outcome of determinism. Daniel Dennett’s Freedom Evolves is one of the best explications on this, at least of what I’ve read.

    That’s part of why I don’t jump on the “bash Calvinism” boat. I don’t know all that much about it, but from what I do know, it does a much better job of dealing with the elementary philosophical criticisms than most other flavors of Christianity.

    At a rather gruesome moral cost, however. It entails that the believer consider the Damned as “vessels created for destruction.” and the God which has done this as beyond moral criticism, and worthy of worship. Most Christians balk at that — for good reasons, I think.

    I also think there is an epistemic price.

  242. #242 heddle
    April 22, 2009

    Astrounit,

    But don’t deny that you haven’t got some axe to grind in repeating over and over how we should be as unperturbed about what you believe as you fancy how mistaken we are. You keep posting, don’t you? The Gospel according to heddle. You are QUITE EVIDENTLY natural evangelical bastard.

    Yes. Because discussions are fun. That?s why I am here. I like debating. I like mixing it up. Not because I have an axe to grind. And yes I am a very evangelical bastard, but definitely not naturally?but rather unnaturally. And I don?t proselytize on here.

    I don’t care if you think your morality is superior to anyone else’s here just because you proclaim (constantly) to have found a source that adequately satisfies your standards.

    Strange comment since I have never made such a claim. And on the contrary have stated on any number of occasions that Christian and atheist morality and charity are indistinguishable.

    I don’t care if you exhibit a bright and shiny pseudo-martyr costume complete with outrage colors that let everyone know how oppressed you feel,

    You?ve never read anything I wrote have you? Not only do I never claim martyrdom or oppression or persecution, but one of the recurring themes on my blog is that I berate my fellow Christians, at least the Americans, and especially the polticized ones, for claiming Christian persecution and victimhood. It would have been hard for you to find a less accurate description of my position. I am fully confident that my honest detractors on this blog would accuse me of many things, but playing the martyr card would not be one of them. I defy you to find a single post from any thread on this blog where I have claimed anything like martyrdom, persecution, or victimhood.

    Yet you keep on whining, like a spoiled brat, because nobody wants to pay attention to your tantrums except to say, basically, KNOCK IT OFF.

    Saying somebody is whining is a cheap shot. Again, I don?t think any honest person (so that would exclude you) would look at my posts and claim I was whining. They might say I was being a troll, perhaps with justification, because sometimes I post just to provoke a response. But of course it is easy to claim someone is whining?takes no brains to make such a charge, so it’s perfect for you.

    And how do support your contention that nobody wants to pay attention to me, when I get direct questions?

  243. #243 IainW
    April 22, 2009

    Robocop (#226):

    I’ll note that, for me, the most persuasive evidence for God is volitional freedom.

    Please explain what you mean by “volitional freedom” here. Are we talking about libertarian free will? Because the latter concept doesn’t appear to be particularly coherent. (Very briefly: the basic idea is that for any given choice, I could have chosen otherwise, even if all the facts about me were the same in each case. But if that’s so, then whatever might make the difference between my choosing one way or the other is not a fact about me. In which case, in what possible sense could I have done otherwise, when there’s nothing about me that would have made any difference?)

    But even if the notion were intelligible (or if you mean something else by the term), how would it provide evidence for God?

    Since we have good evolutionary reasons for thinking that our senses are generally accurate and since my careful introspection leads me to conclude that I do have volitional freedom, I reject the pre-conceived philosophical notion (required by naturalism) that I can’t have it.

    And how did “careful introspection” lead you to that conclusion? What if someone else’s careful introspection leads them to conclude that they do not have “volitional freedom”? How are we going to adjudicate between introspections?

    And incidentally, why do you think naturalism rules out volitional freedom? Just curious about your reasoning.

    Note too that I think that compatibilism is simply determinism in a nicer suit.

    Well, unless you have some way of attributing “ownership” of an action (i.e., it being my action rather than something that merely happens to me) other than in terms of it having been determined by one’s own prior states, it’s hard to see how you can have anything even faintly resembling free will without assuming some form of determinism.

    I’ll add that if, as naturalism requires, I don’t have volitional freedom, my senses are essentially wrong 24/7. If that’s so, science itself (utterly dependent as it is on those self-same senses) is necessarily incoherent.

    Huh? If you get one thing wrong based on introspection, then suddenly none of your senses are reliable, ever? The rest of us might just conclude that introspection itself is not 100% reliable, and so might need corroborating using our other senses and faculties, but for you it would undermine everything?

    You don’t seem to have grasped Dan L.’s point in #223 about multiple lines of evidence, because the same principle applies here. We typically don’t rely on just one sense or cognitive faculty – we cross-check our own senses and faculties against each other, we check them against those of others, we use public criteria for evaluating our own experiences and those reported by others. And by taking this approach of corroboration (both private and public), we can get a fairly good idea of how our individual senses and cognitive faculties can go wrong, without casting pervasive doubt on the whole package.

    In short, to argue that if just one cognitive faculty leads you astray on just one issue then nothing can be trusted is a hasty generalisation of truly heroic proportions.

    Really, if this is your most persuasive evidence for a deity, then I think you need to start setting the bar a little higher.

  244. #244 Dan L.
    April 22, 2009

    Sastra @241,

    I wasn’t familiar with the term, “compatibilism,” but it seems like it’s pretty much where I’m coming from. Most of my thinking along these lines comes directly from taking Dennett’s Philosophy of Mind class at Tufts, but I haven’t read too much of what he’s written outside his few essays in the text for that class, although now that you’ve mentioned it, perhaps I’ll start.

    Back to Calvinism, I don’t think the moral implications of a belief determine its truth or falsehood, so although I agree that the notion that God created a great many people just so they could go to hell is repulsive, I’m not going to argue against it based on that premise. That God would be beyond moral criticism isn’t, I think, totally unfair; the laws of nature are beyond moral criticism for anyone, religious or not, but that doesn’t stop them from being true. From a Calvinist point of view, it seems to me that “laws of nature” and “God” mean very nearly the same thing.

  245. #245 IainW
    April 22, 2009

    Dan L. (#244):

    That God would be beyond moral criticism isn’t, I think, totally unfair; the laws of nature are beyond moral criticism for anyone, religious or not, but that doesn’t stop them from being true. From a Calvinist point of view, it seems to me that “laws of nature” and “God” mean very nearly the same thing.

    Except the laws of nature aren’t agents. They don’t have intentions, they don’t make choices. God, in the Calvinistic scheme of things, is most definitely an agent. In which case, God is the kind of thing towards which moral praise or blame can be legitimately directed.

  246. #246 astrounit
    April 22, 2009

    Heddle says, “I’m among believers–not that I don’t enjoy my unbelieving friends as well. In short, it does no good per se–it’s what we do because we are told to and conveniently (but not accidentally) we like doing it.”

    Well, good for you. LOTS of people LIKE doing their OWN thing, even when they find others who have matching proclivities to make a council out of it.

    Oddly enough, you automatically posit a necessary shortcoming amongst those “friends” of yours who don’t measure up to your standards of “belief”.

    Now, I have many authentic friends who are swayed by one religion or another. They’re my friends. But I would NEVER, EVER allow any tradition of language to insinuate an automatic resentment against their beliefs. Yet this is precisely what you do, in the term, “unbeliever”. It’s so commonplace in religious language that you don’t even recognize the repercussion.

    Of course you’ve constantly been amongst “believers”. Why worry? You’re amongst lots of like-minded people, right? Nobody will doubt it. Not even “unbelievers”.

    It would handsomely explain why you so readily use language that automatically delineates the distinction between yourself and “the others”. It is an automatic denouncement. It automatically serves to diminish the autonomous liberty of others to believe as they personally decide. It automatically proclaims the disrespect you actually harbor for your “friends” whom you so characterize. It is the scheme you employ which handily camouflages the actuality of an obscenely insincere frontal exhibition of mock ‘friendship’, ‘brotherhood’ and ‘love’.

    The joke has long since been obvious to anyone who has been watching from outside that sordid box: there is nothing more unchristian than a christian.

    You also state,

    “As someone else pointed out on a previous thread, with great insight–we Christians are hedonists of sorts.”

    It’s more accurate if “hedonists” was replaced with “selfish”. ENORMOUSLY so.

    That’s what that religious business (especially christianity in this country) has been all about.

  247. #247 heddle
    April 22, 2009

    Astrounit #246,

    Oh you are truly one strange motorscooter. That makes you interesting, at least. I?ll give you that.

    Now, I have many authentic friends who are swayed by one religion or another. They’re my friends. But I would NEVER, EVER allow any tradition of language to insinuate an automatic resentment against their beliefs. Yet this is precisely what you do, in the term, “unbeliever”. It’s so commonplace in religious language that you don’t even recognize the repercussion.

    Oh yes, calling atheists “unbelievers” is such a gross violation of their civil rights. It’s virtually the N-word. I’m sure they now need to be validated by someone more sensitive than I.

    Of course you’ve constantly been amongst “believers”. Why worry? You’re amongst lots of like-minded people, right? Nobody will doubt it. Not even “unbelievers”.

    Considering that for most of my life I was an unbeliever a Person of Philosophic Indeterminacy, I think not. And since I am a scientist and a professor, and therefore most of my colleagues are unbelievers Persons of Non-Religious Perspectives, I think not. My interaction with people is probably much more diverse that the average person hanging about pharyngula, who is among hundreds or thousands of like minded and just a few theistic trolls.

    It would handsomely explain why you so readily use language that automatically delineates the distinction between yourself and “the others”

    Yes, and so would the fact that I was making a distinction between two groups of people and used common terminology that makes the distinction between those two groups of people. Just saying.

    The joke has long since been obvious to anyone who has been watching from outside that sordid box: there is nothing more unchristian than a christian.

    Wow. Did you come up with that aphorism on your own? It is truly devastating. There is nothing more unchristian than a christian. I don’t know how to respond to that. Very zen. Very deep.

  248. #248 Lurkin
    April 22, 2009

    Dude, you think that’s deep? Chew on this, man: we could be, like, in the Matrix! Right? I mean, like, how would you know, man? Whoa, dude!

  249. #249 Ray S.
    April 22, 2009

    Heddle@242:

    And how do support your contention that nobody wants to pay attention to me, when I get direct questions?

    Which you sometimes don’t answer.

    Back at 211 I asked you about your version of the gospel harmonization or a link to one you claimed was done ‘with ease”. No response yet.

  250. #250 Dan L.
    April 22, 2009

    Except the laws of nature aren’t agents. They don’t have intentions, they don’t make choices. God, in the Calvinistic scheme of things, is most definitely an agent. In which case, God is the kind of thing towards which moral praise or blame can be legitimately directed.

    I agree that most descriptions of God would suggest this is the case, but I don’t think it’s necessary that God is an “agent.” To start with, we would have to rigorously define agency, which I’m not prepared to do at the moment.

    I would also point out that as an agent, a homosexual person is the kind of thing towards which moral praise or blame can be legitimately directed, but that doesn’t mean the moral blame directed at homosexuals is legitimate. So even if God is an agent, it may be true that you’re trying to hold Him to an arbitrary moral standard, considering His agency is very different from yours or my own (again, presumably).

    My problem here is that the notions that God is an agent or that God is morally culpable rest on the notion that God has a mind or something very like one, and I find that incredibly implausible. So in some sense, I disagree that God is necessarily either an agent or subject to moral judgments. In another sense, I think it’s rather silly to ask those questions in the first place. I would rather start with questions about whether God has a mind, how that mind is similar to human minds, how it is different, etc. If that analysis yields a God with a human-like mind, then I don’t necessarily see how we can reconcile that with omniscience, omnipotence, first cause, and all that. If God doesn’t have a human-like mind, there’s a lot of other theological principles that need to be re-examined, such as in what sense we are created in His image.

    In other words, I think that assuming that God is morally culpable is, to some extent, begging the question of what God is in the first place. Since I don’t believe in Him, I would rather let the believers decide what He is exactly than make my own strawman version.

  251. #251 Kagehi
    April 22, 2009

    Heddle.. the point of my “rambling post” is proven a paragraph later when you start babbling about “old” versions of the Bible using different words than the “new” versions, which yes, is **perfectly** valid, and we even point out some of them when arguing with some people that claim “literalism”. What you are missing is that it doesn’t matter one fracking bit which word got used, if the story its in was either a) made up, b) copied from someone else, and mangled in the process, or c) was claiming to describe events in some tiny corner of the world, where they didn’t know a damn thing about anything other than their tiny little corner.

    I.e., which word got used is meaningless, unless you can prove it matters at all, and the passage in question contains anything more than the ancient equivalent of Harry Potter novels. You seem quite happy to argue for the examination of the early versions of the Bible, but you seem entirely unwilling to even acknowledge that their may have been works even earlier, and that “those” might undermine the credibility of the entire text, especially if they turn out to belong to some other religion, or like with the Noah/Gilgamesh issue, even the “best” version you can come up with gets basic facts either backwards (Gilgamesh being the greedy fool, not all the drown people added to the later version), or just completely dead wrong (such as the number of actual animals involved, and why they where there).

    You seem to want to examine it in a vacuum, devoid of any work that existed “prior” to the Bible itself. But, you have no factual basis for presuming it was the “original” document, and not cribbed off of everyone else’s, which seems clearly the case, based on research into the those other prior cultures.

  252. #252 Sastra
    April 22, 2009

    Dan L. #250 wrote:

    I agree that most descriptions of God would suggest this is the case, but I don’t think it’s necessary that God is an “agent.”

    I think that those versions of God which eliminate God’s ability to make choices, think, be aware, have values, know things, feel emotion, and so forth start to get into an area where theism is blurred with atheism, and someone is risking re-defining the natural universe as “God.” Very confusing.

    But this may be moot, since I strongly suspect Calvinists would be unwilling to remove any whiff of ‘agency’ from their understanding of God. My understanding is that the reason they think God is not culpable has nothing to do with seeing God as mindless, and no more be blamed than a tornado. It’s because God is the Creator and therefore the Owner, and above His creation similar to the way a potter is ‘above’ the pots that he makes.

  253. #253 heddle
    April 22, 2009

    Ray S.,

    I saw your question–but you had the snarky “gospel according to St. Heddle” so I chose to ignore it. Plus, I’d prefer to reference books not on-line resources. Still, for a good start for a “harmony of the gospels” on-line, I’d refer you to Calvin’s commentaries–who does exactly that with the synoptic gospels. That is, he comments on them in parallel rather than sequentially. There you’ll find Calvin being very honest about problems–e.g., the two biggies when it comes to the gospels–Jesus’ genealogy and the empty-tomb accounts. His isn’t the best, but it is quite good–and maybe one of the best you can find on-line.

    They are here

  254. #254 386sx
    April 22, 2009

    That God would be beyond moral criticism isn’t, I think, totally unfair; the laws of nature are beyond moral criticism for anyone, religious or not, but that doesn’t stop them from being true. From a Calvinist point of view, it seems to me that “laws of nature” and “God” mean very nearly the same thing.

    Calvinist believe (as one would suspect!) that God created the “laws of nature” and morals too, and implanted them inside the minds of people. What r u up 2 Dan L…

  255. #255 CJO
    April 22, 2009

    There you’ll find Calvin being very honest about problems–e.g., the two biggies when it comes to the gospels–Jesus’ genealogy and the empty-tomb accounts. His isn’t the best, but it is quite good–and maybe one of the best you can find on-line.

    Tell me the best, then (I don’t care if it’s online). Because I just followed your link and read the “harmonization” of the empty tomb accounts, and he does not identify, much less resolve, the major problems.

    I frankly doubt that your “best” does either, because the Great and Terrible Craig, in a debate with Bart Ehrman on the subject of historical evidence for the resurrection, the transcript of which I read a while back, takes his cue from Calvin apparently and acts as if the number and identity of the women is the primary difficulty. It’s also somewhat laughable to brush aside the differing number of angels, which Calvin attributes to the fact that only one speaks, so naturally Matthew and Mark only report that presence; his having a mute buddy along (for moral support I guess) as reported by Luke is too insignificant to even mention. It’s as if two rhinoceroses went rampaging down the street; only one of them upset the apple cart, so the fact that there were two was left out of the newspaper story.

    But again, as I said upthread, it’s not my intention to simply point out the discrepancies. It’s to characterize the discrepancies and show how they are much better explained as the products of deliberate mythmaking in a developing written tradition than as the sorts of minor disagreements produced by the vagaries of memory.

  256. #256 heddle
    April 22, 2009

    CJO,

    No further reference will help you then, because in the case of the two angels, all suggestions (that I’m aware of) are that there were two angels, and one spoke. Luke reported two, the others reported the one who spoke. This particular problem never bothered me because it passed my personal stink test. That is, can I imagine being in a situation where there are, say, two, physicists. One speaks. Now can I imagine that different people there might report differently, that some might report there was a physicist there who said? and some might report that there were two physicists there? I can see that with no plausibility issues?so that particular problem was never, for me, a problem at all. I would consider the genealogy problem to be bigger than the differing empty tomb accounts.

  257. #257 Dan L.
    April 22, 2009

    @254:

    I have no intention of playing devil’s (?) advocate here. I’m simply arguing that I don’t think the moral case against Calvinism is very compelling because a) the moral case has no bearing on whether or not God actually exists and b) making the moral argument demands that I, an atheist, posit a God with certain attributes. I can see no way to do (b) without creating strawmen. So I’d prefer to let those who actually believe in God tell me what He is and then argue against that.

    I find the notion of arguing with other atheists about the properties of God rather absurd, so that’s about all I have to say on the subject.

  258. #258 CJO
    April 22, 2009

    C’mon, heddle. Angels are implausible in the first place. If there were two rhinoceroses, anybody who saw the event are going to report that regardless of what one or the other did or did not do. And it just doesn’t fit with Mark. Mark’s “young man” is a mysterious figure, whose angelic status is only weakly implied. “Hi, I’m Gabriel, and this here’s my sidekick” kind of ruins the atmosphere of Mark’s scene, for me anyway. How many naked youths fled from Gethsemane that Mark doesn’t tell us about?

    And I didn’t say the number of angels was the biggest issue; Calvin doesn’t even address the biggest issue, at least not insofar as he even recognizes it as another problem in need of harmonization. I just singled it out as a point on which I thought Calvin was being particularly obtuse. I likewise don’t care if you think further references will help me. You said there were better, and I’m interested in knowing what they are, that’s all.

    The geneaolgy issue is large, but for the purposes of the kind of case I want to make, the birth narratives are tantamount to ‘gimmes.’ I like a challenge.

  259. #259 'Tis Himself
    April 22, 2009

    Robocop #203

    Similarly, trying to limit acceptable evidence to that which is “tangible, falsifiable, and replicable” is a silly ploy designed to control the terms of discussion. If that were an appropriate standard, no one-time event could ever be evidenced. The ignorance is staggering. If I call a friend in another city and ask what the weather is like, if I’m told that it’s raining I have evidence that it’s raining there. Simple.

    It’s not difficult to get evidence for a one-time event. Cosmic microwave background radiation is evidence for the Big Bang, as are abundance of light elements, something called large scale homogeneity (Google is your friend), large scale structure of the universe, and various other things. Sorry, but you’re incorrect about evidence for one time occurrences.

    If you really want to be sure that your friend in East Poodunk isn’t mistaken or lying about his local weather, you can call other people in that city, see what the Weather Channel says the weather is in East Poodunk, check out a local TV station’s website, and otherwise gather more evidence. The more evidence and the more varied evidence you have, the more likely you are to reach a reasonable conclusion as to whether or not it’s raining in East Poodunk.

    Evidence is any fact, thing, testimony or logic which tends to support the truth of the matter asserted.

    No argument here.

    Testimonial evidence…is one of the four major types of evidence.

    It’s considered the weakest form of evidence.

    Unlike some ignorant atheist assumptions, the testimony itself is evidence — it isn?t offered to describe evidence.

    So all you’ve got is weak evidence, often contradictory evidence that could be mistaken. As I asked previously, what’s the difference between someone who “God talks to” and someone who hears voices in his head?

    Are you going to tell me that Oral Roberts telling his followers “The Lord has told me he will ‘call me home’ unless you folks cough up $8 million” is good evidence for the existence of god? Or is it good evidence that Rev. Roberts wanted to continue to live the good life, working in Oklahoma and flying in his private plane to Florida every weekend?

    It’s because of obvious bullshit like Roberts’ that atheists want to have real evidence, not just “I believe in god.” All you goddists can give is testimony. I can show you testimony that extra-terrestrial aliens are really into anal probing. Why should I disregard those testimonies but accept your testimonies about god?

  260. #260 heddle
    April 22, 2009

    CJO,

    Then I’d try the commentaries on Matthew and John by Boice, and perhaps the newly released ESV study bible (the fat one–loaded with commentary.) Maybe I can think of some more when I get home and check my bookshelves.

    Angels are implausible in the first place.

    Angels were matter-of-fact to the gospel writers. If your complaint is that they don’t exist, that’s one thing. If your complaint is that the writers appear not to make a big fuss over angels, that’s quite another. Addressing consistency questions only (not truth questions) we should take the gospel writers as offered–and they were familiar with angels. They were talking about and living with a god-man; why should they make a big fuss about angels, which are much lower on the totem pole, even lower than humans.

    Calvin doesn’t even address the biggest issue,

    Which is?

    Mark’s “young man” is a mysterious figure, whose angelic status is only weakly implied. “Hi, I’m Gabriel, and this here’s my sidekick” kind of ruins the atmosphere of Mark’s scene, for me anyway.

    Angels were often described as men in bright or white clothing.

  261. #261 Kagehi
    April 22, 2009

    What makes you think “books” are less likely to contain bad information, compared to web sites, especially given the number of wackos that publish books, and have web sites that repeat the same thing? Mind, it can be harder to filter out the bad stuff, but… guess what! The same methods you reject Heddle as the best way to figure out what does and doesn’t make sense are needed as much when evaluating the concepts in books as on the internet.

    Or, does the fact that Joseph Atwill wrote a book called ‘Caesars Messiah’, make his claim that the entire NT was invented to create a pro-Roman view among militant Jewish people of the time, and replace their military Messiah with one dedicated to peace, more valid than if the same thing was posted on a web site? Because, if so, then you now have a bigger problem than arguing how many angels where, or where not, dancing on a pin at the resurrection.

  262. #262 Anonymous
    April 22, 2009

    Angels were often described as men in bright or white clothing.

    I know that. The point is, they were by Mark, and they were not by Matthew, who was at pains to make his angel quite a bit more impressive than your low man on the totem pole; impressive enough to cause Roman soldiers apparently to faint, merely by flashing their lightning-like meins.

    we should take the gospel writers as offered–and they were familiar with angels. They were talking about and living with a god-man; why should they make a big fuss about angels

    This is what is called special pleading. You wouldn’t treat another, non-Christian, non-Jewish, ancient text this way; why should I agree to your preposterous fairy tale about the attributions of the gospels? Surely you’re aware that those attributions rest on the thinnest of pretexts and have been rejected by the great majority of non-apologist scholars for more than a century.

  263. #263 CJO
    April 22, 2009

    Sorry, Anonymous is me @262. I guess I got used to the TypeKey thing.

  264. #264 Dan L.
    April 22, 2009

    They were talking about and living with a god-man; why should they make a big fuss about angels, which are much lower on the totem pole, even lower than humans.

    I find this a little disingenuous. A visitation by an angel is obviously a notable event even for someone entirely convinced of their existence in the first place. And just because thing A is more significant than thing B doesn’t mean that thing B isn’t significant enough to get the details straight. It’s certainly possible that some of the gospel writers were so sick of angels that they didn’t feel the need to belabor their presence more than strictly necessary, but it doesn’t seem very plausible to me.

    Besides that, the role of the angels is, from what I can tell, to be emissaries from God. So even if you’re talking about and living with a god-man, it seems to me that whatever the angels do is pretty important even if the angels themselves aren’t. In short, I don’t think “two angels” is the same as “two physicists” even if the speaker is someone who believes utterly that angels are real.

    One also has to wonder, could it conceivably be irrelevant that God sent two angels and had only one speak? Does he just like to have a spare, or is there something behind it? If there’s some purpose to having two angels, it seems like it might be noteworthy enough to get into all of the gospels.

  265. #265 heddle
    April 22, 2009

    Kagehi

    What makes you think “books” are less likely to contain bad information, compared to web sites, especially given the number of wackos that publish books, and have web sites that repeat the same thing?

    I don’t know–call it a hunch that there is more quality control on books. But at any rate the question was asked of me, and I have books that I like that are not available on the web. If your favorite sources are on the web, then bully for you. For biblical commentary, the only web sources I like are the commentaries of Calvin and Matthew Henry.

    Anonymous,

    This is what is called special pleading. You wouldn’t treat another, non-Christian, non-Jewish, ancient text this way; why should I agree to your preposterous fairy tale about the attributions of the gospels?

    You shouldn’t. You’re missing the boat, as I knew many would. That is, we are discussing inconsistencies in the bible, not believability or truth. The standard is much lower. You can only demonstrate the bible is inconsistent only if there is no plausible remedy for the discrepancy. It doesn’t matter if you don’t like the resolution (surely you will not for obvious reasons), it doesn’t matter if you don’t believe the resolution, it only matters if the reason is plausible–it doesn’t introduce a different problem, it doesn’t introduce a solution without precedent in the bible, it doesn’t rely on giving unique definitions to words, etc. As long as it avoids such “cheats” then it serves to refute the claim of an inconsistency. Some solutions to inconsistencies I myself don’t believe, but they still serve their purpose.

  266. #266 Smidgy
    April 22, 2009

    Heddle #220:

    I seem to remember seeing Heddle discuss this in another thread. His idea of ‘biblical inerrancy’ could be summarized like this:

    The original manuscripts of the Bible are absolutely, 100% accurate. However, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to know whether any modern version of the Bible bears any relation, at all, to those original manuscripts. But he’s confident they do.

    No, not even close.

    Oh, really?

    1) The original manuscripts as penned by the apostles (or their secretary, as you will, e.g. Luke for Paul or Mark for Peter) are assumed to be inspired.

    2) Others (such as Clement) wrote perfectly fine books that can be used for our advantage, but as they lacked apostolic authority they cannot lay claim to inspiration. (This was the issue with Hebrews; its authorship is uncertain.)

    3) These books have be fallibly transcribed and fallibly translated.

    4) Misguided scribes have had opportunity to make redactions.

    5) Men, having to decide which of these books should be in the canon, could not agree on some of them. The Catholic Church argues that they were infallibly guided by the Holy Spirit. Protestants, who profess Sola Scriptura, have no basis other than hope/faith to assert that no mistakes were made.

    From here:

    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2008/03/now_blind_in_two_senses.php#comment-785849

    And yet, according to the ‘Chicago Statement’ you alluded to, you ‘affirm that the Holy Scriptures are to be received as the authoritative Word of God’, and, ‘affirm that Scripture in its entirety is inerrant, being free from all falsehood, fraud, or deceit’, and, ‘further affirm that copies and translations of Scripture are the Word of God to the extent that they faithfully represent the original’, but, ‘deny that any essential element of the Christian faith is affected by the absence of the autographs. We further deny that this absence renders the assertion of Biblical inerrancy invalid or irrelevant.’

  267. #267 the Voice of Experience
    April 22, 2009

    heddle will duck, feint, and parry with you people forEVer. He has it aaaaallll worked to his satisfaction, and he’s honest enought to admit that his reasons wouldn’t satisfy some other people (such as the present ilk), and he doesn’t care. He had his Pauline experience, all right, and he bought in all the way, say what you will. *shrug*

  268. #268 heddle
    April 22, 2009

    DanL,

    I find this a little disingenuous.

    Look at the account of the ascension in Acts 1:

    10They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11″Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”

    There we have another example: angels appear, described as men in white. The writer (Luke) does not report any great surprise. People didn’t say “OMG, angels!”. If they did express surprise, Luke didn’t report it. Rather his report is similar in matter-of-factness to the gospel accounts of the empty tomb.

    If there’s some purpose to having two angels, it seems like it might be noteworthy enough to get into all of the gospels.

    But I can just answer: If was important, it would have gotten in. Again, this is not a believability or sensibility question–that’s a different debate. How you would have written it and what content you think should have been included is totally irrelevant to the consistency question. For this debate you can take the bible to be poorly written fiction–we just want to see of it is self-consistent poorly written fiction.

  269. #269 CJO
    April 22, 2009

    You can only demonstrate the bible is inconsistent only if there is no plausible remedy for the discrepancy.

    I think this was roughly the point we were at last time, when we had to part company over your unreasonably low standard for resolving discrepancies among the gospels, and I’m about done here too. I had forgotten we were playing tennis without the net and, as if that weren’t pointless enough, that you get to referee the calls on your own side of the court, to boot.

    But you’re appealing to extra-scriptural understanding to determine plausibility, that of what the gospel writers are or are not comfortable with or used to. How is this not a cheat, by the standards you’re putting forth? The synoptics are anonymous documents. Stay within the texts, and admit that based on them you have no idea who wrote them, or what was their level of ennui with their constant angel sightings.

    Also, your assertion that angels were considered “much lower than humans” raised an eyebrow with me. If that is so, why does Jesus say in Luke 20:34-36 “The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. But those who are considered worthy of taking part in that age and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage, and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels. They are God’s children, since they are children of the resurrection.”?

    A plain reading of that would seem to indicate that the elect are like angels, which is to say, higher than the common run of men, not “much lower.” What’s the Greek for “angels” in that passage?

  270. #270 John Morales
    April 22, 2009

    Men in White :)

  271. #271 Josh
    April 22, 2009

    It’s not difficult to get evidence for a one-time event.

    I’ll take this even further: it’s extremely easy to get evidence for a one time event.

    Robocop, I put forth the hypothesis that the tree depicted in the following photograph has fallen from growth position:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/coventry/content/image_galleries/fallen_tree_gallery.shtml

    Do you dispute that this photograph is evidence that the tree fell?

    Do you dispute that this tree has fallen only once?

    Do you dispute that we can replicate this evidence?

    Do you dispute that this my hypothesis is testable and that we can devise tests*?

    *I would put forth, just as a couple of possibilities, that we can look for other trees of this species and see what they look like in growth position; that we can cut one of these trees and compare the result against the evidence in the photograph; that we can observe our experimental fallen tree and see if it raises back to growth position.

  272. #272 Wowbagger, OM
    April 22, 2009

    I’d written this:

    I’ll say it again: Christians killed thousands of people to protect their interpretation of scripture; why would they balk at profound intellectual dishonesty to do the same?

    to which heddle responded:

    Yep that’s a convincing, OM quality argument as to why all scholarly activity regarding the bible can be summarily dismissed as lies.

    Welcome to another episodes of Dancing with the Apologists!

    You cited the fact that apologetics isn’t new. I agreed, and pointed at that it’s reasonable to cast doubt on the motives for such behaviour because, at the same time, Christians were killing those who didn’t subscribe to the ‘correct’ interpretation of the scripture.

    My point is that modern apologetics are the continuation of that proud tradition of obfuscation, sophistry and intellectual dishonesty, begun in a time when the church was so desperate to protect its power it was killing people who defied it or its proclamations regarding scripture.

    While all your lauded and feted scholars were poring over the gospels and devising ways to explain just why there were so many holes, their brothers-in-faith were cracking skulls and lighting fires – all with the same goal in mind.

    It’s not just a case of ‘Christians killed people so we can’t trust them'; it’s that they killed those people because they did not accept the ‘scholarly reading’ that you are demanding that we accept unconditionally.

    What are lies and intellectual dishonesty compared to mass murder? Surely Jesus would prefer that?

    So, I ask again: why shouldn’t we doubt their motives and be free to criticise their methodology regarding interpretation of the scriptures when we know the lengths to which they went to crush alternative readings?

  273. #273 CJO
    April 22, 2009

    Awesome. Will Smith at the empty tomb. I’m gonna pitch that to Hollywood. Just don’t tell Mel Gibson.

  274. #274 Josh
    April 22, 2009

    I was going to use a landslide as my example in comment #271, but then decided that a fallen tree might be better. But before I made the switch, I found this, which you have simply got to see:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qEbYpts0Onw

    I’m just posting this because I thought it was badass, but it makes the same point as the tree in #271.

    A landslide is a one-time event. In this video, the particular parcel of land (the specific pile of soil, sediment, regolith, bedrock, plants, etc.) that has detached is not ever going to be in the same arrangement/place that it was before the slide. Those trees that are slip-sliding away past the barricades are never again going to be growing where they sprouted. The landscape will recover, and soil will begin to develop on the fresh scarp formed by the slide. But that slide is a one time event, never to be repeated.

    I put forth that the video is evidence of this one time event.
    I put forth that if I went to this location a week after the event, I could deduce from poking around the deposits left by the slide below where the road used to be (see ~0:31 seconds in) that a slide had happened. I’m highly confident that my observations, made during this poking around, could be replicated by others.

    Also, just maybe an interesting observation: check out the very right of the screen during the areal shot at ~0:26 seconds in (also at ~0:52 seconds). This is a scarp from an old slide that is beginning to recover. Note the mostly non-vegetated slide deposits on the slope below the road. Yes, folks–build your multimillion dollar mcmansions right here.

  275. #275 Leigh Williams
    April 22, 2009

    CJO: “But again, as I said upthread, it’s not my intention to simply point out the discrepancies. It’s to characterize the discrepancies and show how they are much better explained as the products of deliberate mythmaking in a developing written tradition than as the sorts of minor disagreements produced by the vagaries of memory.”

    I can’t agree with this, CJO. Eyewitness accounts, when preserved accurately, are notoriously divergent. It seems to me that those who are deliberately mythmaking would be at some pains to create at least some convergence of details, in order to add verisimilitude to an otherwise unconvincing narrative.

    I think the differing accounts of the resurrection, which is, after all, the central point of any narrative about the Christ, lend color to the idea that those who composed the Gospels tried to accurately convey the oral traditions of the first Christians. Mark’s rather odd and abrupt ending supports that contention. I also think that the chaos which followed Titus’s sack of Jerusalem, and the resulting loss of life and diaspora, made those of the first Christians who were still alive unavailable to the writers of the Gospels. I subscribe to later dating for the Gospels, obviously.

  276. #276 Wowbagger, OM
    April 22, 2009

    Leigh Williams,

    It just strikes me that the analysis of the gospels – especially as described by heddle – is a case of having something which they already believe in and then determine that the only way of analysing them is in such a way that excludes the possibility of them being stories someone just made up – or, at the very least, stories with a plain factual core which were elaborated upon and added to, Chinese Whispers style.

    What I get is a vision is that, when it was all being codified, there was a bunch of clever old men sitting in a room and going, ‘right, here are the gopsels; they got written down in a haphazard way and no-one bothered to do any cross-checking. What do we need to come up with to explain that the stories don’t match? I mean, we want to include them, but some of them include some frankly wacky shit that makes them sound like they’d found a particular powerful crop of middle-eastern magic mushrooms before they sat down and started telling stories.’

    Cue rationalisations like, ‘narrative tradition of apocalyptic literature’ and so forth.

    Christians like heddle seem to want the best of both worlds: to believe in something that is difficult, if not impossible, to support rationally – but still retain the pride of having an intellectual basis for that faith.

    Considering how often we’re told of the importance of faith, I don’t know why the answer to the question, ‘hey, the gospels don’t really match in their explanations of what happened – how do you know what’s in them is true?’ isn’t ‘I don’t – I know that it doesn’t make sense, but I have faith anyway’.

    There aren’t very many arguments against that.

  277. #277 heddle
    April 22, 2009

    CJO,

    I had forgotten we were playing tennis without the net and, as if that weren’t pointless enough, that you get to referee the calls on your own side of the court, to boot.

    No–I could point out several biblical inconsistencies for which I have never read a plausible explanation and which make me very uncomfortable. (They aren’t the usual suspects.) The standard I set is a fair one–if an explanation is consistent with the language and with the rest of the bible, it is a fair candidate. And all I need are fair candidates to disprove the definitive statement that “the bible is chock full of inconsistencies.”

    But you’re appealing to extra-scriptural understanding to determine plausibility, that of what the gospel writers are or are not comfortable with or used to.

    Actually that’s a fair point–I too slipped in to arguing overall plausibility rather than self consistency. The question “why didn’t they make a big fuss about angels” is irrelevant for the consistency question. What is relevant is that on other occasions, such as Acts 1, they didn’t make a big fuss. And described angels the same way. Luke even reproduced his style of using the plural when only one spoke–or at least only one sentence was reported. It is consistent.

    The angels as “lower on the totem pole” is a low-confidence deduction–and definitely not an important doctrine, especially given how little we know about angels. It is based on at least three things: 1) 1 Pet 1:12 when discussing prophecy revealed to man states: “Even angels long to look into these things.” That is one hint that man receives privileges not afforded to angels. 2) On a number of occasions angels are described and helping and serving man, or even being “their” angels, as in Matt 18:10. This is where the Catholics get the idea of “guardian angels.” and 3) (most importantly) there is not in scripture any description that God went to the trouble of redeeming fallen angels, as he did for fallen man. They seem to be lost forever. If “God so loved the angels that he did something to save them,” it is not described anywhere in the bible. So it is an argument from silence–which admittedly is not a strong method.

    Wowbagger OM,

    So, I ask again: why shouldn’t we doubt their motives and be free to criticise their methodology regarding interpretation of the scriptures when we know the lengths to which they went to crush alternative readings?

    And so again I ask, in response, a similarly dumb question: since some scientists behave badly and commit fraud why shouldn’t we suspect that they routinely conspire to suppress any evidence of a designer?

    Smidgy, #220,

    You are right. The quote that was presenting my position was:

    I seem to remember seeing Heddle discuss this in another thread. His idea of ‘biblical inerrancy’ could be summarized like this:

    The original manuscripts of the Bible are absolutely, 100% accurate. However, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to know whether any modern version of the Bible bears any relation, at all, to those original manuscripts. But he’s confident they do.

    I misread what I have bolded as a description of my position, since it was embedded in a paragraph following a colon that introduced a summary of my position. On second reading, I see the writer probably intended it as a parenthetical editorial comment. I retract the “not even close” comment.

  278. #278 Wowbagger, OM
    April 22, 2009

    And so again I ask, in response, a similarly dumb question: since some scientists behave badly and commit fraud why shouldn’t we suspect that they routinely conspire to suppress any evidence of a designer?

    And yet you still don’t answer the question. I think tonight’s judges on Dancing With the Apologists are getting a little tired of you doing the same routine over and over. I don’t hold much hope for your scores.

    Anyway, to suppression – you keep using that word; I don’t think it means what you think it means.

    Your fellow Christians are not ‘suppressed’. Is there not a Discovery Institute that anyone can contact for information? Answers in Genesis do provide ‘answers’ to questions, don’t they? Entrance to Ken Ham’s Creation Museum isn’t guarding by armed atheists, is it? There are plenty of unsuppressed organisations out there spending countless hours attempting to show what you say scientists have ‘suppressed’ and coming up with nothing.

    Christian suppression of dissent for not accepting official interpretation of scripture is historical fact, heddle – something I’d have thought you’d know, being a protestant and all – scientific suppression of Christian creationism, on the other hand, is just another figment of your imagination.

    Then again, you believe in an ancient fairy tale – why shouldn’t your easily-led mind be taken in by other nonsense?

  279. #279 CJO
    April 22, 2009

    Leigh,
    Eyewitness accounts, when preserved accurately, are notoriously divergent.

    I’m not questioning this. But “divergent” is just too general. Not all divergences are created equal. As I said, it’s a matter of characterizing the divergences. See John Dominic Crossan, who employs anthropological methods in his research. In The Birth of Christianity, he examines what we already know about orality and literacy in general from Cultural Anthropology, and comes to the conclusion that the divergences we see are the kind that arise from the development of a scribal tradition, not from the vagaries of oral transmission. His point, and it is not very well understood in the study of scripture, I don’t think, is that we don’t have to approach these questions in a vacuum, as if we’d never seen the development of a scribal or oral tradition before.

    It seems to me that those who are deliberately mythmaking would be at some pains to create at least some convergence of details, in order to add verisimilitude to an otherwise unconvincing narrative.

    And we certainly do see this. Why else would Matthew incorporate almost all of Mark into his account, this a source with which he had some truly profound discomfort, even exasperation? Not so much for versimilitude, per se, but because, clearly, this was an account that had gained some currency. It was too well known for him to simply throw out, or Matthew would have. It needed to be fixed. And, with a copy right in front of him, that’s exactly what he set out to do.

    I think the differing accounts of the resurrection, which is, after all, the central point of any narrative about the Christ, lend color to the idea that those who composed the Gospels tried to accurately convey the oral traditions of the first Christians. Mark’s rather odd and abrupt ending supports that contention. I also think that the chaos which followed Titus’s sack of Jerusalem, and the resulting loss of life and diaspora, made those of the first Christians who were still alive unavailable to the writers of the Gospels.

    You seem to contradict yourself here. They tried to accurately convey that which had been made unavailable to them by circumstance? I think you’re right to pinpoint the disruption during and following the Jewish War as determinitive in large degree of what kind of narratives ended up being written about Jesus. But in my view the fog of that disruption was not so much obstacle as opportunity. There was no one left, certainly no cohesive group perceived as authoritative, to say that what Mark wrote wasn’t so, and the chaos you refer to was a fertile field for mythmaking.

  280. #280 Ken Cope
    April 22, 2009

    CJO, where in Northern California are you? Apparently, we both have young boys whom we would prefer to play in the park instead of attending Sunday School…

  281. #281 CJO
    April 22, 2009

    Ken,
    East Bay, Emeryville

  282. #282 Ken Cope
    April 22, 2009

    CJO, click my name and drop a line. I’m North of the bridge toward 6 Flags Marine World, halfway between you and wine country and close to some great parks.

  283. #283 Kel
    April 22, 2009

    And so again I ask, in response, a similarly dumb question: since some scientists behave badly and commit fraud why shouldn’t we suspect that they routinely conspire to suppress any evidence of a designer?

    When scientists start labelling others as heretics then both routinely calling for and partaking in the murder of such people, then you would have a point. Or even if there were widespread destruction of any opposing interpretation – such as destroying the works of those who had opposing views, like what happened with the gnostics.

  284. #284 Wowbagger, OM
    April 23, 2009

    Kel wrote:

    When scientists start labelling others as heretics then both routinely calling for and partaking in the murder of such people, then you would have a point.

    I don’t know if he’s being obtuse or genuinely missed the crux of my question.

    It’s not the Christians killing the heretics that, in and of itself, makes them untrustworthy; it’s that they killed them to protect the Church’s interpretation of scripture; it illustrates the lengths to which Christians of that era would go to ensure no-one would dispute the official line about what the contents meant.

    And if the Church would instruct members of one of its arms to kill, why wouldn’t it instruct members of another to be intellectually dishonest?

    I can even conceive the decision making process that led to it – as equally sick of the bloodshed as they were of the heresy, the educated church scholars found a way to resolve peacefully what previously had to have been dealt with using violence.

    It might have gone something like this : ‘Let us find a way to shape the meaning of the scriptures in such a way that debate is impossible – if we couch it in enough obfuscation and are relentless in our arguments then, eventually, they will fall under the weight of our words; this is surely better than crushing their skulls under the wheels of our chariots.’

    In other words, make sophistry not war…

  285. #285 Leigh Williams
    April 23, 2009

    CJO, Crossan’s book is on my to-do list . . . I’m not “doing” theology right now, though. I just received Coyne’s new book, and I’m halfway through Your Inner Fish.

    What I really want to do in theology is to take a much closer look at Calvin. I rejected that approach early on and embraced Arminianism; but our eldest daughter has declared herself to be Reformed (she has a great deal in common with Heddle), and I feel a need to be more deeply informed about Calvin himself.

    So our current score in the immediate family is: two very liberal Wesleyan Arminianists (well, I’m over in Spong territory, but I’m still a Wesleyan), two conservative 4- or 5-point Calvinists, 1 lackadaisical Wiccan, and an atheist.

    Also, a partridge in a pear tree.

  286. #286 Wowbagger, OM
    April 23, 2009

    but our eldest daughter has declared herself to be Reformed (she has a great deal in common with Heddle),

    My deepest commiserations :)

  287. #287 Kel
    April 23, 2009

    I don’t know if he’s being obtuse or genuinely missed the crux of my question.

    I really hate that black & white means of equivocation. If A isn’t perfect, it’ll be redeemed by B not being perfect either. It’s like saying that 3% is less than 100% but so is 98 therefore 3% and 98% are equivalent.

    Heddle is no doubt a smart man, I can’t see him missing the point. But surely he can appreciate that there has been times when groups that have strayed from the interpretation of the day have either been silenced or murdered because of those stray interpretations, especially in the early days of the church. That any gnostic writing survives at all is amazing, as is the work of the ancient greeks. Surely Heddle can appreciate that one would want to ask about what interpretations were lost to time and why, as they say history is written by the winners.

  288. #288 Leigh Williams
    April 23, 2009

    Thanks, Wowbagger. I’ll admit it’s very distressing to me.

    But the child (actually, young woman; she will give birth to our first grandchild next month)is an outstanding person in many ways, thoughtful and serious, and even liberal in politics. She counts herself as part of the evangelical left, which is deeply committed to poverty and social justice issues.

    Since all my kids’ acts of rebellion are intellectual, and I’ve tried to bring them up to think for themselves, I guess I have no real complaint.

  289. #289 John Morales
    April 23, 2009

    Kel,

    Heddle is no doubt a smart man, I can’t see him missing the point.

    Me neither. I nearly posted a comment about that very thing.

  290. #290 Wowbagger, OM
    April 23, 2009

    Heddle is no doubt a smart man, I can’t see him missing the point.

    I was giving him the benefit of the doubt. You’d think I’d know better by now.

  291. #291 heddle
    April 23, 2009

    Wowbagger, OM

    And yet you still don’t answer the question

    Sigh. Because it is a stupid question. You ask:

    So, I ask again: why shouldn’t we doubt their motives and be free to criticise their methodology regarding interpretation of the scriptures when we know the lengths to which they went to crush alternative readings?

    Whatever their past history, it doesn?t matter. OK, it might make you suspicious, but in the final analysis, it doesn?t matter. I?m not asking that you take their word, only that you do not dismiss it out-of-hand as ?cheating.?

    If I say: this word X, in biblical Greek meant, also meant Y, or if the verb tense, which we don’t use in English, should have been translated as that, I?m not asking you to take my word for it. If I were simply saying “trust me on this” then your mistrust would be proper. In fact it would be proper even if my discipline’s reputation was stellar rather than stained.

    You can check what I claim. Or someone can. It is the same reason we trust scientists even though a few are frauds?we trust them because they don’t simply decree that we believe them, they present how they arrived at their results, and eventually someone will check their work.

    This is so frigging obvious. Even if every biblical scholar in the past was a fraud and a murderer, the next one might be doing honest work?and his reasons and methodology won’t be presented as “just trust me on this.” It is not only Christians who speak biblical Greek and Hebrew, it’s not secret knowledge that only we possess.

    No intellectual should say: I’m not even going to bother checking this person’s claim because his predecessors were all liars. You can say you don’t care if he is right or wrong, but you have no basis for saying he is wrong or a cheat because you are too intellectually lazy to check his claims.

  292. #292 Smidgy
    April 23, 2009

    Heddle #277:

    I misread what I have bolded as a description of my position, since it was embedded in a paragraph following a colon that introduced a summary of my position. On second reading, I see the writer probably intended it as a parenthetical editorial comment. I retract the “not even close” comment.

    It IS a description of your position. You, personally, have made the point about the scriptures being ‘fallibly transcribed and fallibly translated’, ‘misguided scribes have had opportunity to make redactions’, and that, ‘men, having to decide which of these books should be in the canon, could not agree on some of them’, which I quoted you stating, and posted a link to verify you did, indeed, say that. It may be worded in a way you don’t like, but seems to be a fairly accurate summary of your position that it is very difficult, if not impossible, to know whether any modern version of the Bible bears any relation to the original texts, but you’re confident they do.

    #291:

    This is so frigging obvious. Even if every biblical scholar in the past was a fraud and a murderer, the next one might be doing honest work?and his reasons and methodology won’t be presented as “just trust me on this.” It is not only Christians who speak biblical Greek and Hebrew, it’s not secret knowledge that only we possess.

    Yes, and, as Wowbagger has been pointing out, repeatedly, the Christian church used to punish anyone who studied the Bible and came to a different interpretation and conclusion than they did by persecution, torture and death, and guess what? As the Church has waned in power, and therefore can’t impose its interpretation by force, the number of different interpretations of the Bible have multiplied. Even your own interpretation of the Bible (that the original manuscripts are inerrant, but there’s quite possibly errors in the modern version) would have you burned at the stake as a heretic, under the old rules of heresy.

  293. #293 Dan L.
    April 23, 2009

    But I can just answer: If was important, it would have gotten in. Again, this is not a believability or sensibility question–that’s a different debate. How you would have written it and what content you think should have been included is totally irrelevant to the consistency question. For this debate you can take the bible to be poorly written fiction–we just want to see of it is self-consistent poorly written fiction.

    It apparently was important, because it did get in…some of the time. That’s the problem here. Why was it important enough for some writers but not for others?

    The fact that the writers didn’t wet themselves over the appearance of angels doesn’t indicate to me that they didn’t think the angels were important. Granted, my Latin and Greek aren’t so good, but in my KJV, the writers of all the books seem to describe matter-of-factly a whole lot of rather incredible events that I’m sure would have seemed just as incredible to bronze age peasants as they do to me now (if not moreso).

    I realize your criteria are low here, but I still see this as a rather glaring inconsistency. The angels are important enough to mention in the first place (otherwise it wouldn’t have gotten in, right?) but not so important that the details need to be consistent book to book.

    Incidentally, the fact that your problem passages aren’t the usual suspect makes me think of nothing so much as a pretentious hipster. “I don’t like that band. They’re too popular. And too talented!”

  294. #294 Pablo
    April 23, 2009

    I’m trying to figure out the virtue of the “pretty close” scenerio to account for the different stories of the ressurection (I think that is what Heddle refers to above). He says something like, “It isn’t perfect, but is pretty close.” That, to me, soundes like it doesn’t agree with all the details given in the bible.

    Remember, when it comes to “no contradictions” just a single inconsistency means it is not consistent. “Almost no contradictions” means “at least one contradiction.”

    So to say that some apologize ALMOST came up with a scenerio consistent with the bible tells me that said person DID NOT come up with a scenerio fully consistent with the bible.

  295. #295 Robocop
    April 23, 2009

    232: ?As far as I can tell, ‘free will’ is merely the observation that the catalog of human behaviors is so large that it is almost impossible to predict what any particular human being (including oneself) is going to do.?

    I don’t think so, because if you’re right, what we think of (and feel as) deliberation is really post hoc rationalization of a random event.

    ?This is to say nothing of the fact that ?free will? is a useful notion in jurisprudence and other aspects of life.?

    If we don?t really make free choices, our jurisprudence, based as it is upon personal responsibility and the presumed ability to do otherwise, is immoral and utterly worthless.

    233: ?Robocop, still no physical evidence for your imaginary god. Which is how you prove he isn’t imaginary. That means your idea of god is a delusion between your ears, which you need to keep to yourself.?

    For Nerdy, if there?s no physical evidence, it?s imaginary. Like protons until 1897.

    243: ?Please explain what you mean by ?volitional freedom? here.?

    An ability to choose between vanilla and strawberry such that I could actually choose either option. Dennett’s view of freedom as mere lack of constraint is a view of freedom only Calvin could love.

    ?What if someone else’s careful introspection leads them to conclude that they do not have ?volitional freedom???

    I?ve never met anyone who didn?t feel like s/he could choose between vanilla and strawberry ice cream.

    ?And incidentally, why do you think naturalism rules out volitional freedom??

    Naturalism postulates a closed system.

    ?Huh? If you get one thing wrong based on introspection, then suddenly none of your senses are reliable, ever??

    No. We all live and act as if we have real choices all day every day. Ga-zillions of them. By your reckoning, our senses are deceived each of those ga-zillions of times. it isn’t too much to say that we’re constantly deceived. Your engaging in this discussion makes the point ?- you act as if your efforts might change my mind.

    ?In short, to argue that if just one cognitive faculty leads you astray on just one issue then nothing can be trusted is a hasty generalisation of truly heroic proportions.?

    You have missed the plot entirely. Just in the course of writing the previous sentence I made choices about what argument to use, what words to use, what tone to employ and several others, all in the course of a few seconds. If Dennett and his ilk are right, we?re meat machines inevitably doing exactly what we?re programmed to do. Period.

    259: ?It’s not difficult to get evidence for a one-time event.?

    I was sloppy here. I should have said that most one-time events are extremely unlikely to be evidenced by anything other than the experiences of the people involved. Before I got in my car this morning nobody saw me go check for the newspaper (it was around 5am). Thus, unless my testimony about it qualifies (and it does, of course), there’s no evidence that I did so.

    ?It’s considered the weakest form of evidence.?

    Although it isn’t considered the gold standard of evidence any more, it hasn’t sunk that low. I would suggest that demonstrative evidence is the weakest form.

    ?Are you going to tell me that Oral Roberts telling his followers ‘The Lord has told me he will ‘call me home’ unless you folks cough up $8 million’ is good evidence for the existence of god? Or is it good evidence that Rev. Roberts wanted to continue to live the good life, working in Oklahoma and flying in his private plane to Florida every weekend??

    That you add the qualifier ?good? shows that my point is made. It?s evidence that must be evaluated to see if it?s ultimately any good.

    ?I can show you testimony that extra-terrestrial aliens are really into anal probing. Why should I disregard those testimonies but accept your testimonies about god??

    It is not the case that there is only evidence for what is true. Evidence can, and often does, point in many different directions. That’s why a careful evaluation of the nature and quality of all evidence is always so important.

  296. #296 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    April 23, 2009

    For Nerdy, if there?s no physical evidence, it?s imaginary. Like protons until 1897.

    You have had 2500 years to get the physical evidence for Yahweh. Show it or shut up. Believing in nothing physical is called a delusion. You are delusionsal, and will remain so until you stop trying to claim otherwise. You can keep your delusions to yourself, and we won’t care. But you came here to defend your delusions, and you are doing a piss poor job of it, like all ignorant delusional godbots.

  297. #297 Pablo
    April 23, 2009

    If we don?t really make free choices, our jurisprudence, based as it is upon personal responsibility and the presumed ability to do otherwise, is immoral and utterly worthless.

    That’s AMMORAL (without morals) as opposed to immoral (against morals)

    But then again, you are begging the question here. So what if it is “utterly worthless”? Who says anything must have “worth”?

    “Worth” is something you have imposed, and not inherent to anything in the natural world. In nature, things just are.

  298. #298 heddle
    April 23, 2009

    DanL,

    Why was it important enough for some writers but not for others?

    Don?t know, but it doesn?t matter. There could be some superfluous information in the bible. Inspiration is not dictation. It was written by different authors?some chose to emphasize certain things. Also angels either come (according to the bible) in different shapes or have the ability to alter their appearance. (again, according to the bible?which may be nonsense, but we are discussing consistency.) So sometimes they appear in such a manner as to create a commotion, and sometimes they are the simple Men in White?perhaps to avoid a commotion.

    Many miracles are described matter-of-factly?perhaps the writer just didn?t feel that he had to report the effect the miracle had on those witnessing it. But at any rate that still speaks, if it does at all, to the plausibility of the bible, not its self-consistency.

    Incidentally, the fact that your problem passages aren’t the usual suspect makes me think of nothing so much as a pretentious hipster. “I don’t like that band. They’re too popular. And too talented!”

    Heh?yes it could be that effect. Or it could be that the popular complaints (two angels, one angel?, pi = 3?) have satisfactory explanations.

    Smidgy,

    It IS a description of your position.

    It is NOT a description of my position?the part I had bolded:

    However, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to know whether any modern version of the Bible bears any relation, at all, to those original manuscripts.

    is not my position. You can not find any post of mine that suggests that we can have no confidence that the earliest extant manuscripts have not deviated in any substantive way from the original (and lost) autographs. You might argue I have no reason for that confidence?that gets into the complicated issue of the reliability of New Testament documents, but you cannot claim that that is my position.

    As the Church has waned in power, and therefore can’t impose its interpretation by force, the number of different interpretations of the Bible have multiplied.

    That is demonstrably false. In the early church there were many different interpretations, say, of Genesis. Augustine had quite a different interpretation than Justin or Origen or Irenaeus. None was accused by the church of heresy for their interpretations.

    would have you burned at the stake as a heretic, under the old rules of heresy.

    Perhaps so, but irrelevant. The point is that for you today to say: why trust any scholarship regarding interpretation revisions because of what occurred in the past is committing an ad hominem.

    Pablo,

    Not sure what the “pretty close” business refers to, but I will say that you have to find more than one inconsistency that cannot be resolved. I already know some that I can’t resolve or that I do not find the proposed resolution satisfactory. That may be annoying–but below some critical mass I can still excuse it by saying that just because I can’t figure it out doesn’t mean it has no solution. The critical mass is small, but it is not one.

    Things would change dramatically if bible critics could back up their claims that the bible is “full” of contradictions. “Full” of contradictions means more than a handful in some fairly obscure passages.

  299. #299 Robocop
    April 23, 2009

    296: “You have had 2500 years….”

    Blah, blah, blah. Keep ringin’ that bell, Pavlov.

    297: “That’s AMMORAL (without morals) as opposed to immoral (against morals)”

    No, it’s immoral to hold someone accountable for something s/he couldn’t “help” doing. Our current law recognizes insanity as a defense in criminal cases because such an actor can’t control his behavior. Per Dennett, none of us is in control of our actions. Ever.

    “But then again, you are begging the question here. So what if it is ‘utterly worthless’? Who says anything must have ‘worth’?”

    It isn’t required, but rather is something to be valued and sought.

    “‘Worth’ is something you have imposed, and not inherent to anything in the natural world. In nature, things just are.”

    Yet I suspect that if I walked up and shot your child (assuming you had one), you’d be mightily angry and distressed. I highly doubt that the fact that you think I couldn’t have done otherwise would have mattered to you a whit.

  300. #300 Pablo
    April 23, 2009

    No, it’s immoral to hold someone accountable for something s/he couldn’t “help” doing.

    But then again, we “can’t help” holding them accountable, either.

    No choices in committing acts means there is no choice in how to deal with them either. It’s amoral.

  301. #301 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    April 23, 2009

    Still delusional Robocop, and you will be continually thought of as such, not only by me, but also a good number of the regulars, until you provide evidence for your imaginary deity. Why are you having trouble with that?

    Without your god, your bible is a work of fiction and your theology is worthless bunk. Which is why you need to show that your god exists. Then you can legitimately discuss the bible and theology, after you prove the bible is inerrant and the theology is appropriate. Just making claims is the the sign of fools.

  302. #302 Robocop
    April 23, 2009

    “No choices in committing acts means there is no choice in how to deal with them either. It’s amoral.”

    But since I don’t buy the premise, it’s only a semantic game.

    “Still delusional Robocop, and you will be continually thought of as such, not only by me, but also a good number of the regulars….”

    I’m absolutely desvastated. But I can’t help it, remember!

    “Then you can legitimately discuss the bible and theology, after you prove the bible is inerrant and the theology is appropriate.”

    Are you stupid or just not paying attention?

    “Just making claims is the the sign of fools.”

    Since one measure of a man is the enemies he makes, thank you, Nerdy.

  303. #303 Dan L.
    April 23, 2009

    @Heddle,

    Heh?yes it could be that effect. Or it could be that the popular complaints (two angels, one angel?, pi = 3?) have satisfactory explanations.

    The pi=3 objection can be pretty safely discounted, I agree. I don’t find the angel discrepancy explanation satisfactory, but we’re bound to have different standards on this sort of thing, and that’s fine with me.

    @Robocop:

    Per Dennett, none of us is in control of our actions. Ever.

    Again, what does it even mean to be in control of one’s actions? You’ll have to tell me what free will is before I can accept its validity.

    And again, the argument from jurisprudence only tells us whether the notion of free will is useful; it tells us nothing about whether it’s true.

    The notion that insane folk aren’t in control of their behavior may be a fallacy. It could very well be that they are in complete control of their behavior, but their perceptions are skew to those of everyone else, leading them to indulge in aberrant behavior. But no one is in control of his perceptions, sane or insane. So whence the difference in moral culpability? It may very well be arbitrary.

  304. #304 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    April 23, 2009

    Ah Ro-boy, the delusional godbot. You still need to show the physical evidence for your god. You have a whole blog full of people, including Richard Dawkins, who you could bring over to believing in god with the proper physical evidence. Yet you are just soooo bashful about showing it, like you know you have nothing. If you have nothing, it makes your posts worthless. As we keep seeing and telling you.

  305. #305 CJO
    April 23, 2009

    Per Dennett, none of us is in control of our actions. Ever.

    Oh, you don’t have any idea what you’re talking about. Whar Dennett ever did to deserve the straw man treatment from every woo-peddler with an axe to grind, I’ll never understand.

    Dennett’s work WRT free will is a serious attempt to answer the question “what does it mean to be in control of one’s actions?” not a question-begging assertion that it’s impossible that we could be because of determinism/materialism/insert your bogeyman here.

  306. #306 Robocop
    April 23, 2009

    “Oh, you don’t have any idea what you’re talking about.”

    Perhaps not, but I think it’s a fair reading of Elbow Room and Freedom Evolves.

    “Whar Dennett ever did to deserve the straw man treatment from every woo-peddler with an axe to grind, I’ll never understand.”

    And Dennett, of course, has no axe to grind whatsoever.

    “Dennett’s work WRT free will is a serious attempt to answer the question ‘what does it mean to be in control of one’s actions?’ not a question-begging assertion that it’s impossible that we could be because of determinism/materialism/insert your bogeyman here.”

    I’m in no position to judge DD’s motivations. I think we can all agree (though maybe not?) that our senses tell us that we do have volitional control and suggest some sort of dualism. DD rejects both and, at least in my view, concedes determinism and calls it the only kind of “freedom” we should want. As far as I’m aware, he doesn’t deal with the OCD research whereby focused attention alone alters brain states. I see the Libet research as consistent with introspection — we often react “instinctively” but often have an opportunity to “check” those instincts and, consistet with the OCD research, can alter those instincts. If you think that’s simply a question-begging exercise and not a sufficiently serious approach for an interested layperson, have at it.

  307. #307 IainW
    April 23, 2009

    Robocop (#295):

    An ability to choose between vanilla and strawberry such that I could actually choose either option.

    That’s about as unhelpful a reply as you could have given. What does “actually choose” mean in this context? As far as I’m concerned, an “actual choice” involves being able to weigh up my various desires in the light of my knowledge of the situation and of the factors (internal and external) likely to be influencing my decision. And that kind of choice is perfectly compatible with naturalism, since what it boils down to is a system being able to model outcomes while feeding back information about its own states into the decision-making process.

    Dennett’s view of freedom as mere lack of constraint is a view of freedom only Calvin could love.

    That is not Dennett’s view of freedom.

    I?ve never met anyone who didn?t feel like s/he could choose between vanilla and strawberry ice cream.

    Way to go evading the question. I was asking how we adjudicated between conflicting introspections – i.e., the question related primarily to the reliability of the faculty which you think reveals that you have something called “volitional freedom”. Or do you not agree that people can reach different conclusions when they rely primarily on introspection?

    Furthermore, the question related not to whether or not introspection told us we can make choices, but to whether we had “volitional freedom”. I could say that introspection tells me that I can make choices, but that this is not a matter of “volitional freedom” (whatever the hell that is) but of the operations of a reflexive, higher-order intentional system (as Dennett might put it).

    You see, quite apart from the issue of the reliability of introspection as such, I’m questioning your claim that introspection tells us that we have any kind of free will that is incompatible with naturalism.

    Naturalism postulates a closed system.

    What kind of closed system, and why is “volitional freedom” not possible in a closed system of this kind? I asked for your reasoning here, not a slogan. While you’re at it, I’d still like to know why you think “volitional freedom” is evidence for a deity, since you seem to have ignored that question entirely.

    No. We all live and act as if we have real choices all day every day. Ga-zillions of them. By your reckoning, our senses are deceived each of those ga-zillions of times. it isn’t too much to say that we’re constantly deceived.

    Rubbish. For the vast majority of choices we make, we do not indulge in careful introspection, and when we do, it’s rarely the cognitive processes that we’re trying to get a grip on – more typically, our introspection is directed at trying to decide what we really want. So it is not the case that we are deceived each and every time we make a decision, because our decisions rarely involve much in the way of cognitive self-analysis.

    And again, you make the mistake of conflating introspection with “our senses”. If one cognitive faculty can mislead us on one question, then it does not invalidate the whole sensory and cognitive package with regard to all questions.

    You have missed the plot entirely. Just in the course of writing the previous sentence I made choices about what argument to use, what words to use, what tone to employ and several others, all in the course of a few seconds.

    So what? No-one’s denying that we make choices. The argument is over what “making a choice” involves. And as for missing the plot, the point to which you are (apparently) replying here was that your attempted reductio ad absurdum of naturalism committed an obvious fallacy, a question which is quite independent of the other issue of whether or not we have “volitional freedom”. Consequently, babbling on about how you laboured over a particular sentence is about as irrelevant as you can get.

  308. #308 IainW
    April 23, 2009

    Robocop (#306):

    I think we can all agree (though maybe not?) that our senses tell us that we do have volitional control and suggest some sort of dualism.

    There you go again, talking about “senses”. What senses are we talking about precisely, if it’s more than the “careful introspection” you were placing so much weight on earlier? And what exactly does “volitional control” involve? And what kind of dualism do you think our “senses” suggest?

    Because unless the rest of us have some idea what the hell you think you’re trying to say, I don’t see an awful lot of point in continuing this discussion.

    You can start by defining “volitional freedom” (preferably in an informative fashion, this time).

  309. #309 Tulse
    April 23, 2009

    Anyone plumping for free will needs to explain, among other things, choice blindness.

  310. #310 Dan L.
    April 23, 2009

    I’m in no position to judge DD’s motivations. I think we can all agree (though maybe not?) that our senses tell us that we do have volitional control and suggest some sort of dualism.

    So do you see volitional freedom, or smell it or taste it or hear it or feel its rough, crinkly edges? Those are our senses. They’re different from introspection because when I hear a sound, I can ask others to confirm whether they hear the sound. When I have an idea, it’s pointless to go around asking others whether I actually just had an idea. The fact that you won’t stop conflating the two after numerous people have pointed out the fallacy isn’t speaking well for your analytical ability.

  311. #311 Smidgy
    April 23, 2009

    Heddle #298:

    You can not find any post of mine that suggests that we can have no confidence that the earliest extant manuscripts have not deviated in any substantive way from the original (and lost) autographs.

    Read what was written again – what is being referred to is the modern Bible’s accuracy to the original manuscripts, not the ‘earliest extant’ manuscripts accuracy to those now lost manuscripts/autographs. The post I quoted show you talking about scripture being ‘fallibly transcribed and fallibly translated’, ‘misguided scribes’ making ‘redactions’, and man not being too sure about which writings are scripture and which are not. If you genuinely don’t think it is difficult, if not impossible to tell if any version of the modern Bible bears any relation to the original writings of the Bible, this doesn’t just flatly contradict things you have admitted, it flatly contradicts things you have seemingly expressly gone out of your way to admit.

    That is demonstrably false. In the early church there were many different interpretations, say, of Genesis. Augustine had quite a different interpretation than Justin or Origen or Irenaeus. None was accused by the church of heresy for their interpretations.

    Yes, interpretation within a fairly narrow field was allowed. But for every Augustine, where his interpretation was allowed to stand, there is an Arius, a Donatus Magnus, or a Pelagius, who were exiled for having interpretations that were too different from the official church one, basically. There are HUNDREDS of different interpretations of the Bible now, if not thousands, including extremely bizarre ones, such as ‘God is an alien’.

    Perhaps so, but irrelevant. The point is that for you today to say: why trust any scholarship regarding interpretation revisions because of what occurred in the past is committing an ad hominem.

    No, it’s asking a valid question. The same religion that many of these scholars belong to, and are defending, has a track record of brutally suppressing differing interpretations of the Bible by outright force, not just on the basis that one or two did, in a manner that is severely frowned upon, if not punished, by the rest of the Christian community, but on the basis that, basically, a significant proportion of those in power within the structure of the church did, for a period of several centuries, in a manner that was seen as ‘right’ and ‘good’ by the majority of Christians (if for no other reason than the mistaken belief that the Christian church cannot possibly do anything wrong, so anything they did was ‘right’ and ‘good’ by default). That being the case, considering the modern church is built up on the foundations of this, and that sophistry and intellectual dishonesty is an order of magnitude less ‘evil’ than that, by most people’s moral senses, why should we accept what these apologetics say uncritically? Why should we NOT take anything they say with a very large pinch of salt, especially as it’s a continuation of something that began at a time when they were trying to come up with explanations for contradictions and absurdities, and the church was using force to get people to accept those explanations?

  312. #312 Wowbagger, OM
    April 23, 2009

    heddle,

    It is obvious that you ? and all the apologists before you ? start off with the premise the gospels must agree with each other in every significant way ? because if they don?t then doubt can be cast upon them. And if doubt can be cast upon the gospels then it can be cast upon every other aspect of Christianity ? including the role of the Church in determining how it is applied.

    The issue isn?t scholarship, it?s power. The church killed to stop people who sought to undermine its power; the apologists concocted arguments to do the very same thing. Why I keep mentioning the former is because it?s pertinent to why one can have doubts regarding the motives of the latter.

    The church was not above using whatever means necessary to protect itself; this pertains to the origins of apologetics – which are the basis for apologetics today. You brought up Augustine, not me.

    You mentioned translations – if the number of tools in your apologist toolkit was limited only to arguments over translation then I wouldn?t have a point to make. But upthread you listed five other reasons why you won?t accept any argument for the gospels being problematic in content.

    Essentially you?re boasting that you?re such a good fighter that you could win against a team of ninjas ? so long as they legs were bound, their arms were bound, they were blindfolded, and drugged, and you were armed with automatic weapons and were inside a fortress with only one door (with a slot that you could shoot out of) ? and they could only attack you one at a time.

    Of course you?d win ? but you seem surprised that we don?t accept that you?re entitled to your unfair advantages.

    You then argue that such claims are ?standard scholarship? and ?applied to all ancient texts?. But we?re not just talking about a text here, we?re talking about a document used, in combination with other arguments and rationalisations, to justify belief in a god. A different standard needs to be applied ? unless, of course, you want to accept that a similar analysis of The Illiad and The Odyssey is as strong an argument for the existence of real Greek gods as your bible is for your god.

    As for translation, well, that works both ways ? why does your side get to choose which of a words? meanings gets used? If there are numerous interpretations, why is the one that supports your argument automatically the one which matches the author?s intent? We (and you) don?t know what the author?s intent was; we only know what the church (in the sense of those who translated, edited, compiled and published it) wanted us to believe it was.

    Which, of course, goes back to my point about the Church and their need for control ? illustrated by the lengths to which they went to maintain their control.

    Because of that need to control ‘the truth’, which appears to be implicit in Christianity, you want ? nay, need – the scriptures to be true; as a result they get special treatment: to whit, a wave of pseudoliterary sophistry and special pleading that?s as unsatisfying to an objective observer as it is compelling (supposedly) to one who already believes.

    Heck, you admit that you yourself were not convinced by the gospels; according to you were chosen by god to believe. I find it more than a little fascinating that you go to so much effort to defend the infallibility of an aspect of Christianity that has nothing whatsoever to do with the existence of your own faith.

    What if something were found ? documents with other, incontovertible facts – that showed the gospels to have been fabrications, heddle? Would you stop being a Christian?

    If not, why does it matter that the gospels weren?t the accurate description of the events? You already have your faith; why would the fact that they turned out to be nothing more than we refer to today as ?fan-fiction? ? something that does a far better (and more intellectually honest) job of explaining the differences between them than your ?scholarly reading? – change that?

  313. #313 Jadehawk
    April 23, 2009

    Jadehawk’s belated omnibus answer-post:

    #20:
    Oh, most magnificent and merciful majesty, master of the universe, protector of the meek, whose nose we are not worthy to pick and whose very feces are an untrammeled delight, and whose peacocks keep us awake all hours of the night with their noisy lovemaking, we beseech thee, tell thy humble servants the name of the section between the triglyphs in the frieze section of a classical Doric entablature.

    metopes…?

    #25:
    you can bend and twist faith to fit along with science, compatible with modern discoveries in the same sense that a dead bat on the table is ‘compatible’ with the good breakfast lying next to it.

    Sastra wins one(1) internet

    #43:
    Most gods that anyone is documented to have ever believed in are identical to superheroes, with only the following differences:
    [...]
    superheroes are omnibenevolent;

    no, only the Marvel ones are. In DC, Dark Horse Comics, etc, they are not (with the exception of Superman maybe)

    #64:
    The whole sacrifice meme makes sense only when you remember that a superstition of tribal herders was that you magically transfer all the sins of the tribe into a goat and then drive that goat out into the wilderness, hence “[e]scape-goat”.

    really? fascinating. must find more info about this, because it sounds fascinatingly plausible. anyone god citations on that one?

    #127:
    Is it ever a good idea to remain willfully ignorant (and to rejoice in that ignorance) in the face of tightly argued opposition? I think not.

    sophistry & wordgames != tightly argued opposition; and this STILL presumes that one cannot argue until one knows everything there is to know… except that in the real world, when the premises are unsubstantiated nonsense, and the explanations are complicated unsubstantiated nonsense, then the conclusion is that the premises are wrong, not that you need even more complicated unsubstantiated nonsense.

    #134:
    Sorry, that’s just nuts. If physical evidence is required for belief to avoid delusional status, those who believe in string theory, EvPsych, personal autonomy, ethics (or whatever stripe), democracy, etc. are all delusional.

    congratulations, you’ve just reduced God to a man-made abstract concept

    #182:
    This strength is also our greatest weakness, because we cling to our tribal Story (I hate to use the word wordview, but it’s apt) even in the face of conflicting evidence. It takes considerable bravery and intellectual honesty to put it aside and consider the Other dispassionately.

    Leigh also wins one(1) internet. you and Sastra can share :-p
    this one applies to more than religion, btw. Patriotism is based on the same kind of Story.

    #226:
    I’ll note that, for me, the most persuasive evidence for God is volitional freedom. Indeed, I think that freedom is the glory of God. As I see it, atheism/naturalism precludes it — it postulates a closed system. Since we have good evolutionary reasons for thinking that our senses are generally accurate and since my careful introspection leads me to conclude that I do have volitional freedom, I reject the pre-conceived philosophical notion (required by naturalism) that I can’t have it. Note too that I think that compatibilism is simply determinism in a nicer suit. I’ll add that if, as naturalism requires, I don’t have volitional freedom, my senses are essentially wrong 24/7.

    anthropocentrism fail. our senses also tell us that the sun and the stars circle around us. that does not mean our senses are essentially wrong 24/7, only that they have physical limitations. the same goes for the perception of Free Will (as a sidenote… with which sense exactly do you perceive Free Will? how does it smell/taste/look/sound/feel?): what you perceive as free will is causes/effects network of such complexity as to seem chaotic and free of rules and causality.

    #295:
    If we don?t really make free choices, our jurisprudence, based as it is upon personal responsibility and the presumed ability to do otherwise, is immoral and utterly worthless.

    and in many ways, it most certainly is. we punish individuals for actions committed because of systemic problems. on the other hand, our jurisprudence serves more than the purpose of punishment: it is also protection of society from those acting against it, and deterrent (which becomes a variable in the cause & effect network that results in decisions), and as such is still serves a valid purpose.

    ——

    as for the ongoing discussion with heddle… my SIWOTI is not so bad yet that I’d voluntarily discuss religion with a solipsist Calvinist :-p

  314. #314 Jadehawk
    April 23, 2009

    Jadehawk’s belated omnibus answer-post, part one:

    #20:
    Oh, most magnificent and merciful majesty, master of the universe, protector of the meek, whose nose we are not worthy to pick and whose very feces are an untrammeled delight, and whose peacocks keep us awake all hours of the night with their noisy lovemaking, we beseech thee, tell thy humble servants the name of the section between the triglyphs in the frieze section of a classical Doric entablature.

    metopes…?

    #25:
    you can bend and twist faith to fit along with science, compatible with modern discoveries in the same sense that a dead bat on the table is ‘compatible’ with the good breakfast lying next to it.

    Sastra wins one(1) internet

    #43:
    Most gods that anyone is documented to have ever believed in are identical to superheroes, with only the following differences:
    [...]
    superheroes are omnibenevolent;

    no, only the Marvel ones are. In DC, Dark Horse Comics, etc, they are not (with the exception of Superman maybe)

    #64:
    The whole sacrifice meme makes sense only when you remember that a superstition of tribal herders was that you magically transfer all the sins of the tribe into a goat and then drive that goat out into the wilderness, hence “[e]scape-goat”.

    really? fascinating. must find more info about this, because it sounds fascinatingly plausible. anyone god citations on that one?

  315. #315 Jadehawk
    April 23, 2009

    Jadehawk’s belated omnibus answer-post, part two:

    #127:
    Is it ever a good idea to remain willfully ignorant (and to rejoice in that ignorance) in the face of tightly argued opposition? I think not.

    sophistry & wordgames != tightly argued opposition; and this STILL presumes that one cannot argue until one knows everything there is to know… except that in the real world, when the premises are unsubstantiated nonsense, and the explanations are complicated unsubstantiated nonsense, then the conclusion is that the premises are wrong, not that you need even more complicated unsubstantiated nonsense.

    #134:
    Sorry, that’s just nuts. If physical evidence is required for belief to avoid delusional status, those who believe in string theory, EvPsych, personal autonomy, ethics (or whatever stripe), democracy, etc. are all delusional.

    congratulations, you’ve just reduced God to a man-made abstract concept

    #182:
    This strength is also our greatest weakness, because we cling to our tribal Story (I hate to use the word wordview, but it’s apt) even in the face of conflicting evidence. It takes considerable bravery and intellectual honesty to put it aside and consider the Other dispassionately.

    Leigh also wins one(1) internet. you and Sastra can share :-p
    this one applies to more than religion, btw. Patriotism is based on the same kind of Story.

    #226:
    I’ll note that, for me, the most persuasive evidence for God is volitional freedom. Indeed, I think that freedom is the glory of God. As I see it, atheism/naturalism precludes it — it postulates a closed system. Since we have good evolutionary reasons for thinking that our senses are generally accurate and since my careful introspection leads me to conclude that I do have volitional freedom, I reject the pre-conceived philosophical notion (required by naturalism) that I can’t have it. Note too that I think that compatibilism is simply determinism in a nicer suit. I’ll add that if, as naturalism requires, I don’t have volitional freedom, my senses are essentially wrong 24/7.

    anthropocentrism fail. our senses also tell us that the sun and the stars circle around us. that does not mean our senses are essentially wrong 24/7, only that they have physical limitations. the same goes for the perception of Free Will (as a sidenote… with which sense exactly do you perceive Free Will? how does it smell/taste/look/sound/feel?): what you perceive as free will is causes/effects network of such complexity as to seem chaotic and free of rules and causality.

    #295
    If we don?t really make free choices, our jurisprudence, based as it is upon personal responsibility and the presumed ability to do otherwise, is immoral and utterly worthless.

    and in many ways, it most certainly is. we punish individuals for actions committed because of systemic problems. on the other hand, our jurisprudence serves more than the purpose of punishment: it is also protection of society from those acting against it, and deterrent (which becomes a variable in the cause & effect network that results in decisions), and as such is still serves a valid purpose.

    ——

    as for the ongoing discussion with heddle… my SIWOTI is not so bad yet that I’d voluntarily discuss religion with a solipsist Calvinist :-p

  316. #316 Wowbagger, OM
    April 23, 2009

    as for the ongoing discussion with heddle… my SIWOTI is not so bad yet that I’d voluntarily discuss religion with a solipsist Calvinist :-p

    Yeah, I’m thinking that I should probably develop a stronger resistance to that particular ailment. But as long as indulge it when I’ve got the time (i.e. when I’m not at work) then it’s not too big a deal.

    Really, it’s more for me to clarify my thoughts regarding my position on such matters than it is to have any impact on heddle; that door was closed – by god, according to him – a long time ago. It’s the ultimate illustration of the expression ‘you can’t reason someone out of a position they weren’t reasoned into’.

  317. #317 Jadehawk
    April 23, 2009

    well, I wish I had my SIWOTI under control like that. reading this thread and creating the omnibus ate 2 hours that were originally assigned to finishing a design that needs to be finished by Saturday :-p

  318. #318 Wowbagger, OM
    April 23, 2009

    I write (type/compose) really fast when I get going; I tend to just throw it all out there on a page (not in the comment field) and then play ’round with it to get it how I like it before posting. So long rants don’t necessarily take me that long.

  319. #319 Ken Cope
    April 24, 2009

    Thanks Jadehawk, for the summation, particularly for the solipsism/Calvinist gem already highlighted by Wowbagger. I followed the thread as a lurker; thought CJO ripped heddle’s forearm right out of its elbow socket arm-wrestling over religious (not merely Christian) scholarship, and have used this thread (so far) to test my efforts at SIWOTI syndrome avoidance.

    That heddle’s ego is so monstrously large that he presumes his beliefs have more to do with the nature of the universe than with his twisted and misbegotten conceptions, just makes me feel sorry for his children and students. That heddle remains at least contemptuous, if not entirely ignorant of, every other myth form humanity has created in the absence of gods, most of them more sophisticated than the twisted snuff/torture/pr0n that gets heddle off, again, says far more about heddle than it possibly could about the nature of reality.

    So, hats off to you who decide to wade right into the heddle puddles. I’m tired of having to incinerate perfectly good shoes that scraping can’t rescue, and having to shower in scalding water and scrub with wire brushes after the heddle interactions. I get it, heddle’s faith is better than reason, better than science. Imagine where we’d have gotten with heddle’s potential contributions to physics, had he not wasted all those brain-cycles convincing himself that really rancid fictions about utterly reprehensible imaginary characters collected in poorly edited anthologized essays about the god that trumps all other gods, actually had anything to do with reality.

  320. #320 heddle
    April 24, 2009

    Wowbagger OM,

    Of course you?d win ? but you seem surprised that we don?t accept that you?re entitled to your unfair advantages.

    Nonsense.

    Let?s review the so called ?unfair advantages? that I posted. I cast them in a negative sense in #85?what normally gets called ?cheating? by people who don?t want to do homework and just brainlessly parrot ?the bible is full of contradictions? nonsense. I?ll rewrite them in a positive sense, as things I declare are reasonable for me to employ in arguing about biblical errors:

    1) I can appeal to figures of speech. Not all passages were intended to be taken literally. I should be allowed to make the case that a given passage was not, or at least not necessarily, meant to be taken literally. Note: a case has to be made, not asserted. Appeals have to be made to similar usage elsewhere.

    2) I can appeal to translation errors. The KJV contains some well known translation errors. I shouldn?t be required to support such passages.

    3a) I can appeal to reasonable, supportable alternative translations from the ancient languages. This is not willy-nilly: see the word black, I think it should have been translated as white. Any such case would have to be backed up by showing how elsewhere in the bible or in contemporary literature the alternative translation was sometimes used.

    3b) This includes verb tenses Sometimes the English required to express the meaning of Greek tenses is so clumsy that the translator chooses a simpler English tense, especially with Greek?s perfect tense which implies an action with continuing ongoing results and consequences, is translated in past tense. (It is finished.) This can change the meaning of a passage.

    4) I should be allowed to appeal to the literary customs as they existed when the text was written. For example, when we quote someone today, we mean that this is what they said, exactly In biblical times, it more often meant ?this is a faithful rendering of the content? of what the person said. Numbers were imprecise: “he had 5000 sheep” was meant to be approximate.

    5) I should be allowed to appeal to cultural styles. For example, Daniel and Revelation are written in Apocalyptic style?something for which we have no equivalent. Those books should be criticized in their genre?and not as if they written for the front page of the NY Times.

    6) There are a few passages in scripture?some of which could be used to our advantage?that appear to be add-ons. (Such as a proof text for the Trinity in the KJV that, alas, is an addition.) That is, they in some of the manuscripts used for the Authorized KJV, but not in earlier manuscripts used for modern translations. Those modern translations will highlight such passages (there aren?t so many) with a warning that “this text does not appear in the early manuscripts.” I should be allowed to recluse myself from defending such passages.

    So which of these are unfair advantages? Which is unreasonable? Let me anticipate a response: Oh, well, any difficult passage you can just declare that it must have been added later! Cheater!

  321. #321 Wowbagger, OM
    April 24, 2009

    1) I can appeal to figures of speech. Not all passages were intended to be taken literally.

    And you know this…how, exactly? You believe they weren’t meant to be taken literally; that isn’t the same thing. That certain passages don’t make any sense if you don’t assume they weren’t to be taken literally is the point I’m trying to make here.

    The rest in your list is along the same lines. You have no idea what was going on in the minds of the people who wrote the texts in the first place. You are assuming the motives of the writers. You are assuming that they wrote in certain styles for certain reasons. You are assuming that the translations and grammar and literary customs and cultural styles and additions were done because it suits your argument.

    That you don’t know but have to make this vast array of assumptions in order for everything to make sense is the problem.

    It’s all well and good to cite historical literary defences, but here’s another important fact: yes, people wrote in those styles and using those methods – but they wrote fiction that way as well, didn’t they? And they’d been telling stories of fiction melded with fact for plenty of years before then. I cited The Iliad and The Odyssey earlier; I’ll ask you again: what’s to stop me using them, in the same way you defend your your scriptures, as proof that the Greek gods existed?

    The only reason you treat it differently is because it is a different fiction from the one you believe in – and you are demanding to be allowed to treat your stories as ‘special’ – and apply your selective interpretation if, when and where it suits you – because of that.

  322. #322 heddle
    April 24, 2009

    Wobagger, OM,

    I’ll ask you again: what’s to stop me using them, in the same way you defend your your scriptures, as proof that the Greek gods existed?

    Where did I ever once state that I was using the bible as proof of anything? We are (for the Nth time) talking only about self-consistency. In fact I have stated explicitly: Go ahead–treat it like fiction, exactly like fiction–that’s perfectly acceptable. What I am asking is: apply the same techniques as any scholar would apply to other ancient literature. Including fiction.

    and you are demanding to be allowed to treat your stories as ‘special’ – and apply your selective interpretation if, when and where it suits you – because of that.

    I’m not demanding that. I am saying that normal scholarship can be, and should be, brought to bear. The same scholarship that you might apply to improving translation of The Iliad. Such methods should not be excluded when it comes to the bible. You are taking the unintellectual way out–by intimating that I would apply arbitrary selective standards, when I have repeatedly stated that any appeal the alters the English translation or the normal interpretation has to be demonstrated as credible and supported with solid work.

  323. #323 CJO
    April 24, 2009

    I am saying that normal scholarship can be, and should be, brought to bear. The same scholarship that you might apply to improving translation of The Iliad. Such methods should not be excluded when it comes to the bible.

    Your list of principles starts in the middle, though. You’ve left unstated your rule 0. Normal scholarship should be brought to bear, after the assumption is granted that there’s something special about these texts; that their inerrancy (per the Chicago Statement) is a product of divine providence, a concept with no place whatsoever in “normal scholarship.”

    Apply normal scholarship without that assumption, and it’s a whole different ballgame. Honestly, if, for instance, Mark was composed in Rome, under the auspices of Peter, prior to the Jewish War, and all the features of the text that argue conclusively against such a provenance can be explained away by claiming divine inspiration, then God has done something every bit as perverse as the YECs claim he did by creating a 6000 year-old universe with the appearance of great age. The text is right there, laid bare no less than the bones of the earth. If God inspired it, then he wanted us to believe that the traditional story told about the circumstances of its composition is just so much wishful thinking on the part of the Church Fathers.

  324. #324 heddle
    April 24, 2009

    CJO,

    Normal scholarship should be brought to bear, after the assumption is granted that there’s something special about these texts; that their inerrancy (per the Chicago Statement) is a product of divine providence, a concept with no place whatsoever in “normal scholarship.”

    No, I never said such an assumption was needed. If I said, as I did: “treat it as fiction” that should have been juuuuust a wee clue that I am not requiring that we approach it as infallible inspired scripture.

  325. #325 Wowbagger, OM
    April 24, 2009

    heddle wrote:

    In fact I have stated explicitly: Go ahead–treat it like fiction, exactly like fiction–that’s perfectly acceptable. What I am asking is: apply the same techniques as any scholar would apply to other ancient literature. Including fiction.

    But you don’t believe it’s fiction; you believe the events described occurred.

    You want the rules and methods of the analysis of fiction to be applied to some aspects of it so, but – at the same time – you want the rules of analysis and methods of fact to apply to the rest.

    If some of it can be treated as fiction, why is it not fair to say that the stories were written by the authors entirely as fiction, since they knew no facts about the events they were describing and all they had to go on were vague accounts? That’s a far more intellectually honest and parsimonious analysis, and it explains the inconsistencies far better than depending on ‘translation errors’ and ‘literary tropes'; they weren’t telling the same story because they were making up the details.

    Heck, it seems far more likely that what they do have in common is nothing more than coincidence. And that can be explained far better by the idea of ‘literary tropes'; they all, independently wrote what was, for the times, a typical messiah story, with all the elements the audience of the day would expect to hear.

  326. #326 Ray S.
    April 28, 2009

    Sorry for the delay, Heddle, but real life as sort of a trump quality to it with regard to blogs.

    I’ve looked at parts of your link to Calvin’s harmonization. I find them unconvincing. It appears to be an exercise in conflating differing descriptions (man in white vs angel, for example) without justification, reading the minds of the authors to explain away why they didn’t mention facts others felt important and sundry question begging.

    In my mind, the gospel stories are best explained as backstory to Paul’s reformulation of early Chrisitanity. As time goes on and the claims become more unrealistic, details are produced (invented?) that match supposed prophecies or the cultural understanding of the times. Nothing seems particularly historical in nature, especially when one has to filter out supernatural claims.

    Thanks for providing the link.

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