That hollow ring, that tired objection

Lots of people sent me a link to this essay in which David Hart declares "New" Atheism a passing fad, expecting me to take it apart. I didn't have the heart, and I'm busy right now, sorry. It's a horribly written and excessively long piece — I'd almost call it purple prose if the periphrastic verbosity and passionless vacuity of the author hadn't leeched all the color out of it. It hurt my brain to start reading it, and after scrolling down a couple of pages with no end in sight, I set it aside. TL;DR, as the glib technorati like to say.

I did finally drag myself through it over a light lunch — it was amazing, it even sucked the flavor out of the horseradish sauce on my sandwich — and I was also encouraged by the fact that Kevin Drum rolled his eyes and dismissed it. So I'll toss off a few brief (a word unfamiliar to Hart) and I would hope cogent (definitely a word from a language foreign to him) words.

The whole essay has one note, played over and over: oh, these New Atheists are so boring, so tepid, so uninteresting that they deserve no attention at all and will eventually fade away. And then he goes through a bunch of them, complaining about how empty their arguments are, for something like 4800 words. If you bother to read it, here's a hint to help you get through it all: imagine it read aloud in the voice of Eeyore.

Here's a sample of a familiar argument.

The principal source of my melancholy, however, is my firm conviction that today's most obstreperous infidels lack the courage, moral intelligence, and thoughtfulness of their forefathers in faithlessness. What I find chiefly offensive about them is not that they are skeptics or atheists; rather, it is that they are not skeptics at all and have purchased their atheism cheaply, with the sort of boorish arrogance that might make a man believe himself a great strategist because his tanks overwhelmed a town of unarmed peasants, or a great lover because he can afford the price of admission to a brothel. So long as one can choose one's conquests in advance, taking always the paths of least resistance, one can always imagine oneself a Napoleon or a Casanova (and even better: the one without a Waterloo, the other without the clap).

In all that noise, basically is what he is saying is the ridiculous canard that these atheists are only tackling the easy, foolish arguments for God, which isn't quite right. We tackle all the arguments for God, especially the ones that are widely held and that dominate the public imagination. It's not our fault that we're driving Panzers and they're all peasants and whores (you know, I'd never think of an analogy so belittling of believers as the one that Hart himself comes up with. I'm impressed).

As is typical of this genre of criticism, though, Hart has no Stalingrad to blunt our armored assault. Where's his argument for the truth of religion or the reality of God? He hasn't got one. All he's got are claims that the loss of God-belief would somehow diminish us, so we better not do it. It's very unconvincing stuff.

Oh, wait! He does say something about an argument for God. Here it is.

The most venerable metaphysical claims about God do not simply shift priority from one kind of thing (say, a teacup or the universe) to another thing that just happens to be much bigger and come much earlier (some discrete, very large gentleman who preexists teacups and universes alike). These claims start, rather, from the fairly elementary observation that nothing contingent, composite, finite, temporal, complex, and mutable can account for its own existence, and that even an infinite series of such things can never be the source or ground of its own being, but must depend on some source of actuality beyond itself. Thus, abstracting from the universal conditions of contingency, one very well may (and perhaps must) conclude that all things are sustained in being by an absolute plenitude of actuality, whose very essence is being as such: not a "supreme being," not another thing within or alongside the universe, but the infinite act of being itself, the one eternal and transcendent source of all existence and knowledge, in which all finite being participates.

It is immaterial whether one is wholly convinced by such reasoning. Even its most ardent proponents would have to acknowledge that it is an almost entirely negative deduction, obedient only to something like Sherlock Holmes' maxim that "when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth." It certainly says nearly nothing about who or what God is.

The first reaction of any rational, intelligent human being to that explanation should be, simply, "What?"

If you're not one of those, but an actual Christian, I think your first reaction should be to print out that paragraph, take it to your minister, and ask him or her to explain it to you. And maybe suggest that it be the subject of next Sunday's sermon. Let me know how it goes!

I trace my existence back to chance events delimited by the possibilities of physics and the pinball game of history. I don't call any of those elements "god", and I especially don't get all pompous and call it the "absolute plenitude of actuality" or any kind of being at all. Hart has no excuse for personifying his causal source, or even implying that it has any kind of intent.

By the way, Sherlock Holmes is an utterly abominable guide to reason: his methods don't work. The naive dependence on the infallibility of deductive logic that Arthur Conan Doyle saddled the detective with is ridiculous, and that aphorism is impossible to implement in the real world, where you really can't eliminate all possibilities. And I will remind everyone that Doyle believed in fairies.

But again, try to get any of the millions of Christians out there to accept Hart's freakishly abstract and dessicated definition of God. Won't happen, unless you stumble across another withered Christian academic with a penchant for recondite abstractions. And they're almost as odious to the faithful as atheists, tolerated only because they provide that kind of vacuous bluster as cover for the nonsense they really believe.

Hart actually does make a specific plea for Christianity, as part of a 'rebuttal' (hah!) of Grayling. It's pure emotionalism, not a hint of reason anywhere, wallowing in the bathos of the crucifixion in the same way as Mel Gibson's Passion did…only without the blood and, well, passion.

Here, displayed with an altogether elegant incomprehensibility in Grayling's casual juxtaposition of the sea-born goddess and the crucified God (who is a crucified man), one catches a glimpse of the enigma of the Christian event, which Nietzsche understood and Grayling does not: the lightning bolt that broke from the cloudless sky of pagan antiquity, the long revolution that overturned the hierarchies of heaven and earth alike. One does not have to believe any of it, of course--the Christian story, its moral claims, its metaphysical systems, and so forth. But anyone who chooses to lament that event should also be willing, first, to see this image of the God-man, broken at the foot of the cross, for what it is, in the full mystery of its historical contingency, spiritual pathos, and moral novelty: that tender agony of the soul that finds the glory of God in the most abject and defeated of human forms. Only if one has succeeded in doing this can it be of any significance if one still, then, elects to turn away.

I highlighted one key phrase that reveals where Hart's criticisms completely miss the mark. "One does not have to believe any of it" — but I'm afraid that's the crux of the matter. Is it true? You can declaim all kinds of wonders and miracles and grand moral lessons built on the story, but if it's not actually true, the whole program founders. Unless, of course, it's propped up by gullible faith. Then it teeters on, afflicting culture with nonsense and error until the rot expands enough to cause the whole worthless mess to collapse.

We're seeing that now. The New Atheists are just rapping on that hollow edifice, listening to the echoes (like Hart's essay), and beginning to push a bit. It will fall.

More like this

Eh, I actually agree with the basic statement that "The New Atheism" is fading on a purely philosophical level.

For different reasons.

We've heard the arguments. Not much more to say.

Now as far as what work needs to be done in the public sphere when it comes to religion, law, textbooks, and so on, that's a whole separate story.

Brian

The sheer desperation with which they defend their faith is more damning than any argument I could ever make against it. Who're you trying to convince, me or you?

Wow. I've heard of word salad... what this guy put forth is nothing short of word compost.

Never has so little been said with so many words...

By Celtic_Evolution (not verified) on 26 Apr 2010 #permalink

Oh lord, he figured out that if you accept ancient metaphysics, you come to the conclusions dictated by the premises, that is, to the assumptions the ancients had about the "absolute," the "necessary," and the "contingent."

None of those terms has been shown to have meaning, except for certain notions of the "contingent." The uselessness of the "necessary" is demonstrated by the fact that Dembski uses it in arguing for ID, albeit in a different way than most metaphysicians do.

And god is not improbable at all. God has no probability, being merely an abstraction from words themselves, and not an abstraction from the observable world at all. So god does not become "more probable" even if you eliminate "the impossible," because that concept is lacking in any probability. That is, in a sense, god is the impossible, although I do not prefer that term (as "possible" as endless numbers of fictions, I'd say, which means essentially nothing).

Actually, Holmes' maxim (which I think has some legitimacy, though little practical use) works best with respect to specific abiogenesis hypotheses and similar ideas which at least do have some probability. Even if very unlikely, they're a whole lot better than invoking a fiction like God.

Glen D
http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p

By Glen Davidson (not verified) on 26 Apr 2010 #permalink

afflicting culture with nonsense and error...

Well said, PZ.

displayed with an altogether elegant incomprehensibility..

Ill wrought, David Hart.

By Lynna, OM (not verified) on 26 Apr 2010 #permalink

[W]hat this guy put forth is nothing short of word compost.

Word compost would be nourishing for the brain, albeit perhaps horrible to tasteread. (A lot of perfectly sane but poor-written scientific and technical prose qualifies.)

What this guy put forth is more like word vomit.

But it hardly matters, because even if you like Hart's formulation, this is simply not the lived experience of Christianity for most people. Hart would like us to believe that anyone who hasn't spent years meditating on Aquinas and Nietzsche isn't worth engaging with, but walk into any Christian church in America — or the world — and you'll find it full of people who understand God much the same way Hitchens and Dawkins do, not the way Hart does. That's the reality of the religious experience for the vast majority of believers.

Kevin Drum gets it. Kevin Drum understands where we're coming from. David Hart is just another Feagletosh or Armstrong, hiding the village behind a plume of fancy-colored smoke and expecting us to think it's a solid wall.

It's not our fault that we're driving Panzers and they're all peasants and whores

I had a mental image of PZ riding on the top of a tank a la this while peasants and hookers fled in terror.

I've never been so jealous of the Trophy Wife™

I would be curious to know how this guy, using the arguments he puts forth here, would explain the fact that there have been so many gods contrived by so many cultures with so many contradictory traits over the course of human history, all of which seem to relate more to the derivative culture than to any universal properties.

Or maybe he does address that and it's just written too poorly and is too prolix for me to discern...

By Celtic_Evolution (not verified) on 26 Apr 2010 #permalink

What this guy put forth is more like word vomit.

You know, it's funny... I had that very word written out but struck it and decided to stick with the organics theme and go with "compost". Eh... to each, I suppose...

By Celtic_Evolution (not verified) on 26 Apr 2010 #permalink

In all that noise, basically is what he is saying is the ridiculous canard that these atheists are only tackling the easy, foolish arguments for God

There are other arguments for god? Would make life a tad more interesting.

To be fair, Doyle created Sherlock Holmes and wrote that particular saying long before he believed in fairies. That sadness came near the end of his life after his son will killed in battle and Sir Arthur went a little insane.

As for the article under discussion, I simple could not get through it. I could hardly get through the sections Professor Myers quoted. As a writer, I can say that people write like that only when they hope to impress someone not worth impressing or to hide the fact they have nothing of value to say.

By John Sherman (not verified) on 26 Apr 2010 #permalink

wallowing in the bathos of the crucifixion in the same way as Mel Gibson's Passion

Tangential: I recently discovered that some rascal has dubbed The Passion as The Jesus Chainsaw Massacre.

Hart and theists like him complain "atheists don't know all the nuances of centuries of theology, therefore how can they claim god doesn't exist?" Why is knowledge of the minutiae about deities necessary to deny their existence? Does Hart believe in Huitzilopochtli? Does he know why human hearts had to be offered to this deity every day? Or does he just dismiss Huitzilopochtli without knowing all the details of Huitzilopochtlian theology? When Hart shows he's familiar with the peculiarities of Huitzilopochtlism then I'll consider learning the specifics of his flavor of goddism.

By 'Tis Himself, OM (not verified) on 26 Apr 2010 #permalink

here's a hint to help you get through it all: imagine it read aloud in the voice of Eeyore.

I tried that. Wound up sounding like Ben Stein.

Sounded like another paraphrase of Aquinus: you need a first Mover, a first Cause, yadda yadda.

Which of course is nonsense: you can always have periodic boundary conditions, asymptotic conditions, or maybe the universe just plain _happened_.

By nathaniel.tagg (not verified) on 26 Apr 2010 #permalink

The New Atheists are just rapping on that hollow edifice, listening to the echoes (like Hart's essay), and beginning to push a bit. It will fall.

Finishing with an allusion to Nietzsche; very classy.

He hasn't got an argument that wasn't old when the Angles decided the British Isles looked good, and he's accusing us of "tired" reasoning?

To be fair, his hypothetical entity is a lot older than that—either ex hypothesi, or in the sense that the hypothesis itself is quite old—and I would be a little surprised to see new abstract arguments for or against.

Shall we send this man a Summa Theologica and a Latin primer?

Anything new on either side is evidentiary. If their hypothetical omnipotent, omniscient deity exists, I conclude that it is hiding from us on purpose. Being omniscient, it would know what evidence we would find convincing; being omnipotent, it could provide that evidence. Don't "rescue" one lost child, resurrect and heal everyone who dies in the next seven days. I might hypothesize hooloovoos instead of Jesus, but it would be clear that something was acting.

Conversely, since they also claim benevolence, there's a huge amount of counter-evidence that they should at least be trying to address. Never mind the problem of evil, I would want an explanation of why an omnipotent, all-loving entity left Tay-Sachs, ALS, and Alzheimer's disease in our genomes.

As is typical of this genre of criticism, though, Hart has no Stalingrad to blunt our armored assault.

I liked this metaphor, but you just know someone is going to sieze on the fact that we're playing the role of the invading Nazis.

By PenguinFactory (not verified) on 26 Apr 2010 #permalink

As a writer, I can say that people write like that only when they hope to impress someone not worth impressing or to hide the fact they have nothing of value to say.

Exactly... it's people like this that I had to endure when I was an English major. They confuse loquaciousness with eloquence. Used to piss my professors off, but these guys were almost always smug and self-assured that they were way smarter than the professor. And everyone else, for that matter. They wore their "C-minus" with arrogant pride.

To quote the always eloquent J. Peterman:

"Well, this certainly looks like a lot of words."

By Celtic_Evolution (not verified) on 26 Apr 2010 #permalink

What I find chiefly offensive about them is not that they are skeptics or atheists; rather, it is that they are not skeptics at all and have purchased their atheism cheaply...

Cheaply? I did a double major in college, history and bible, with the intention of entering the ministry, a career which soon foundered on my excessive liberality of scripture interpretation in a fundamentalist denomination. Ten more years I labored in the "vineyards of the Lord" to help found a church, taught Sunday school classes while my family struggled with the growing dissonance and the economic privations of living on whatever work I could find.

Then I could not sustain the internal argument any longer and entered five years of almost total silence on religious matters, studying and trying to find a center to the question. In the twenty years since then I've been through lots of pain both personal and physical including two close brushes with death, without so much as a prayer. I've decided this way suits me better.

There's nothing cheap about my atheism, and I know that my story is neither uncommon or extreme. Others have paid much more to be rid of the suffocating entanglements of faith.

And there's nothing "New" or original about my atheism either. We're just tired of being told how awful we are for failing to bow to a destructive fantasy.

It's not true. What else is there?

By george.wiman (not verified) on 26 Apr 2010 #permalink

Here, displayed with an altogether elegant incomprehensibility in Grayling's casual juxtaposition of the sea-born goddess and the crucified God (who is a crucified man), one catches a glimpse of the enigma of the Christian event, which Nietzsche understood and Grayling does not: the lightning bolt that broke from the cloudless sky of pagan antiquity, the long revolution that overturned the hierarchies of heaven and earth alike.

Students of history and anthropology should be relieved to know that nothing substantial has ever occurred in theological thought outside Western and Middle Eastern cultures.

Hear that, non-Christians? Why, your beliefs are simply pagan.

(I often think of Enki when confronted with such self-serving arguments. Why, if only he could have matched the amount of ejaculate spilt by Christians over their own apologetics, he might have managed more than the Tigris and Euphrates.)

By Brownian, OM (not verified) on 26 Apr 2010 #permalink

Had he not been trying to pass that off as logic, that was actually a rather enjoyable read. His command of language is a bit wasted though. He should try fiction, or better yet, theatre scripts

By johnathan.harrington (not verified) on 26 Apr 2010 #permalink

Fun bit about Napoleon. All other connotations aside, he makes it sound as if the guy became emperor by picking fights he didn't expect to win.

By james.haight (not verified) on 26 Apr 2010 #permalink

By the way, Sherlock Holmes is an utterly abominable guide to reason: his methods don't work. The naive dependence on the infallibility of deductive logic that Arthur Conan Doyle saddled the detective with is ridiculous, and that aphorism is impossible to implement in the real world, where you really can't eliminate all possibilities. And I will remind everyone that Doyle believed in fairies.

Doyle largely stank as a logician, but he was head and shoulders above the professional coppers of the time. (In other words, police work circa 1880, when Doyle first started writing his tales, was at the same level as medicine circa 1800, when a homeopath pushing a watery placebo remedy was a darned sight better than a Paris-educated leech-wielder.) He did save two wrongly accused men -- Oscar Slater and George Edalji -- from the slammer.

But really, his Sherlock Holmes was based on his efforts to recall the diagnostic wonders performed by Dr. Joseph Bell, the chief surgeon at Edinburgh Infirmary when Doyle was a medical student there, and he really was a very good diagnostician for the time.

By phoenixwoman (not verified) on 26 Apr 2010 #permalink

Nathaniel is exactly right. It’s the First Cause argument wrapped in typical fluffery, combined with admiration of the beauty of the Emperor’s New Clothes Passion Play.

If there’s reason our arguments haven’t changed in the past three thousand (or more) years, it’s the obvious one: religion hasn’t changed in the past three thousand (or more) years, either. If Epicurus could figure out that omnibenevolence is bullshit, and do it centuries before the Osiris / Dionysus myth got re-re-re-re-reworked to fit into the Jewish pantheon and had the name, “Jesus,” slapped on it, why haven’t the blithering fucking idiots been able to figure it out?

Oh, wait….

Cheers,

b&

--
EAC Memographer
BAAWA Knight of Blasphemy
``All but God can prove this sentence true.''

By Ben Goren (not verified) on 26 Apr 2010 #permalink

So, what he's got is just a "where did it all come from?" argument. That's it? Does he really think we've never heard that one before? Does he really think it hasn't been refuted before?

Jesus Christ and a truck-load of saints.

So, what he's got is just a "where did it all come from?" argument.

Well... yeah... but did you see all the words he used?

It's gotta be disheartening to wear out a thesaurus so completely only to have your entire screed refuted simply, eloquently and correctly with three simple words:

This is stupid.

By Celtic_Evolution (not verified) on 26 Apr 2010 #permalink

But anyone who chooses to lament that event should also be willing, first, to see this image of the God-man, broken at the foot of the cross, for what it is, in the full mystery of its historical contingency, spiritual pathos, and moral novelty: that tender agony of the soul that finds the glory of God in the most abject and defeated of human forms. Only if one has succeeded in doing this can it be of any significance if one still, then, elects to turn away.

Been there, done that. Yeah, yeah: there's this whole big paradox about power being made perfect in weakness, losing one's life to save it, the first being last and vice versa, the meek inheriting the earth, humbling the mighty and raising up the humble, etc, etc, and the Passion is at its centre. And if you like paradox (and I do) it's a powerful marrative. It's probably even done some good, in providing hope and inspiration to movements of liberation (which is not to ignore the harm that has also arisen from that story).

Certainly, the trope of a seemingly insignificant hero defeating the Evil Overlord by surprise when all seemed lost is common enough in fiction. But that's the point, isn't it? Whatever its power, it *is* fiction. I have done what Hart asks, I have contemplated and loved his "mystery" -- and (eventually) elected to turn away. Though I might choose to draw inspiration from this or other stories, I recognize that they point to no deep ontology about the universe. It is my choice to live in reality, not mytho-poesie.

By Eamon Knight (not verified) on 26 Apr 2010 #permalink

I actually made an (rather painful) attempt to get through Hart's essay before reading PZ's critique. To no avail, unfortunately, as I failed to extract any actual opinion from it.

To me Hart comes of as the ultimate post-modernist: to him, nothing is ultimately true (as far as philosophy goes) and we are all left to compare and contrast the leftovers. Take that and add a style of writing so intentionally dense one has to employ a machete in order to navigate it.

That's the reason he lingers on whether the arguments we make are complicated enough, interesting enough or whether we are sufficiently versed in that we argument against. If you ignore all reality this is what you are left with. Philosophical arguments not aimed at understanding the universe (as that is, to Hart, pointless) but to entertain us and work as a form of higher, existentialistic crossword puzzles.

To anyone even remotely interested in reality this is of course complete bull. But not to Hart it seems.

How can you dismiss the realkity of Star Wars, when you haven't begun to adress the vast amount of Fan-fiction written about it?

One does not have to believe any of it, of course--the Christian story, its moral claims, its metaphysical systems, and so forth.

Might as well believe in The Force then. You have to acknowledge the power of the Dark Side, after all.

By Left_Wing_Fox (not verified) on 26 Apr 2010 #permalink

You may have heard the voice of Eeyore; you may have heard the voice of Ben Stein. I heard Jim Carrey's imitation of Ben Stein from The Mask.

By NitricAcid (not verified) on 26 Apr 2010 #permalink

Doyle didn't go crazy. Doyle was always crazy.
Here was a man who was convinced that magic tricks were done with actual magic, even though he was close friends with Houdini, who EXPLAINED HOW THEY WERE DONE.
Today he'd be a regular on Huffington Post.

By https://me.yah… (not verified) on 26 Apr 2010 #permalink

I heard Jim Carrey's imitation of Ben Stein from The Mask.

Funny... I heard Henry Kissinger. Probably why I couldn't get through it...

By Celtic_Evolution (not verified) on 26 Apr 2010 #permalink

Ugh. It's the same old tired shit arguments everywhere:

I was far from home, so I put the radio on scan. It paused on a Christian station; there was a segment produced by the Moody Bible Institute (has a lot of power & funding with a high listenership) that included the term "the new atheists", so of course, I had to be a masochist and listen...

They were talking about how we call Christians deluded... And their argument basically came down to the Towelie (South Park) method:

Atheists: The religious have no evidence to support their harebrained beliefs, but keep maintaining they have evidence. They are completely deluded.
Radio Guy: You're a towel deluded! [insert laughable drivel "supporting" evidence of their God with a few insults toward Dawkins and Harris thrown in]

Then, naturally, they reverted to the usual canards--'Atheists have no morals! Atheists cannot have morals because they are Atheists! Point proven!'

Sigh.

By Bethistopheles (not verified) on 26 Apr 2010 #permalink

'Tis Himself, OM:

Hart and theists like him complain "atheists don't know all the nuances of centuries of theology, therefore how can they claim god doesn't exist?"

But when you try to pin them down on what they mean by "nuance," they inevitably spew self-important nonsense like Hart's. If they insist on putting forth meaningless babble like that as a best effort, they shouldn't expect to be taken seriously when they sniff that we heathens Just Don't Understand.

It's not true. What else is there?

Bravo. This is the crux of the matter. If Christianity isn't true, it fails. And it isn't. All the metaphysical word salad in the world can't hide that fact.

By Galahad Threepwood (not verified) on 26 Apr 2010 #permalink

Sounds like in his justification for God, he's pushing the old trope of No Ontological Inertia. I've seen other use it. And that's all it is, a stupid trope with no basis in reality.

By MoonShark (not verified) on 26 Apr 2010 #permalink

Celtic_Evolution @#3:

what this guy put forth is nothing short of word compost.

But surely, with this much horseshit, there has to be a pony in there somewhere!

These claims start, rather, from the fairly elementary observation that nothing contingent, composite, finite, temporal, complex, and mutable can account for its own existence, and that even an infinite series of such things can never be the source or ground of its own being, but must depend on some source of actuality beyond itself. Thus, abstracting from the universal conditions of contingency, one very well may (and perhaps must) conclude that all things are sustained in being by an absolute plenitude of actuality, whose very essence is being as such: not a "supreme being," not another thing within or alongside the universe, but the infinite act of being itself, the one eternal and transcendent source of all existence and knowledge, in which all finite being participates.

This is a classic example of pretentious word-salad. (It's not dissimilar from the kind of vague excuses I myself used to make, during the period when I was in the process of losing my faith.) He could have conveyed the meaning equally well in one sentence: "The universe couldn't just have appeared from nowhere." It's a version of the age-old "First Cause" argument. But he chooses to obfuscate his meaning, in order to make the idea sound more intellectually rigorous than it actually is.

Admittedly, this is one of the less absurd religious arguments. And it's quite a strong argument in favour of deism. But it's certainly not an argument in favour of the kind of personal, interventionist God in which (most) Christians believe. You can't jump logically from "The universe must have a First Cause" to "That First Cause must be a personal God who loves us all very deeply, and came to earth in human form so that he could die to appease himself for our sins, except that he didn't really die because he was resurrected three days later". That's a much stronger claim, and requires much stronger evidence. The "First Cause" argument is therefore completely useless as a support for the claims of Christian theology. Indeed, Hart seems to acknowledge this where he says:

It certainly says nearly nothing about who or what God is.

So I don't have a clue what point he's even trying to make here. He seems to be trying to impress people with his ability to use language, rather than making any worthwhile or coherent argument.

According to Chris Hallquist, "Robert M. Price has said on a couple of occasions that to explain apologetics is to refute it. In this case, to summarize [William Lane Craig's argument] is to parody it."

It's not our fault that we're driving Panzers and they're all peasants and whores (you know, I'd never think of an analogy so belittling of believers as the one that Hart himself comes up with. I'm impressed).

Huh? I can see why Hart thinks it is insulting to be compared with peasants and whores, but you, PZ, should know better.

I'd say the new atheists are more like an army of panzer tanked Lothario warriors desperately searching from peasant filled town to peasant filled town for a decent challenge and wondering why the Hell this land of peasants and whores is marked on the map as, 'ChasteWarriorland'.

By The ghost of R… (not verified) on 26 Apr 2010 #permalink

These claims start, rather, from the fairly elementary observation that nothing contingent, composite, finite, temporal, complex, and mutable can account for its own existence, and that even an infinite series of such things can never be the source or ground of its own being, but must depend on some source of actuality beyond itself. Thus, abstracting from the universal conditions of contingency, one very well may (and perhaps must) conclude that all things are sustained in being by an absolute plenitude of actuality, whose very essence is being as such: not a "supreme being," not another thing within or alongside the universe, but the infinite act of being itself, the one eternal and transcendent source of all existence and knowledge, in which all finite being participates.

I have heard this argument for God many times, and each and every time it seems to me that the person making it has stumbled across nothing more or less profound than "existence exists." Or, perhaps, "reality is real." He then takes both words, capitalizes them, and gives them the attributes of a Giant Mind. This, we call God.

Oh come on. God is not another word people use for reality (or even Reality.) They apply the word when they have a certain kind of view OF reality in their minds -- a view which might be right, or wrong, and which is derived from empirical evidence, not from following First Principles or whatever the hell they think they're doing. If God was the Necessary Ground of Being, it would be self-contradiction to wonder if it exists at all. Nobody wonders if reality exists; they argue over what it's like.

This is not a deep and profound argument. It's another dreary example of the superficial bait-and-switch. Do you think that Reality exists? Yes? Then you believe in Being. God is not a Being, God is Being itself. Ta da! Another convert.

Word games. I sometimes fantasize what would happen if cutting-edge teams of Catholic theologian-scientists were to do a series of experiments and discover that God is not Pure Actuality after all. Instead, it turns out to be Pure Potentiality.

Oh my God, they would have to rewrite all the Sunday School books! This changes everything! It would turn religion on its head!11!1 !!eleventy 111!!

@llewelly #41: I believe the point is that the theists would consider the comparison belittling.

By Naked Bunny wi… (not verified) on 26 Apr 2010 #permalink

'Tis Himself, OM @ 14

Does he know why human hearts had to be offered to this deity every day? Or does he just dismiss Huitzilopochtli without knowing all the details of Huitzilopochtlian theology?

ehemmm..

Actually the sacrifices to Huitzilopochtli were once a year.. between the nauhas, sacrifices were done in a monthly basis ( prehispanic months were 20 days long).. And each month were dedicated to a different lord (modern scholars do no like to refer to them as gods, since there was a very diferent concept, ie, they could die).

And of course... understanding this is irrelevant to believe or not in their existance..

sorry..just... i could not resist... i have studied a los of prehispanic history...

By elnauhual (not verified) on 26 Apr 2010 #permalink

Ta da! Another convert.

Wow, that was easy. Just like in a Chick tract.

By Naked Bunny wi… (not verified) on 26 Apr 2010 #permalink

Walton @ #39:

"But [Hart] chooses to obfuscate his meaning, in order to make the idea sound more intellectually rigorous than it actually is".

Well said. Whenever I find myself trying to swim through Big Word Treacle, my bullshit radar comes on, whether I'm in agreement of the author's opinions or not.

I have a general question. (I've been lurking here for about a month -- stumbled on the blog by accident, read something that was coke-through-the-nose funny, and now I'm hooked). So OK: how new is the "New Atheist" movement? I've always been an atheist by default, not having been subject to religious indoctrination as a child, and up until recently I have spared the topic of religion very little thought. Suddenly, atheism seems to have acquired a capital A -- have I missed something, or has the debate about the existence of God become much more important of late?

I don't think the whole thing collapses if it isn't true, in the factual sense. Certainly the metaphysical elements do- obviously if Jesus didn't rise from the grave, that doesn't bode well for the rest of us! But, and it's a big "but," surely the story of the Christ is a compelling one whether or not it actually happened. The lessons availible in Homer and Shakespeare are no less resonant, no less powerful, no less true for their never having happened. The Gospels are the same. The only problem is when people start reading them as prose (read: facts), instead of poetry.

By chaseacross (not verified) on 26 Apr 2010 #permalink

You wanna hear a dumb word game?

Over on another forum, I've been arguing with a defender of Aristotlean-Thomist metaphysics. I'm convinced that A-T is nothing more than a pathetic exercise in equivocation and logical fallacies, and my interlocutor convinced me of this by explaining what A-T means when they "deduce" that "God" -- the first cause, which they argue as if it is a person even though they have nothing that indicates that it is a person -- is "true" and "good".

When "true" and "good" are used with regards to a person, they generally mean something along the lines of honest, loyal, and benevolent, right?

Not in A-T, they don't. They mean that the "first cause" conforms to its essence. And the essence of a thing is exactly what the purest example of the kind of thing that it is. The example offered was that a triangle with straight lines conforms to the essence of triangularity better than a triangle drawn with sloppy lines. And of course, the first cause cannot be anything other than first cause so, -- hey, presto! -- the first cause is "good" and "true".

God is good and true like a well-drafted triangle is good and true, or like an electron is good and true, not like a person is good and true.

Oh, and God is "powerful" because causing effects is a power. Uh-huh.

So the next time you get into an argument with a defender of A-T, and they claim that God is good and true and powerful, you now know that this means that the first cause is what it is, and it has the power to be the first cause.

Well, whoop-te-doo-dah. I'm sure you're all very impressed with the wonderful arguments for God now, right? You're all going to repent of your sins and go straight to church, right?

Yeah, right.

By Owlmirror (not verified) on 26 Apr 2010 #permalink

I never understand why they always say "Atheists just don't understand our good arguments, like the ontological argument".

Don't they realize that you cannot prove existence through argumentation? You can make an infinitely elegant argument that a wad of sentient spaghetti created the universe, but that doesn't make it true. The step you must take if you want to move from having a mere argument to having the truth is that there is positive evidence for truth. Without positive evidence for your claims, all the arguments in the world are no more than dust in the wind.

After all, we had some very good arguments that proved the existence of a luminoferous aether - and yet reality remained unimpressed by that bit of cleverness.

FWIW, I'm more in the Sastra camp than the Glen Davidson camp.

To prove the point, you could say: "Yes, each contingent, composite, finite, temporal, complex, and mutable thing cannot account for its own existence. But all of them together can account for their collective existence, because there isn't anything else to talk about. Granted, it's just not a sexed up story that will attract the attention of you lot, but that's how it goes."

Still, it's kind of a mug's game interpreting mere abstractions. I think the translation of his later remarks in that paragraph are: we can formulate the notion of what's necessary to life, the universe, and everything, and once we've got it, then we can go on from there to conclude that it is the essence of being as such.

Well, fine, whatever. But how do you know that your limited puny human powers of abstraction have hit on the right ideas for what's necessary? You can't, unless you're an immodest metaphysician looking to troll.

the fairly elementary observation that nothing contingent, composite, finite, temporal, complex, and mutable can account for its own existence, and that even an infinite series of such things can never be the source or ground of its own being, but must depend on some source of actuality beyond itself.

I'm fairly ignorant, but I don't believe this is an elementary observation of physicists concerning the Big Bang.

E @47:

No, you didn't miss anything. "New Atheist" was a label applied by others, usually critics. A point we make around these parts quite frequently is that there's nothing "new" about it. Basically, atheism is getting more exposure and more atheists are being more vocal than they have in years past, but otherwise the idea is pretty much the same.

chaseacross @48:

No religious person uses the word "true" in that sense when talking about their religion, or any other. I mean, I think mythology is really interesting and valuable to be studied, but we're not at a point where we can analyze whether these stories are interesting or not, when a substantial proportion of our society isn't prepared to acknowledge the possibility of them being false.

You can't discuss the relative merits of Christian mythology with a believer, because you're not a level playing field. They have a blind spot when it comes to their own theology.

By Kyorosuke (not verified) on 26 Apr 2010 #permalink

So OK: how new is the "New Atheist" movement?

I believe traditional theology posits us as an inevitable beacksliding result of the removal of prayer from schools and the invention of shoes that allow women to leave the kitchen and get jobs, whereas the more contemporary theologies of Hart, Amstrong, and Eagleton blame us on Big Pharma, who built the temples within which we worship at the altar of Science.

Of course, in neither tradition do you, the 'default' atheist raised without religious indoctrination education exist, as the former posit that we're simply denying a god we acknowledge but don't wish to submit to due to some form of adolescent rebellion while the latter similarly posit you're denying a god that is manifestly obvious to all (doesn't have to be Christ, yet somehow always is) because, well, they never seem to answer other than to suggest it has to do with the fact that Science Doesn't Know Everything.

By Brownian, OM (not verified) on 26 Apr 2010 #permalink

I'd say the new atheists are more like an army of panzer tanked Lothario warriors desperately searching from peasant filled town to peasant filled town for a decent challenge and wondering why the Hell this land of peasants and whores is marked on the map as, 'ChasteWarriorland'.

:D

The first reaction of any rational, intelligent human being to that explanation should be, simply, "What?"

I don't know about that. I'm rational and intelligent and I understood it perfectly.

Shorter Hart: "We don't know exactly how the universe began. Therefore, I'm going to assume it had a discreet beginning, call the circumstances behind it 'God,' and then equivocate between that and a magic human who created the Earth as per the Bible and hope people don't notice."

These claims start, rather, from the fairly elementary observation that nothing contingent, composite, finite, temporal, complex, and mutable can account for its own existence, and that even an infinite series of such things can never be the source or ground of its own being, but must depend on some source of actuality beyond itself.

Wrong! Doesn't know a thing about biology, which we already knew. On the other hand, nothing infinite, atemporal, and immutable can account for its own existence (other than in fantasy movies or fairy tales)...by the very definition of it: atemporal and infinite, thus never had a beginning. It simply doesn't add up. By the way, for how long did their god feel bored before creating the Earth? An eternity? What a moron, being so omnipotent, could have amused itself a little earlier!

By No go(o)d (not verified) on 26 Apr 2010 #permalink

E #47 wrote:

So OK: how new is the "New Atheist" movement?

The real answer is 'not new at all' -- the so-called New Atheists are not saying anything, or making any points, which haven't been made before. They'd be the first to say this.

The answer you want, though, is 'not long.' After 9-11 two major atheist books came out and shot to the best seller list riding, perhaps, on the public concern over fundamentalism: Dawkins' The God Delusion and Harris' End of Faith. They were followed by more best sellers by Dennett and Hitchens, with similar themes. The 'new' is partly because of the popularity.

But there are other similarities. As I see it, the "new atheists" argue against one or more of these popular tropes on religion (which are often held by religious and non-religious):

1.) Science has nothing to say, one way or the other, about the existence of God.

2.) Religion is a positive force for good which is only evil when it's distorted by 'extremists.'

3.) Everyone has the right to believe whatever they want in religion: this means that they should never have to worry about anyone telling them they're wrong. It is rude to publicly argue against religion, or try to analyze it: there are many paths to truth.

4.) Most people need faith: their lives would be worse off without it, because they could not cope with harsh realities. Therefore, it should be respected, and the faithful should be respected as well. One must be very gentle and tactful when dealing with them.

Some of those may overlap a bit. But there are atheists who endorse some of the above: I don't think most of the atheists who hang out here would, though.

Admittedly, this is one of the less absurd religious arguments. And it's quite a strong argument in favour of deism. But it's certainly not an argument in favour of the kind of personal, interventionist God in which (most) Christians believe. You can't jump logically from "The universe must have a First Cause" to "That First Cause must be a personal God who loves us all very deeply, and came to earth in human form so that he could die to appease himself for our sins, except that he didn't really die because he was resurrected three days later".

Well put, Walton. When confronted with an interlocutor making this argument, one can have great fun by asking, "Yes, yes, but as a Christian, why are you trying to convince me of the metaphysical necessity for Vishnu?"

By Brownian, OM (not verified) on 26 Apr 2010 #permalink

The lessons availible in Homer and Shakespeare are no less resonant, no less powerful, no less true for their never having happened. The Gospels are the same.

Except for the utter lack of literary merit. Mark (the original) reads like it was written overnight in a panic of inspiration by someone with only a tenuous grasp of the literary conventions he's dabbling in. Matthew is a rewrite by somebody alternately perplexed and outraged by his source material and adds very little to Mark's account beyond popularized absurdities and a tendentious and over-literal prose style. Luke takes the same tack, but uses his comparative facility with Greek literary and rhetorical style to squeeze the last remnants of Mark's rough immediacy out of the tale and leaves behind a Jesus devoid of human qualities. John tweaks the basic storyline quite a bit more than the others but ends up with an even less human Jesus than Luke who speaks not in sentences but in late 1st century sermons. The overwhelming trend in this tradition is actually away from any of the qualities that make Shakespeare great and toward a lifeless propaganda piece. It's really crap literature, even by ancient standards. Only the faith commitments of its proponents and its undeniable impact on history leads anyone to give it a second look. But, seriously, if you don't believe it it's nothing but a historical and literary curiosity.

I'll take Hamlet, Falstaff and Lear any day.

I'm obviously coming at this from a different angle to most of you. What pisses me off about the whole 'great revolution of god coming to earth and dying and being reborn to save us, like no deity had ever, ever done before' is that it was neither new nor revolutionary, as five minutes study of the Greek mysteries would reveal. Personally, I think any christian apologist who uses this argument should be sued for copyright infringement by enraged neo-Hellenists.

By Theadosia (not verified) on 26 Apr 2010 #permalink

E-
I can't remember a time in the past* when so many atheists were so vocal about the harm that religion does to a society. Between the books, the blogs, the speaking engagements and whatnot, people felt the need to label us something.

That being said, I hate the "new atheist" label**. Depending on the speaker, it can have as much venom behind it as "uppity Negro."

*Not that I'm that old.

**Like you, I was raised without religion and didn't really become involved either way until I married into a mixed- religion family.

By OurDeadSelves (not verified) on 26 Apr 2010 #permalink

What's left of the RDF-ers had some merry fun with this on the comments at the site, back when it appeared a couple of days back.

I would just like to say that the phrase "sesquipedalian wankfest" was mine, and I should have copyrighted it.

By jack.rawlinson (not verified) on 26 Apr 2010 #permalink

Owlmirror #49 wrote:

Not in A-T, they don't. They mean that the "first cause" conforms to its essence. And the essence of a thing is exactly what the purest example of the kind of thing that it is.

They then trade on this understanding of "purity" to explain why we need salvation: imperfection cannot, logically, exist with perfection. We need to be wiped clean of our essence of sin.

Whenever anyone brings the idea of "essence" into an explanation of reality, they're dealing in pre-scientific thinking, and it's anachronistic. Scientists got rid of the idea of "essence" when they realized that things did not burn because they had the "essence" of fire in them, and fire was not hot because it had the "essence" of heat.

Most arguments for the existence of God seem to boil down to variations of "Like Can Only Come From Like." Followed, of course, by the popular "Trust Your Instincts."

elnauhual #45

I should have known someone versed in Huitzilopochtlian theology would show up.

By 'Tis Himself, OM (not verified) on 26 Apr 2010 #permalink

...finds the glory of God in the most abject and defeated of human forms.

So does he find glory in the torture and humiliation of a human or does he just worship a god who finds glory in the humiliation and torture of a human? Either is sick and disgusting.

chaseacross #48 wrote:

The lessons availible in Homer and Shakespeare are no less resonant, no less powerful, no less true for their never having happened. The Gospels are the same.

You could be right, but I think that, in the subjective area of deciding what is 'profound' or moving, the Bible suffers from the problem of being seriously over-rated. This makes it hard to just evaluate it, on its merits.

I think a lot of blockbuster movies have been scorned by critics who would have praised it, had it been an unknown little sleeper film with a no-name cast. Maybe that's my problem. If it was presented to me and the world as a piece of ancient literature, I might be more moved by the themes and characters.

I think it should be added that it's really, really important to define what we mean by God.

Like I said above, the kind of "First Cause" argument which Hart seems to be advancing (though he's wrapping it up in mountains of pretentious word-salad) is a reasonable argument for deism. It certainly doesn't prove the existence of a deistic God, but it is a basis on which deism can be intellectually defended, and it isn't a silly argument. As such, I'd say I'm a pure agnostic as regards the deist conception of God; such a God might or might not exist. We simply have no way of knowing. It isn't a testable or falsifiable hypothesis; there's no way, to our knowledge, of distinguishing between a universe with a deistic God and a universe with no God. And since there's no particular reason to suppose that a deistic God, if he/she/it exists, cares whether we believe in him/her/it, it probably isn't a very important issue in practice.

But there's a big difference between that kind of abstract, general conception of "God", and the kind of personal interventionist God in which orthodox Christians believe. The existence of that kind of God is a much stronger claim, which requires much stronger evidence. Of course, even within Christianity, there are thousands of different conceptions of "God" depending on the theological outlook of the particular Christian you're talking to. But most share certain features: the belief that God is in some sense a person with a distinct will and personality; the belief that God has intervened at several identifiable moments in human history and caused supernatural events to happen; and the belief that God was incarnate in the (allegedly) historical person of Jesus, who was born of a virgin, died and was physically resurrected from the dead before ascending into heaven. These are strong and specific claims about material reality, and they are therefore claims for which we can expect evidence to be adduced. Until such evidence is adduced, the rational response is to remain sceptical.

These claims start, rather, from the fairly elementary observation that nothing contingent, composite, finite, temporal, complex, and mutable can account for its own existence, and that even an infinite series of such things can never be the source or ground of its own being, but must depend on some source of actuality beyond itself.

So, therefore (the Judeo-Christian) "God"? What happens if the universe just 'poofed' into existence for no rhyme or reason, all by itself, just because it could? What then?

Argumentum ad ignorantiam, indeed.

By audiolight (not verified) on 26 Apr 2010 #permalink

So just because David Hart has never heard a New Atheist refute the Cosmological Argument, he assumes there is no refutation?

Here's a hint: The fallacy of composition. Just because everything that composes the universe has a cause, it does not follow that the universe itself must have a cause.

And he admits that that particular argument gets you nowhere as far as Christianity is concerned -- for all that argument states, it could have been a council of Gods who got together and poofed up the universe. Say, the holy trinity of Quetzlcoatl, Thor, and Vishnu.

I'm so tired of hearing armchair philosophers blather on about how philosophically unsophisticated the New Atheists are. We don't have to be, moron. All the arguments for your deity were refuted long ago. You want some new counterarguments? You'll have to come up with some new arguments first.

Chuck
http://www.irreligiosophy.com

surely the story of the Christ is a compelling one whether or not it actually happened. The lessons availible in Homer and Shakespeare are no less resonant, no less powerful, no less true for their never having happened. The Gospels are the same.

When Shakespearean Thespian troupes start trying to take over Congress and re-write history and biology books, we can talk.

By george.wiman (not verified) on 26 Apr 2010 #permalink

Brownian@#54:

Just to clarify: I did receive some religious education. (It would be quite an accomplishment to be raised in a Judeo-christian society and somehow contrive to remain ignorant of the contents of the Bible, no?). What I did NOT get was religious indoctrination. Or were you being tongue-in-cheek?

Kyorosuke@#53/Sastra@#58:

Yes, I see that atheism itself is hardly a new idea. But thank you for your replies, from which I take it that the so-called "atheist movement" is really just the increased exposure of atheism which has primarily resulted from the release of The God Delusion (which I have read) and End of Faith (which I have not). If so, then I'd say that I have missed something. Those books came out a good long while ago.

Walton #68 wrote:

I think it should be added that it's really, really important to define what we mean by God.

I agree. But I think that even the 'Deistic' God has too many person-like attributes to be established by the First Cause argument.

Unless, of course, we're content to use the term as bit of metaphorical poetry, and apply it even to a quantum fluctuation in a mindless substrate of superstrings. So again, we'd need the definition.

but it is a basis on which deism can be intellectually defended,

I don't think so. You would have to defend the "first cause" assumption itself first. As I suggested above, physicists (at least those I've heard) seem to be saying that there was nothing. It may not be intuitive, this is an area in which I know exceedingly little, but...

Chuck #70,

You want some new counterarguments? You'll have to come up with some new arguments first

So true. As it is in the other direction. Dawkins' argument amounts to: If god made everything, who made god? And Hitchens' seminal contribution is everything bad comes from religion. If the old theistic arguments of which you complain were invented on day one, the best the new atheists have are rehashes of arguments made early on day two.

If you are masochistic enough to endure Metacrock's hate-on for atheists, megalomania, clumsy writing, and misspellings, you will find that his blog is full of that sort of argumentation. He never tires of whining about how wrong atheists are when they supposedly believe that God is a "big man in the sky". He claims that God is not a well-defined entity but "being itself" or "the ground of being", and the like, but he slips back into "big man in the sky" language suspiciously often.

By Loren Petrich (not verified) on 26 Apr 2010 #permalink

I'm ashamed to say I think I understand what Hart is saying. He seems to think that, irrespective of whether the crucifixion and resurrection story is true or not, it's a really meaningful story, you guys, way more meaningful than any other fictional story, and if the New Atheists want to talk about how there's no evidence any gods exist and how ridiculous it is for grown, educated adults to believe someone actually came back from the dead, we first have to acknowledge that it's a really meaningful story, you guys.

By truthspeaker (not verified) on 26 Apr 2010 #permalink

OurDeadSelves@#62:

That being said, I hate the "new atheist" label**. Depending on the speaker, it can have as much venom behind it as "uppity Negro."

Yes. Well, that, plus the fact that when I read "new atheist" my brain wants to replace it with "new age traveler" and then I'm stuck with an image of unwashed people lounging on hilltops at the summer solstice.....

the lightning bolt that broke from the cloudless sky of pagan antiquity

Yeah, the pagan antiquity that brought us Greek drama. I'll take that, thanks.

Well, that, plus the fact that when I read "new atheist" my brain wants to replace it with "new age traveler" and then I'm stuck with an image of unwashed people lounging on hilltops at the summer solstice.....

Gross. Thanks for sharing. Now I'll be stuck thinking about hippies for the rest of the night.

By OurDeadSelves (not verified) on 26 Apr 2010 #permalink

If the old theistic arguments...were invented on day one, the best the new atheists have are rehashes of arguments made early on day two.

Um, I think that's the point, heddle.

This tripe reeks of several of the rotting corpses of pro-faith 'argument', with the most redolent being the Christian double-standard of the requirements of 'nuanced understanding' in order to justify holding a postion. There are no entry requirements for attending church or proclaiming faith in the Christian god; no-one has to get a mark of 75% or more on a multiple-choice questionnaire on scripture, or write essays to demonstrate their understanding of the ontological argument or Aquinas's five ways in order to call themselves Christian.

Why then must atheists be forced to adhere to a standard that Christians are not held to? Why can't someone purchase their atheism 'cheaply' when the overwhelming majority of Christians belong to the religion for the simple reason they were born to Christian parents?

By WowbaggerOM (not verified) on 26 Apr 2010 #permalink

You'll all be sorry when He comes back down from His mountaintop and swats you with His majestic rod of justice.

Because did you see the size of that thing in the church painting that was on here the other week? One swipe with that and it's a severe concussion at least.

By SlantedScience (not verified) on 26 Apr 2010 #permalink

And Hitchens' seminal contribution is everything bad comes from religion.

How dishonest, That's not an argument concerning the existence of deities. Nor is it an accurate representation of what Hitchens says.

PZ wrote:

"wallowing in the bathos of the crucifixion"

Did you mean "pathos"?

heddle wrote:

So true. As it is in the other direction.

Is this what's referred to as a tu quoque?

By WowbaggerOM (not verified) on 26 Apr 2010 #permalink

You'll all be sorry when He comes back down from His mountaintop and swats you with His majestic rod of justice.

What a boring troll writing drivel, as you presented no evidence. Up your game, or STFU.

By Nerd of Redhead, OM (not verified) on 26 Apr 2010 #permalink

Whenever anyone brings the idea of "essence" into an explanation of reality, they're dealing in pre-scientific thinking, and it's anachronistic. Scientists got rid of the idea of "essence" when they realized that things did not burn because they had the "essence" of fire in them, and fire was not hot because it had the "essence" of heat.

I'm not so sure that that's what was meant by essence as presented -- it certainly seemed more like an abstraction or a definition of a thing, than trying to explain something about the thing. Real Essentialism, by David Oderberg, was recommended.

That having been said, my interlocutor mentioned a dog having the essence of dogness, which intrigued me precisely because I have seen biologists trying to nail down what exactly a species is (as David Marjanović has pointed out more than once, there are about a hundred species concepts used by zoölogists), and I think that all biologists that I have seen discussing the matter would agree that defining an animal is to some degree arbitrary (In The Ancestor's Tale, Richard Dawkins goes on at some length at the failure of discrete essentialism with regards to organisms that have evolved).

I asked whether the "essence of dogness" was something definite, or fuzzy and indeterminate, and was told that it was definite.

So I began wondering what was "definite" about dogness, and pointed to the Wikipedia page for the Canidae, a tolerably large taxon, and asked which subgrouping(s) had the essence of dogness, and which did not?

No answer at first, and then a plea of ignorance about the details of dogness.

I pressed on about that for a bit, and finally asked if there were some ancestral animal of dogs that had had the essence of dogness, and none of that animal's parents or siblings would have had it.

Nothing but waffling and continued evasion.

I pointed out that and absolute and definite boundary as he had claimed would entail just such a sharp split, and he decided that he didn't want to discuss essences any more.

He also bailed on discussing final causes -- I pasted in your excellent summary that Aquinas had deduced his own mind and mistaken it for the mind of God. My interlocutor didn't like that at all -- as usual, we just don't understand what Aquinas meant -- and appears to be bowing out for good, last I looked.

Oh, well.

Most arguments for the existence of God seem to boil down to variations of "Like Can Only Come From Like."

Heh. Someone else in the same thread even explicitly said that "Mind can only come from Mind".

By Owlmirror (not verified) on 26 Apr 2010 #permalink

Most arguments for the existence of God seem to boil down to variations of "Like Can Only Come From Like."

Indeed; the concept of petty, vindictive, insecure, tribal authoritarians in the sky can only have emanated from the mind of petty, vindictive, insecure, tribal authoritarians on the ground.

By WowbaggerOM (not verified) on 26 Apr 2010 #permalink

What I find chiefly offensive about them is not that they are skeptics or atheists; rather, it is that they are not skeptics at all and have purchased their atheism cheaply,...

As opposed to what? Xians who were born into various sects and brainwashed from birth by various threats, promises, and mind control techniques honed by millennia of trial and error. Who exist in a culture of other xians which values conformity and which hates and sanctions defectors any way they can, including historically by killing them.

I guess if atheism is cheap, you have to pay a lot to get out of xianity. Sometimes the cost is your friends, family, or mate.

PS David Hart is an idiot.

Dawkins' argument amounts to: If god made everything, who made god?

The counter-argument is a little more subtle than that. It points out that if everything needs a maker, then God, too, needs a maker, whereas if not everything needs a maker, then why assert that God is indeed the maker?

It basically points out the special pleading at the core of that particular argument.

Inasmuch as special pleading is a logical fallacy, what more do you think is necessary than to point out the logical fallacy in an argument?

If the old theistic arguments of which you complain were invented on day one, the best the new atheists have are rehashes of arguments made early on day two.

I'm not sure why you're arguing against arguing against arguments for God, when -- as best I understood you -- you yourself agree that there are no good arguments for God.

Sola fide, initiated by God alone, yes?

By Owlmirror (not verified) on 26 Apr 2010 #permalink

Shorter David Hart: stop pointing out the fact that religion is, always has been and always will be an unpolishable turd and just respect how much effort its aherents have put in to rolling it in glitter and spraying it with perfume.

By WowbaggerOM (not verified) on 26 Apr 2010 #permalink

87: Whoops, I think your sarcasm detector needs recalibrating. Most people threatening the wrath of god's rod don't reference freudian paintings of Jesus's wang-board abs.

By Left_Wing_Fox (not verified) on 26 Apr 2010 #permalink

Hart is so dismissive and uncharitable about the handful of contributors to "Voices of Disbelief" he alludes to in his diatribe that it makes me wonder how much of the book he read.

It also makes me wonder how he can keep a straight face when he chastises atheists for challenging the weaker (They're all equally weak) arguments for theism. I mean, come on!

By https://www.go… (not verified) on 26 Apr 2010 #permalink

Someone else in the same thread even explicitly said that "Mind can only come from Mind".

Which is amazingly stupid, because it's readily observed that minds are grown, not made.

By dexitroboper (not verified) on 26 Apr 2010 #permalink

If the old theistic arguments of which you complain were invented on day one, the best the new atheists have are rehashes of arguments made early on day two.

What more do we need? Our job is finished, in the philosophy department, it's just a matter of printing the fliers. Unless you had some new arguments, refuting your old ones does actually mean you lose. As to whether or not we, the rationalists, have winning arguments...

Correct me if I'm wrong, but you're on the Internet, aren't you?

By Rutee, Shrieki… (not verified) on 26 Apr 2010 #permalink

Wowbagger@#82:

Why then must atheists be forced to adhere to a standard that Christians are not held to? Why can't someone purchase their atheism 'cheaply' when the overwhelming majority of Christians belong to the religion for the simple reason they were born to Christian parents?

Yes -- exactly. Why not indeed. The suggestion that my atheism was "purchased cheaply" annoyed me, too.

I guess the reason is just numbers. Way more people tick the "Christian" box on the census form than not. Saying you're an atheist is making a statement, whether you intend to or not, so I guess Hart feels justified in suggesting that an atheist should have damn good qualifications if (s)he wishes to use that label.

Which, as you pointed out, is an unfair double-standard.

And Hart should be mocked anyway because of the way he writes (word salad, was it? Awesome).

If the old theistic arguments of which you complain were invented on day one, the best the new atheists have are rehashes of arguments made early on day two.

Exactly. It takes millennia of rehashing the same arguments to get through to theists. Pick a thread from this blog with over 200 comments and you'll see exactly that. It goes like this:

Theist asserts A.
Atheist rebuts A with B.
Theist repeats A.
Atheist rephrases B and C.
Theist repeats A.
Atheist rephrases B and C and asks Theist to address B and/or C.
Theist repeats A.

Rutee, heddle's particular understanding of Christianity is that you can only become a Christian if his god magically changes you into believing - arguments don't actually factor into it.

Basically, it's pixie dust Jesus or nothin'.

By WowbaggerOM (not verified) on 26 Apr 2010 #permalink

Walton & others, whenever I read that "OBVIOUSLY everything that exists must have a cause" I want to yell, "You just assumed your conclusion and are begging the question! You lose!" Not to mention that if everything that exists has a cause, then God/Goddess/Divine Powers must have a cause, too, in infinite regression. And thirdly, Xenophanes pointed out about 500 B.C.E. that we invent deities in our own image:

“But if cattle and horses or lions had hands, or were able to draw with their hands and do the work that men can do, horses would draw the forms of the gods like horses, and cattle like cattle, and they would make their bodies such as they each had themselves.”

Wowbagger, what a great idea! Churches should be allowed to count as members only those who can pass a detailed, essay-question test demonstrating their understanding of the history and theology of their religion. Then we can press for extra education for flaws and inconsistencies in a "Teach the controversy" and "intellectual freedom" enhancement. Once a year, competing theologies get to lecture at the church as well.

heddle #75 wrote:

Dawkins' argument amounts to: If god made everything, who made god?

Not really; it's more like making the point that our way of looking at explanations changed, when we understood evolution.

Nerd of Redhead wrote:

What a boring troll writing drivel, as you presented no evidence. Up your game, or STFU.

Erm, is there a special term for small starfarts, or does the term only apply when the starfart in question is large-to-extra-large?

Anyway, there are some decent comments following the article (as well as some poor ones too, of course). Do a text search for "homeopathic theology." Very clever and pretty accurate.

Sastra wrote:

Not really; it's more like making the point that our way of looking at explanations changed, when we understood evolution.

C'mon Sastra, this is heddle you're talking to here; he'll insist that no Christian ever believed that Genesis was anything but a metaphor and that the increased understanding of evolution never led to a conflict with what any of them believed.

By WowbaggerOM (not verified) on 26 Apr 2010 #permalink

For a long time, I used to call myself an "ignostic" because I thought it was the best position to take. Without a precise definition of God, discussing its existence is meaningless. I eventually moved away from that because there are claims made about God's nature and relationship with this world - there are positive claims to examine. And those claims almost always suffer from being bare assertions, extensions of evolved traits that make no sense to exist on their own. It's anthropomorphising the mysterious.

What I always wonder is why an interventionist deity is proven through reason. Surely the test for an interventionist deity is demonstrated intervention, instead there's interpretation of events in a very anthropomorphic fashion. Hardly convincing stuff. Meanwhile first cause arguments leave us knowing nothing about the nature of the first cause itself.

Dawkins' argument amounts to: If god made everything, who made god?

In a way, yes. But his argument is reason for why a designer itself needs to be designed. That's the importance of his argument, it's about the nature of design itself.

C'mon Sastra, this is heddle you're talking to here; he'll insist that no Christian ever believed that Genesis was anything but a metaphor and that the increased understanding of evolution never led to a conflict with what any of them believed.

No, that's never been heddle's position -- he's argued against YECs, for example.

Of course, as I understand him, his own position is that Genesis is both literally inerrantly true and a metaphor -- a "framework" -- at the same time. Don't ask how that is supposed to work.

By Owlmirror (not verified) on 26 Apr 2010 #permalink

What I find chiefly offensive about them is not that they are skeptics or atheists; rather, it is that they are not skeptics at all and have purchased their atheism cheaply

What I find chiefly offensive is how condescending one can be with so few words. Not sceptics at all? Purchasing atheism? It's rhetoric like this that dismisses on personal grounds as opposed to what the arguments dictate.

Of course the irony of such statements is that ideas such as God aren't even purchased cheaply - they are pushed onto others before they understand what they are being forced to accept. But does that mean one can dismiss the concept itself or arguments made by those who were indoctrinated? Of course not.

Owlmirror wrote:

No, that's never been heddle's position -- he's argued against YECs, for example.

True; I should have specified that he'd argue that it's an undeniable fact that Genesis was never written to be anything but a metaphor and therefore has never - at least in the mind of the right kind of Christian - been in conflict with evolution.

Of course, as I understand him, his own position is that Genesis is both literally inerrantly true and a metaphor -- a "framework" -- at the same time. Don't ask how that is supposed to work.

Perhaps being able to cope with such contradictions is another feature of God's Magical Make-You-A-Believer Pixie Dust™.

By WowbaggerOM (not verified) on 26 Apr 2010 #permalink

Hart's words read like a smart-ish 17 year old American christian raised in relative cultural isolation (who's been dabbling in philosophy/other religions/hot topic), right after doing meth for the first time and just having had a surprising conversation with a smarter attendee of the party in the nearest city that they are at.

By whitebird (not verified) on 26 Apr 2010 #permalink

(please omit "that they are at". Thank you.)

By whitebird (not verified) on 26 Apr 2010 #permalink

@47 : "Whenever I find myself trying to swim through Big Word Treacle, my bullshit radar comes on, whether I'm in agreement of the author's opinions or not."

Reminds me of this:

"However, beyond a simple rehashing of the big ideas out there, it is my modest (and populist) aim to make cultural theory both straightforward and intelligible -- hence the subtitle 'k.i.s.s.' ("Keep It Simple Stupid") -- as well as applicable to those of you asking yourself "What does it all mean?". This is kind of important if this field is not to be strangled by impenetrable prose and dense, elitist drivel."

from http://www.tranquileye.com/mirrors/panop/home.htm

By whitebird (not verified) on 26 Apr 2010 #permalink

Kraid:
You talk as if that was SlantedScience's first post here. Nerd's response is perfectly justified.

#63: I would just like to say that the phrase "sesquipedalian wankfest" was mine, and I should have copyrighted it.

Until I found that sesquipedalian was a reference to the length of the words, I was going to suggest sesquipollichian would be more appropriate.

By Xenithrys (not verified) on 26 Apr 2010 #permalink

What is with the right wing and the holocaust? With Expelled and the Tea baggers and all?

It's like there's a creepy fetishing of it by them.

er....wrong thread

whitebird@#111: from http://www.tranquileye.com/mirrors/panop/home.htm

That's just neat. Thanks for the link!

In general I have respect for a person in possession of an impressive vocabulary and a firm command of the English language. In fact I'll probably keep hanging out here because most of the comments are witty and smart -- plus people keep dropping all these funny terms and labels that I've never heard before (jack.rawlinson, you should have copyrighted "sesquipedalian wankfest;" it's the best one yet on this particular topic) and hey, you never know when a colourful new word will be useful. But I have no time for writers who make their arguments using intentionally dense language. Just because a writer has his punctuation down pat doesn't mean he gets to write never-ending sentences liberally peppered with words whose meanings a reasonably well-educated layperson has to concentrate to remember. It's pompous and tiresome.

Or something like that.

what I wrote in response on the site (pending approval:

A couple of things.In regard to Dawkins' ultimate 747 argument, it's one derived from a posteriori observation. The observation made is that our only knowledge of designers that can represent their goals as thoughts need to be complex. The brain in order to design is both complex and highly ordered. To call a designer "simple" is engaging in special pleading. Dismissing the argument by contending that "We can all happily concede that no complex, ubiquitous, omniscient, and omnipotent superbeing, inhabiting the physical cosmos and subject to the rules of evolution, exists. But who has ever suggested the contrary?" is missing the point of what the argument is. It's not saying that people's conceptions of God is an evolved superbeing, but that any notion of a designer as we understand it must be.As for the claim about atheism being bought cheaply, it misses the point that theism is not only freely given but a forced gift to people who don't know better. Why should God - the Christian God be a starting point? Many of the arguments from the "new atheists" are talking about the historical contingency by which we are having this discussion. If this were in Iran, the new atheists would be against the Islamic conception of God. Or in India, it would be against the gods of Hinduism. The question is not why would we reject God, but why we should accept him in the first place?

OK, pet peeve time.

A strategist most definitely can claim credit for a victory where his armoured column crushes unarmed peasants. It is a strategist's job to engineer these one-sided encounters.

A tactician of course wouldn't get much credit for actually leading the assault...

By jennyxyzzy (not verified) on 26 Apr 2010 #permalink

Heddle,

I'm not exactly sure what you want us to do, as far as presenting new arguments goes. Sceptical enquiry and the scientific method has utterly destroyed every factual claim that religion has ever been able to present, over the course of the last few centuries. The sun and moon? Yup, we can explain how those got there. The abundance of life on this planet? Yup that too. Geography, and natural disasters? Check. The history of the world? That too.

The only arguments left are those that aren't verifiable by any objective means. Sure, we can't actually disprove the Ontological argument, other than point out just how unsatisfying it is as an argument. The same remains with the other arguments.

I tell you what - you tell me how your God makes a difference in the world, changes the world from how it would be if there were no God, and I (and everyone else here) will come up with new demonstrations of why your theory that goddidit is wrong. Sound fair?

By jennyxyzzy (not verified) on 26 Apr 2010 #permalink

purchased their atheism cheaply

What does that mean? I have no idea. But if anyone feels that they have underpaid for their Atheism, I'll set up a paypal account and I'll pass around the plate to soothe your feelings.

Hart chastises atheists for knocking down strawmen for the truth in religion and then gives us nothing but a thesaurasized unmoved-mover?

Why not toss in a greater than we can conceive of, a different way of knowing and chase it all down with Pascal's wager? These clowns keep promising me a good argument and they keep refusing to deliver.

And as for being broken at the foot of the cross: what of Frodo, a simple hobbit, broken and bleeding with his exhausted gardener and friend Sam alone and exposed, facing their fates on the slope of Mount Doom. Surely, that too stirs in the heart a compassion and appreciation for the nobility of spirit.

unmoved mover ...pah

By kantalope (not verified) on 26 Apr 2010 #permalink

jennyxyzzy,

From previous encounters I can tell you that heddle's response would be that everything in the bible that science has disproven were only ever meant to be metaphors and anyone who says otherwise is reading it wrong.

By WowbaggerOM (not verified) on 26 Apr 2010 #permalink

@77

irrespective of whether the crucifixion and resurrection story is true or not, it's a really meaningful story, you guys, way more meaningful than any other fictional story

Bullshit. Meaning is inherently subjective. You can't say that a story IS meaningful. Personally, I'd find it a lot more meaningful if it was a normal human being that sacrificed itself. It doesn't seem like too much of a sacrifice when you know you'll go to heaven and become lord of the universe after 3 days.

And we would we have to accept the supposed meaning of the story before pointing out that it's absurd to accept it as factually true.
Why does the meaning matter when discussing if it's actually true?

CJO #60 wrote:

It's really crap literature, even by ancient standards. Only the faith commitments of its proponents and its undeniable impact on history leads anyone to give it a second look.

Sastra #67 wrote:

You could be right, but I think that, in the subjective area of deciding what is 'profound' or moving, the Bible suffers from the problem of being seriously over-rated.

Now on this point, I must disagree. I think the Bible is, excluding the list-ier parts of the Pentateuch), a ripping yarn. The story of Jesus which is supposed to be the focus of the fundies of the world is still a great read. Granted, you do have to read between the lines because, as is said, the account of Jesus is pretty nutty. But if that's throwing you off, go watch The Last Temptation of Christ.

As to the issue of whether we can allow room for the appreciation of the Bible and other such texts, given that we in the secular ranks are currently locked in a life-or-death struggle with America's fundie brigades (and it is us or them, make no mistake), I think it's alright. We don't embolden the enemy by appreciating the aesthetic, ethical, and existential positives of the Bible, the Baghavad Gita, the Quran, or the Pali Tipitaka. Let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

By chaseacross (not verified) on 26 Apr 2010 #permalink

lykex wrote:

Personally, I'd find it a lot more meaningful if it was a normal human being that sacrificed itself. It doesn't seem like too much of a sacrifice when you know you'll go to heaven and become lord of the universe after 3 days.

Indeed. Christians need to realise that by no definition of the word is what Christ did a 'sacrifice' - 'temporary inconvenience' is usually what I call it. Had Jesus agreed to go to hell and be punished for all eternity - or even just be dead forever without going to heaven - in order to save us then that would have been a sacrifice. A bit of torture, a three-day nap and then prancing around before ascending to eternal bliss in heaven? Not a sacrifice, people.

Of course there's still the issue of an all-powerful being needing something to be sacrificed (or temporarily inconvenienced) in order to forgive us in the first place - he's God; whose rules does he have to obey?

By WowbaggerOM (not verified) on 26 Apr 2010 #permalink

I tell you what - you tell me how your God makes a difference in the world, changes the world from how it would be if there were no God, and I (and everyone else here) will come up with new demonstrations of why your theory that goddidit is wrong.

heddle has been up-front in the past in saying that he is aware of no empirical test that would prove the existence of God, which I think is an admission that there is/would be no difference.

By Owlmirror (not verified) on 26 Apr 2010 #permalink

Now on this point, I must disagree. I think the Bible is, excluding the list-ier parts of the Pentateuch), a ripping yarn. The story of Jesus which is supposed to be the focus of the fundies of the world is still a great read. Granted, you do have to read between the lines because, as is said, the account of Jesus is pretty nutty. But if that's throwing you off, go watch The Last Temptation of Christ.

NT is awful, though, and can't make up its mind on which story to tell. OT can be amusing stripped of moral imperatives (Except Job, unless you're into Schaudenfreude).

We don't embolden the enemy by appreciating the aesthetic, ethical, and existential positives of the Bible, the Baghavad Gita, the Quran, or the Pali Tipitaka

Um, yes we do. It proves we don't 'really' disbelieve in God (Never Buddha or anything else, but God). Ever listened to one?

Rutee, heddle's particular understanding of Christianity is that you can only become a Christian if his god magically changes you into believing - arguments don't actually factor into it.

I'm almost positive that Grace isn't quite put that way. After all, the Calvinists would be worshiping a HORRIBLE MONSTER if he sentenced everyone to hell but the people he decided would believe in him, and therefore would go to heaven.

Then again, the God of the OT is a horrible monster, so.

By Rutee, Shrieki… (not verified) on 26 Apr 2010 #permalink

KOPD: Not when most of the post gets cut out and ignored.

You'll all be sorry when He comes back down from His mountaintop and swats you with His majestic rod of justice.

Because did you see the size of that thing in the church painting that was on here the other week? One swipe with that and it's a severe concussion at least.

...That's just funny.

Rutee wrote:

After all, the Calvinists would be worshiping a HORRIBLE MONSTER if he sentenced everyone to hell but the people he decided would believe in him, and therefore would go to heaven.

That's pretty much how he heddle explains it - and he freely admits that the god he believes in is not benevolent. Whether or not that's standard Calvinism I've no idea; he's the only Calvinist I've ever encountered.

By WowbaggerOM (not verified) on 26 Apr 2010 #permalink

Comment was published.

Wowbagger, yeah, I've already crossed swords several times with Heddle. But I still keep hoping that he'll put forward a positive, evidence-based, justification for his deity of choice. Or admit that he's got nothing. Either would satisfy me.

By jennyxyzzy (not verified) on 26 Apr 2010 #permalink

@Owlmirror

heddle has been up-front in the past in saying that he is aware of no empirical test that would prove the existence of God, which I think is an admission that there is/would be no difference.

Which is fair enough, but in that case he doesn't get to complain about us not presenting any new arguments. I mean, if we've already refuted the old ones, and there are no new ones, what are we supposed to do????

[shrug]

By jennyxyzzy (not verified) on 26 Apr 2010 #permalink

I've never understood why whole books are written justifying religion or atheism. The difference is pretty simple - atheists believe in what empirical evidence tells them, while the religious put their faith in historical documents as the word of "God" despite the fact that documents such as the bible support slavery, misogynistic ideals and other barbaric practices.

@127

It is absolutely absurd to suggest that any praise in any capacity for any holy text somehow emboldens religious fundamentalists. There is so much to learn from these stories, so much embodied culture, perspective, experience... Cultivating appreciation for the many religious texts and traditions that permeate our society is healthful; it insinuates one into a variety of perspectives and cultures. I agree with Daniel Dennett when he suggested that public schools ought to teach all of the major religious traditions as a matter of course.

By chaseacross (not verified) on 27 Apr 2010 #permalink

E wrote:

It would be quite an accomplishment to be raised in a Judeo-christian society and somehow contrive to remain ignorant of the contents of the Bible, no?

You'd be amazed at the accomplishments of lazy and incurious people.

Rutee wrote:

After all, the Calvinists would be worshiping a HORRIBLE MONSTER if he sentenced everyone to hell but the people he decided would believe in him, and therefore would go to heaven.

is a horrible monster. He does not even predestine everyone who believes in Him to salvation. (And those who are predestined to salvation are not so because of any merit of their own - according to Calvinism, we are all equally deserving of hellfire - but because God arbitrarily selected a proportion of humanity to be saved in order to exhibit his mercy.)

By Andreas Johansson (not verified) on 27 Apr 2010 #permalink

Blockquote fail @135 - the last paragraph shouldn't be in the quote.

By Andreas Johansson (not verified) on 27 Apr 2010 #permalink

the lightning bolt that broke from the cloudless sky of pagan antiquity

Huh, I thought Jesus was supposed to be Jewish.

It is absolutely absurd to suggest that any praise in any capacity for any holy text somehow emboldens religious fundamentalists.

It would be absurd, if they felt constrained by logic in any way whatsoever. They're quick to sieze on any way to say 'HAH! ATHEISTS BELIEVE AND LIE TO THEMSELVES'. We're talking about people who consider every faith that isn't Christianity, and furthermore, the right /kind/ of Christianity, to be full of Charlatans who don't believe a word they're saying. That is, the Real, True Christian (IE Wingnut) believes. The Hindu, the Buddhist, the atheist, merely say comforting lies to themselves, lies they don't honestly believe.

By Rutee, Shrieki… (not verified) on 27 Apr 2010 #permalink

Jennyxyzzy #120,

I'm not exactly sure what you want us to do, as far as presenting new arguments goes.

Mostly I want you (that is, the so-called new atheists) to keep doing what you are doing, because as I have stated many times it is a win-win if you eliminate the stigma of atheism. Atheists masquerading as Christians can never be a good thing—better they feel comfortable to come out of the closet. Better for you, better for us. As far as the arguments are concerned I was merely pointing out that while the arguments for god have not changed, neither have the arguments against god. Neither Dawkins nor Hitchens nor their compatriots has presented any new argument (Sam Harris is the closest to being original, in my opinion)-- it’s the same-ole same-ole on both sides. So if you press, what I’d like the new atheists to do is come up with something new.

I am actually taking your approach and turning it around, sort of. I want you, a la atheists of the past, to come up with new arguments that will cause us to blink and say--that’s a fair question for which I have no immediate answer. There are of course some such questions: Why doesn’t god just save everyone?...Why is blood required for the atonement of sin?. But they aren’t new. Jerry Coyne chanting "science and religion are not compatible" don't cut it.

There are of course some such questions: Why doesn’t god just save everyone?...Why is blood required for the atonement of sin?

I've got one, why do adults believe in such an absurd notion like original sin?

heddle wrote:

I want you, a la atheists of the past, to come up with new arguments that will cause us to blink and say--that’s a fair question for which I have no immediate answer.

But your faith isn't supported by arguments or evidence - the only purpose having an answer can serve you is to lessen the cognitive dissonance the raising of such questions provokes.

A cognitive dissonance you, in the past, have denied experiencing - but your very presence here belies that denial.

Fortunately for the world your attitude to faith is not universal to Christianity (or other religions) and the questions we ask and receive no answers to (or laughable sophistry in place of answers to) serves to place people's feet on the path to rationality and the casting off of the yolk of religious delusion.

Jerry Coyne chanting "science and religion are not compatible" don't cut it.

Try telling a math teacher that 2+2=5. What do you expect them to say in response?

By WowbaggerOM (not verified) on 27 Apr 2010 #permalink

Hmm, better make that 'yoke', not 'yolk' in my #141. I'm sure casting off the yellow part of the egg of religion isn't quite as impressive a feat.

By WowbaggerOM (not verified) on 27 Apr 2010 #permalink

As far as the arguments are concerned I was merely pointing out that while the arguments for god have not changed, neither have the arguments against god. Neither Dawkins nor Hitchens nor their compatriots has presented any new argument (Sam Harris is the closest to being original, in my opinion)-- it’s the same-ole same-ole on both sides.

The arguments for god have never held up. This is the reason people trying to make them have resorted to these thickets of verbiage and ever more abstract and featureless versions of a deity. The argument that there is no good evidence for the existence of this entity (however it has been defined) and therefore we reject it, or that it is undefined and therefore we dismiss it as an incoherent notion, have never been met with anything but fluff. There is no need for "arguments against god."

But in fact the atheist position has become stronger as science and therefore our knowledge about the natural world have advanced. You could say Dennett is in some sense rehashing arguments made by Lucretius, but evolutionary neuroscience makes his arguments against dualism much more powerful.

The point is that apologists never had anything solid. If you think any of these arguments holds up today, present it.

Jerry Coyne chanting "science and religion are not compatible" don't cut it.

Science and religion are fundamentally epistemically incompatible. Science rejects beliefs that are not founded in the reasoned (logical, parsimonious) evaluation of evidence. If you have alternative reliable means of forming and evaluating fact claims, present it.

heddle #139 wrote:

So if you press, what I’d like the new atheists to do is come up with something new.

One of the aspects that more or less 'defines' new atheism is applying science (both method and model) to religious claims -- including the claim that 'God exists.' So, in a sense, the arguments of the new atheists will always be as fresh and new as the discoveries of modern science. Biology, cosmology, neurology, etc -- take them, and follow them all the way down, past the line that says "Here Be Sacred Dragons."

Generally speaking, I think the reasons people cite for believing in God fall into two basic kinds of categories: empirical (the God hypothesis explains things that need explaining), and psychological/social (believing in God is beneficial.)* As the first reason shrinks under the light coming from our bottom-up explanations for complexity and design, the second one is slowly eaten away by the constant drip of history, and humanism.

I suspect that, for most, faith doesn't explode into nothing with a sudden "hey, why didn't I think of that?!" Instead, it just sort of fades away with contemplation, as both God and religion become more and more like one's own poetic philosophy, personal therapy, and cultural glue. Nothing kills God like a desire to make belief in God reasonable.

*(The claim that one believes in God because one think they were 'overcome by grace' is not a reason for believing in God. It's only an explanation.)

I suspect that, for most, faith doesn't explode into nothing with a sudden "hey, why didn't I think of that?!" Instead, it just sort of fades away with contemplation, as both God and religion become more and more like one's own poetic philosophy, personal therapy, and cultural glue. Nothing kills God like a desire to make belief in God reasonable.

Exactly. For me it was a process that took over ten years. It began with questioning the assertions coming from behind the pulpit, then questioning the reasons for belief given by those in the pulpit, then questioning the claims made by creationists in their books, and finally examining the science for myself. There was no Eureka moment. There was just a slow and steady realization that every argument I'd been presented with was faulty or dishonest and had been refuted a thousand times. And I'm not sure if it would have happened without the "New Atheists" being bold enough to ask the questions nobody else wants to.

surely the story of the Christ is a compelling one whether or not it actually happened.

No, it's not compelling.

It's sick.

The pauline deity was a jerk, probably a sociopath, definitely a petulant narcissist--just like his dad, only whinier. Do I need to list all the crappy, insanely stupid things he did that the scarce good things he said/did can't redeem?

And dying for me? No. Just no. It's nonsense, and it's insane besides. Anyone who thinks he or she dies for you or anyone else is a guilt tripping narcissist. I have a mom to fill that role, thanks. I don't need an imaginary friend to do it, too.

Heddle's argument is somehow reminiscent of a defeated wrestler, succumbing to a chokehold for the thousandth consecutive time, and spluttering that this doesn't count; his opponents haven't really won unless they defeat him in some utterly novel and entertaining way.

Possibly the Wuxi finger hold?

By Stephen Wells (not verified) on 27 Apr 2010 #permalink

@Heddle,

I would argue that each scientific discovery made is a new argument for atheism, as it reduces yet further the types of interaction a deity can have with reality. Basically we are continually refining/improving the rebuttal of the God of the Gaps.

For example, it would seem that the next religious pillar to fall will be the soul. We are not so very far away from being able to demonstrate that our sense of being is nothing more than the manifestation of patterns in the firing of neurons in our skulls. When those discoveries come in, thanks to research in neuroscience, another bastion of the presence of God shall be brought low - a new argument against the existence of God!

How will you answer when that time comes?

By jennyxyzzy (not verified) on 27 Apr 2010 #permalink

I can relate to this "one does not have to believe any of it" as I'm a great fan of the "Vírgen de la Macarena" and don't believe a scrap of Christian mythology.

But, precisely by focusing only on the Christian myths, you miss a lot of what you can experience when you don't limit yourself to just one mythology. For instance when I see the "costaleros" swing the "paso" of the Macarena with their exquisite grace, it sends shivers down my spine just like some Jimi Hendrix riffs or Janis Joplin blues.

But I don't only see the mother of Jesus but also Venus and Salambó who also had their processions in Seville before Mary. And Isis searching for Osiris' body, the Goddess, "l'éternel féminin", etc. And that expands my views and emotions that would be more constrained and missing if I limited myself to just one mythology.

So it's this Hart guy the one who, focusing too much on his favorite pet tree because of his belief in its special specialness, cannot see and appreciate the much more impressive greatness of the whole forest of myths.

--
El Guerrero del Interfaz

By El Guerrero de… (not verified) on 27 Apr 2010 #permalink

jennyxyzzy,

I would argue that each scientific discovery made is a new argument for atheism

Well sure, you could argue that-- it is of course not a scientific argument--it is simply you claiming that a scientific discovery, which is value-neutral, reinforces your view of the world. I certainly can't begrudge you that perspective, since I share it. That is, I believe new scientific discoveries (at least so far) reinforce my view of the world. So I know how you feel.

How will you answer when that time [the soul falling to science] comes?

If you can prove there is no soul I will renounce my religion, hopefully on a guest post on Pharyngula.

Sastra,

One of the aspects that more or less 'defines' new atheism is applying science (both method and model) to religious claims -- including the claim that 'God exists.'

Really? I must have missed that.

Certainly, since you claim novelty, you must mean something more than "Science shows there is no need for God" which is not a new argument but one as old as science itself.

Could you refer me to any peer-reviewed scientific literature that reports on experimental tests of the claim "God exists"?

SC OM,

If you have alternative reliable means of forming and evaluating fact claims, present it.

If you have a way to demonstrate that science and religion are incompatible, present it. If it is not demonstrable, then the claim itself is not scientific. You simply believe they are incompatible for some non-scientific philosophical reasons.

heddle @139

How do you disprove the existence of Krishna, or Zeus, or Quetzelcoatl? Or do you accept that they are every bit as real as the Abrahamic deity? How do you distinguish between "true" gods and "false" ones? Why are your beliefs correct and any who hold to other paths wrong, or are you yourself skeptical about god(s)?

Trying to disprove the existence of god(s) is a fool's errand. So is trying to prove their/its existence. Using labyrinthine logic will not produce a shred of evidence that would hold up in a court of law.

@heddle

But surely you see that religious belief is pincered between a Laplacian "I have no need for that hypothesis" and scientific discovery? Either you reduce gods to impotent beings of no consequence, or any claim you make about their actions is demolished by scientific knowledge.

I really don't see any way out - do you?

By jennyxyzzy (not verified) on 27 Apr 2010 #permalink

it is simply you claiming that a scientific discovery, which is value-neutral, reinforces your view of the world

It is not fact neutral, which is the point.

Could you refer me to any peer-reviewed scientific literature that reports on experimental tests of the claim "God exists"?

Can you refer me to a coherent definition of "God"? Without one, the claim "God exists" has no meaning.

If you have a way to demonstrate that science and religion are incompatible, present it. If it is not demonstrable, then the claim itself is not scientific. You simply believe they are incompatible for some non-scientific philosophical reasons.

I have presented it. Science is a means - the only reliable means - through which fact claims about the world can be formed and evaluated. The evidence for that claim is that it has reliably produced knowledge about the natural world, and no other means has. You of course recognize this epistemic status - you use the epistemic approach of science to gain knowledge in physics. Other ways of knowing are illegitimate (incompatible) by scientific standards, and beliefs that were not arrived at on a scientific basis - either because they are incoherent or because they are unevidenced - are unsupportable (incompatible) by its standards.

If you're claiming epistemic compatibility, you either have to argue that science is not founded on "the reasoned (logical, parsimonious) evaluation of evidence" or that some epistemic approach of religion is acceptable by this standard.

OK, I have to get back to work again.

Robert H,

How do you disprove the existence of Krishna, or Zeus, or Quetzelcoatl?

I can't

Or do you accept that they are every bit as real as the Abrahamic deity?

I don't

How do you distinguish between "true" gods and "false" ones?

I assume the one I believe in is the true god

Trying to disprove the existence of god(s) is a fool's errand. So is trying to prove their/its existence. Using labyrinthine logic will not produce a shred of evidence that would hold up in a court of law

I agree, which is why I prefer presuppositional apologetics over traditional apologetics. I am as unimpressed with the classic "god proofs" as anyone on here.

"I assume the one I believe in is the true god"

LOL. You know what they say when one assumes . . .

I wonder if this would work in any other circumstance.

"I'm sorry Officer. I assume the car I drive is the one true car. So, when I ram into other drivers, I'm not really doing wrong - they're fakers!"

heddle #150 wrote:

Really? I must have missed that.

Perhaps the title of Vic Stenger's book makes it explicit: God -- The Failed Hypothesis. It seems to me that the atheists who are loosely united under the label "new atheists" are often criticized precisely because they approach the existence of God as another hypothesis -- the "ghost in the universe" is how Taner Edis puts it. We're not supposed to do that, you know.

Certainly, since you claim novelty, you must mean something more than "Science shows there is no need for God" which is not a new argument but one as old as science itself.

The original assumption was that Natural Theology would confirm the existence of God.

But I think I mean something closer to "God is inconsistent with what we've discovered through science" -- and I also think this is a much more novel, and dangerous argument. That's because, despite the obligatory references believers often make to God being "beyond our comprehension" and Totally Other, the concept of God is a very familiar one. Supernatural beliefs are easy, and natural. They all spring right out of our intuitive folk-theories on how the world works, and what mind is.

Consider this analogy: is there a difference between vaguely being aware that "modern science shows no support for homeopathy" -- and learning enough about chemistry, physics, experimental design, and subjective errors, to know why the situation's a bit worse than just science "shows no support for" homeopathy.

Could you refer me to any peer-reviewed scientific literature that reports on experimental tests of the claim "God exists"?

Check out the failures in parapsychology. The paranormal and the supernatural are really the same basic category. "God" is just one of many hypotheses which fall into that more general category.

heddle #154 wrote:

I agree, which is why I prefer presuppositional apologetics over traditional apologetics. I am as unimpressed with the classic "god proofs" as anyone on here.

I'd guess that we're even more unimpressed with presuppositional apologetics than we are with the classical ones. Try using the phrase "presuppositional hypothesis" yourself, and note the problem.

I assume the one I believe in is the true god

Well, that's honest, if nothing else. Still, I have to ask, are you really satisfied with that?

It sounds to me like a complete lack of concern for what's actually true.

Don't you care if it's true or not?

I assume the one I believe in is the true mechanism of speciation.

I agree, which is why I prefer presuppositional apologetics over traditional apologetics. I am as unimpressed with the classic "god proofs" as anyone on here

In otherwords you refuse to address the question of lack of evidence and just assume that god exists. Conventional apologetics may fail, but at least it tries to address the evidence problem. presuppositional apologetics just declares the problem void and hopes no one notices the sleight of hand.

By Matt Penfold (not verified) on 27 Apr 2010 #permalink
I assume the one I believe in is the true god

Well, that's honest, if nothing else. Still, I have to ask, are you really satisfied with that?

That does seem to be the purpose of mental masturbation.

heddle

Thanks for the responses. A few more questions come to my mind...

Do you believe the whole of the Bible, including the story of the Creation, to be inerrant?

Do you believe there is a common ground outside of your presuppositions to discuss/debate this issue with agnostics and atheists?

Would you live your life differently if you believed God did not exist?

Posted by: heddle | April 27, 2010 11:38 AM

I assume the one I believe in is the true god

You've just conceded our point. If that's your only reason for believing in your god, then obviously we atheists don't need any new arguments.

By truthspeaker (not verified) on 27 Apr 2010 #permalink

I would add that presuppositional apologetics seems to be an especially curious choice as the basis for belief for a scientist.

By Matt Penfold (not verified) on 27 Apr 2010 #permalink

Sastra,

Perhaps the title of Vic Stenger's book makes it explicit: God -- The Failed Hypothesis. It seems to me that the atheists who are loosely united under the label "new atheists" are often criticized precisely because they approach the existence of God as another hypothesis -- the "ghost in the universe" is how Taner Edis puts it. We're not supposed to do that, you know.

It's the title of a book for crying out loud. (And not a particularly good book, probably the worst of the new atheist best sellers, but that's another matter.) It is not scientific literature affirming your claim that the new atheists test the god hypothesis.

And who says you are not supposed to do that-- you are strongly encouraged to treat the existence of God as a hypothesis. But just do it--instead of complaining that someone isn't allowing you to do it. I, for one, eagerly await your results, positive or negative.

Check out the failures in parapsychology. The paranormal and the supernatural are really the same basic category.

That's a cop-out. Proving that someone who claims to have ESP is fake is not, in any way shape or form, a test of the existence of god. You said, regarding new atheist novelty, that their efforts "[include testing] the claim that 'God exists.'" Are you now saying that the new atheists test whether god exists by testing whether Uri Geller can bend spoons with his mind? And that seems like a valid test?

Try using the phrase "presuppositional hypothesis" yourself, and note the problem.

But presuppositional apologetics is not "presuppositional hypothesis"--in fact that is exactly what it is trying to avoid. I would say the god-proofs are a form of presuppositional hypothesis (aka circular reasoning, question begging, etc.)

lykex,

Still, I have to ask, are you really satisfied with that?

Yes.

Don't you care if it's true or not?

Deeply.

Heddle:

It is not scientific literature affirming your claim that the new atheists test the god hypothesis.

Hold on a minute. What is this "god"? What are we supposed to be looking for with these tests? Since you so strongly encourage such tests and so deeply want to know the truth, tell us what we could observe that would make or break your god. All those other supposed gods will have to wait. How do we test whether yours is true without (as you prefer) making a prior assumption that it's true?

If you can prove there is no soul I will renounce my religion, hopefully on a guest post on Pharyngula.

Once again, what do you mean by "soul"? Until you establish what the claim is, there's nothing to prove and nothing to test. Hand-waving and presupposition won't cut it. Either it exists, in which case it causes some distinct phenomenon, or it doesn't exist. What does it do and how does it work? Are they everywhere, or do only sentient beings have them? What about plants and non-human animals? If only people have these things you call "souls", then did people not evolve like every other organism?

@heddle:

And who says you are not supposed to do that-- you are strongly encouraged to treat the existence of God as a hypothesis. But just do it...

Easy, if you would be so kind as to describe exactly what your god does down here on planet Earth. Answers prayers? Makes the sun stop in the sky? Makes people moral?

By robinsrule (not verified) on 27 Apr 2010 #permalink

robinsrule,

Easy, if you would be so kind as to describe exactly what your god does down here on planet Earth. Answers prayers? Makes the sun stop in the sky? Makes people moral?

I can't tell you how to do it so don't pass the buck. Sastra's claim was that the new atheists test the god hypothesis, not that they would "like to test it if heddle would just them how." You are weakening his claim beyond recognition. Besides, if I knew how to do the experiment, I'd do it myself and wouldn't ask you. Why should you get the Templeton money?

What about plants and non-human animals? If only people have these things you call "souls", then did people not evolve like every other organism?

Heddle will tell you (I assume, I could be wrong of course) that only humans are ensouled... gift from god, ya know...

And really, this is as boring from heddle as ever. It's an exercise in futility and he knows it. His challenge is for you to falsify the unfalsifiable ("god, soul, heaven, etc), knowing full well the futility of attempting to do so, yet ignoring the contradiction that is presented with having to dismiss equally unfalsifiable claims from other religions in order to presuppose his own with any conviction. It's a game, and a boring one at that.

Presuppositional apologetics is the last resort, get out of jail free card that is intended to necessarily circumvent scientific inquiry into the existence of "god"... which is why heddle is so fond of it...

By Celtic_Evolution (not verified) on 27 Apr 2010 #permalink

heddle #165 wrote:

It's the title of a book for crying out loud. (And not a particularly good book, probably the worst of the new atheist best sellers, but that's another matter.) It is not scientific literature affirming your claim that the new atheists test the god hypothesis.

I thought you were disagreeing with my general point that "one of the aspects that more or less 'defines' new atheism is applying science (both method and model) to religious claims -- including the claim that 'God exists,'" so I was looking for a quick illustration.

They "test" the god hypothesis by taking it apart and seeing if any aspect of it is plausible and consistent with modern science. How does it stand up given a bottom-up method of explanation? What does it predict, and do we see this? This is in spite of the popular bromide that "science has nothing to say one way or the other about God" accomodationist stance. They do complain, quite a bit.

Proving that someone who claims to have ESP is fake is not, in any way shape or form, a test of the existence of god.

I disagree - because a contrary result would support the existence of a "mind force" which can know things without a physical causal chain. As the New Agers would put it, it would be a major "paradigm shift" in our model of the world, and materialism would probably have to be thrown out. So would naturalism.

God is a disembodied mind which not only has ESP itself, but is often claimed to communicate with people through ESP. Scientifically demonstrating the existence of such a force -- such an ability -- would lend a lot of weight to the God hypothesis.

It's not a direct test, no. But it's a very critical indirect test, because a positive demonstration of the paranormal/supernatural would support one of the necessary preconditions for the existence of God. And many of the new atheists have made this very point.

But presuppositional apologetics is not "presuppositional hypothesis"--in fact that is exactly what it is trying to avoid.

I don't understand. You just wrote:

you are strongly encouraged to treat the existence of God as a hypothesis.

If this is because you agree that the existence of God is a hypothesis, then do you think you ought to use a presuppositional form of support, for a hypothesis?

And if you don't think that the existence of God is a hypothesis, why not? Surely, you might be mistaken.

Also, if you don't consider the existence of God to be a hypothesis, then why would you 'strongly encourage' us to treat it so anyway?

So religion is presupposition along with a shift of the burden of proof. Nothing new there. And to be compatible with science we just declare the assumptions untestable, unless they turn out to be testable and are proven false in which case they were metaphors. Well, working with those definitions of religion and compatibility, I suppose I have to agree that religion is compatible with science.

I can't tell you how to do it so don't pass the buck. Sastra's claim was that the new atheists test the god hypothesis, not that they would "like to test it if heddle would just them how." You are weakening his claim beyond recognition. Besides, if I knew how to do the experiment, I'd do it myself and wouldn't ask you. Why should you get the Templeton money?

So despite your claims of an omnipotent, omniscient interventionist (Predestination necessitates intervention) God, you can't think of a single test that would provide any evidence for your God whatsoever.

Well that was easy, we knocked that God thing out before dinner. Who's up for some subs?

By Rutee, Shrieki… (not verified) on 27 Apr 2010 #permalink

@heddle:

I can't tell you how to do it...

Why not? Can't you point to something that your god has accomplished here on Earth?

By robinsrule (not verified) on 27 Apr 2010 #permalink

I can't tell you how to do it so don't pass the buck. Sastra's claim was that the new atheists test the god hypothesis, not that they would "like to test it if heddle would just them how."

Hm. Well, different people do have different definitions of what God is.

At least one hypothesis about God is one that did everything described literally in the Bible -- world creation 6kya; global flood 4.4kya followed by dispersal of all plants and animals from the Middle East; origin of different languages deriving from the Middle East shortly thereafter; and so on and so forth.

Would you agree that that particular God hypothesis has definitely been tested by science and falsified?

By Owlmirror (not verified) on 27 Apr 2010 #permalink

KOPD,

So religion is presupposition along with a shift of the burden of proof. Nothing new there.

Nice try but there is no shift of the burden of proof. I'm not asking you to prove that there is no god, which would be a Russell's teapot (Ah, they don't make atheists like they use to!) fallacy.

I am responding to a claim that the novelty of the new atheism is that it indeed tests the God hypothesis--scientifically.

So show me the peer reviewed papers, or this claim of new atheist novelty is as worthless as that of any IDer.

sastra,

Also, if you don't consider the existence of God to be a hypothesis, then why would you 'strongly encourage' us to treat it so anyway?

Because if you actually prove there is no god then I'd be forced to change my presuppositions, no?

Because if you actually prove there is no god then I'd be forced to change my presuppositions, no?

How can we address anything about your presuppositions if you can't or won't discuss what your presuppositions would logically or empirically entail?

By Owlmirror (not verified) on 27 Apr 2010 #permalink

Oh yeah, so sorry for passing the buck, Heddle. I almost forgot for a moment that you're not talking about anything real. If it were real, there would be the possibility of a single shred of evidence. Thus (given your admission of having nothing) whatever you believe isn't real, which I think is fine, since it's being pulled out of your ass, not mine. Oh wait, I shouldn't say that. There is always more sophistry to settle the matter. This whole "God" thing you believe in is based on, like, your personal revelations and shit. Thus, we shouldn't put the burden on ... you. Got it. Now fuck off.

heddle #176 wrote:

I am responding to a claim that the novelty of the new atheism is that it indeed tests the God hypothesis--scientifically.

It tests the hypothesis against the discoveries of science -- one of which is the surprising new understanding of bottom-up design, and the other of which is the equally surprising discovery of mind/brain dependency. God is not just "unproven" -- the assumptions it rests on, have been disproven.

The new atheists also bring in the failures of parapsychology and point out that success there, would support the existence of the supernatural. Therefore, it is not true that science could say nothing, one way or the other, about either the supernatural in general, or God in particular.

Because if you actually prove there is no god then I'd be forced to change my presuppositions, no?

If new evidence would force you to change your presuppositions, then your presuppositions were based on evidence in the first place, no?

Nice try but there is no shift of the burden of proof.

Actually, you are. Science demands extraordinary evidence for extraordinary claims. Then it is up to others to see if that evidence stands up. For instance, at one time, we had evidence, however weak, for aliens arriving, with the crop circles. While this stood at odds with mountains of other data, it was at least positive evidence. Then, this positive evidence was discredited with the testimonies of the folks making the crop circles, along with a great deal of other evidence against.

You're at the "Generate positive evidence" phase. The burden of proof really is on you, if you're asking us to test things scientifically. Its your truth claim.

By Rutee, Shrieki… (not verified) on 27 Apr 2010 #permalink

Nice try but there is no shift of the burden of proof.
Yes there is.
If you can prove there is no soul...

And as Rutee said, but in different words:
The non-existence of gods is the null hypothesis. You reject the null hypothesis without evidence, while insisting that we test your hypothesis for you. You've got it backward. We are saying that until theists provide evidence for the gods hypothesis, it should be rejected. Instead, you are wanting us to prove a negative. You wish to persist in an unfalsifiable delusion and don't see how this is incompatible with science? No, it's not. You are simply engaging in special pleading.

As far as the arguments are concerned I was merely pointing out that while the arguments for god have not changed, neither have the arguments against god. Neither Dawkins nor Hitchens nor their compatriots has presented any new argument (Sam Harris is the closest to being original, in my opinion)-- it’s the same-ole same-ole on both sides. So if you press, what I’d like the new atheists to do is come up with something new.

I am actually taking your approach and turning it around, sort of. I want you, a la atheists of the past, to come up with new arguments that will cause us to blink and say--that’s a fair question for which I have no immediate answer. There are of course some such questions: Why doesn’t god just save everyone?...Why is blood required for the atonement of sin?. But they aren’t new. Jerry Coyne chanting "science and religion are not compatible" don't cut it.

I think we might still be waiting on the answer to the old questions... such as god being either unwilling or unable to eliminate evil... or perfect justice being incompatible with mercy and vice versa.
That sort of thing.

In other words, we'll try to come up with new interesting questions when we get the old ones answered. All the 'new atheists' are really doing is pointing to the old, unanswered ones and making "AHEM AHEM" noises at increasing volume.

heddle

Presuppositional apologetics appears to allow no contrary position in that the very act of questioning the existence of god is used as proof for the existence of god. This is not a circular argument?

If one were truly to support this apologetics there would be no room for falsifiability, therefore no way of scientifically testing the existence of god that would satisfy someone who held such a position; your comments in part then seem either disingenuous or they arise from you not being in full accord with those apologetics. If you have doubts we may be able to help. If you are in full accord with presuppositional apologetics then you already "know" that any new arguments are doomed to fail. This is not a very satisfying basis for a debate.

KOPD ,

while insisting that we test your hypothesis for you.

You are just making this bullshit up. I have never insisted that you test my god hypothesis. Never. I am responding to a claim that such testing is being performed by the new atheists, and I am asking for the publications.

Same with the soul. I did not ask for a proof of the non existence of the soul. No once. There was a claim that science was on the verge of proving the nonexistence of the soul. I said that if you do that I would then renounce my faith. I did not insist that you do it.

Try to understand: If someone claims to have demonstrated A, and I ask them to show me the work, it is not the same as insisting that they prove A. That's not very difficult to grasp, is it?.

Anri,

such as god being either unwilling or unable to eliminate evil..

Unwilling. Next question?

Robert H,

Presuppositional apologetics appears to allow no contrary position in that the very act of questioning the existence of god is used as proof for the existence of god. This is not a circular argument?

Who said it was used as a proof for God? That would indeed be circular. At least read and understand the wiki article before you claim to find trivial "gosh, how'd we miss that? Our bad!" rebuttals of presuppositional apologetics.

Same with the soul. I did not ask for a proof of the non existence of the soul. No once.

Wait... what?

heddle at #150:

If you can prove there is no soul I will renounce my religion

It was only like 35 posts ago, heddle... make us work a little harder if you're just going to lie...

By Celtic_Evolution (not verified) on 27 Apr 2010 #permalink

Next question? Why would God be unwilling to eliminate evil? If he created the universe why did he create it in the first place? And please don't say that God is inscrutable...

Heddle--

Never mind the problem of evil, what I want is an explanation of the problem of pain. Why does your god torture people? Why is cancer painful? Why does anyone have chronic pain, which serves no purpose in terms of warning us of danger or injury?

And why should anyone worship such a bullying sadist?

[skipping back a bit]

There are of course some such questions: Why doesn’t god just save everyone?...Why is blood required for the atonement of sin?. But they aren’t new.

Interestingly enough, I was looking through Augustine's "City of God", chapter 21, and it was fascinating to see the same arguments having been made so many centuries ago; both for universal reconciliation, and of course, against that view and for permanent eternal damnation. So, yes, those particular questions are indeed not new at all.

I was looking in "City of God" because I was trying to remember by who and where I had seen it posited that the existence of the vast majority of people suffering agony in Hell was necessitated as some sort of "balance" for the eternal bliss of the saved in Heaven. Basically, not even God Almighty could create or provide for a Heaven for anyone without also creating Hell, and damning the majority of souls there.

I thought it might by Augustine who discussed this, but I didn't see anything about it in that book. Does it ring any bells?

Jerry Coyne chanting "science and religion are not compatible" don't cut it.

Hm. Would you agree with these statements? If not, what do you think needs to be changed?

1) "Science is that which has been discovered or deduced as verifiable fact by valid logic, mathematics which are correct (within bounds of error), and empirical evidence supported by falsifiability and limited by parsimony."

2) "Religion is whatever the religious adherent wants to claim."

Would you agree that (assuming that you agree to the statements without change) science must include the verifiably true, and that religion by its nature includes anything, including the true, the false, the unverified, and the unverifiable?

If you can prove there is no soul I will renounce my religion

Would you agree that it is more parsimonious, scientifically, to reject the concept of an immaterial immortal soul, in the absence of physical evidence for such an entity?

I agree, which is why I prefer presuppositional apologetics over traditional apologetics.

Have you thought carefully what it is that you are presupposing, though? That is, what I see you doing is presupposing not just the existence of God, but of the inspiredness of the bible, and the specific truth of one particular interpretation -- a metanarrative -- about the bible, in contradistinction to all other potential interpretations of the bible.

Do you agree that that is what you are presupposing?

But presuppositional apologetics is not "presuppositional hypothesis"--in fact that is exactly what it is trying to avoid. I would say the god-proofs are a form of presuppositional hypothesis (aka circular reasoning, question begging, etc.)

You seem to be making a distinction without a difference: In both cases, you simply assume the correctness of what you want to be true. The god-"proofs" pretend that the assumption is not being made and argue in a circle towards it; presuppositional apologetics skips the steps of arguing for it and just argue from it.

Yes?

By Owlmirror (not verified) on 27 Apr 2010 #permalink

Celtic_Evolution,

Sorry, no. Any reasonable and honest person on here, say owlmirrow or sastra or SC OM or sven--I'd be willing to bet that any would of them would agree that my comment at #150:

If you can prove there is no soul I will renounce my religion

was in response to jennyxyzzy's question at #148:

For example, it would seem that the next religious pillar to fall will be the soul. We are not so very far away from being able to demonstrate that our sense of being is nothing more than the manifestation of patterns in the firing of neurons in our skulls. When those discoveries come in, thanks to research in neuroscience, another bastion of the presence of God shall be brought low - a new argument against the existence of God!

How will you answer when that time comes?

That is I did not insist that she prove there is no soul, I answered her question regarding the consequence, for me, of science demonstrating there is no soul. Stop being such a dipshit. What pleasure does it give you to quote-mine?

RobertH,

Why would God be unwilling to eliminate evil?

Why does he have to? What you are probably saying is that there is some model of god that you want to impose--almost certainly a logically impossible combination of omnipotence and omnibenevolence, and then demand that I explain why god isn't what your strawman says he is, and offer as proof that you "won" my inability to defend your strawman god. Did you learn this technique from Coyne or Russell Blackford? It's one of their faves.

heddle @186

I'm not attempting to trivialize your position, I'm attempting to understand it. As for our friends over at Wikipedia...

In Christian theology, presuppositionalism is a school of apologetics that aims to present a rational basis for the Christian faith and defend it against objections primarily by exposing the perceived flaws of other worldviews while the Bible, as divine revelation, is presupposed. It claims that apart from presuppositions, one could not make sense of any human experience, and there can be no set of neutral assumptions from which to reason with a non-Christian.[1] In other words, presuppositionalists claim that a Christian cannot consistently declare his belief in the necessary existence of the God of the Bible and simultaneously argue on the basis of a different set of assumptions that God may not exist and Biblical revelation may not be true...
...Apologists who follow Van Til earned the label "presuppositional" because of their central tenet that the Christian must at all times presuppose the supernatural revelation of the Bible as the ultimate arbiter of truth and error in order to know anything. Christians, they say, can assume nothing less because all human thought presupposes the existence of the God of the Bible.

Admittedly I'm not the shiniest apple on the tree (or is that the wrong metaphor) but it certainly seems that if all human thought indeed does presuppose the existence of God then any proof of God's existence would have to arise from within that presupposition. Otherwise 1) there can be no proof of God or 2) the proof of God must arise from outside the bounds of that presupposition.

Assume for a moment that I am not attempting to bait you or glory in my own cleverness but that I am trying to understand your position and am having difficulty maneuvering around this particular obstacle.

That is I did not insist that she prove there is no soul, I answered her question regarding the consequence, for me, of science demonstrating there is no soul.

Despite your invented support of other regulars, your inability to express yourself without confusion is your problem, not mine... Your statement was quite clear, and insisted a requirement of proof, regardless of who or what you were answering.

Stop being a dipshit yourself and learn to write more fucking precisely and maybe these little misunderstandings can be avoided.

By Celtic_Evolution (not verified) on 27 Apr 2010 #permalink

@heddle:

I am responding to a claim that such testing is being performed by the new atheists, and I am asking for the publications.

Prayer has been looked at (the STEP study for example,) I believe there is a published paper on faith healing concluding that it is fraud; so what else does god actually do? Miracles? Causing people to have better morals or longer lives? Just postulate a metric that can be tested for.

By robinsrule (not verified) on 27 Apr 2010 #permalink

What you are probably saying is that there is some model of god that you want to impose--almost certainly a logically impossible combination of omnipotence and omnibenevolence, and then demand that I explain why god isn't what your strawman says he is, and offer as proof that you "won" my inability to defend your strawman god.

This is just funny coming from you... the model of god we are addressing is not one we would impose... it's the one being imposed upon us by most mainstream christianity. If anything, it's you that would wish to impose your very specific, unique, and unsupported version of god... addressing generally accepted presentations and definitions of god is hardly building a strawman, heddle...

and again, your little game goes on... it's pointless confronting you on this entire topic, because your god lives in a little, personal box that shifts and varies with presuppositions for every argument against him. You presuppose answers, and those you can't or don't fit with what you know to be reality, well... that just ain't 'your god'...

whatever... keep your personal imaginary friend, heddle, just stop pretending he belongs to anyone but you.

By Celtic_Evolution (not verified) on 27 Apr 2010 #permalink

Robert H,

The simplest way to understand pesuppositional apologetics is that (in its Christian form) is that it assumes the existence of God and assumes the bible is his word.

The prototypical presup statement is the children's ditty: Jesus loves me this I know, for the bible tells me so.

Its claim then is not a proof claim, but rather that from these assumptions one can construct a more self-consistent world view than the non-Christian can.

Whether it succeeds or fails is another matter. But's that what it is--it is not circular reasoning.

In theory the method of evangelizing (at least to an interested intellectual) is then to avoid "god proofs" and concentrate on world-view self consistency. In practice it is sort of irrelevant.

heddle @196

Its claim then is not a proof claim, but rather that from these assumptions one can construct a more self-consistent world view than the non-Christian can.

How then do you perceive the scientific world view failing to provide a more self-consistent presentation than Christianity?

Celtic-Evolution,

Despite your invented support of other regulars, your inability to express yourself without confusion is your problem, not mine... Your statement was quite clear, and insisted a requirement of proof, regardless of who or what you were answering.

No I didn't insist any such thing. You are just lying.

whatever... keep your personal imaginary friend, heddle, just stop pretending he belongs to anyone but you.

In other words, if you won't let us insist you defend an easy-to-refute strawman "omnipotent-omnibenevolent" god rather than the one in the bible, one who by the simple fact that he consigns people to eternal torment is clearly not omnibenoveolent, if you defer from defending our strawman-- we'll take our ball and go home! Or maybe quote-mine you some more.

In other words, if you won't let us insist you defend an easy-to-refute strawman "omnipotent-omnibenevolent" god rather than the one in the bible, one who by the simple fact that he consigns people to eternal torment is clearly not omnibenoveolent, if you defer from defending our strawman-- we'll take our ball and go home!

Yes... those certainly are other words...

They're not my words... nor anything remotely close to my words, or anything resembling what my words actually represent, nor anything close to anything anyone else but you is saying...

But yes... those are most definitely "other words".

By Celtic_Evolution (not verified) on 27 Apr 2010 #permalink

140: I've got one, why do adults believe in such an absurd notion like original sin?

Observation?

Some Straw Man, heddle. That's the exact claim made by millions of Christians.

Quit the bullshit monkey business.

What is the positive evidence for God?

By Rutee, Shrieki… (not verified) on 27 Apr 2010 #permalink

Its claim then is not a proof claim, but rather that from these assumptions one can construct a more self-consistent world view than the non-Christian can.

That's a testable claim, and the bible certainly fails to be self-consistent. Science, on the other hand, is self-correcting and eliminates contradictions when found.

Robert H,

How then do you perceive the scientific world view failing to provide a more self-consistent presentation than Christianity?

I don't even know what that means. The Christian viewpoint is not in competition with the scientific viewpoint--science is not a "world view"-- it's nothing more than a process for investigating the world. The Christian viewpoint is in competition with the atheist viewpoint, not with science.

robinsrule,

Prayer has been looked at (the STEP study for example,) I believe there is a published paper on faith healing concluding that it is fraud; so what else does god actually do? Miracles? Causing people to have better morals or longer lives? Just postulate a metric that can be tested for.

The prayer studies are a test of whether prayer, primarily for purposes of healing, is routinely efficacious. They are not a test of God, who is not obligated, generically, to answer prayers. You might say they are tests of specific religious beliefs that assert god will answer their prayers--I would agree that such claims are testable--just like I would agree that claims of a young earth are testable. At most you have this sort of thing:

1) Scientific evidence of of an old earth refutes the religious belief in a young earth.

2) Scientific evidence refutes the religious belief that prayer can affect healing.

These are not proofs about the existence of god, but about specific planks in the theologies of some.

heddle @191

RobertH,
Why would God be unwilling to eliminate evil?
Why does he have to?

Obviously, he doesn't. He doesn't need to do anything, especially on my behalf. With that in mind, it would be within His power to end all misery and suffering in an instant and yet he elects not to. Replying to my question by saying "Why does he have to?" fails as an answer. Saying "I don't know the will of God" or "It's all part of His plan" or pointing me toward the 10 best answers from theologians would at least be a start. I don't mind Socratic method myself and use it frequently, but that's because I am leading the questioner toward an answer I know exists, and of which I am in possession. Is "Why does he have to" supposed to be a koan I'm to contemplate until I achieve satori, or is there a better reply?

Why would God be unwilling to eliminate evil?

Why does he have to?

I agree that a putative nominally omnipotent entity does not have to do anything. But would you agree that if an intelligent being (not necessarily God) does have any benevolence at all, that that quality of character constrains the set of actions that that being will knowingly perform?

almost certainly a logically impossible combination of omnipotence and omnibenevolence, and then demand that I explain why god isn't what your strawman says he is, and offer as proof that you "won" my inability to defend your strawman god. Did you learn this technique from Coyne or Russell Blackford? It's one of their faves.

Er, the argument was first formally posed by Epicurus some centuries before Jesus was born. The conclusion is not necessarily that God does not exist, but rather, if this entity does exist with all power but without benevolence, "Then why call him God?"

By Owlmirror (not verified) on 27 Apr 2010 #permalink

Robert H,

The question "Why would God be unwilling to eliminate evil?" is no different than asking "why doesn't god eliminate the color purple?"

It is only a meaningful question if God's unwillingness to eliminate evil (in this age) calls into question his very existence. Only if his existence is incompatible with human suffering does this question pose a problem.

Since he often commands human suffering (witness the various races in Joshua's path) it is irrefutable that the god of the bible is more than compatible with human suffering, even eternal human suffering.

And the only way to may it incompatible is to create a strawman "omnibenevolent" god whereby "omnibenevolent" means that god must eliminate all evil and all suffering. He is obligated to, if he can.

It is a model of god--but not the biblical model.

Many of those "millions" of Christians who claim God is omnibenevolent do not use the plain definition of the word--that God does what is good for all people all the time, but rather they mean something like "whatever god does is ultimately for the good of those who love him. They attach the omni prefix, but promptly ignore it. So merely stating that millions of Christians declare god to be omnibenevolent is technically true, but they do not mean by omnibenevolent what its plain meaning suggests. Again, they believe god sends people to hell, which under no circumstances can be considered an act of benevolence toward the damned.

Despite your invented support of other regulars, your inability to express yourself without confusion is your problem, not mine... Your statement was quite clear, and insisted a requirement of proof, regardless of who or what you were answering.

In this instance, though, heddle is correct: He offered a hypothetical ("If you can prove there is no soul"), which is not the same as a demand for proof that the hypothetical is true.

By Owlmirror (not verified) on 27 Apr 2010 #permalink

Hey, Heddle. You're the one who bitched at the lack of scientific rigor.

Present evidence for your hypothesis or go away.

By Rutee, Shrieki… (not verified) on 27 Apr 2010 #permalink

I don't think somebody has to demand proof be provided to be guilty of shifting the burden of proof. His quote suggested that he believes in the existence of a soul and will continue to believe in it until proven wrong. To me, that sounds like shifting the burden of proof. But I may have my fallacies mixed up and perhaps there's one that's a better fit. Either way, assuming something with no evidence and refusing to let go of that assumption until it's proven wrong is faulty thinking.

heddle
Sorry, this took a bit for me to relocate... As per Van Til; in re presuppositional apologetics as a means of proving the existence of God.

"(T)he only proof for the existence of God is that without God you couldn't prove anything."

That seems to be an attempt at a proof of the existence of God, and a pretty circular to me.

(RH) How then do you perceive the scientific world view failing to provide a more self-consistent presentation than Christianity?

(heddle) I don't even know what that means. The Christian viewpoint is not in competition with the scientific viewpoint--science is not a "world view"-- it's nothing more than a process for investigating the world. The Christian viewpoint is in competition with the atheist viewpoint, not with science.

The following quote appears to contradict your statement, unless you are a Creationist.

(A presupposition is) ...a belief that takes precedence over another and therefore serves as a criterion for another. An ultimate presupposition is a belief over which no other takes precedence. For a Christian, the content of Scripture must serve as his ultimate presupposition.... This doctrine is merely the outworking of the lordship of God in the area of human thought. It merely applies the doctrine of scriptural infallibility to the realm of knowing.
John Frame

Perhaps there is another less inclusive definition of "scriptural infallibility"? As it is, it seems to say (to my warped senses) that the inerrant word of the Bible trumps observational science when the two are not in accord (and when are they in accord?)

owlmirror,

But would you agree that if an intelligent being (not necessarily God) does have any benevolence at all, that that quality of character constrains the set of actions that that being will knowingly perform?

Yes I would. But God cannot violate the law of non-contradiction. His only attribute described in the bible using the superlative is holiness. I'm not sure what that means, but whatever it means, God can only be benevolent (or anything else) to the extent that it doesn't violate his holiness--because he can't be both holy and unholy in the same time and under the same circumstances.

I agree with the watered down, common view of [omni]benevolence as described in Rom. 8:28: And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

But there is no "omni" there, and no instant satisfaction there-- the only benevolence that god promises is limited: ultimately all things will work out to be god for some people. Since that is a promise it does indeed impose a constraint. God can not act in such a way that is not good toward someone who loves him.

The simplest way to understand pesuppositional apologetics is that (in its Christian form) is that it assumes the existence of God and assumes the bible is his word.
The prototypical presup statement is the children's ditty: Jesus loves me this I know, for the bible tells me so.
Its claim then is not a proof claim, but rather that from these assumptions one can construct a more self-consistent world view than the non-Christian can.
Whether it succeeds or fails is another matter. But's that what it is--it is not circular reasoning.

No, you're still not making a distinction between presupposition and circular reasoning.

Let X be "God exists, the bible is the word of God, and the proper interpretation of the bible is Y"
(where Y is some particular theology -- in this case a particular form of Calvinism, but could also be Arminianism, or whatever)

Why do you believe X? Because you believe that Y is true. Why do you believe Y? Because you believe that X is true.

Around and around... in a circle.

By Owlmirror (not verified) on 27 Apr 2010 #permalink

God can not act in such a way that is not good toward someone who loves him.

Job.

(Not "get a", "the book of".)

By Owlmirror (not verified) on 27 Apr 2010 #permalink

Robert H,

That seems to be an attempt at a proof of the existence of God, and a pretty circular to me.

But it is not. Think of it in terms of mathematics. There we have certain axioms. They cannot be proved. But without them, nothing can be proved. That is what Van Til is saying.

As it is, it seems to say (to my warped senses) that the inerrant word of the Bible trumps observational science when the two are not in accord (and when are they in accord?)

Well, that will indeed be a big problem for me if you can demonstrate where they are not in accord.

Heddle, do you believe that the Bible is true, or only that it is the word of your God? If your God is as described in the bible, it's capable of deception (as with Pharaoh, it could be hardening your heart), hence its supposed word, the bible, is dubious; and if of course it's not as described in the bible, your presuppositions are broken.

By Stephen Wells (not verified) on 27 Apr 2010 #permalink

209: Either way, assuming something with no evidence and refusing to let go of that assumption until it's proven wrong is faulty thinking.

As far as I can tell, every system requires at least one unevidenced starting point assumption. My system of justice, for example, assumes that all people are created equal and is built on that assumption. We then (in effect, but not in the scientific sense) test our systems (and thus their assumptions) by how they work for us. In my view, this is the great failing of "default" atheism. People don't (as best as I can tell) build their lives upon lacks. Religion endures because it works in some way for its adherents. It provides (at least) meaning, context and community. To this point, and with a very few notable exceptions, the atheist "community" has tried to create itself based upon what it isn't. I think that approach can't ultimately succeed. It seems to me that people inevitably seek meaning, which requires some baseline assumptions about what is meaningful. Religion provides those, more or less well. Atheism does not, meaning that it needs to be coupled with a system of some sort (humanism, for example), which includes assumed starting points. Thus I don't think it's faulty thinking at all. It's downright necessary.

Incidentally, since the bible claims that the earth predates the sun and moon, it's incompatible with science. Heddle will now renounce his faith- no?

By Stephen Wells (not verified) on 27 Apr 2010 #permalink

owlmirror,

Let X be "God exists, the bible is the word of God, and the proper interpretation of the bible is Y"

I'm not sure what you are saying, but presuppositional apologetics, while popular among Calvinists, also has some of its harshest critics among Calvinists. In fact my personal favorite modern "popular" Calvinist theologian, R C. Sproul, argues against presuppositional apologetics.

If I say:

1) I assume God exists, and
2) I assume the bible is his word

how is it circular unless I try to prove that 1) god exists and/or 2) the bible is his word?

But taking those assumptions I can then try to demonstrate one theology or another--but I won't be immune from interpretation wars.

You included a presupposition that I don't make--that "the proper interpretation of the bible is Y."

Stephen Wells,

That's true. I cannot rule out the possibility that I am being deceived by a capricious deity, or an evil deity, or that I have suffered some sort of brain damage.

Heddle, my point is that your presuppositions do not establish that god is as described in the bible. Even given your presupps, you require an additional assumption, for example "the bible is true" or "god speaks truth". If the bible is the word of an untruthful god then it doesn't give you any useful information about the nature of the god you think you believe in. Would you like to reconsider how many presupps you need?

And would you like to explain how a bible which has the earth older than the sun is compatible with science?

By Stephen Wells (not verified) on 27 Apr 2010 #permalink

heddle @206

The question "Why would God be unwilling to eliminate evil?" is no different than asking "why doesn't god eliminate the color purple?"

Perhaps purple and evil are the same to you and to god but they aren't to me. I do indeed question the existence of god. I was born skeptical into a family rigorously informed by the scientific method. I have profound doubts as to the existence of the Abrahamic god, or any others for that matter. I see no indication whatsoever in the physical universe that there is a god but, just like you and proof that there's no soul, I'm ready to amend my beliefs were I to find a scintilla of evidence. The deeper I look into the matter the less I see that could be construed as a hint of a shadow of god's existence. Maybe I'm looking in the wrong places; maybe I'm not predestined (in and of itself a dirty trick), maybe I suffer from hubris. It seems if god wanted us to believe in him he could, in a heartbeat, make proof of his existence in so incontrovertible a fashion that all would kneel before him. But he doesn't. Why? Because he doesn't have to? Granted. Because he's a mean spirited entity with a cruel streak that would make an eight year old simultaneously blush and cringe? Perhaps. I can't accept that an entity who created a universe as vast and as wondrous as ours, who reputedly has a soft spot for at least some of the denizens of this small and insignificant world, would be so much like the neighborhood bully, wondering who to assault next. Because of that I am prepared to offer my allegiance to the quest for knowledge, with the full awareness that we will never get to the end of that quest. I don't turn my back on god; if he exists he has turned his back on me. I do appreciate the time you have shared, heddle, and confess to coming away richer from the experience, but In the words of the original rebel: non serviam!

Stephen Wells,

Incidentally, since the bible claims that the earth predates the sun and moon, it's incompatible with science.

Did you really mean to write that? Or will you claim that what you clearly meant was "since the bible claims that the earth predates the sun AND moon [when in fact it ONLY predates the moon]."

Because, I'm sure you know, the earth did predate the moon.

when in fact it ONLY predates the moon

Have you read the bible? First verse:
"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." That was day 1. The sun wasn't created until Gen 1:14, the fourth day:

14 And God said, "Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth." And it was so. 16 God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. 17 God set them in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth, 18 to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening, and there was morning—the fourth day.

Or is this another metaphor?

Nice wiggle, heddle, I put "sun and moon" because the bible conveniently lists them in one verse in the first version of the creation story. I know the earth predates the moon. I also know the sun predates the earth. Which contradicts the bible.

Are you planning to dance on this one until you think of an answer to your presupp problem?

By Stephen Wells (not verified) on 27 Apr 2010 #permalink

Yes I would. But God cannot violate the law of non-contradiction.

(Citation needed)

His only attribute described in the bible using the superlative is holiness.

Actually, he is also frequently described as "all powerful" or "almighty". Do you consider this to be distinct from omnipotent? If so, in what way?

I'm not sure what that means, but whatever it means, God can only be benevolent (or anything else) to the extent that it doesn't violate his holiness--because he can't be both holy and unholy in the same time and under the same circumstances.

So, you would be of the opinion that hoilness does not include benevolence - that someone can be malevolent and holy at the same time?
And if so, why is 'holiness' a positive trait, one worthy of worship?

I agree with the watered down, common view of [omni]benevolence as described in Rom. 8:28: And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

But there is no "omni" there, and no instant satisfaction there-- the only benevolence that god promises is limited: ultimately all things will work out to be god for some people. Since that is a promise it does indeed impose a constraint. God can not act in such a way that is not good toward someone who loves him.

God is also frequently refered to as 'perfect'. Presumably perfection does not include perfect benevolence.
To put it another way, god's perfect, but not as nice a guy as he could be, either due to lack of ability or lack of interest.

Have I got that right?

Folks, you have to remember that heddle's god is a real asshole who actually hates most people. This is a deity who wants, in fact insists, that the vast majority of people be tortured forever and ever. heddle's god is a sadistic bully with the emotional maturity of a spoiled five year old.

I've never understood why people like heddle worship such a god but there are people who eat shit for pleasure.

And yes, heddle, I think you're literally insane because of your worship of a petulant, oppressive monster.

By 'Tis Himself, OM (not verified) on 27 Apr 2010 #permalink

I'd guess that we're even more unimpressed with presuppositional apologetics than we are with the classical ones.

With Sastra on this one. Classical arguments are usually pretty bad, but presuppositional arguments have that circularity about them meaning you're just getting back to what you asserted to be true in the first place.

Robert H,

I also enjoyed the discussion. Thanks.

Stephen Wells,

No those two are enough, because it is clear the second assumption includes the underlying assumption that the bible is the truth, not a pack of lies. But if it feels like victory to you to split it out into a third explicit assumption, then go for it.

As for the earth predating the sun, what you really mean is: I demand that you interpret the bible in whatever hermeneutic I choose, i.e., the one that is most advantageous to to my position. I'll pass. There are, broadly speaking, three widely-held interpretations of Genesis. 1) Literal young-earth 2) old earth (some of whose proponents also claim literality)and 3) framework. Your problem is a problem for the first category, possibly but not obviously a problem for the second category (Hugh Ross would say no), and definitely not a problem for the third, of which I am a proponent.

No, heddle, to go from "word of god" to "true" requires an explicit, not implicit, assumption of truthfulness on the part of your god- which means you're already imputing properties to god that aren't justified by your presuppositions. The bible certainly doesn't say that god has to tell you the truth. You should probably list this explicitly in future.

Alternatively you could list one presupposition, "heddle is right", which would be simpler and more honest.

If you're shifting to framework then the "word of god" is clearly worthless as a guide to historical truth, since it cannot be trusted to mean that certain events took place in a certain order just because it says they do. Your claim that the bible is compatible with science then becomes vacuous.

By Stephen Wells (not verified) on 27 Apr 2010 #permalink

heddle #196 wrote:

The prototypical presup statement is the children's ditty: Jesus loves me this I know, for the bible tells me so.
Its claim then is not a proof claim, but rather that from these assumptions one can construct a more self-consistent world view than the non-Christian can.

I would agree that this is not a circular argument, because it really isn't an argument at all. Someone once pointed out that presuppositional apologetics is not like debate -- where one side tries to persuade the other -- but like torture. The presupper tries to break the nonbeliever down, so that his defenses against God relax enough for the truth he already knows, to be revealed.

But I question whether you can really call the Biblical world view self-consistent if it needs to be consistent with the world. Originally complex disembodied minds which create and move matter through willpower are not consistent with the scientific 'wisdom of the world.' We were surprised to discover that it actually clashes with it. Nobody would have expected that at the beginning of the Renaissance.

I asked a question at #179, and am still curious about your answer:

If new evidence would force you to change your presuppositions, then your presuppositions were based on evidence in the first place, no?

You also mentioned that you would be willing to give up your belief in souls, if some scientific proof against them came along. A while back, you conceded another situation or discovery which would change your mind about God. I'm afraid I don't remember what it was specifically, but it was in cosmology (something about the existence of other universes maybe?)

In other words, you're not an unreasonable man, and you are a scientist. Because you can make mistakes, you take God as a hypothesis, and -- though of course you assume He exists -- you do so within a framework that recognizes that God may not exist, and the revelations of the Bible may not be true.

I'm not so sure this is presuppositionalism.

Anri,

So, you would be of the opinion that holiness does not include benevolence -

No. It does not include omnibenevolence. From dictionary.com:

benevolence: 1.) characterized by or expressing goodwill or kindly feelings

The bible tells (Rom 9) of Rebekah's twins, that before they were born, before they had done good or bad, that God loved Jacob and hated Esau. I don't know if "hate" means the same as it does for us, but it certainly does not fall under the umbrella of "goodwill and kindly feelings."

Yet Jacob was just as much a sinner. (Worse, in human terms.) Yet God was benevolent toward Jacob. So he is benevolent. But not omnibenevolent, if that means he has a dictionary definition of benevolence attitude toward all men.

Sastra,

If new evidence would force you to change your presuppositions, then your presuppositions were based on evidence in the first place, no?

I don't see why that necessarily follows. I can have, as someone upstream pointed out, the presupposition that all men are created equal. I can hold to that even with no hard evidence. But if hard evidence to the contrary would come along, I'd be forced to abandon the presup.

It's like science. In my opinion science has the presupposition: doing science is not a fool's errand. That is, as slow as it is at times, we presuppose that our march will be inexorably forward. If we went millennia without any advancement at all people would question that presupposition--and there would be a lot fewer scientists. I'm guessing.

heddle #230 wrote:

I can have, as someone upstream pointed out, the presupposition that all men are created equal. I can hold to that even with no hard evidence. But if hard evidence to the contrary would come along, I'd be forced to abandon the presup.

Ah, I see. The existence of God and the truth of the Bible are not necessary, foundational axioms. They are, instead, more like working theories within a larger framework.

Just as there may be more valid systems of justice, or better methods of getting at the truth, God eventually may turn out to be a failed hypothesis. We are all seekers, together.

Still not sure this is presuppositionalism.

Things to note about debating heddle:

1) He does not subscribe to what we would call 'mainstream' Christianity. His god is not the kindly, loving god unless you're one of the chosen; if you aren't, he is precisely the hateful, vengeful, genocidal monster the bible describes. He has no problem with this, so pointing out the impossibility of this god being both omnipotent and omnibenevolent is a waste of time.

2) To heddle, the bible was never written to be taken literally; therefore, any part of it that does not correspond with contemporary scientific findings is - and always was - a metaphor. Any Christian, past or present, claiming otherwise has interpreted it wrong.

3) He does not choose to believe in his god because of arguments, he believes because - according to him - his god magically changed him from an unbeliever to a believer. In short, his faith is not based on reason; ergo, you cannot reason him out of it.

From what I can tell, Calvinism is a sect created by people who think like lawyers to allow other people who think like lawyers to feel good about their emotionally-held belief - i.e. they don't mind how awful what they claim makes them look as long as their arguments retain internal consistency.

By WowbaggerOM (not verified) on 27 Apr 2010 #permalink

Anri,

So, you would be of the opinion that holiness does not include benevolence -

No. It does not include omnibenevolence. From dictionary.com:(snip)

Fine, because that's not what I was asking.

I was just asking if holiness included benevolence at all. This was a precursor to ask if 'holiness' is a positive trait (which I also asked). And if it was, in what way?
Or, on the other hand, if 'holiness' itself is not a positive trait, why does it matter if god's got lots of it? Why would that make him more worthy of worship than something less 'holy', but more benevolent?

To put it another way, you said yourself that you didn't know what 'holiness' was, but that god's chock full of it. Well, that doesn't really tell us anything about god, does it?

(I'm assuming you're not addressing the arguments about god's omnipotence or perfection due to time/space constraints, not because you're conceding the points.)

It is only a meaningful question if God's unwillingness to eliminate evil (in this age) calls into question his very existence. Only if his existence is incompatible with human suffering does this question pose a problem.

Since he often commands human suffering (witness the various races in Joshua's path) it is irrefutable that the god of the bible is more than compatible with human suffering, even eternal human suffering.

And the only way to may it incompatible is to create a strawman "omnibenevolent" god whereby "omnibenevolent" means that god must eliminate all evil and all suffering. He is obligated to, if he can.

It is a model of god--but not the biblical model.

Heddle deserves credit for recognising, and engaging with, the Epicurean dilemma here. The Epicurean dilemma, of course, states that God, if he exists, cannot be both omnipotent and omnibenevolent; because evil exists, and hence God must be either unable or unwilling to prevent evil.

Heddle is simply acknowledging that his God is not omnibenevolent, as we humans understand the term "benevolent". And this is, indeed, perfectly consistent with the Biblical narrative; according to that narrative, the Judeo-Christian God is sometimes benevolent, to those he loves, but at other times appears to be a capricious, malevolent bully.

But my answer to this is twofold. Firstly, while Heddle's conception of God is certainly possible, I see no particular evidence in its favour: and, just as with any other unsupported claim about the nature of reality, the default position must be to remain sceptical unless evidence is adduced in support of the claim.

Secondly, and much more importantly, even if Heddle's God does exist, I would not want to worship him. As Mill said, "I will call no being good who is not what I mean when I apply that epithet to my fellow creatures." To my mind, a being who arbitrarily picks and chooses between parts of his creation, loving some and hating others, and making the latter suffer apparently at random, is not "good" or "just" in any sense which I recognise. If that kind of God exists, the morally correct path is to accept Hell rather than to worship him, just as it is morally correct to stand up to an oppressive human tyrant who demanded fealty.

Walton #234 wrote:

To my mind, a being who arbitrarily picks and chooses between parts of his creation, loving some and hating others, and making the latter suffer apparently at random, is not "good" or "just" in any sense which I recognise.

Calvinists can be a funny lot. I know one who agrees with this -- and therefore draws the conclusion that he is clearly not one of the Elect, since he can't accept God's goodness. If he was, he would. Like the atheists, then, he is probably damned. Unlike the atheists, however, he knows that he deserves it.

Children sometimes hear something like this:

"I don't want my oatmeal."
"Why not?"
"It's icky."
"No it's not. You don't know what's good."

Now imagine if this judgment was permanently internalized

Walton wrote:

Secondly, and much more importantly, even if Heddle's God does exist, I would not want to worship him.

and

If that kind of God exists, the morally correct path is to accept Hell rather than to worship him, just as it is morally correct to stand up to an oppressive human tyrant who demanded fealty.

No sane person would - at least not for any reason other than fear. But heddle's theology includes the belief that by being 'saved' his god makes you unable to choose to not love and worship him, despite his vileness - so it's not really a question of making a choice.

By WowbaggerOM (not verified) on 27 Apr 2010 #permalink

'Tis Himself:

Folks, you have to remember that heddle's god is a real asshole who actually hates most people. This is a deity who wants, in fact insists, that the vast majority of people be tortured forever and ever. heddle's god is a sadistic bully with the emotional maturity of a spoiled five year old.I've never understood why people like heddle worship such a god but there are people who eat shit for pleasure.

That almost makes it sound as if Heddle's asshole sky dictator actually exists. Don't be ridiculous. Instead, the evidence strongly indicates that it is Heddle himself who is the asshole (delusional and intellectually bankrupt though he may be).

Think of it in terms of mathematics. There we have certain axioms. They cannot be proved. But without them, nothing can be proved. That is what Van Til is saying.

Unless he was saying that God is exactly the same thing as the axioms of logic and mathematics -- which I don't think he was, and if he was, he was turning logical and mathematical axioms into a metaphysical idol -- he was making a circular argument for a God that is presupposed to exist in the same way that logical and mathematical axioms are necessary truths, which is the logical fallacy of argument by assertion and assuming his conclusion.

Or in other words, he was committing an actual logical fallacy in order to put God in the same class of things as the logical axioms he wants to argue from.

=====

I'm not sure what you are saying, but presuppositional apologetics, while popular among Calvinists, also has some of its harshest critics among Calvinists.

I'm not saying that all Calvinists are presuppositionalists, or that all presuppositionalists are (necessarily) Calvinists, but that all presuppositional apologists have presuppositionalism as part of their theology.

In fact my personal favorite modern "popular" Calvinist theologian, R C. Sproul, argues against presuppositional apologetics.

In what sense? Does he argue that God can be deduced by reason, like Thomists?

If I say:
1) I assume God exists, and
2) I assume the bible is his word
how is it circular unless I try to prove that 1) god exists and/or 2) the bible is his word?

But don't forget that you're also arguing for a particular interpretation of the bible, which interpretation also includes the presupposition that presuppositions are valid, and that the particular presuppositions that you are making are true.

To put it another way:

You also have some hidden assumptions there:

0) I assume that it is valid to make the following assumptions above and beyond the basic logical axioms
1) I assume God exists, and
2) I assume the bible is his word
3) I assume interpretation Y of the bible, which includes the assumption that it is valid to make the above assumptions above and beyond the basic logical axioms

The circle is that of self-referential recursion.

X→X, ∴ X∞

You included a presupposition that I don't make--that "the proper interpretation of the bible is Y."

I don't see how you can possibly not be making, at a minimum, the presupposition that theological presuppositions are valid.

And I don't see how you cannot be be presupposing your interpretation of the bible. What is your interpretation of the bible, if not that which you presuppose to be the correct interpretation of the word of God that you presuppose the bible to be?

By Owlmirror (not verified) on 27 Apr 2010 #permalink

A while back, you conceded another situation or discovery which would change your mind about God. I'm afraid I don't remember what it was specifically, but it was in cosmology (something about the existence of other universes maybe?)

As I recall, the specific cosmological scenario that heddle said would destroy his faith, was if the universe was eternal, which is to say, uncreated.

That is (presumably), a scenario which means that before the Big Bang was a prior universe, and before that, another one, and so on and so forth ad infinitum; one where universes come into existence, grow, expand, and become new universes eventually, simply because it is in their nature to do so.

Let me search a second...

Here it is, from more than a year ago.

And actually, he originally wrote "steady-state universe", and acknowledged "Oscillating models" would match as well, in response to my request for clarification a few comments down.

By Owlmirror (not verified) on 27 Apr 2010 #permalink

In my opinion science has the presupposition: doing science is not a fool's errand. That is, as slow as it is at times, we presuppose that our march will be inexorably forward. If we went millennia without any advancement at all people would question that presupposition--and there would be a lot fewer scientists

While I agree that science has presuppositions, or rather, axioms, I think you're conflating the personal with the epistemic with your phrasing above.

That is, I think that a set of minimal axioms about science would run something like:

1) Just as there are logical truths and falsities, there are empirical truths and falsities.

2) Just as a logical contradiction cannot be logically true, an empirical contradiction cannot be empirically real. [falsifiability]

3) Just as a logical claim cannot be considered true without valid logic that supports the claim, an empirical claim cannot be considered valid without empirical evidence that supports the claim. [parsimony]

4) Our minds and senses function because they are themselves empirically real and interact with empirical reality, but cannot be considered absolutely accurate because we know of cases in which those senses fail to function correctly.

Or something like that.

Although I agree that "science works", to very loosely paraphrase what you wrote, is a reasonable parsimonious inference.

By Owlmirror (not verified) on 27 Apr 2010 #permalink

But God cannot violate the law of non-contradiction. His only attribute described in the bible using the superlative is holiness. I'm not sure what that means, but whatever it means, God can only be benevolent (or anything else) to the extent that it doesn't violate his holiness--because he can't be both holy and unholy in the same time and under the same circumstances.

Perhaps "holiness" simply means God's ineffable will. Or perhaps it means God's random whim. Or perhaps it doesn't mean anything at all.

But there is no "omni" there, and no instant satisfaction there-- the only benevolence that god promises is limited: ultimately all things will work out to be god for some people.

(I'm inferring that that final "god" should read "good").

The thing is, though, that I don't think that would be described as being properly "benevolent". Or rather, it might well appear as benevolence to those who receive it, but those that are denied it for no reason would properly disagree.

A human who achieves enormous power and does good things for those few that he likes, for whatever reason or for no reason, but does cruel things to the many that he doesn't like, for whatever reason or for no reason, is not, I think, properly described as being benevolent, but as demonstrating favoritism.

I think that it would only be consistent to apply the same to God.

By Owlmirror (not verified) on 27 Apr 2010 #permalink

Discussing god's qualities is akin to arguing about whether unicorns are green or purple.

OK, reading the first quote I was actually starting to doubt my intelligence, since I couldn't actually parse that damn snarl of an argument far enough to pick holes in the logic.
I am now sufficiently soothed that there's wasn't actually any logic to pick holes in.

By https://www.go… (not verified) on 28 Apr 2010 #permalink

Why doesn't contingent being require non-contingent being?

By circekern (not verified) on 03 May 2010 #permalink

circekern #244 wrote:

Why doesn't contingent being require non-contingent being?

The categories of "contingent" and "non-contingent" are old-fashioned mental constructs, which may or may not be useful. I suppose the thing that must exist, if anything does, would be what we usually call "reality." You're not going to be able to derive much that's useful from that, though.

God might, or might not, exist. Clearly, it could not be considered non-contingent -- even if it does actually exist.

circekern, because contingent being may be contingent on other contingent being — hence, not required.

By John Morales (not verified) on 03 May 2010 #permalink

Why doesn't contingent being require non-contingent being?

It might -- but so what?

If you're trying to imply that contingent existence must be based on something non-contingent, you're basically begging the question, but it isn't necessarily untrue. The problem is that the very concept of contingency presupposes a complete understanding of existence, which we do not have today, and Aquinas certainly did not have back when he made his arguments.

But if you're trying to further imply that the putative non-contingent whatever is God, well, that is both a non-sequitur, and also begs its own question. Why should some putative non-contingent existence be called "God"?

If that's not what you're asking, then you'll need to make a better effort.

By Owlmirror (not verified) on 03 May 2010 #permalink

OK, so I wrote this and it got longer and longer. Please pardon me. I'm trying to figure out whether there is necessarily a non-contingent being.

I'm not sure I was trying to imply anything. I was just asking. It seems to me that the fact of contingent existence indicates, by definition, that the contingent is always based on something else.

If everything is based on something else, then the common argument would seem to be that in the end there must be something non-contingent on which all the contingent things are based. Maybe I'm missing something, but that makes sense to me.

If you want to use the Anglo-Saxon term and call that God, I suppose you can. I would just call it Non-contingent being for the sake of this discussion.

So far as I can tell, the argument against non-contingent being is that

1. contingent being can depend on other non-contingent being
2. If a non-contingent being exists, I won't be able to derive anything useful from the idea
3. Knowledge of a non-contingent being would require a completely different understanding of existence.
4. If there is a God, it is contingent too

Let me say that I appreciate your answers a lot because they are both thoughtful and insightful.

As to the first, I can't be satisfied with that. As long as we are talking about contingency, we have no choice but to seek a cause of what is contingent since that is what contingent means. That quest is, after all, the historical root of scientific endeavor and it's beautiful. This point only moved the question one square farther away from where I sit. If everything together is contingent, there still must be something that caused it. If each part is caused by some other part of the system, then the contigent is self-creating and self-sustaining. But what evidence is there for such a system?

On number 2, I need your help to understand what you mean. I'm not really looking for use so much as trying to follow where the inquiry leads me.

On number 3, This is an amazingly great point. It may in fact show where western thought went wrong. Plato goes into this a lot, as did Plotinus, Augustine, Gregory of Nyssa, Kant, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and a whole host of eastern thinkers.

Our understanding of existence is the understanding that a contingent being can gain. It's extremely limited, though often breath-taking and an awful lot of fun.

But there may be an understanding of being that we are incapable of reaching.

But what if what we CAN know leads us to the necessary conclusion that there is a kind of being that must "be" in some other way than we are able to grasp being. An awful lot of really smart people continue to draw that conclusion.

4. This is a hard one. If there is a god, philosophically speaking (as opposed to, say, the Olympian or Nordic deities, which I think we all agree don't exist), then that god is, by definition, non-contingent.

So if there is a god, it is not contingent because if we insist on using the A-S term god, the thing at least I would be refering to is this being that is non-contingent.

So points 1 and 4, I think, miss the point of the argument of contingency.

2 I don't know what to do with, and 3 is still blowing my mind with the insight. Maybe that's the answer to number 2. Maybe the usefulness is that the idea can blow my mind and that kind of pleasure is a good thing.

So thanks for entertaining my question without blowing me up. The fact is, I agree with most of what you all have posted on this thread and am almost an atheist in that I also don't believe in most of the gods that have been proven ridiculous in this discussion.

But there's still that unknowable, ineffable, non-contingent being as a hobgoblin in my haunted mind.

By circekern (not verified) on 06 May 2010 #permalink

If everything is based on something else, then the common argument would seem to be that in the end there must be something non-contingent on which all the contingent things are based. Maybe I'm missing something, but that makes sense to me.

The problem is that for something to "make sense" about physical reality, you need to be able to test it empirically.

If there were some putative "non-contingent thing", how would you know what it was? Are you concluding for certain that it is non-contingent because it really is -- or because you don't know how to find what it might be contingent upon?

How would you go about proving that an infinite chain of contingency is empirically impossible?

If you want to use the Anglo-Saxon term and call that God, I suppose you can.

Again, why would you even want to?

If each part is caused by some other part of the system, then the contigent is self-creating and self-sustaining. But what evidence is there for such a system?

We don't know. But we don't know that it's empirically impossible, either.

I'm not really looking for use so much as trying to follow where the inquiry leads me.

I think "useful", there, was meant in the sense of being able to figure out anything at all about it, or what the implications of it might be.

Or to put it another way, say that there is something non-contingent. So there it is, existing non-contingently.

So what? You don't know anything else about it -- certainly not how it goes about being the source of all contingent things while not having anything that it is contingent upon.

It's just there, until you can offer some sort of empirical test of what it is, rather than a fallaciously argued deduction.

It may in fact show where western thought went wrong. Plato goes into this a lot, as did Plotinus, Augustine, Gregory of Nyssa, Kant, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and a whole host of eastern thinkers.

Given that none of the above had any clue whatsoever about the actual physical basis of reality, I see no reason whatsoever to give any credence whatsoever about any incoherent metaphysical ideas that they might have dreamed up.

But what if what we CAN know leads us to the necessary conclusion that there is a kind of being that must "be" in some other way than we are able to grasp being. An awful lot of really smart people continue to draw that conclusion.

And their intelligence is insufficient if they cannot provide any sort of empirical demonstration of their conclusion.

If there is a god, philosophically speaking (as opposed to, say, the Olympian or Nordic deities, which I think we all agree don't exist), then that god is, by definition, non-contingent.

It depends on your definition of god, though.

If you just call non-contingent existence "god", just because you want to, then you don't have any good reason to do so.

If you define "God" as being a person; a personal God, then based on everything we know about persons, who are all contingent beings, the most reasonable conclusion is that this personal God is also contingent -- and the non-contingent is not God, since that is what God is contingent upon.

So are you asserting that the putative non-contingent is god, for no good reason? Or are you positing that there is a personal God, for which the most reasonable inference is that this entity is contingent upon something else?

The fact is, I agree with most of what you all have posted on this thread and am almost an atheist in that I also don't believe in most of the gods that have been proven ridiculous in this discussion.

Going by this, you don't actually believe that god is a person. Perhaps you want to look into pantheism.

I personally don't care for pantheism, because it uses a label (god) for something impersonal, and that same label is widely used by others for a person, Yahweh/Elohim, the character described in the bible. And as I said, it uses that label for no good reason that I can see.

But if the concept appeals to you, go for it -- just so long as you are aware of what you are doing.

By Owlmirror (not verified) on 06 May 2010 #permalink

"The problem is that for something to "make sense" about physical reality, you need to be able to test it empirically."

I think I agree with this statement, but I'm not sure how you could prove it empirically.

But I'm not talking about physical reality. It would seem to me that the starting point of thinking about this non-contingent being is what was under point 3 above. Being to "it" is different from being to us. So whatever is true about the physical order cannot be applied to "it."

"If there were some putative "non-contingent thing", how would you know what it was?"

I wouldn't. I would have no idea what it was, but I would know a lot about what it wasn't. It wouldn't be, for example, contingent.

"Are you concluding for certain that it is non-contingent because it really is -- or because you don't know how to find what it might be contingent upon?"

My entire inquiry is based on the assumption that contingent things are contingent and that contingency, being contingent, cannot be infinite. It's not purely deductive or purely empirical, so far as I can tell. More on this below.

So if contingency is dependent and therefore, as it seems to me, there must be at some point something that is not contingent, it is not possible that this non-contingent thing would be contingent on something else. If it were, we'd just have to move the square one space further along. Eventually contingency comes to an end.

"How would you go about proving that an infinite chain of contingency is empirically impossible?"

One cannot prove such a thing empirically, but it seems to me that one can prove deductively that something is not empirically possible. For example, I can prove deductively that a triangle can never be a square in Euclidean Geometry. That is so because of the nature of the Euclidean triangle. I can prove deductively that my grandfather was not a woman. etc.

I suppose I might argue something similar for the infinite chain of contingency. The only way contingency could be infinite is if it were a self-perpetuating self-enclosed system. Are you prepared to argue that such a thing could exist?

Here the argument about the burden of proof comes up. I am willing to carry that burden when I am trying to demonstrate the necessity of a non-contingent being. I'm making a positive assertion, so the burden of proof is mine.

When you argue for an infinite chain of contingency, you have made a positive assertion. I believe you have assumed the burden of proof at this point.

You have suggested that I would have to prove that such a thing is empirically impossible. I can understand that two ways: one, that I have to prove empirically that it is not possible. I think you would agree that I cannot do so and that I could not prove much else to be impossible empirically either. Hume seemed to show that pretty powerfully.

Or you could mean that I have to prove that an infinite chain of contingency could not exist in the physical (empirical) universe. I think this could be proven, though I'm not sure I'm up to the task. It seems to me that an infinite chain of material things would defy the definition of material things (even if we reduce them to energy), and that it would require infinite energy to sustain or inaugurate such a chain.

A question here: can a lesser energy cause something with greater energy without additional sources of energy?

So it seems to me we are reduced to two fundamental options:

1. There is a non-contigent "being" who exists in a way different from the way we exist and is therefore incomprehensible to us but whose existence is necessary or
2. There is an infinite chain of contingency or some variation on that idea.

At present, I still hold to the former because nothing we know about the contingent world we inhabit indicates it could possibly be infinite, so it makes more sense to me that some different sort of thing that is non-contingent and is, in some way, infinite, does exist.

"I think "useful", there, was meant in the sense of being able to figure out anything at all about it, or what the implications of it might be."

Thank you. I see what you mean now.

"Or to put it another way, say that there is something non-contingent. So there it is, existing non-contingently.

So what?"

Excellent question. I guess my first answer would be, "then we've proved there is something non-contingent, which is what we're discussing."

I don't know at this point what the implications would be, but they would seem to be significant.

"You don't know anything else about it -- certainly not how it goes about being the source of all contingent things while not having anything that it is contingent upon."

I agree. But I like to think it could be like learning something in math or science. Figure this one out and who knows what will follow? Maybe I'll get rich off it!?

"It's just there, until you can offer some sort of empirical test of what it is, rather than a fallaciously argued deduction."

This puzzles me a little. Maybe what makes this so difficult is the demand you place that any test must be empirical. From what I understand, you are making a demand that very few scientific theories could stand up to. Many theories, relativism and Copernicanism among them, defied empirical testing until some time after they were deduced mathematically. Are you arguing that only what can be proven empirically warrants belief?

As to the second part, are you sure you've respected my argument? Is my deduction really fallaciously argued? Are empirical verification and fallacious arguments the only two options?

If so, I need to know what fallacy I committed. I'm prepared to alter my position, because, frankly, I don't think I have a dog in this fight.

I should stop because this is getting rather complicated, but I really loved this next paragraph. You are a skilled arguer so I appreciate you considering my position.

"Given that none of the above had any clue whatsoever about the actual physical basis of reality, I see no reason whatsoever to give any credence whatsoever about any incoherent metaphysical ideas that they might have dreamed up."

What is the "actual physical basis of reality?" I don't think I have any clue about it either.

So this doesn't turn unwieldy, let me try to summarize and see if there's a crux to this discusion:

I'm arguing that contingency by its nature demands a non-contingent being whose existence is of a different kind than ours and is therefore imcomprehensible to us.

I don't think this can be proven empirically in the sense of providing adequate evidence to determine its probable existence. I think it is necessary, not evidentiary (if that is a word).

It is empirical in this sense: the fact of empirical (which I take to be contingent) existence seems to be not self-explanatory and therefore there must be something not empirical to explain it.

So I think this is the crux: Is an infinite chain of contingencies possible?

Or maybe this is it more precisely: Is empirical proof possible for either infinite contingency or a non-contigent being and if it is not to what can we turn for proof?

The details of my position such as they are right now are described in these excessively long posts, and you do me a great honor, in the tradition of that great Atheist (or at least agnostic) David Hume to read them, not to speak of responding to them. Thank you for demanding more clarity of myself than I had attained previously.

By circekern (not verified) on 06 May 2010 #permalink

But I'm not talking about physical reality.

I don't see how you can avoid talking about physical reality. That's what you're starting out with, after all.

I would have no idea what it was, but I would know a lot about what it wasn't. It wouldn't be, for example, contingent.

That's one thing you might know. Anything else?

My entire inquiry is based on the assumption that contingent things are contingent and that contingency, being contingent, cannot be infinite.

So you're basically assuming your conclusion. This is a logical fallacy.

It's not purely deductive or purely empirical, so far as I can tell.

Yes, a logical fallacy is not a valid deduction, and it certainly is not an empirical test.

If it were, we'd just have to move the square one space further along.

So?

One cannot prove such a thing empirically, but it seems to me that one can prove deductively that something is not empirically possible.

Generally, yes -- that's how science works, by eliminating the empirically impossible. But it's a deduction based on empirical evidence.

For example, I can prove deductively that a triangle can never be a square in Euclidean Geometry.

(Or indeed, in the non-Euclidean geometries -- A triangle can have more than one right angle in some cases, but since it would still have three sides, it fails to be square. There is no geometry where 3 sides = 4 sides, except maybe for the extremely degenerate case of a single point.)

But note that geometry is a branch of math, which is a branch of logic.

There is certainly no logical or mathematical argument against the existence of infinity, or against different types of infinities, even.

I can prove deductively that my grandfather was not a woman. etc.

Sure, but that's based on empirical evidence and empirical definitions of what it means to be male or female. Which can include odd but empirically valid borderline cases -- for example, can you prove that your grandfather was not a hermaphrodite; both male and female? I would certainly agree that the most probable scenario is that he was not, given the rarity of that occurrence -- but you should keep in mind the possibility.

I suppose I might argue something similar for the infinite chain of contingency. The only way contingency could be infinite is if it were a self-perpetuating self-enclosed system. Are you prepared to argue that such a thing could exist?

Sure. I'm not arguing that it does, only that it's a valid possibility until empirically proven otherwise.

When you argue for an infinite chain of contingency, you have made a positive assertion. I believe you have assumed the burden of proof at this point.

Not at all. In order to show that your scenario is the only valid one, you have to show that any other scenarios are empirically false. I am not saying that either one is definitely valid or invalid -- only that validity for an empirical claim must come from empirical evidence.

You have suggested that I would have to prove that such a thing is empirically impossible. I can understand that two ways: one, that I have to prove empirically that it is not possible. I think you would agree that I cannot do so and that I could not prove much else to be impossible empirically either.

The first clause of your final sentence is correct; the second is not.

Hume seemed to show that pretty powerfully.

I am not so sure that he did.

Or you could mean that I have to prove that an infinite chain of contingency could not exist in the physical (empirical) universe. I think this could be proven, though I'm not sure I'm up to the task. It seems to me that an infinite chain of material things would defy the definition of material things (even if we reduce them to energy), and that it would require infinite energy to sustain or inaugurate such a chain.

No, I don't think that's your proof. The sum of an infinite series can converge on a finite result, after all.

A question here: can a lesser energy cause something with greater energy without additional sources of energy?

To the best of my knowledge, not within our universe as we understand it, since one of the things in our universe as we understand it is the 2nd law of thermodynamics.

So it seems to me we are reduced to two fundamental options:
1. There is a non-contigent "being" who exists in a way different from the way we exist and is therefore incomprehensible to us but whose existence is necessary or
2. There is an infinite chain of contingency or some variation on that idea.

I think this is a false dichotomy. Why does that which is putatively non-contingent have to be a "being", rather than a fundamental property of reality?

At present, I still hold to the former because nothing we know about the contingent world we inhabit indicates it could possibly be infinite

Nothing we know about the contingent world we inhabit indicates that it is necessarily finite, either.

so it makes more sense to me that some different sort of thing that is non-contingent and is, in some way, infinite, does exist.

So it looks like you have infinity in there anyway...

"Or to put it another way, say that there is something non-contingent. So there it is, existing non-contingently.So what?"

Excellent question. I guess my first answer would be, "then we've proved there is something non-contingent, which is what we're discussing."

Except that we haven't. We are assuming that it exists for the sake of argument; this is hardly a proof.

I don't know at this point what the implications would be, but they would seem to be significant.

Which means we have gotten nowhere beyond the initial assumption.

Maybe what makes this so difficult is the demand you place that any test must be empirical.

No-one said that testing empirical reality would be easy.

From what I understand, you are making a demand that very few scientific theories could stand up to.

Not at all.

Many theories, relativism and Copernicanism among them, defied empirical testing until some time after they were deduced mathematically.

But they were based on calculations based on empirical evidence, and made falsifiable empirical predictions.

Note that Copernicanism, per se, is false. The planets do not go around the sun in nice regular circles of constant radius, but in ellipses -- and discovering that fact required more and better empirical evidence.

There are other arguments which could have been made for heliocentrism (more correct term than Copernicanism), which involve other types of empirical evidence, and the use of empirical parsimony.

Are you arguing that only what can be proven empirically warrants belief?

Yes, if you're making an argument about empirical reality.

As to the second part, are you sure you've respected my argument? Is my deduction really fallaciously argued? Are empirical verification and fallacious arguments the only two options?

Inasmuch as assuming your conclusion is a logical fallacy, yes. Note that that doesn't mean that the conclusion is false -- we don't know of any way to tell that it is false -- but that the argument itself is fallacious.

[I'm going to break here and post. I might come back to the rest later, if I can think of anything further to add.]

By Owlmirror (not verified) on 06 May 2010 #permalink

What is the "actual physical basis of reality?"

What I intended, there, is everything that has been discovered about physics, as an understanding of reality, until this point of time: That matter is made of molecules, which are made of atoms, which group into elements which can be organized and classified according to the periodic table. And that atoms are made of protons, neutrons, and electrons, which govern how the atoms themselves combine into molecules. And that these particles are governed by four fundamental forces, and their behavior is understood under quantum mechanics. And everything else about particle physics.

Also the understanding of forces and motion as explained by Newton and modified by Einsteinian relativity, and modified by quantum mechanics. And cosmology; everything we know from empirical evidence about our universe and how it got that way.

And the questions that are still open in all of those physical sciences.

And so on and so forth.

Like I said, the philosophers that you listed had little or no clue about any of the above scientific work, made by way of empirical evidence and rigorous logic, about empirical physical reality.

I'm arguing that contingency by its nature demands a non-contingent being whose existence is of a different kind than ours and is therefore imcomprehensible to us.

Or rather, you are making several assumptions about the nature of contingency, and non-contingency, and arguing in a circle about them.

the fact of empirical (which I take to be contingent) existence seems to be not self-explanatory and therefore there must be something not empirical to explain it.

This rephrases the assumptions, and still argues in a circle...

So I think this is the crux: Is an infinite chain of contingencies possible?

Here, you question your assumptions. Good. My answer is: I don't know if it is possible or impossible, and I have no reason to believe that anyone else does either.

Is empirical proof possible for either infinite contingency or a non-contigent being

Good question.

While my answer is still "I don't know", I suspect that it might not be possible to have empirical proof.

My reasoning here is as follows: There is a fundamental difference between mathematical infinity, and empirical infinity. In math, there is absolutely no reason not to continue performing some mathematical operation, like addition. There is no "highest" number, or smallest number.

But knowledge of empirical infinity is limited by empirical proof, and empirical proof is limited by the fact that we are finite beings, so we could never measure an empirical infinity, and be certain that it was actually infinite, or only apparently so.

Note, by the way, that both scenarios of infinite-contingent and non-contingent-that-is-infinite, involve empirical infinities.

The only way that I can think of that might approach a proof is if you show, empirically, that some mathematical sequence or reasoning maps exactly to your contingent or non-contingent whatevers, and show that that mathematical sequence is infinite (or not).

But I wouldn't get my hopes up about that. Many mathematical problems are intractable, and some may be utterly indeterminate.

And you still wouldn't have absolute empirical certainty; empirical proofs may be subject to empirical falsification (there may be a similar but different mathematical sequence that is actually a better fit). But you could at least argue that your solution was the most parsimonious one until a disproof is found.

and if it is not to what can we turn for proof?

Nothing at all. We probably have to live with fundamental uncertainty and undecidability.

Of course, we have to do that anyway.

By Owlmirror (not verified) on 06 May 2010 #permalink

This is the best discussion I've ever been involved in on this topic. I'm going to print your answers and think hard about this and see where the inquiry leads me. I'll be back with questions and/or assertions sometime in the next six months.

Just kidding. I'll try to sort this out faster than that.

Thank you for such thoughtful answers. Makes me miss college and wish I'd spent more time on chemistry and physics (which i adored in high school except for all those vulgar graphs ; ) )

By circekern (not verified) on 07 May 2010 #permalink

I am a Christian. I am also, I like to think, intelligent and rational.

I don't feel the need to justify my beliefs to you, but I do feel the need to comment on this gem:

The first reaction of any rational, intelligent human being to that explanation should be, simply, "What?"

If you're not one of those, but an actual Christian...

The arrogance is astonishing. You, sir, are a creep.

Jalo, how many absurd things do you try to believe before breakfast?

Talking snakes? Virgin births? Reanimated corpses that don't walk around saying "Brains, Brians...". As a Christian, you have a lot of absurdities to choose from. Do you believe them all? Pray, if your beliefs are not based on evidence, what is your basis for the claim that you are "rational"?

By a_ray_in_dilbe… (not verified) on 13 May 2010 #permalink

a-ray, I thank you for at least not questioning the claim that I am intelligent!

As to my belief that I am rational, I base that on the evidence that I can use reason. Heck, I can even do it fairly effectively at times.

This doesn’t prove anything, but for what it’s worth, I have a degree in philosophy from a prestigious (non-Christian) university. Like I said, that proves nothing, but it’s evidence…of a sort. ;)

With respect to your question about the talking snake, I am Catholic, and as such, do not hold to a literal interpretation of Genesis. I do believe in the other doctrines you alluded to in that sneering fashion.

My beliefs are indeed based on evidence, though I am sure that you would not recognize it as such—the evidence of tradition, and the evidence of my own religious experiences. You can dismiss it as valid evidence if you want, but your question was whether I had evidence for my beliefs.

If you mean that a necessary condition for being rational is holding ONLY beliefs that can be supported by verifiable scientific or empirical evidence, I think that’s too high a standard. I don’t think anyone is rational by that definition.

Do you believe that you are a good person? Where is the scientific evidence for that? Goodness is not a scientific concept. Do you believe that Moby Dick is a great novel? (Or substitute your own favorite novel, movie, piece of music, whatever.) There can be no scientific evidence for those beliefs (though there is evidence of other sorts you can point to), but I am willing to bet that you hold beliefs like these. Belief in God is a belief like these other ones—it is a belief that is not subject to empirical confirmation or disconfirmation. You may not agree with any of this, but that does not make you more rational than me.

In short, then, I think a better criterion for rationality is the ability to use reason, not believing only those claims for which there is scientific confirmation.

jalo,

I think you need to get your money back from that "prestigious" university. Read this, and then come back and try again.

By boygenius (not verified) on 13 May 2010 #permalink

Boygenius, I don't have time to read everything on that page. If you are suggesting that my reasoning is fallacious, kindly point out the fallacy.

I don't know which fallacy or fallacies you think I have committed. If you tell me which one(s) you have in mind, I will give your criticism serious consideration. As it is, your comment is too vague (and I might add, snide) to be helpful.

Jalo,
First, tradition is not evidence. Experience (even religious evidence) can be evidence, but is inherently subjective and can be interpreted in very different ways. What you describe as a religious experience correlates very strongly with stimulation of a region of the brain in the right temporal lobe. At the very least, one would have to call such evidence flimsy. Would you base an investment in a bridge on such evidence? How about magic beans?

And look at the things you are claiming that such evidence supports--an incorporeal deity, omnipotent and omniscient and benificient. I'm not sure I'd even give you evidence for 2 out of 3 on that from what I see in the world. A virgin birth? You know, I knew lots of virgins who gave birth in high school.

Do I believe I'm a good person. I won't know until I breathe my last, will I. Old Benedict was a helluva good general--the best the colonists had. But somehow that is not how we remember him. In the end, I would have to define good and see if I measured up to the mark--doubt I'll have time to do the calculus.

Moby Dick a good book. Ah, we're closer to the truth here. Moby Dick is a work of FICTION. Again, I can judge subjectively as to my experience of it (I liked it, but I'm a romantic). Or I can look at Melville's use of the tools of the writer's trade--which he arguably used quite well in that work.

Ultimately, Jalo, human beings are not rational animals. We are rationalizing animals. The one way I have found that makes us reason rationally is the scientific method. And I have yet to find a way to use it to justify religious belief.

I don't have a problem with people who choose to believe. I just think that all our lives would be better if they simply recognized that such belief is a choice and not a rational one.

By a_ray_in_dilbe… (not verified) on 13 May 2010 #permalink

A-ray,

First, tradition IS evidence, though it’s not evidence that you happen to value. But that was my point.

Tradition is evidence in the same way that witness testimony is evidence in a court of law. Many generations of people have told me (and us) through written texts and other means that they saw, experienced, and learned various things concerning God. You might think that they were deluded, or lying, or whatever, but that means that you think their evidence is not good evidence, and that they are not credible witnesses—not that it’s not evidence at all.

In short, you can say that tradition is not scientific evidence, but I don’t think you can argue that it’s not evidence at all unless you want to argue the that testimony of other human beings is not evidence. In that case, in instances where there are multiple corroborating witnesses but no other types of evidence available, our legal system routinely convicts people of crimes without any evidence.

With respect to my subjective religious experiences, I believe that they are good guides to religious matters, but not to the value of a bridge. Again, I am sure that you disagree with me on the first part. But my initial response to you was meant to address your implicit charge that I am probably not rational if I believe in things like the doctrines of Christianity. I still say I am rational (I’ll get to your other point about rationality in a minute).

If you don’t want to commit to the claim that you are good, how about the claim that all humans are equal and deserve equal rights? I am willing to bet that you believe that. The scientific method and scientific evidence can tell us much about how similar people are to one another genetically and in other physical ways. But science cannot tell us anything about how human beings SHOULD be treated, or about whether they have rights. Nonetheless, I believe those things and I bet you do too. Does that make us both irrational?

As to whether the scientific method is the only thing that makes us reason rationally, what about the a priori reasoning in mathematics? Math is not an empirical discipline. Do you think that it’s irrational to accept mathematical reasonin?

I am not suggesting, by the way, that the doctrines of Christianity are deductively valid in the same way as conclusions in mathematics; I'm merely suggesting that you overreached in saying that the scientific method is the only discipline that makes us reason rationally.

As to whether we are rationalizing animals rather than rational, that is another belief that has to be at least partially based on reasoning that is not scientific. You can point to various empirical observations about human biology, or evolution, or behavior, and that’s fine. But on the basis of that evidence you are forming a belief about whether humans are rational or not. That conclusion relies on a premise about what rationality is. You believe that to be rational is to think and act in certain ways. But that is not a scientific belief either. My point is simply that the way we reason about the world in many respects is not, and cannot be, purely scientific.

A-Ray,

Another thought: we both probably believe that Julius Caesar was murdered by conspirators, and that Socrates was put to death by the citizens of Athens.

Do we have scientific evidence for those beliefs? Can we get such evidence? Of course not. We believe it on the basis of the testimony of prior generations. That is a kind of evidence, and we hold beliefs on the basis of that evidence. That is not irrational. You evidently think that the testimony of witnesses in the Christian tradition is less trustworthy and credible. But that does not make you rational, nor does it make me irrational if I believe them.

jalo:

Your analogy would work if we both thought Caesar and Socrates were demigods who were born of virgins, performed some miracles, became zombies, then eventually flew away into heaven the sky. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

Whether Jesus actually existed as a historical person is another interesting question, but it's separate from whether Jesus did anything miraculous or has anything to do with the supernatural. Those are the kinds of claims that your "evidence" fails to address. It counts for nothing if it is only evidence that someone wrote down a book of ancient fairy tales. If you would just be honest with yourself and others about how obviously fictional the stories are, that would speed things up a whole lot.

Jalo, Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny are traditions. So is the tooth fairy. Indeed, we would even have corroborating testimony if we asked fora physical description.

We have a tradition from the Greeks of their pantheon. Are they also real? How about the Hindus? Zoraster?

Tradition may also tell me that I break the spaghetti before dropping it into the pot. I may not know that the reason this is always done is because my grandmother didn't have a large enough pot to cook unbroken spaghetti in.

If I choose to believe the writings of some ancient madman merely because I did not know him and the accounts of his madness have not survived, is my belief any less mad? Does the fact that others have made the same choice make it less mad?

I think you will agree that humans in the past have believed some pretty mad things.

Now, contrary to your assertion, math--even arithmetic--is an empirical discipline. Kurt Godel's Incompleteness theorem establishes that beyond doubt.

You ask if I believe all humans should enjoy equal rights. My analysis based on study of social animals and game theory suggests that society will be a lot more enjoyable, prosperous and progressive if they do. None of this is contingent upon the existence of any deity or abstract moral principle. It is based on empiricism and self-consistency--a stronger criterion if you ask me.

I am sure you will agree that humans--even the same human-- can exhibit both rational and irrational behavior and make choices rationally or irrationally. What does it mean to assert rationality in an animal that behaves BOTH rationally and irrational behavior. Rationally, I know I need to lose weight, but fuckit, I'm gonna eat some chips. Is that rational?

We are rational when we behave rationally. The only guarantor of rationality I know of that actually works--that is, that consistently produces rational choices when followed scrupulously--is the scientific method. Tradition? Nope. Personal experience by itself? Nope.

I agree that not all decisions can be based on science. I just wouldn't call those decisions rational to the extent that they depart from that method.

By a_ray_in_dilbe… (not verified) on 13 May 2010 #permalink

Jalo asks:

Another thought: we both probably believe that Julius Caesar was murdered by conspirators, and that Socrates was put to death by the citizens of Athens.
Do we have scientific evidence for those beliefs?

Whether Caesar died at the hands of a mob of senators is not a matter of great importance to me. (Based on recent behavior in the US Senate chambers, it is credible!) And Socrates could have slipped on a banana peel for all I know. I certainly am not going to use these assertions as a basis for belief in miracles, imaginary friends or allegiance to a religious figure. In fact, I can think of no RATIONAL decision I would make based on these propositions. You?

By a_ray_in_dilbe… (not verified) on 13 May 2010 #permalink

Do we have scientific evidence for those beliefs? Can we get such evidence? Of course not. We believe it on the basis of the testimony of prior generations. That is a kind of evidence, and we hold beliefs on the basis of that evidence. That is not irrational. You evidently think that the testimony of witnesses in the Christian tradition is less trustworthy and credible. But that does not make you rational, nor does it make me irrational if I believe them.

Tell me Jalo, how long after the supposed events took place were the books in the bible written?

You do understand the difference between a supernatural event and a natural explainable one, right?

By Rev. BigDumbChimp (not verified) on 13 May 2010 #permalink

Your analogy would work if we both thought Caesar and Socrates were demigods who were born of virgins, performed some miracles, became zombies, then eventually flew away into heaven the sky. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

True dat, but the thing is, the analogy still doesn't work.

Take Caesar. Historians' justification for considering him a real figure of history (the first thing to establish) is not predicated on "the testimony of prior generations" as Jalo says, as if we only know about the persons and events of the late Roman Republic from literary works such as those of Suetonius and Tacitus et al. There is a massive amount of archaeological, inscription, and non-literary manuscript evidence for the events leading to Julius Carsar's assumption of the pincipiate at the culmination of the civil war, his adoption of Octavian, and subsequent assassination.

Now, our ability to reconstruct the exact events of the assassination is necessarily limited by the reliability of the accounts that have survived, and I assume that's what Jalo's trying to say. But, here's another reason why the comparison to the gospels as just the same sort of "testimony" falls down as well. Historians can make judgements about the reliability of the sources on Caesar because their authors were named figures of history themselves and are known also to have written on other subjects. In many cases, we know what their general outlook and tendencies were. We know who they knew, who they liked, who they hated, who hated them, from whom they might have gotten the information they transmit. We will never be able to make a perfect reconstruction of that event, but we have all kinds of hooks on which to hang judgements about probability. That is history.

What "testimony of prior generations" we have about the life and death Jesus is all anonymously authored, not confirmed by any non-literary evidence, written with obvious theological and ideological aims, and internally contradictory. All of that before we even consider the "extraordinary claims" angle.

circekern #248 wrote:

So far as I can tell, the argument against non-contingent being is that...
2. If a non-contingent being exists, I won't be able to derive anything useful from the idea.

I think you're paraphrasing what I wrote at #245, but this is not how I would would my point (which could be why you're confused.)

Instead, I was proposing that another term for "non-contingent being" is "reality." Or, perhaps, "existence." It's what must exist, if anything exists at all. And we can feel safe saying that we arrived at this Truth through reason alone, because it's basically a non-controversial tautology.

When you substitute the term into your argument, then, you can see more clearly the problems with calling reality "God." You're smuggling in (mind-like) characteristics which may or may not be true of reality -- reality as a self-aware field of consciousness, perhaps, or reality as fundamentally moral. Those are claims which would need support. And that means, that we are out of the area where we can simply sit back in our armchairs and theorize our way to "reality really exists."

jalo #256 wrote:

Do you believe that you are a good person? Where is the scientific evidence for that? Goodness is not a scientific concept. Do you believe that Moby Dick is a great novel? (Or substitute your own favorite novel, movie, piece of music, whatever.) There can be no scientific evidence for those beliefs (though there is evidence of other sorts you can point to), but I am willing to bet that you hold beliefs like these. Belief in God is a belief like these other ones—it is a belief that is not subject to empirical confirmation or disconfirmation.

God is "a belief like these?" Really?

Okay, let's take this apart. God is supposed to be ... what? A spirit-agent of some sort. It can get more complicated than that, but I'll propose it as a basic definition.

What about the concept of "goodness?" It's an evaluation. It's an attitude that an agent holds towards something.

And this spirit person exists in the same way that an evaluation exists. God is like an attitude. God is similar to a feeling.

God is a feeling? A term of evaluation? God is a personal matter of taste? It's not that believing in God is a matter of taste -- God itself is someone's own matter of taste.

Uh oh.

This is a problem. You're making a category error here. You might be confusing the way you evaluate God ("God is good"), with God itself. Or, perhaps, you're reifying an abstraction (God is "goodness.")

If belief in God is similar to your examples, then you've just effectually refuted the existence of God. Atheists say that God is only the belief in God, an internal sense or emotion without any factual referent. If you're taking God out of the area of factual claim, then you're conceding that we're correct.

If, on the other hand, God is not really similar to your examples, then you can't say that "it's a belief that's not subject to empirical confirmation or disconformation."

So we're back on common ground. And God is a hypothesis.

Look folks, I am enjoying this conversation, but I am a husband and father, and I have a job that I have to keep for precisely those reasons! :) So I'm afraid I can't respond to all of you in detail.

So briefly, let me start by saying that I am not trying to win any arguments about of the truth of Christianity in this forum.

My initial objection was to the blogger's obnoxious implication that one can be rational and intelligent, or one can be a Christian, but one cannot be both. I still think that'a an outrageous thing to say, even if it's half in jest.

Now, I know that all of you regard the evidence I have to support my beliefs in Christianity as ludicrous. My only point in response to A-ray was that I have evidence, and that you can't deny that it's evidence; and remember, A-ray asked if I have evidence. You can argue, and are arguing, that it's bad evidence, but it's still evidence. And if for the sake of argument I grant, just for the moment, that I have lent credence to bad evidence, it still doesn't mean that I'm irrational, or that I lack intelligence. Mistaken, maybe, but not irrational.

In short, you cannot show that I am irrational because have the beliefs I have. It's simply not possible. There is absolutely nothing in your arguments that FORCES me, logically speaking, to accede to them. To put it another way, I have not violated any of the laws of logic in holding my beliefs. And I think that is what irrationality means--to violate the laws of logic.

Sure, you all believe I am wrong. Fine, then call me wrong. But don't call me irrational or stupid because of those beliefs.

I'll check back again another time. Thanks for the fun discussion!

My initial objection was to the blogger's obnoxious implication that one can be rational and intelligent, or one can be a Christian, but one cannot be both. - jalo

Since this is obviously true, I don't see your problem.

By Knockgoats (not verified) on 13 May 2010 #permalink

My initial objection was to the blogger's obnoxious implication that one can be rational and intelligent, or one can be a Christian, but one cannot be both. I still think that'a an outrageous thing to say, even if it's half in jest.

You can be rational and intelligent and be a Christian, you just have to suspend and or compartmentalize those characteristics when dealing with your faith.

By Rev. BigDumbChimp (not verified) on 13 May 2010 #permalink

BTW, there are "non-contingent beings" if you want to use that terminology. The integers are good examples: the same statements hold of them in any logically possible world. There is no reason whatever to believe in non-contingent agents, however.

Doctrinally orthodox Christianity is necessarily false - a distinction not shared by any other religion, AFAIK. Specifically, the doctrine of the hypostatic union claims that Jesus was "wholly God and wholly man", or "true God and true man". but the properties of "God" and "man" are incompatible, therefore nothing can be both. Ergo, you cannot be rational and a doctrinally orthodox Christian.

By Knockgoats (not verified) on 13 May 2010 #permalink

jalo #269 wrote:

To put it another way, I have not violated any of the laws of logic in holding my beliefs. And I think that is what irrationality means--to violate the laws of logic.

In which case, I think your definition of what 'irrationality' means is rather loose -- and much more forgiving than how we normally apply the term, in ordinary conversation. Given your usage, people who believe in bizarre cults, alien abduction, and the magical underwater city of Atlantis are not being irrational, because there is, after all, evidence for all these things, and no laws of logic are violated.

Methinks you're moving the goalposts.

You evidently think that the testimony of witnesses in the Christian tradition is less trustworthy and credible. But that does not make you rational, nor does it make me irrational if I believe them.

We do not have originals of the gospels, all we have are transcripts that were copied a long time after the fact.There is no such thing as a "bible" until at least the second century, and the "bible" you know is not the collection of documents cobbled together in the second and third centuries.
So your evidence is not even poor, it's non-existent, and equivalent to evidence for the existence of Odysseus.Which, if you take such writings as evidence, makes you not rational.

By Rorschach (not verified) on 13 May 2010 #permalink

Jalo,
What you are citing as "evidence" does not really constitute evidence. To be evidence, it has to change the probability calculus for the proposition. You are claiming that a statement of the form "Person A says X" is evidence for X. It isn't. We know nothing about person A. They could be a pathological liar, or insane, or Republican...but I repeat myself.

Moreover, if we are to admit the testimony of "witnesses" favoring the Xtian account, we cannot exclude those favoring Hindu, Greek, African, Aztec... gods. Can all of them be right? Are all consistent? That is one thing we learn in science--you cannot consider evidence in isolation.

By a_ray_in_dilbe… (not verified) on 13 May 2010 #permalink

My initial objection was to the blogger's obnoxious implication that one can be rational and intelligent, or one can be a Christian, but one cannot be both.

You can be both, but not simultaneously. When you are being rational and intelligent, you are not being Christian; when you are being Christian, you are not being rational and intelligent.

I still think that'a an outrageous thing to say, even if it's half in jest.

Paul of Tarsus said it in dead seriousness. He said that it was a good thing to be stupid, because God was stupid, and God's stupidity was secretly smart.

1 Corinthinans 1:18-27

There is absolutely nothing in your arguments that FORCES me, logically speaking, to accede to them. To put it another way, I have not violated any of the laws of logic in holding my beliefs. And I think that is what irrationality means--to violate the laws of logic.

You've committed the logical fallacy of special pleading. Is that enough of a violation?

By Owlmirror (not verified) on 13 May 2010 #permalink

First, tradition IS evidence, though it’s not evidence that you happen to value.

Stupidest thing said on the Internet today, and that's including anything heddle might have spewed.

Tradition is evidence, eh?

So most of human history, tradition had it that keeping slaves was A-OK, so that means keeping slaves is a valid thing to do, that some people deserve to be enslaved?

Tradition had it in Greece that Cronus ate his sons until Rhea hid one. That's why so many people worship Zeus these days. ne?

Of course neither tradition was correct, and one of them now is deemed monstrous.

That's why your argument is retarded. Tradition changes; reality does not.

Owlmirror,

Are you referring to this example from the SkepticWiki page?

Antagonist: God doesn't have to be created by a creator, He is the beginning and the end!

If so, is this a joke? Come on!

Later on that very same page it says “The fallacy of special pleading does not apply when we can invoke the Principle of Relevant Difference. This principle states that two people can be treated differently if there is a relevant difference between them.”

The website’s putting those two things on the same page is laughable.

You may not agree that there’s a God, but you have to agree that if there is, it’s at least arguable that there is a relevant difference between God and the things in the world. In charging me with committing the fallacy of special pleading, you are simply presuming, without argument, that there is no relevant difference between all of the things in the world and a possible God. This question lies at the very heart of one significant point of disagreement between atheism and theism, and you blithely presume that it’s already settled in your favor.

In sum, my friend, the person committing a logical fallacy is not I—it is you. You have engaged in circular reasoning.

Aquaria, I did not say that tradition is proof, or that no tradition is ever wrong. I merely said that it is evidence. If you are going to say that my argument is "retarded," please take the trouble to understand what I am saying.

And various people on this forum have accused me of being irrational, unintelligent, etc. That's rich.

Enough of this. I have a life. Later.

I merely said that it is evidence.

Then you don't really understand what is evidence. Tradition is irrelevant to real evidence. Instead, try good solid physical evidence. Separates the scientist from the theologian, as the former has evidence, and the other has meaningless verbal salad.

By Nerd of Redhead, OM (not verified) on 13 May 2010 #permalink

Tradition is evidence in the same way that witness testimony is evidence in a court of law.

Well, no. Eyewitness testimony that claims something completely incredible is not evidence in a court of law. How do we find out what is "completely incredible"? Basically, we apply Ockham's Razor.

Somehow, religions never do that with their traditions. They accept them just so.

how about the claim that all humans are equal and deserve equal rights? I am willing to bet that you believe that. The scientific method and scientific evidence can tell us much about how similar people are to one another genetically and in other physical ways. But science cannot tell us anything about how human beings SHOULD be treated, or about whether they have rights. Nonetheless, I believe those things and I bet you do too. Does that make us both irrational?

I want to be treated as if I had certain rights innate somehow. How can I manage to convince other people of this? How about claiming they have the same innate rights?

And I haven't even mentioned yet that most of us have innate empathy and therefore don't even need to consciously think what I just said.

No, I don't believe human rights are inbuilt in the universe like the laws of physics. I don't need to believe such a thing in order to derive an "ought".

By David Marjanović (not verified) on 13 May 2010 #permalink

In sum, my friend, the person committing a logical fallacy is not I—it is you. You have engaged in circular reasoning.

exactly how?

By Rev. BigDumbChimp (not verified) on 13 May 2010 #permalink

"You may not agree that there’s a God, but you have to agree that if there is, it’s at least arguable that there is a relevant difference between God and the things in the world."

Not really. The trouble is that, in the absence of actual evidence for the existence of a god, you're essentially creating this "relevant difference" out of whole cloth. There is really no reason to agree that there is a necessary difference between a god and other things of this world (or universe), because we have not encountered anything in this universe that has the properties that you assume of a god.

"I have a life."

Good for you.

jalo #269 wrote:

In short, you cannot show that I am irrational because have the beliefs I have. It's simply not possible. There is absolutely nothing in your arguments that FORCES me, logically speaking, to accede to them. To put it another way, I have not violated any of the laws of logic in holding my beliefs.

As I pointed out in #268, you're making a category error. "God" is not supposed to be a feeling, a moral value, or a commitment. It's supposed to be a spirit-agent -- a claim of fact. When you say that we believe in it the way we believe that one painting is better than another, or one way of living is better than another, you're confusing an evaluation, with what is being evaluated.

This is a logical error. Believing in God is not like believing that your mother loves you. Nor is it like believing that you love your mother. It's like believing that you have a mother. Your epistemology is mixed up. You apparently hold your belief in God in the same epistemic category you use for believing that you love God.

Would that count to you, as a logical error?

Are you referring to this example from the SkepticWiki page?

I'm referring to the fallacy of special pleading: Your claim that your tradition is evidence, which necessarily rejects all traditions that conflict with your own as being evidence.

If so, is this a joke? Come on!

How the did you manage to graduate without learning about logical fallacies?

The website’s putting those two things on the same page is laughable.

Non-sequitur.

Your failure to understand logic is not laughable.

You may not agree that there’s a God, but you have to agree that if there is, it’s at least arguable that there is a relevant difference between God and the things in the world.

Yes, that's special pleading -- you have no logic or evidence of this "relevant difference", so you simply claim that there is a "relevant difference"!

In charging me with committing the fallacy of special pleading, you are simply presuming, without argument, that there is no relevant difference between all of the things in the world and a possible God.

You offer no evidence or logic in support of your "possible God" or any "difference" that might by "relevant".

This question lies at the very heart of one significant point of disagreement between atheism and theism, and you blithely presume that it’s already settled in your favor.

You blithely presume your own correctness, which is also a logical fallacy.

In sum, my friend, the person committing a logical fallacy is not I—it is you. You have engaged in circular reasoning.

You are engaged in the psychological tactic of projection, in order to defend your logically fallacious special pleading.

And various people on this forum have accused me of being irrational, unintelligent, etc. That's rich.

You're definitely being irrational in defending your special pleading with more special pleading.

By Owlmirror (not verified) on 13 May 2010 #permalink

Enough of this. I have a life. Later.

Yes -- the existence of God is such a trivial question, isn't it? Would it really matter to you, or to anything, if your entire belief system isn't actually true?

What's "truth," anyway? Believing in God works for you. It's satisfying -- and isn't that the important thing? I suspect that it works so well, that, if God doesn't actually exist, you wouldn't care. These arguments over religion aren't like political arguments, or scientific arguments: those deal with actual issues that effect things.

Your faith, effects only you. Like enjoying a work of art, or entertaining yourself with a story. That's why you place God into the category of values, I assume.

Later.

Owlmirror #284 wrote:

Yes, that's special pleading -- you have no logic or evidence of this "relevant difference", so you simply claim that there is a "relevant difference"!

Right. As I understand it, the difference between the supernatural and the natural is not the distinction that's being argued over. Jalo is confused, and thinks that's the problem. No. It's treating the evidence for one particular supernatural claim in a different way than one treats evidence for other claims, natural or supernatural.

So God being so different than anything else, is not the point.

how about the claim that all humans are equal and deserve equal rights? - jalo

This is not a factual claim at all, but a commitment to behave in a particular way. Your epistemology is totally screwy.

By Knockgoats (not verified) on 13 May 2010 #permalink

First, tradition IS evidence, though it’s not evidence that you happen to value.

This is terrible claim for Abrahamists to make. If the traditions of the Jews, Christians, and Muslims are evidence for the existence of YHWH/Jehovah/Allah, then so are the traditions of the Hindus and the Buddhists for the existence of Vishnu, the traditions of the Central American peoples for Quetzalcoatl, and so forth. However, as Jehovah has proclaimed himself the sole deity and creator of the universe, the claims of the Abrahamists cannot be reconciled with the claims of any other theistic traditions. Unfortunately, as soon as you thrown open the door to allow 'tradition' as evidence you lose its evidentiary value in the flood of opposing traditions.

Using the courtroom as an example: you'd be a very poor lawyer indeed if you made a big fuss over the fact that your client has a single eyewitness (and a friend, to boot) to support his alibi, when the prosecution has one hundred eyewitnesses to his commission of the crime. Better to deny the evidentiary value of eyewitnesses altogether than to drown after opening the floodgates yourself.

Unless of course you wanna invoke special pleading.

By Brownian, OM (not verified) on 13 May 2010 #permalink

I haven't had as much time as I'd hoped to process this argument, but I think I've identified the crux.

I said this:

So it seems to me we are reduced to two fundamental options:

1. There is a non-contigent "being" who exists in a way different from the way we exist and is therefore incomprehensible to us but whose existence is necessary or

2. There is an infinite chain of contingency or some variation on that idea.

Owlmirror said this in reply:

"I think this is a false dichotomy. Why does that which is putatively non-contingent have to be a 'being', rather than a fundamental property of reality?"

to continue:

I would be satisfied, at least provisionally, if we were able to determine whether non-contingency could be a fundamental property of reality.

To my mind, that's a great distinction you've drawn. This is how I understand it:

Contingent things require something other than themselves to cause them. Do you agree with this?

The cosmos is the collction of every contingent being. Therefore, the cosmos requires something other than itself to cause it.

If everything contingent has been contained in the realm of contigency, all that is left, logically, is someting non-contingent.

You argue that the entire cosmos itself might not be contingent, that non-contigency might be a property of reality.

I locate non-contingency outside the cosmos. Is it fair to say that you locate it within the cosmos?

Everything seems to turn on whether reality, the cosmos, or whatever we want to call the sum total of what is (as we know being), can possess the quality of non-contigency.

(As an aside, I believe Aristotle held to something like your position. Do you know if that is so?)

I find it hard to get my head around the idea of non-contigency being a property of reality, so let me ask three questions:

1 and 2. Do you agree that this is the crux of the matter and and that I have fairly presented the two positions?
3. Given that we don't know, by experience, anything to be non-contingent, why do you think non-contigency could be a property of reality?

Thanks for bearing with me.

By circekern (not verified) on 14 May 2010 #permalink

circekern--

The problem is that, as you acknowledge, we don't know anything to be non-contingent. The simplest conclusion from that is that there are no non-contingent beings/processes/entities.

That is, either the concept of contingency isn't meaningful, or isn't relevant to the physical universe (what color is the number 4?), or everything is contingent.

circekern #289 wrote:

The cosmos is the collction of every contingent being. Therefore, the cosmos requires something other than itself to cause it.

This is the fallacy of composition. "Everyone in the room has a mother. Therefore, the room must have a mother."

You argue that the entire cosmos itself might not be contingent, that non-contigency might be a property of reality.
I locate non-contingency outside the cosmos. Is it fair to say that you locate it within the cosmos?

Depends on how you define "cosmos." If it's defined as "reality," in whatever forms it has, does, and will exist, then there could not be anything outside of it. The sum total of everything would have to include God, if God exists -- wouldn't it? Consider the cosmos as "the sum total of everything." Or, reality.

I bring in my argument from #267. Non-contingency would have to be a property of "the sum total of everything" because there could not BE anything else outside of it, for it to depend on.

So, if you consider the question this way, you've got a Non-contingent Being. Okay, well and good. But, asking what it's like, or what's in it, is where all the interesting stuff happens. The non-contingent being itself is a tautology: that's as far as reason alone can take you. The interesting stuff takes empirical investigation.

God would require empirical investigation.

I locate non-contingency outside the cosmos. Is it fair to say that you locate it within the cosmos?

"Outside the cosmos" means outside of space-time itself, which is not a "location". I dare you to try and say this idea you think you have with words that actually mean something and are supported by evidence, instead of sophistry.

It makes no sense to say that existence itself needs some other existence (much less some kind of "being" with a "consciousness") just for it to begin or to be given a place to start existing. Existence exists. Science works. Deal with it.

Vicky

In 290 you said:

"That is, either the concept of contingency isn't meaningful, or isn't relevant to the physical universe (what color is the number 4?), or everything is contingent."

I would suggest more alternatives.

The concept of contingency may be meaningful, but it's opposite might be comprehensible only by negating contingency. In other words, non-contingency might be meaningful, but the precise meaning might not be accessible to our minds.

If the physical universe is contingent as a whole, then non-contingency might be incomprehensible but necessary. It seems to me we have to at least entertain that option.

By circekern (not verified) on 14 May 2010 #permalink

Contingent things require something other than themselves to cause them. Do you agree with this?

So far, so good.

But I would point out that the exact meaning of "cause" has been argued over for millenia. Recently, for example, I've seen it argued that there is -- or should be -- a distinction between a thing caused as the end result of a temporal sequence, and that which causes a thing to exist now. This is described in formal philosophical Latinese as "efficient causes arranged per accidens", and "efficient causes arranged per se". Or at least, what I wrote is how I understand those terms.

Alas, those who brought up the terms were very confused, and it certainly looked like they were swapping one for the other in their minds -- they had read about the the two concepts being separated, and tried to argue for them, but I suspect had not understood them very well.

It's a subtle point, but I brought it up because you may encounter those concepts if/when you research more deeply into metaphysics.

The cosmos is the collction of every contingent being. Therefore, the cosmos requires something other than itself to cause it.

As Sastra notes, this is a logical fallacy. X contains Y, therefore X is exactly like Y. No, sorry -- the cosmos being itself contingent is the subject under question; my position remains, as I wrote above, that the question of whether the cosmos is contingent remains unanswered, and quite possibly, is unanswerable.

If everything contingent has been contained in the realm of contigency, all that is left, logically, is someting non-contingent.

As I still maintain, an infinite sequence of contingency has not been ruled out as empirically impossible, nor has the question of whether "contingent" has any meaning outside of the beginning of our universe been empirically (or logically) resolved.

You argue that the entire cosmos itself might not be contingent, that non-contigency might be a property of reality.I locate non-contingency outside the cosmos. Is it fair to say that you locate it within the cosmos?

And here the question arises about the definition of "cosmos" -- do you intend only our (observable) universe, the one that started with the Big Bang, and has expanded for 13.7 billion years? Or do you mean our universe and everything real that is external to our universe, which may or may not exist in the sense of "existing" as we understand within our universe?

If you intend the latter, then what I suggested would indeed be "within" the cosmos; there would be no "outside" in any meaningful sense.

Remember, I brought up non-contingency as a property of reality to distinguish it from your use of the term "being", not necessarily as something I think must be the case. Of course, that also depends on exactly what you meant by "being".

(As an aside, I believe Aristotle held to something like your position. Do you know if that is so?)

I suspect that it might have been similar, but I am not sure -- given that I have more general knowledge than he did (in the sense of being aware of modern cosmological and physical findings; I don't claim that I am necessarily more intelligent than he was in his own time), I think there might be irreconcilable differences.

Remember, Aristotle got some ideas about physics and biology utterly wrong. I don't see his metaphysics as being something that I can necessarily agree with either.

1 and 2. Do you agree that this is the crux of the matter and and that I have fairly presented the two positions?

I think the crux of the matter may be the definitions we're using, and the fact that no-one really knows the answers to some of the questions you've implied are settled, or can easily be settled.

I think you made a fair attempt based on your understanding, but see the qualifications I presented.

Given that we don't know, by experience, anything to be non-contingent, why do you think non-contigency could be a property of reality?

I think it's one possibility that is not logically impossible, nor empirically disproven.

An idea that I had in mind while composing all of the above was that I was thinking about the fundamental physics that we've discovered -- the charge of the electron, the speed of light, the gravitational constant, and so on. If those cannot be other than what they are, then they are non-contingent properties of (our) reality.

Some physicists have suggested that they are not as constant as they appear -- but that still leaves the scenario, in my mind, where whatever it is that allows them or causes those constants to change is itself something that cannot be other than what it is, and is therefore non-contingent.

And so on -- there may or may not be something non-contingent at "lower" levels of reality. Or it may continue as contingent all the way down, infinitely. It might be said that fundamental physics and cosmology are attempts to probe the levels of contingency, further down into reality, and further back into the beginning of our universe, or to figure out if "beginning", and therefore "contingent", even means anything "outside" of our universe.

By Owlmirror (not verified) on 14 May 2010 #permalink