Thinking Christian

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Christianity, Knowledge, and Empiricism

Posted on Apr 9, 2012 by Tom Gilson

Last Friday I turned off the comments on the thread, “We Came to Share ‘True Reason Materials.'” The next morning I said I would re-open discussion on a new thread, and here it is. The most interesting challenge to me in that line of discussion was Erin’s in comment #85. You can read the original, so I will just outline her main points:

  • Empirical testing is required to establish the truth of Christianity
  • Erin seems to think I do not understand something about that: either what “empirical” means, or the importance of empirical testing
  • Still she acknowledges that Christianity is believable—though not true—on the basis of the evidences I presented
  • Science is the only true way of knowing because (and here I am quoting nearly verbatim):
  • It is the only one that could be recreated, from scratch, and be exactly like it is today.
  • It is the only source of knowledge that is completely, purely objective.
  • When a scientist creates a hypothesis, they don’t try to prove the hypothesis true; they try to prove it FALSE.
  • If we started all over again with a clean slate, eliminating all current knowledge, science would rise again and lead to discoveries consistent with what it has shown us this time around
  • But if we started over again, Christianity would not rise again, because “there is nothing objective about it”
  • Finally, referring to me, she says, ” The objective and dispassionate, detached way of looking at the world is clearly something you claim, but you do not succeed in achieving it.”

There is much here of interest, more than in most of the other comments on that thread, to be sure. I will focus on two things for now; actually just one in this post, the other will come later.

The Supposed Necessity of Objective Empiricism

Erin thinks that “science is the only true way of knowing the world.” This is problematic, for it is a claim about knowledge of the world, and it is not scientific. It’s not susceptible to testing in the laboratory, observation in the field, or controlled experimentation in any way. It is a non-empirical knowledge statement to the effect that non-empirical knowledge statements cannot be known to be true.

There are many non-empirical truths we count on. Some of them are at the basis of empiricism. The truths of logic and mathematics cannot be tested by science, for they are part and parcel of the tools of science. One’s own thoughts cannot be examined scientifically, yet surely they are part of what is true in the world. If I have a nerve pain tickling my foot (and I do, following surgery several weeks ago), I can know that without submitting to neurological tests establishing that it is true.

So someone like Erin must open the door to non-empirical knowledge; in fact, someone like Erin actually does open that door, whether she realizes it or not.

This is important to the question of Christianity because the requirement for empirical knowledge tends to translate into a requirement for testability in the material realm. That requirement tends to default to a position wherein supernatural explanations or realities are ruled out. It is a rule that typically says, “If it is not within nature, then either it does not exist or it cannot be known.” I do not know if Erin draws those close conclusions from her empiricism, but many people do.

This means that the bridge that Erin has named between “believable” and “true” may not be so uncrossable after all. It could be that Christianity is believable just because it is true, even though not all of it is susceptible to empirical proof.

There is much more that could be said about this, but my purpose here was not to write an exhaustive essay but to open up conversation once again, so I will leave it at that for now. The thread is available for discussion.

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160 Responses to “ Christianity, Knowledge, and Empiricism ”

  1. SteveK says:

    Science is the only true way of knowing

    The events of our everyday lives are known without any necessary input from science. I don’t *need* science to tell me what I experienced on the way to the grocery store.

    Skeptics know this and go along with it until you say something “extraordinary” occurred on the way to the store. When that happens, your everyday knowledge must be confirmed by science otherwise it isn’t really knowledge. Why?

  2. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Tom Gilson:

    Erin thinks that “science is the only true way of knowing the world.” This is problematic, for it is a claim about knowledge of the world, and it is not scientific.

    I think you understate the case. As the argument in the post shows, it is *self-refuting*, and thus it is of necessity false.

    And to repeat another point made in the post, there are vast bodies of human knowledge for which Popperian falsificationism is either irrelevant (Mathematics) or too strict (History). And without Mathematics, all the hard empirical sciences can be consigned to the dustbin of irrelevance.

    And Popperian falsificationism — the real deal, not the naive version peddled by the Gnus — has itself been submitted to very strong criticisms (Quine, Feyerabend, etc.).

    And…

  3. Mike Gene says:

    So someone like Erin must open the door to non-empirical knowledge; in fact, someone like Erin actually does open that door, whether she realizes it or not.

    Indeed. She does just that:

    Burn all the books in the world. Wipe the memories of every human being. Erase all the databanks. Start again in the stone age. And you know what will happen? Eventually, over time, through painstaking research and testing, science will come again to exactly the same place that it is today, because the laws of the universe are unchanging.

    This is not an empirical finding or fact. This is a philosophical argument.

    As for her description of science, it is far more idealistic/platonic than empirical.

    Glass houses. Stones.

  4. G. Rodrigues says:

    And just to add more fuel to the fire, I urge everyone to take a look at No God, No Laws by Nancy Cartwright. In summary, her thesis is that all the usual accounts of laws of nature (Empiricist, Platonic, Instrumentalist, etc.) are either two weak or can only be made sense of if God exists.

    She ends the article by discussing the case of Aristotelianism and mentions that the essentialist Aristotelian picture of laws of nature as the laws of natures can be made sense of *without* God — and this is the approach she prefers. But since Aristotelianism, and I do favor the Thomistic version of Aristotelianism, implies the existence of God (e.g. the Prime Mover argument) this is a heads I win, tails you loose situation. In other words, you just gotta love it!

  5. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Mike Gene:

    Burn all the books in the world. Wipe the memories of every human being. Erase all the databanks. Start again in the stone age. And you know what will happen? Eventually, over time, through painstaking research and testing, science will come again to exactly the same place that it is today, because the laws of the universe are unchanging.

    This is not an empirical finding or fact. This is a philosophical argument.

    And a lousy argument, because:

    1. Science as we conceive of today, is not an historical inevitability but the specific product of a specific culture. Unless she argues for a strong form of determinism, it is simply false.

    2. What is a “law of the universe”? (See my post #3 above). And how does Erin knows they are unchanging? By what sort of evidence has she come to know this?

  6. Mike Gene says:

    And a lousy argument, because:
    1. Science as we conceive of today, is not an historical inevitability but the specific product of a specific culture. Unless she argues for a strong form of determinism, it is simply false.

    Exactly. She doesn’t seem to understand that a hypothesis is not generated in a vacuum. A culture’s metaphors, values, and priorities will play a significant role in generating hypotheses. For example, what if Nazi Germany had won WWII? Because that culture would allow human experimentation, it is likely our scientific understanding of human behavior and physiology would actually be better than it is today.

    Also, she completely ignores the important role that serendipity has played in many scientific discoveries. Any good scientist will acknowledge his success has come with some good luck.

    So in the end, her position contradicts itself and worse yet, it does so by embracing a lousy argument.

  7. SteveK says:

    Science as we conceive of today, is not an historical inevitability but the specific product of a specific culture.

    Which is the product of the evolutionary machine, which is the product of forces acting at random – with no particular goal or function in mind. Rewind the tape and you should not expect to get the same logically-functioning mind with a desire to study nature.

  8. JAD says:

    Erin writes:

    Burn all the books in the world. Wipe the memories of every human being. Erase all the databanks. Start again in the stone age. And you know what will happen? Eventually, over time, through painstaking research and testing, science will come again to exactly the same place that it is today, because the laws of the universe are unchanging.

    However, in that same world, Christianity will never rise again. There is absolutely nothing objective about it. The only shared experience is subjective, and it requires the oral transmission of myth, legend and story to survive. New religions will of course rise up in this world; the capacity of the human brain to believe in things that aren’t real seems limitless.

    Two points:

    1. A fair and objective reading of history reveals that Christianity was essential for the rise of modern science.

    In other words, rewind the tape… no Christianity… no science.

    2. The belief that “the laws of the universe are unchanging” is a non-empirical metaphysical assumption that has it’s roots it Jude o-Christian theism.

    According to C.S. Lewis, “Men became scientific because they expected law in nature and they expected law in nature because they believed in a lawgiver.”

  9. SteveK says:

    Erin said this regarding Christianity (that’s how I read her comment, at least): “Believable, yes. Interesting, absolutely. But not true.”

    If Erin comes back maybe she can answer some questions I have about her statement above.

    1) Why does Erin say it’s believable if there is no evidence for it being true?

    2) If there is evidence for it being true, why does Erin say it’s not true?

  10. Sault says:

    Within science (methodological naturalism, I mean) the process of finding truth is evidence-based: hypothesis to theory to reworked theory etc.

    Is there some similar process for the supernatural, ie “methodological supernaturalism”?

    How does one discover objective truth in/about the supernatural realm?

  11. Tom Gilson says:

    Good question, Sault. Before I go there, I’d be curious to know whether you accept that there are some truths that are really true, and really knowable, that are not knowable through science. I’m not talking about supernatural, but any truths at all. What do you think about that?

    (You may have answered this in the past, but I get different commenters’ thoughts mixed up if I’m not careful, and newer readers might not have seen it, so I appreciate your answering it this time.)

  12. Sault says:

    @ Tom

    Good question, Sault. Before I go there, I’d be curious to know whether you accept that there are some truths that are really true, and really knowable, that are not knowable through science. I’m not talking about supernatural, but any truths at all. What do you think about that?

    I’ve spent quite a bit of time thinking about this. I suppose this is where actually taking a philosophy class would have come in handy!

    There seem to be only a few things that I really *know*, that don’t need to be proven to me, that I’m not sure can even be proven – that I live, that I love, that I can be happy, and that there is some pattern/meaning/order to the world around me. I don’t think that I could be convinced that any of these statements aren’t true… perhaps you could call them “viscerally axiomatic”?

    I’m not sure if this answers your question or not… If not, could you please give me an example or two?

  13. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Sault:

    There seem to be only a few things that I really *know*, that don’t need to be proven to me, that I’m not sure can even be proven – that I live, that I love, that I can be happy, and that there is some pattern/meaning/order to the world around me.

    Your examples are very curious. They are all, at least in the way you formulate them, about *first person* experience. Could you explain how they differ from a Christian saying that he knows God exists because he has had first-person experiencial knowledge of Him (it is “viscerally axiomatic” to said Christian to use your own words)?

  14. SteveK says:

    Sault,

    There seem to be only a few things that I really *know*, that don’t need to be proven to me,

    Only a few? There’s a lot more, I think. They are the everyday things/events (see #1.)

    While many of these everyday realities/experiences *could* be proven to you in scientific fashion, you don’t *need* them to be proven to you in order for you to have knowledge of them.

    Science is great, but our culture has given science too much authority when it comes to knowledge.

    When science is summoned to tell us what we already know — that men and women are different, that drugs and alcohol are bad for you, that a full moon is really no larger than normal, etc. — it’s time to take some of that authority back.

  15. Fleegman says:

    @SteveK

    What do you suggest we replace science with? What useful knowledge has Christianity ever given the world that wasn’t open to interpretation, completely subjective, and basically someone’s opinion?

  16. Tom Gilson says:

    Why do you say “replace,” Fleegman?

  17. Tom Gilson says:

    Your second question, Fleegman, could be interpreted in many ways. If you’re asking, what knowledge has come to the world through the cultural institutions and processes developed by the Church, I have something like a bookshelf full of answers. It would take hours just to summarize it all. Let me mention just one and let you imagine what flowed out of it: Christianity was the source from which the university was invented, originally in Bologna, and also Paris, Oxford, and on and on.

    But I’m going to guess you meant something else. I think you were asking what knowledge of reality we can gain through specifically Christian methods. The answer to that is that I’m not sure what epistemologies there are that are specifically Christian, other than these two: First (since it’s already been mentioned), there is what G. Rodrigues said above about first-person experience. I addressed that in a talk last weekend, by the way, in case you’re wondering about how to deal with the subjectivism that involves.

    Second, there is biblical revelation, which is by no means completely subjective; it’s black and white on the page. It’s not “basically someone’s opinion,” either, because by standard methods of historical inquiry, the historical facts in it can be checked, and they do stand up to scrutiny.

    It is of course open to interpretation. As you have seen, the same is true of the question you just asked. The same is also true of the hardest of the hard sciences, physics. The Copenhagen Model of quantum mechanics is one interpretation among many. The nature of the early universe is open to interpretation. So is string theory. And dark energy. And dark matter. And the definition and nature of natural law. And entanglement. And …

    Well, you get the point, I hope.

    Now you might say, “these are open to interpretation now, but that’s just because science is still working on them.” I don’t know why the same wouldn’t be true of Christian-based knowledge, for one thing: we’re still working on some things. For another thing, it’s hard to imagine science ever getting to the bottom of what natural law actually is in itself. It’s hard to imagine science settling questions of quantum indeterminacy, since there are metaphysical questions involved there that are not science’s business to address, and are likely to remain “open to interpretation” for keeps. (Science has its crucial part to play in answering that, obviously, but it will not provide the whole answer.)

    So with those things in mind, do you have any further questions?

  18. Tom Gilson says:

    Sault, thank you for the thoughtful answer. G. Rodrigues’s response to you is consistent with some very influential theories of knowledge, by the way. It’s not just an off the cuff thing he has said.

    There’s a lot we know apart from science (the modern empirical sciences, that is). First-person experience is one of them.

    I could also mention things like the foundations on which science is built: logic, mathematics, the trustworthiness of memory, the existence of other minds besides your own, the supposition that simple answers are more likely to be true (shown in, for instance, our automatic supposition that dots along a straight line on a graph represent an actual line rather than a wild curve that just happens to hit all those dots in its wanderings).

    We know history apart from science. We know our relationships with others apart from science. We know geography and civics and law and government and literature and ethics and values apart from science.

    Does that help?

  19. Fleegman says:

    @Tom

    Christianity was the source from which the university was invented, originally in Bologna, and also Paris, Oxford, and on and on.

    Christianity was the predominant religion at the time, so it’s not surprising that Christians laid the foundations for universities. Christianity did not, and does not, encourage curiosity about the world around us. Scientific findings that contradict scripture or religious thought are actively suppressed by the church. There are many examples of this throughout history. It is disingenuous of you to suggest that Christianity is a champion for the pursuit of knowledge.

    I think you were asking what knowledge of reality we can gain through specifically Christian methods.

    No. I apologise I wasn’t clearer in my original post. I meant to ask what knowledge has Christianity, or any religion for that matter, revealed to the world that has had a positive effect on the human race?

    I’ll make it even easier: What knowledge has Christianity, or any other religion, provided the human race? If the answer is anything that’s open to interpretation, or subjective in nature, then how do you know it’s true?

    Science makes falsified claims, religion does not. Why believe in something that can’t be falsified?

    Second, there is biblical revelation, which is by no means completely subjective; it’s black and white on the page. It’s not “basically someone’s opinion,” either, because by standard methods of historical inquiry, the historical facts in it can be checked, and they do stand up to scrutiny.

    It may be black and white on the page, but the fact that there are approximately 38,000 Christian denominations indicates that it’s open to interpretation. Also, if you have historic evidence of a man rising from the dead, walking on water, and performing miracles that stands up to scrutiny, I doubt we would be having this conversation since I would believe in it too.

    It is of course open to interpretation. As you have seen, the same is true of the question you just asked. The same is also true of the hardest of the hard sciences, physics. The Copenhagen Model of quantum mechanics is one interpretation among many. The nature of the early universe is open to interpretation. So is string theory. And dark energy. And dark matter. And the definition and nature of natural law. And entanglement. And…

    Well, you get the point, I hope.

    You’re talking about how the same observations can be explained with different models at the quantum level. And that’s fine. That’s how science makes progress. Competing hypotheses battle it out until there is a winner.

    If the point is that science hasn’t answered all the questions of the universe yet, then I would agree with you. I mean, if we had we’d stop doing it, right?

    What I would say, though, is that science demonstrably works as a way of knowing. I know it works because you have a blog, and we’re communicating on one of the products of science.

    …for one thing: we’re still working on some things. For another thing, it’s hard to imagine science ever getting to the bottom of what natural law actually is in itself.

    Can you give me an example of something you’ve worked out using Christian way of knowing?

    A couple of hundred years ago, it was also hard to imagine flying machines, or visiting other planets. And even if science never answers these questions, it doesn’t mean we should throw our hands up in the air and replace one unknown with another.

    I suppose the point I’m making is simply this: science provides knowledge that can be depended on because it’s testable, repeatable, and can be falsified. Christianity, and religion in general, can only make guesses. Guesses can be useful, but if there’s no way to test if their true, their use is questionable at best. Scientists make guesses, but then they test them to see if their guesses were correct.

  20. Doug says:

    Christianity did not, and does not, encourage curiosity about the world around us.

    Remarkable delusion. You have no evidence (and could never have) for such a patent falsehood!

  21. Tom Gilson says:

    Fleegman, you say

    Scientific findings that contradict scripture or religious thought are actively suppressed by the church. There are many examples of this throughout history. It is disingenuous of you to suggest that Christianity is a champion for the pursuit of knowledge.

    Many examples? How about if I spot you the creation-evolution controversy and the Galileo controversy (even though the actual history of Galileo is not what most of us have been taught in school). Name three other examples, please. Name just one, actually.

    My reference to the founding of universities was not disingenuous, it was educated and informed. Given the value that you say you place on curiosity and knowledge, I suggest you look up some good reading on the history of Western thought and innovation from, oh, 800 AD through 1900 AD. Take a look at how much was accomplished by Christians, including clerics. I recommend especially James Hannam’s recent The Genesis of Science.

    What has Christianity revealed that has had a positive effect on the human race? Oh. My. Goodness.

    How about knowledge of the rationality of the universe, love for one’s enemies, the value of physical creation and the study thereof, explanations for the perplexment of unity-and-diversity, explanations for human worth and dignity, the basis for modern liberal democracy (see the origins of the Magna Carta), explanations for limited power of kings, the value of women (this was not first discovered in 1970, contrary to modern myopic mythology), the university, the value of learning as such, the value of compassion for the poor, sick, and needy….

    That’s just a start. You need to do some reading if you did not know where these things came from.

    The Popperian falsification criterion is not universally regarded as the standard for epistemology. You knew that, right? Why believe that you and I both have minds? Can that be falsified? Good grief, Fleegman, think a little bit!

    Historical evidence of a man rising from the dead? Please look at several of my recent posts. It’s been a theme here lately.

    If the point is that science hasn’t answered all the questions of the universe yet, then I would agree with you. I mean, if we had we’d stop doing it, right?< ?blockquote>

    The point is the point that I wrote, which you seem to have missed. Need I re-write it for you?

    What I would say, though, is that science demonstrably works as a way of knowing. I know it works because you have a blog, and we’re communicating on one of the products of science.

    Is language a product of science? Is meaning a product of science? Of course science demonstrably works as a way of knowing, but it’s simply ludicrous to consider it the one and only way of knowing.

    Can you give me an example of something you’ve worked out using Christian way of knowing?

    What do you mean by “Christian way of knowing”? I’ve already asked you to specify what you mean by “knowledge Christianity has given the world,” and this is very similar to that question. Once I know what you’re asking I will try to answer.

    A couple of hundred years ago, it was also hard to imagine flying machines, or visiting other planets. And even if science never answers these questions, it doesn’t mean we should throw our hands up in the air and replace one unknown with another.

    Agreed. 100%. Very true. Never suggested anything else. But I do suggest (and for very good reasons) that there are some questions that science will never answer, but which are answerable through other disciplines. I’ve already been through some of that.

    I suppose the point I’m making is simply this: science provides knowledge that can be depended on because it’s testable, repeatable, and can be falsified. Christianity, and religion in general, can only make guesses. Guesses can be useful, but if there’s no way to test if their true, their use is questionable at best. Scientists make guesses, but then they test them to see if their guesses were correct.

    Science can do that because of what Polkinghorne called “the modesty of its ambitions.” In fact, one way of defining science (the modern empirical version thereof) is that it is a field of study focused upon nature which limits its inquiry to that which is testable, repeatable, and falsifiable. With its field of inquiry so defined and so limited, it’s bound to be successful. But if anyone thinks that science’s field of inquiry is the only one in which we can pursue real knowledge, one is guilty of all kinds of logical and existential errors. It’s just not true.

    And finally, you beg the question horribly when you say Christianity can only make guesses. Worse than that, I think I can argue that you contradict yourself and are therefore simply wrong. Here’s why I say that. Logically one of the following must be true:

    A. The Christian God exists, has revealed himself in history and in the Bible, and especially in Jesus Christ, so that men and women may know some things truly about God, or
    B. A is false in one or all of its clauses.

    Given those two options we have these two possibilities:
    1. If A is true, then Christianity is not limited to guesses. We have true information truly communicated by the true God.
    2. If B is true, then Christianity cannot even make guesses, for everything about Christianity is false.

    I’m not sure that 2 would stand up to real close scrutiny, so it may be that (under very close inspection) you are not guilty of self-contradiction. But you are certainly guilty of begging the question, for your claim, “Christianity can only make guesses” could possibly be true only if Christianity were false.

    Anyway, you have some homework to do. I’ve asked you for example(s) of Christianity hindering knowledge and curiosity. I’ve recommended you read a book. I’ve called your bluff on your lack of knowledge of Western intellectual and social history. It’s your turn to learn.

  22. Doug says:

    As a follow up, I must ask Fleegman what his scientific credentials are. Have you done any real science? Are you familiar with any Philosophy of Science? Any History of Science? Do you appreciate the “deep meaning” (and context) of the phrase “thinking God’s thoughts after Him”?

  23. SteveK says:

    Fleegman #15,
    I was going to respond to your questions, but Tom and the others have done that – much better than I would have done. I will say that I never suggested, nor would I ever suggest, that science be replaced. Science is great.

    Edit: Perhaps you were referencing my comment about taking some of the authority back when you asked about replacing science with something. There I was talking about common-sense knowledge that we all have (generally speaking). In that case scientific investigation isn’t needed to gain knowledge. We have that knowledge already. I don’t need a 2 year study to tell me that water is wet.

  24. Tom Gilson says:

    I think it’s worth re-stating what Doug said earlier: to think that Christianity does not encourage curiosity about the world is not just wrong. It’s deluded. It is an understandable delusion, however.

    You see, I think I probably know where you probably acquired your misconceptions, Fleegman. They have been frequent and common. I learned them in school myself. The problem is, they are based on old and now largely discredited views of intellectual history. The historic Dark Ages/Middle Ages “warfare” between religion and science, for example, was pretty much invented in the 19th century. Another example: everyone knows that people in the Middle Ages believed the earth was flat, because the Bible said so, right? Wrong. That was probably invented by the same author who made up Rip Van Winkle and the Headless Horseman: Washington Irving, in about 1828. That source is not hard to find, by the way; Wikipedia gets it pretty much right under “flat earth myth.” (There is another source for this myth prior to Irving, but Irving is the first prominent one, as far as I can tell.)

    For the other, I suggest you read any good recent Western intellectual history. I’ve already recommended a book by James Hannam. I should have also clued you in to his website, where you’ll find the same kind of information, including two chapters of that book (in its UK edition) in more accessible form. You might also check out this article, available in full here.

    So pardon me, please for jumping all over you for believing things that many of us have been taught from our first days of school. That was rude of me, and I apologize. Since you have a real curiosity about the world, I’m confident you’ll check in to whether what we’re saying can be supported by good evidence.

  25. JAD says:

    Fleegman:

    Christianity did not, and does not, encourage curiosity about the world around us. Scientific findings that contradict scripture or religious thought are actively suppressed by the church. There are many examples of this throughout history. It is disingenuous of you to suggest that Christianity is a champion for the pursuit of knowledge.

    Does Fleegman give us any examples to support his claim, or does he simply make an empty unsupported assertion?

    Now read Tom’s posts (#20, 23) along with the links and references he provides @ # 23 & 24. Does he have any evidence that supports his position? If this were a court case and you (Fleegman) and Tom were presenting your cases, which way would a fair minded judge rule, if he were ruling on the evidence? (Hint: evidence vs. no evidence, evidence wins every time.) Aren’t you people the ones who are always claiming the the evidence is on your side? Kind of ironic, isn’t it?

    Do you see why I am not an atheist? Atheism is little more than empty headed pretension and posturing. Hubris, pure hubris is another way you could describe it. “It is disingenuous of you to suggest” otherwise.

  26. Fleegman says:

    @Tom

    Many examples? How about if I spot you the creation-evolution controversy and the Galileo controversy (even though the actual history of Galileo is not what most of us have been taught in school). Name three other examples, please. Name just one, actually.

    Well, it turns out there aren’t as many explicit examples as I thought, Tom. The two examples you give, however, are fairly significant, wouldn’t you say? They’re significant because they contradict the dogma of the church. The very fact that there are millions of people who still don’t believe in evolution is testament to the influence the church has in arresting the advancement of knowledge.

    Would you say that stem cell research has suffered in the face of predominantly religiously motivated resistance?

    My reference to the founding of universities was not disingenuous, it was educated and informed.

    I actually said you were being disingenuous to suggest that Christianity is a champion for the pursuit of knowledge, not building universities. And if Christianity was so big on advancement of scientific thought, why is it that so little scientific progress was made in the centuries leading up to the 17th century? You’re just going to say “Oh, look at 800 AD to 1900 AD” and claim all the scientific progress was as a direct result of Christian thinking?

    How about knowledge of the rationality of the universe

    Nothing to do with Christianity

    love for one’s enemies

    How is that good? Also: how many Christians love their enemies? Just asking…

    the value of physical creation and the study thereof

    Not sure what you mean by this. By “physical creation” you mean the world around us? The value of the world around us? Non Christians don’t value the world around us, or want to study it? That doesn’t make sense.

    …explanations for the perplexment of unity-and-diversity, explanations for human worth and dignity

    Well, you might have explanations, but what use are those explanations if they don’t have any evidence to support them? How are your explanations any better than the thousands of other religious best guesses?

    the basis for modern liberal democracy (see the origins of the Magna Carta), explanations for limited power of kings,

    The explanations for limited power of kings? How in the world are you getting that from Christianity? Explanations? Really? And you can’t see an ulterior motive for the clergy wanting to limit the power of kings?

    the value of women

    Now you’re really going off the rails. The value of women? Good grief. If anything, Christian thought has been dragged, kicking and screaming, into the modern world where women have been granted their due rights. And it’s still kicking, and still screaming about it.

    the university

    Nothing about building universities in the Bible.

    the value of compassion for the poor, sick, and needy

    It might surprise you to hear this, but even civilizations that didn’t believe in the same thing you do cared for their poor, sick, and needy. It’s human nature. And before you say “ahhh, I have an explanation for that,” you don’t. You’re just guessing.

    That’s just a start.

    A bad start.

    Historical evidence of a man rising from the dead? Please look at several of my recent posts. It’s been a theme here lately.

    I’ll have a read.

    What do you mean by “Christian way of knowing”?

    That’s what I’m trying to determine. Don’t blame me, I didn’t suggest it! SteveK suggested that science wasn’t the only way of knowing. I’m trying to ask what another way of knowing is, or what he even means by that.

    there are some questions that science will never answer, but which are answerable through other disciplines. I’ve already been through some of that.

    I never said they couldn’t be answered, I just said we can’t know the answers are correct. Which I think is sort of important.

    2. If B is true, then Christianity cannot even make guesses, for everything about Christianity is false.

    If B is true, Christianity can still make guesses. After all, this is the position I believe to be the case, but there you are, making guesses. I don’t see why Christianity has to be true for it to even make guesses.

    I think they key difference between religious and scientific thought is this: As time progresses, scientists reach a consensus about how the world works. Their ideas converge. The increase in the number of Christian denominations with time, however, suggests that as time progresses, the ideas about how the world works, or what it actually means to be a Christian diverge. If there were a single truth, wouldn’t you expect the opposite to happen?

  27. Doug says:

    The very fact that there are millions of people who still don’t believe in evolution is testament to the influence the church has in arresting the advancement of knowledge.

    On the contrary: it is testament to the fact that some people prefer to keep the word “evolution” as equivocal as possible (so that it can be used as a stick to beat on political opponents?)

  28. Victoria says:

    So many assertions, no scholarly references to support them, no attempts to address scholarly works that take the opposite viewpoint.

    I’d like to see where that number of Christian denominations comes from, as well as a detailed comparison of each denominations primary and secondary beliefs and practices.

  29. Tom Gilson says:

    Fleegman,

    You said that Christianity has been opposed to the progress of knowledge. You implied that this is a systematic and systemic fact of Christianity. You can only find two examples in history. You contradict your own thesis.

    Stem cell research has been hindered by Christian ethics in the same way that Josef Mengele’s scientific experiments were hindered by ethics. Suppression of knowledge, lack of curiosity, and anti-scientism were not a part of the opposition to Mengele, and they are not a part of opposition to embryonic stem cell research.

    Why was so little scientific progress seen prior to the 17th century? One reason was the influx of barbarism on Rome. Another reason was because the premise of the question is incorrect. There was a lot more advance in knowledge prior to the 17th century than you give credit for. Why, by the way, was the 17th century explosion in science a Christian phenomenon? Have you asked yourself that?

    You’re just going to say “Oh, look at 800 AD to 1900 AD” and claim all the scientific progress was as a direct result of Christian thinking?

    Oh, heavens, this is a thinking blog, not a dogmatic one. Sheesh. No, not all the scientific progress was directly a result of Christian thinking. It was a direct result of human curiosity fed by streams from Greece, Arabia, and Christian Europe (primarily). Christianity’s input into the process had to do with its conception of nature: that it is rational, worthy of study, etc. It was a necessary though not by itself sufficient condition for the growth of science. This is not an uncommon thesis now in the history of ideas. (Did you do any of that reading I recommended, by the way? You do value the growth of knowledge, right?)

    The knowledge of the rationality of the universe has nothing to do with Christianity, you say? I’m beginning to doubt that you did that reading. I’m beginning to doubt that you’ve given any thought to the global history of ideas.

    How is it good to love one’s enemies? If you don’t know, then I don’t know how to explain it.

    If you don’t know what Christianity contributed to humans valuing physical creation and the study thereof, then you don’t know enough about the history of ideas.

    (Did you do any of that reading I recommended, by the way? You do value the growth of knowledge, right?)

    Well, you might have explanations, but what use are those explanations if they don’t have any evidence to support them? How are your explanations any better than the thousands of other religious best guesses?

    Well, for one thing, they work, whereas most other naturalistic explanations for the things you were referring to have deep philosophical difficulties attached to them.

    The explanations for limited power of kings? How in the world are you getting that from Christianity? Explanations? Really? And you can’t see an ulterior motive for the clergy wanting to limit the power of kings?

    Look up Theodosius, and the Magna Carta, please (Did you do any of that reading I recommended, by the way? You do value the growth of knowledge, right?)

    The value of women, yes. Your knowledge of the history of women’s rights probably goes back as far as 1970, in the West only. I suggest you study the deeper history. I suggest you study women in ancient Greece and Rome, in tribal societies, in China, in Muslim societies. (Did you do any of that reading I recommended, by the way? You do value the growth of knowledge, right?)

    “Nothing about building universities in the Bible,” you say. Now you’re getting silly. We’re talking about an historically obvious manifestation of the Bible’s support for the advancement of knowledge (Did you do any of that reading I recommended, by the way? You do value the growth of knowledge, right?)

    It might surprise you to hear this, but even civilizations that didn’t believe in the same thing you do cared for their poor, sick, and needy. It’s human nature. And before you say “ahhh, I have an explanation for that,” you don’t. You’re just guessing.

    It might surprise you to hear this, but you don’t have a clue what you’re talking about. Look up Plato and see what he says about care for the poor. Look at what the great physician Galen did during the plagues. Look at what the Christians did, and what Julian the apostate said about it. (Did you do any of that reading I recommended, by the way? You do value the growth of knowledge, right?)

    Oh, did I remember to ask whether you did any of that reading I recommended, by the way? You do value the growth of knowledge, right?

    Until you bother to do some of that kind of study, rather than spouting your manifest and persisting ignorance on these topics, I don’t see any point in continuing this discussion. As long as you keep basing your conclusions on your false facts, we won’t get to true facts that lead to true conclusions.

    Fleegman, Hit the books if you value the development of knowledge. If you don’t, then you’re just as hide-bound in your uncurious, knowledge-averse dogma as you (falsely) consider Christianity to be.

  30. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Fleegman:

    They’re significant because they contradict the dogma of the church.

    Since you bring up the case of Galileo, I presume by church you mean Catholic Church, then what you say is false (it is also false for practically any other Christian church I know of). In the case of the creationist-evolution controversy, it is true or false depending on what you think the controversy is.

    I actually said you were being disingenuous to suggest that Christianity is a champion for the pursuit of knowledge, not building universities. And if Christianity was so big on advancement of scientific thought, why is it that so little scientific progress was made in the centuries leading up to the 17th century?

    Clearly you have no knowledge of the History of Science. But let us reverse your question: if Christianity is so averse to Science how come Science has flourished *precisely* in Christian societies? Correlation is not causation but if a strong correlation does not count as evidence then what does?

    Now you’re really going off the rails. The value of women? Good grief. If anything, Christian thought has been dragged, kicking and screaming, into the modern world where women have been granted their due rights.

    Once again, you betray your profound ignorance of History.

    It might surprise you to hear this, but even civilizations that didn’t believe in the same thing you do cared for their poor, sick, and needy. It’s human nature. And before you say “ahhh, I have an explanation for that,” you don’t. You’re just guessing.

    So even before hearing the argument, you are already declaring that it is just a guess. Wow, how rational of you.

    SteveK suggested that science wasn’t the only way of knowing. I’m trying to ask what another way of knowing is, or what he even means by that.

    theorem (Euclid): the set of prime numbers is not finite.
    proof: consult a book.

    I can give more examples. In fact, oodles and oodles of examples. Shall I?

    I never said they couldn’t be answered, I just said we can’t know the answers are correct. Which I think is sort of important.

    Do you doubt that there are other minds other than yourself? If you do not, where is the scientific evidence for it? The question answers itself, there is none. So we cannot know whether there are minds other than ourselves according to your criteria. To revert to my previous example, we cannot know whether Euclid’s theorem is true or false since it is not a statement falsifiable by any experiment we can do, but of course we know it is true since there is a proof (formalizable in say ZF and checkable by a computer). What do you think this all says about your criteria?

  31. Nathanael says:

    Tom, I couldn’t help but notice that you’re *just wrong* about several things.

    “If they are historically false, that means that the people who were there at the time would know them to be false, empirically. ”
    You are claiming that people always have absolutely correct information about everything which happened at the time ?!? Seriously ?!?

    Even assuming eyewitnesses, eyewitness testimony is notoriously unreliable — go look up THOSE studies. On top of that, best scholarship says the New Testament was written down 200 years after the dates of the events it was supposedly documenting. Sounds to me like it could have gotten distorted even if it were originally accurate. Most of the Old Testament is even worse in this regard.

    “The fact is that Jesus received more external mention in extant documents than Julius Caesar.”
    This is an outright falsehood; you should check who told you this lie, because they are totally untrustworthy.

    I’m going to ask you to do some basic historical research before spreading these lies. The documentation of Julius Caesar is *VAST* — really, really, really extensive, large portions of it are contemporary and dated (most of these are really boring ‘accounting record’ type sources) and it comes from sources both friendly and hostile. The documentation of Jesus is minimal and comes almost entirely from Christian sources. This is largely because Julius Caesar was the *dictator of a gigantic empire*, and Jesus certainly wasn’t; people who are really prominent at the time generate a lot more documentation, generally.

    One of the problems with many of the “pro-Christian” claims made in these threads is that they are simply, verifiably false. I’m not sure of the origin of these lies, though “lying for Jesus” was popular among some prominent ministers in the late 19th century (this is the origin of a bunch of fabricated quotations about the beliefs of the Founders of the US) and during some other earlier periods.

    The 19th century “liars for Jesus” particularly liked to claim that there was lots of solid historical evidence for the life and existence of Jesus; actually it’s pretty scant. Of course, we don’t have much solid evidence that Homer or Socrates existed either, but we *do* know that Julius Caesar did, which is why he’s such a terrible example to use if you’re going to say something like this. It discredits any claim you may make of actually knowing about the state of historical and archaeological research.

    “Christianity’s input into the process had to do with its conception of nature: that it is rational, worthy of study, etc.”
    Sorry, this particular idea was present in the existing Muslim (Persian) research centers already; it was present in but not unique to Christianity. Do you know your history at all? The thing is, it seems that you don’t. Perhaps it’s the Christian promotion which is blinding you to doing the research?

    As for the status of women, study ancient Egypt. Way better than medieval Christian countries. Surprised me, but there it is.

  32. SteveK says:

    SteveK suggested that science wasn’t the only way of knowing. I’m trying to ask what another way of knowing is, or what he even means by that.

    I do hate to keep beating the proverbial dead horse, but my comment #1 was intended to answer this question by way of giving you an example that you can relate to.

    Do you deny that you have knowledge of what you did today, and what you are doing right now? I hope not. Did that knowledge come to you via the scientific method? No.

  33. Fleegman says:

    Well, I’m clearly out of my depth regarding the history of science, epistemology, and a whole host of things, including the Magna Carta. For what it’s worth, I did look up the origins of the MC. I obviously missed the bit where it said it was written by Christians and their Christian revelation.

    I have also clearly misinterpreted the horrendously misogynistic aspects of the Bible, once again displaying my profound ignorance of history somehow.

    I appreciate the cordial, yet somewhat condescending attitude, though. PZ would be proud.

  34. Holopupenko says:

    I’m clearly out of my depth regarding the history of science, epistemology, and a whole host of things, including the Magna Carta

    Indeed… so what was the point of the emotionally-laden, unscientific, and quite ignorant nonsense you spouted here? The betrayal of your ignorance and your bigotry is not condescension on our part: it’s a hissy-fit on your part.

  35. Doug says:

    I have also clearly misinterpreted the horrendously misogynistic aspects of the Bible

    and those would be?
    Would it be Miriam’s status in early Israel?
    Would it be the leadership of Deborah (the first record of female political leadership)?
    Would it be the book of Ruth (the first, by thousands of years, book with a female protagonist?)
    Would it be the song of Hannah (the first, by thousands of years, existing female composition)?
    Would it be the prophetic responsibilities of Huldah?
    Would it be the person of Mary?
    Would it be Paul stating categorically that “there is no difference between male and female in Christ”?
    And of course you are aware that “misogyny” is in the eye of the beholder…?

  36. Tom Gilson says:

    Nathanael,

    I’d be very happy to look at your sources, thank you, especially wrt women in Egypt. I’d be glad to find out if I’m wrong on that, with sources of course. In the mean time, this is a bit of a misinterpretation:

    “If they are historically false, that means that the people who were there at the time would know them to be false, empirically”

    You are claiming that people always have absolutely correct information about everything which happened at the time ?!? Seriously ?!?

    No. I did not claim that. I claimed that people would know whether Jesus rose from the dead. For all the difficulties there are with eyewitness testimony in general, when there are multiple eyewitnesses affirming something as plain as “We were with Jesus” on multiple occasions, that kind of testimony is quite reliable. (And yes, I have read the studies on eyewitness testimony.)

    Your estimate of the best NT scholarship is decades out of date.

    “Christianity’s input into the process had to do with its conception of nature: that it is rational, worthy of study, etc.”
    Sorry, this particular idea was present in the existing Muslim (Persian) research centers already; it was present in but not unique to Christianity. Do you know your history at all? The thing is, it seems that you don’t. Perhaps it’s the Christian promotion which is blinding you to doing the research?

    Muslims had it but gave it up under al Ghazali. Their view of God did not lend itself to the same view of nature as the Christian view of God. I could go further into that if you like. The result, clearly apparent in history, is that Muslims went almost nowhere in science. Christians had a view of God and nature that supported the development of science, and they did not give it up.

    But as I said, if you have sources to contradict what I have said, I would be glad to read them.

    Fleegman, if you read my attitude as condescending, I actually meant it to be much more sharply critical than that. I wasn’t trying to hide or pretend. I wasn’t trying to belittle you. I was trying to goad you into action. I was, of course, being somewhat sarcastic in my repeated questions about whether you cared about learning, but that’s because I was trying to make a point with reference to your manifest hypocrisy: you complain that Christians avoid learning, yet you show no interest in learning yourself.

    And yes, you have clearly misunderstood what you take to be misogyny in the Bible. Now, do you care to learn more, or will you remain stuck in your learning-averse dogmatism? No condescension there. I’m just making the point that you are not demonstrating a commitment to your own stated values. If I were you, I would find the discrepancy between my stated values and my actions to be rather uncomfortable—hopefully, uncomfortable enough to move you to change your actions to meet your values.

  37. Tom Gilson says:

    You say, “I obviously missed the bit where it said it was written by Christians and their Christian revelation.”

    You did, yes. Please look up the name and the title of the principal characters behind the Magna Carta, esp. Stephen Langton. It’s not that hard to find.

  38. SteveK says:

    For all the difficulties there are with eyewitness testimony in general, when there are multiple eyewitnesses affirming something as plain as “We were with Jesus” on multiple occasions, that kind of testimony is quite reliable.

    I’m guessing that Nathanael doesn’t have a problem with the concept of eyewitnesses testimony when it affirms things like this: “We were in the lab with Dr. Jones and can confirm that indeed the tests were carried out just as reported and the results he has provided are accurate”

  39. Fleegman says:

    Hi Tom,

    Yes, I appreciate what you were trying to do, and I didn’t take it badly. I wish I had the time to learn about everything you mentioned in order to debate you properly on those topics, I really do. You seem to have a depth of knowledge of certain topics that would take years to achieve, and that’s respectable in and of itself.

    It’s disappointing, however, that someone as educated as yourself should hang your hat on something as simple as eyewitness testimony, knowing how unreliable it is. Biased testimony found in a biased book.

    @SteveK

    I’m guessing that Nathanael doesn’t have a problem with the concept of eyewitnesses testimony when it affirms things like this: “We were in the lab with Dr. Jones and can confirm that indeed the tests were carried out just as reported and the results he has provided are accurate”

    There’s no reason not to believe the testimony given, in the example you provide. In addition, the results would be checked before being published. If they had said “Hey, we just saw someone rise from the dead,” would you believe them without, you know, some kind of corroborating evidence, SteveK?

    @Doug

    and those would be? – followed by a short list of women friendly bits of the Bible

    Really, Doug? You really don’t know what I’m talking about? It’s hard to tell if you’re being honest since you’d have to be wearing some seriously rose tinted glasses to not know what I’m talking about. I will provide you with a list, if you really want one. As for misogyny being in the eye of the beholder? I couldn’t agree more. The same can be said for many things, so what’s your point?

  40. asdf says:

    What does it take to get a concession from someone on the internet? I almost never see the people, whose arguments have been utterly demolished, and the shallowness of their knowledge laid bare, go on to admit that they are wrong in any way or form.

    Fleegman, you were halfway there, but you just can’t let it go, now can you.

    If you want misogyny, you can look in other ancient cultures, and see the horrendous conditions for women there; Christianity is miles ahead. That was the point of the ‘short’ list of women friendly bits in the Bible. These can all be considered truly incredible, significant leaps for the status of women, compared to the cultures surrounding it at the time, and they still set an example, even today. Compare it to Islam, see what I mean.

    You have yet to provide a single example, let alone one properly understood within its context. (If you think ‘submission’ is misogynistic, you’ve got a lot of reading ahead of you.) And I contest that you will not find any.

    Your understanding of the Christian eyewitness accounts, along with corroborating evidence, is incredibly shallow. You don’t really know what you’re talking about.

  41. Doug says:

    You really don’t know what I’m talking about?

    asdf has already responded well to this bluff. But having recently read this brilliant book and this accessible one, I can say with reasonable confidence that any Christendom’s “horrendous” misogyny has been in spite of the Biblical vision, rather than because of it.

  42. Tom Gilson says:

    Fleegman, you say,

    It’s disappointing, however, that someone as educated as yourself should hang your hat on something as simple as eyewitness testimony, knowing how unreliable it is.

    I have an MS in a field of social psychology, Fleegman (Industrial/Organizational). Along the way I learned about eyewitness testimony.

    Did you by any chance read what I wrote to Nathanael on that? I don’t want to repeat it.

  43. Doug says:

    more on misogyny:
    As you are aware, the most significant events in the New Testament are commemorated by Christmas and Easter. The (prominent) place of women in those stories is entirely unprecedented. Elizabeth, Mary, and Anna are equal in status and “voice” to their male counterparts in the Nativity stories. And the women being the first to the tomb was not insignificant. Add the stories of Mary, Martha, the Syrophoenician woman, the woman at the well, the woman with the blood disease, and (if you like) the woman caught in adultery, and you have a truly revolutionary picture of the place of women in society. If you disagree, please be prepared with references. ;-)

  44. Tom Gilson says:

    Nathanael, I’m still interested in your sources. Thanks.

  45. Tom Gilson says:

    The most crucial factor missing (not the only one, but the most crucial) in these complaints about NT misogyny is the complainers’ apparent lack of historical context. The Bible’s treatment of women is leagues ahead of its surrounding culture’s. Much of the early growth of the church, as we know by way of documents and artifacts, had to do with its appeal among women, including its allowing women to share in leadership. This was attractive to women then precisely because they knew what the Bible taught in its historical context: they were there, after all.

    Fleegman, Nathanael, others, are you interested in sources on that?

  46. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Fleegman:

    There’s no reason not to believe the testimony given, in the example you provide.

    You missed StevenK’s point. It was you who wrote and I quote:

    It’s disappointing, however, that someone as educated as yourself should hang your hat on something as simple as eyewitness testimony, knowing how unreliable it is.

    So you have to explain how eyewitness testimony, while unreliable (period, no qualifications added), suddenly stops being so in the mundane example SteveK gave, or in any other of the thousands and thousands of mundane examples that he could have given. If you start qualifying then you have to explain how you are not special-pleading.

    @asdf:

    What does it take to get a concession from someone on the internet? I almost never see the people, whose arguments have been utterly demolished, and the shallowness of their knowledge laid bare, go on to admit that they are wrong in any way or form.

    And notice how *all* of his other “arguments” were dropped down in silence. I suspect that in a few weeks or months, if he ever chimes in again, he will trot out the exact same arguments — hopefully I am wrong, but the pattern unfortunately, is all too common — as if they were never utterly demolished.

  47. Tom Gilson says:

    That is indeed the pattern.

    It really is okay to admit you’re wrong. I’ve done it on more substantive things than that. It’s just a (pardon me, but I’m going to say it anyway) grown-up way to behave.

  48. Doug says:

    @Fleegman,
    Just in case you aren’t familiar with the New Testament material, here are some helpful links to Bible passages.
    At the Pharisee’s house
    A random encounter
    Another random encounter
    Note how Jesus — the archetype of Christian behavior — handles these situations, and be aware that the compassion that he (regularly) shows women is directly counter to all the cultural influences of the day!
    Finally, this verse is quite a foundational statement in the history of human rights!

  49. Tom Gilson says:

    And this, which is probably the most revolutionary statement of them all: 1 Corinthians 7:3-4.

  50. G. Rodrigues says:

    And while we are on a roll, allow me to mention that one of the original, common complaints against Christianity, both from the Jews and the Romans, was that the evidence for their signs was provided by… “hysterical women” (words of Celsus).

  51. Tom Gilson says:

    Celsus being a second-century opponent of Christianity (in case that wasn’t clear enough).

  52. SteveK says:

    Fleegman,

    There’s no reason not to believe the testimony given, in the example you provide.

    Why is that?

    In addition, the results would be checked before being published.

    Checked by you, or by another eyewitness who would testify that what he is reporting is the gospel truth?

  53. Fleegman says:

    @Doug & SteveK

    So you have to explain how eyewitness testimony, while unreliable (period, no qualifications added), suddenly stops being so in the mundane example SteveK gave

    Looking back, I realise I was unclear in what I wrote; I apologise. I did not mean that eyewitness testimony was suddenly reliable in the mundane example. I meant that it didn’t matter. It didn’t matter because it would be checked before being published. Even then, yes, the results can be wrong; you know, human error and all that.

    If someone said a red car had just driven past the window, I’d believe that she thought a red car had passed the window, and it wouldn’t matter a jot if the car had been blue. It’s quite possible, though, that a red car had driven past, right? If, on the other hand, she said that she’d seen a pig flying past the window, I would assume she were mistaken. Because pigs don’t generally fly.

    Did you by any chance read what I wrote to Nathanael on that? I don’t want to repeat it.

    I did read it, thanks, Tom, which is why I indicated that you knew it was unreliable.

    On the misogyny issue, many of you are talking about the NT when talking about what a supposed good deal women got in the Bible. Does the OT not count? Just asking, because if your dismissing the OT as not relevant to the discussion, it’s important for me to know that.

    @asdf:

    What does it take to get a concession from someone on the internet? I almost never see the people, whose arguments have been utterly demolished, and the shallowness of their knowledge laid bare, go on to admit that they are wrong in any way or form.

    And notice how *all* of his other “arguments” were dropped down in silence. I suspect that in a few weeks or months, if he ever chimes in again, he will trot out the exact same arguments; hopefully I am wrong, but the pattern unfortunately, is all too common; as if they were never utterly demolished.

    It saddens me somewhat that you take this tack, considering that I did admit I was out of my depth arguing about the relationship between the church and science throughout history. I don’t think that could be considered silent. You won’t hear me arguing those points again until I’ve done considerable reading on the matter. One of the reasons I’m actually enjoying my time as the current chew-toy in certain areas, is because I enjoy learning. My mind is totally open to being changed, and I’m impressed with how eloquently some of the people here make their points, even taking the patronizing and condescending tone into account. The wit with which some of my arguments have been trounced has certainly brought a grin of appreciation to my face on more than one occasion.

  54. Doug says:

    Does the OT not count? Just asking, because if your dismissing the OT as not relevant to the discussion, it’s important for me to know that.

    We were also treating the OT as relevant and important. Did you see the original list? In its time, the OT was just as revolutionary for the status of women as the NT!

  55. Tom Gilson says:

    Fleegman,

    This is what I wrote to Nathanael:

    No. I did not claim that. I claimed that people would know whether Jesus rose from the dead. For all the difficulties there are with eyewitness testimony in general, when there are multiple eyewitnesses affirming something as plain as “We were with Jesus” on multiple occasions, that kind of testimony is quite reliable. (And yes, I have read the studies on eyewitness testimony.)

    This is what you wrote about that:

    I did read it, thanks, Tom, which is why I indicated that you knew it was unreliable.

    That’s as clear a “smoking gun” instance of refusal to see what’s in front of your face as I have ever seen.

    What on earth gives you the idea you can mistreat discourse that way?

  56. JAD says:

    Fleegman to Tom:

    I wish I had the time to learn about everything you mentioned in order to debate you properly on those topics, I really do. You seem to have a depth of knowledge of certain topics that would take years to achieve, and that’s respectable in and of itself.

    It’s disappointing, however, that someone as educated as yourself should hang your hat on something as simple as eyewitness testimony, knowing how unreliable it is. Biased testimony found in a biased book.

    I have no doubt that Fleegman believes that because he is an atheist, he is more reasonable than Tom. In other words, it doesn’t matter how much historically factual knowledge Tom and other Christians present to him here, he cannot possibly be wrong because he is an atheist. Unfortunately, we have seen this kind of thinking many times before.

    Once again, the only thing that is important to an atheist, like Fleegman, is that he believes that he is more reasonable than any non atheist. Factual knowledge, evidence even the ability to make a logically coherent argument all take a back seat to Fleegman’s belief that being an atheist makes him more reasonable than anyone else.

    So it doesn’t matter how many times he is shown to be wrong, Fleegman is going to continue shooting from the hip in hopes that somehow, somewhere one of his unwarranted assertions is going to be on target.

  57. Fleegman says:

    Yes, I read that Tom. I was trying, and apparently failing, to suggest that you knew you were applying a large dollop of special pleading in the case of the eyewitnesses you mention. You were being serious? I could just as easily apply your logic to alien abduction: “For all the difficulties with eyewitness testimony in general, when there are multiple witnesses affirming something as plain as ‘I was abducted by aliens’ on multiple occasions, that kind of testimony is quite reliable.”

    Is it really?

    @JAD

    Thanks for the psychoanalysis there, JAD. Always welcome. I happen to think Tom seems eminently reasonable, I just disagree with some of his conclusions m’kay, champ?

    @SteveK

    You didn’t answer my question. If someone, or even a large group of people, came up to you and said they had seen someone rise from the dead, would you believe them? 

  58. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Fleegman:

    First, I think you are confusing me (that is G. Rodrigues) with other people. They should not be blamed by my posts; they are nice, decent people, it is not fair to them.

    I did not mean that eyewitness testimony was suddenly reliable in the mundane example. I meant that it didn’t matter. It didn’t matter because it would be checked before being published. Even then, yes, the results can be wrong; you know, human error and all that.

    If someone said a red car had just driven past the window, I’d believe that she thought a red car had passed the window, and it wouldn’t matter a jot if the car had been blue. It’s quite possible, though, that a red car had driven past, right? If, on the other hand, she said that she’d seen a pig flying past the window, I would assume she were mistaken. Because pigs don’t generally fly.

    I am sorry, but is eyewitness testimony reliable or not reliable? I still do not understand if you hold that it is not, with no qualifications, or if it is, possibly with some ceteris paribus clause added to it — but then you should justify it or any other qualifications you choose to add.

    You seem to be saying that it does not matter “because it would be checked before being published”. I am sorry, but this simply will not work.

    1. what about mundane examples? Should we suddenly start doubting each other willy nilly in our common talks. You cannot simply dismiss it as “it does not matter”, the hell it doesn’t! as social life is based on trust.

    2. what about *historical* examples that by their nature cannot be replicated or rechecked? Should we doubt that Julius Caesar ever existed?

    3. your view of science is endearing, but it is naive. Re-checked by who? By those with a vested interest in the results? If eyewitness report is not reliable why should I rely on them? By another scientific team? Do you really think that scientific studies are tested and retested? They are not. But in this case, even if they are, why should I rely on the report of another scientific team? If eyewitness report is not reliable, why should I rely on them?

    4. since one of the aims of Science is to discover new things, by your criteria, we should doubt the eyewitness report because they are reporting things that generally do not happen. Retesting? I invoke 3. and you are shot dead.

  59. Tom Gilson says:

    Special pleading?

    When you speak of my knowledge of eyewitnesses’ unreliability, and you ignore what I have already said of it, you violate rational discourse.

    The unreliability of eyewitnesses attaches to their inability to catch and recall transient details not brought to the forefront of their attention. It does not apply to simple reports of extended experiences.

    Suppose you and I had breakfast together. (Suppose you even checked my driver’s license and passport to make sure it was me.) Suppose you went home and told your significant other we had breakfast together. Would that person say, “That’s highly unlikely, and really I have no reason to believe it. All I have to go on is your eyewitness report.” Suppose that person asked you what color my eyes were, or what color pants I was wearing. Those are the kinds of details on which eyewitness reports are weak.

    So I’ll say it once again, as if I haven’t already had time to get tired of repeating it. Would you please listen this time?

    A lot of people said they saw Jesus after his death. They saw him in multiple circumstances and experienced him through multiple sensory channels. They described it in some detail. Eyewitnesses are reliable on that kind of testimony. If you don’t believe that, then you don’t believe that anyone should believe you concerning any report you give them about anything you have experienced.

    (What I’m trying to say, if it isn’t clear enough, is that you are just wrong on this, and it would do you good to drop it since you are wrong.)

    As for your alien abduction story, just forget it. I mean it. You can’t offer an analogy as part of an argument unless it’s analogous, so toss this one out, okay?

    It lacks important features that the Resurrection accounts hold. The eyewitnesses in the Bible were testifying of seeing someone they knew, in familiar circumstances, as he was teaching them the same kinds of things he taught them before his death. They had seen previous resuscitations of dead persons, and other miracles besides. They spoke of one person, not multiple “aliens.” The experiences they spoke of were consonant with a rich theoretical idea-package in which the experiences made rational sense. The eyewitnesses were of different backgrounds professionally, educationally, and even theologically; for Saul was not expecting to see the risen Jesus. James probably wasn’t either.

    (I’m tempted to answer your question to SteveK at this point, but I’m sure he can handle it.)

    Finally, no matter how you question this, you have to recognize that scholars agree the disciples and others did have experiences that they understood to be encounters with the risen Jesus. How do you explain that?

  60. Tom Gilson says:

    Just so you are prepared for this, Fleegman, this discussion of eyewitness testimony has reached the point at which you have two choices:

    1) Rebut the points we have raised against your position, and show where we are wrong (good luck with that), or

    2) Recognize that you are wrong.

    If you do not do (1), then don’t expect me to present any new defenses of my position. Why should I, when the old ones stand unaddressed, unrebutted, unrefuted? All that I would need to do, if you don’t do (1), is remind you that I have said you are wrong, and as far as any progress you’ve made in the argument, you still are.

    Now, does that mean I have a need to prove I’m right and you’re wrong? No. I’m secure in myself. I’ve walked away from a whole lot of these discussions with issues unresolved, and I’ve been fine with myself afterward.

    So that’s not what I’m after. I’m trying to get you to see reality, rather than to stay stuck in what is false. I don’t expect that you will come all the way to a belief in Jesus’ resurrection this afternoon, but maybe you’ll at least let go of one obvious falsehood that’s an obstacle in that path. That would be good for you. It’s good for any of us to let go of falsehoods.

  61. SteveK says:

    Fleegman,

    You didn’t answer my question. If someone, or even a large group of people, came up to you and said they had seen someone rise from the dead, would you believe them?

    At first blush, no, I would not. I’m not a fan of believing something without justifiable reasons. I would investigate further by asking individuals for contextual details, perhaps visiting the site where it happened and then I would reevaluate my position.

  62. SteveK says:

    Fleegman,
    What you may be missing from the resurrection claims and testimony is that the claims and testimony themselves – in isolation – are not sufficient to justify belief. I suspect you think that is what we are saying and it’s the reason you asked me the question above. The claims and testimony are part of a larger contextual reality that must be evaluated.

  63. Fleegman says:

    @SteveK

    Well, that’s encouraging. What about if told you that 500 people saw someone rise from the dead? Would you think that it was worth further investigation then?

    @Tom

    I didn’t realise that’s how things work on this blog. All I have to do is say “if you don’t agree with me, you’re wrong” and I win? Eyewitness testimony is something I do know a bit about, and I’m sorry but I’ve read what you’ve written about it, and I simply don’t agree with you. 

    Fortunately for my position, the reliability of eyewitness testimony is largely irrelevant in this case.

    You say you’ve got all these witnesses as though they all lined up and gave detailed depositions about their meetings with the resurrected Jesus, but you don’t. What you do have is a guy saying there were hundreds of witnesses. That takes the standard of evidence from “this might be worth another look” to “extraordinarily weak.”

  64. Tom Gilson says:

    Fleegman, you are demonstrating how things work on this blog when they don’t work; that is, what happens when someone refuses to read what’s written. The result is that it torpedoes the discussion completely. You just did that.

    Need I explain? I wrote,

    Just so you are prepared for this, Fleegman, this discussion of eyewitness testimony has reached the point at which you have two choices:

    1) Rebut the points we have raised against your position, and show where we are wrong (good luck with that), or

    2) Recognize that you are wrong.

    If you do not do (1), then don’t expect me to present any new defenses of my position. Why should I, when the old ones stand unaddressed, unrebutted, unrefuted? All that I would need to do, if you don’t do (1), is remind you that I have said you are wrong, and as far as any progress you’ve made in the argument, you still are.

    You read that as,

    I didn’t realise that’s how things work on this blog. All I have to do is say “if you don’t agree with me, you’re wrong” and I win? Eyewitness testimony is something I do know a bit about, and I’m sorry but I’ve read what you’ve written about it, and I simply don’t agree with you.

    Let me say the same thing in simpler terms. I made arguments on behalf of my position, and I pointed out that if you could not rebut those arguments, you would have to recognize that you are wrong. Frankly I felt free to do that because I was confident in my argument. But I left you room to prove otherwise. Then you wrote back and said that I had said, “If you don’t agree with me, you’re wrong, and I win.” You left out the part where I opened the door for you to rebut what I had said. You left out the second option I kept open for you (actually the one labeled (1)) and treated my statement as if I had given you only one option.

    That’s called twisting the other person’s argument. It’s also called dishonesty. You misrepresented what I said.

    Now we could go back and forth and argue over what it was that I said, but that’s a huge waste of time. How about if you decide to interact with what I say? How about if you deal with it honestly?

    Or, if you really do want to interact with someone who says, “If you don’t agree with me, you’re wrong and I win,” so that you can complain about how bad they are for saying that, I suggest you go find some other place where that actually happens. Those kinds of dishonest distortions are not helpful, they’re not true, they’re a waste of time, and they are decidedly not welcome here.

    BTW, the same goes for this:

    You say you’ve got all these witnesses as though they all lined up and gave detailed depositions about their meetings with the resurrected Jesus, but you don’t. What you do have is a guy saying there were hundreds of witnesses. That takes the standard of evidence from “this might be worth another look” to “extraordinarily weak.”

    That ignores what I said about scholarly consensus. It overstates on “detailed depositions.” It understates the case on how many records we have of this. All of that amounts to distorting my case.

    If you care about truth, then show it. I’m not talking about “religious” truth; I’m talking about the plain and simple truth concerning what you’re reading on the page here. Quit this distorting. Quit this misrepresenting. Quit this twisting of others’ positions. Until you do that, you are displaying yourself as unconcerned with what’s true and real. Is that who you want to be?

  65. Mike Gene says:

    It’s disappointing, however, that someone as educated as yourself should hang your hat on something as simple as eyewitness testimony, knowing how unreliable it is. Biased testimony found in a biased book.

    From the Christian perspective, this is what we hear.

    Jesus did not exist.

    And even if he existed, the resurrection accounts were legend concocted long after he died, thus there were no eyewitnesses.

    And even if the resurrection accounts arose when eyewitnesses were around, eyewitness testimony is quite unreliable.

    I suppose we could add

    And even if the eyewitness testimony was reliable, the disciples could have been fooled by a hoax.

    I suppose we could add

    Even if Jesus did indeed rise from the dead and it wasn’t a hoax, it could have been due to ETI intervention instead of God.

    All this leads me to ask Fleegman one simple question – what would count as evidence for Jesus’s resurrection??

  66. SteveK says:

    Fleegman,

    What about if told you that 500 people saw someone rise from the dead? Would you think that it was worth further investigation then?

    If you told me this, I would ask how you came to know this information, if you knew any of these people personally, how I might talk with them, etc, etc. So, yes, it would be worth further investigation. The level of investigation is dependent on what is discovered along the way. It might stop after only one question.

  67. Fleegman says:

    Hi Tom,

    It’s certainly not my intention to “torpedo the discussion.” It’s actually my intention to get somewhere in the discussion. 

    What I said — and you’re clearly a big fan of reading what someone writes, so it’s surprising to me that you chose to ignore it — is that I don’t agree with your stance about the reliability of eyewitness testimony. I further said that it was largely irrelevant. 

    You say you “opened the door” to a rebuttal, but you did no such thing. Oh, that’s what you said, certainly, along with the snarky “good luck with that” jibe, indicating that you are not interested in what I have to say. Indicating a completely closed mind on the matter. Why waste my time banging my head against a wall debating something that, as I’ve already said, is largely irrelevant? I was taking the “let’s agree to disagree” position in order to move forward. 

    Since this is your playground, I’m happy to debate the reliability of eyewitness testimony with you, it just seems like it would be a waste of time.

  68. Fleegman says:

    Tom, you said this:

    A lot of people said they saw Jesus after his death. They saw him in multiple circumstances and experienced him through multiple sensory channels. They described it in some detail.

    And then you said I was overstating your position on “detailed depositions,” and yet that is exactly as you present it, here. I mean, it’s close enough to what you wrote, isn’t it? If you are overstating the case for the detailed accounts of their experiences, don’t blame me for interpreting what you said in that way.

  69. Tom Gilson says:

    Fleegman,

    You write today,

    What I said — and you’re clearly a big fan of reading what someone writes, so it’s surprising to me that you chose to ignore it — is that I don’t agree with your stance about the reliability of eyewitness testimony. I further said that it was largely irrelevant.

    Sure. I know you said that, and I think we could get somewhere with that. At the same time, though, you also said some things that seriously distorted what I wrote. So although you said some things that have some potential for good discussion, it was unclear to me that we could have a good discussion while you were twisting what I said.

    Your second comment today makes a good point that I’ll accept. I still think “detailed deposition” is an overstatement, and that I did not present it “exactly” that way, but I did use the word “detail,” so I can see where you got that, at least.

    What about your other distortions in that comment, though, concerning scholarly consensus and how many accounts we have?

    As for my snarkiness and the door I opened that did not seem so open to you, I think you have identified something wrong with the way I interact in these combox discussions. I’ll have more to say about that in a blog post not long from now.

  70. Mike Gene says:

    Fleegan,

    You assert: “It’s actually my intention to get somewhere in the discussion.”

    Is that why you ignored my question?

  71. Fleegman says:

    Mike,

    Apologies for not responding to your question sooner. I assure you, the delay was less “ignoring” and more “working so I get paid,” and today’s been one of the more hectic days. I also wanted to give it some thought — see Tom? I’m at least trying to think about stuff — so I didn’t give you some knee-jerk response that didn’t do the question justice. 

    So, what would count, for me, to be evidence of Jesus’s resurrection?

    It’s a good question; a question I’ve asked myself many times in various forms (evidence for the existence of God in general etc). I have often wondered why evidence that some theists find so compelling seems flimsy and wanting to me, and other atheists. Is that because I don’t understand or know the real depths of the evidence being presented? As we’ve seen in this comment thread, there are many areas in which my knowledge is severely lacking. But that can’t be the fundamental reason, because there are surely many theists possessing less  knowledge than I do about the resurrection, for example, who find the “eyewitness accounts” argument convincing, right?

    Is it simply that as humans we tend to believe evidence that confirms our own world views, and disregard evidence that does not? Surely, that’s a huge part of it. I mean, I see it all the time, both in how I react to certain claims, and how others react to the same claims. 

    As someone with a background in science (PhD in physics), I like to think that I would follow the evidence, without bias, to wherever it leads. After all, I used to believe in God, and now I don’t, so something changed my mind. But without bias? Is that even possible? Certainly on my journey to an atheistic world view, I fought the evidence every step of the way, interpreting it in just the right way to leave enough room for God. In the end, though, I found myself performing such twists in logic to preserve that attachment, that I was forced to face the fact that my world view had changed. And, for me, the world make more sense, now. 

    So to actually answer your question, finally, the most honest answer is that I don’t think there’s any one piece of evidence that would convince me. It was a long road getting to where I am, and short of personal revelation, there’s no reason to expect that it would be a short road back.

  72. Victoria says:

    @Fleegman

    As someone with a background in science (PhD in physics), I like to think that I would follow the evidence, without bias, to wherever it leads. After all, I used to believe in God, and now I don’t, so something changed my mind.

    Hi Fleegman – hey fellow PhD physicist :)
    Funny, I would have said
    After all, I used to not believe in God, and now I do, so something changed my mind.
    Not only do I believe in Him, but I worship Him, having responded in humble obedience and trust to His call to repentance and faith in His Son, Jesus Christ, who lived, died, and now lives again, as my Saviour and Lord.

    And, I have studied the scholarly works on the essential historicity and trustworthiness of the New Testament documents as well as the critical skeptical objections to that. If you like, I can give you a reading list :)

  73. Mike Gene says:

    Fleegman,

    I have often wondered why evidence that some theists find so compelling seems flimsy and wanting to me, and other atheists. Is that because I don’t understand or know the real depths of the evidence being presented?

    I think the problem here is the failure to recognize that evidence is not some objective feature of the world. Evidence is “perceived by the mind,” not “detected by the senses.” I personally think we live in an ambiguous reality where theist and atheists simply perceive the data differently. I explain this some more here:
    http://designmatrix.wordpress.com/2009/05/21/evidence-and-assumptions/

    Another factor that comes into play is that evidence comes in different flavors. For example, the evidence that leads to a reasonable suspicion need not be evidence that compels someone to believe with great conviction. All the debates about ‘evidence’ blur the many levels of distinction.

    Is it simply that as humans we tend to believe evidence that confirms our own world views, and disregard evidence that does not? Surely, that’s a huge part of it. I mean, I see it all the time, both in how I react to certain claims, and how others react to the same claims.
    Yep, but confirmation bias is balanced out by disconfirmation bias:

    http://shadowtolight.wordpress.com/2012/04/02/223/

    People don’t just interpret data to confirm their world views, they also interpret the data that might support other world views with hyper-skepticism.

    So to actually answer your question, finally, the most honest answer is that I don’t think there’s any one piece of evidence that would convince me. It was a long road getting to where I am, and short of personal revelation, there’s no reason to expect that it would be a short road back.

    I do appreciate the refreshing honesty, as it tends to throw some cold water on heated debates about “the evidence.” If Tom can’t cite anything that would convince you, I’m not sure what you meant by moving the discussion “forward.” And note you did not truly answer the question, as I simply asked what would “count as evidence.” Something could count as evidence without you having to be convinced by it.

    Anyway, my own personal experience kind of balances out your experience. I was given to purely secular upbringing and did not become a Christian until I became a young adult. Since that time, I have gone through agnostic phases, but never fell back into atheism. Ultimately, we are who we are by choice. So I’m curious about something. Was there some feature about our world, some final straw, that led you to abandon your belief in God? Also, were you ever a Christian?

  74. Victoria says:

    @Fleegman
    It’s not only about evidence, really.
    It’s also about Who and what that evidence points to, and what that implies for us as human beings.

    The Christian message calls for a response from those who hear it. It tells us things about ourselves that we don’t want to hear (we are spiritually dead in transgressions and sin against an utterly holy and good Creator God, and we can do nothing to earn His favour – this pricks our pride and smug self-sufficiency as well as our own unrealistically lofty self-image). It says that we are not the master here, God is. It says that He is the sovereign King, and we are His rebellious subjects. It says that He has standards of right and wrong that conflict with our own ideas. It says that He will hold us accountable to Himself for how we have lived our lives and how we have responded to Him. You can read Romans 1:18-3:26 for that summary.
    It also says that God has made a way for us to be redeemed and made spiritually alive, through the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ, at whose name every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord…(see Philippians 2:1-11). Those who choose to do so willingly now are adopted into God’s eternal family, and be with Him in eternity; those who do not will be forever separated from Him in eternity.

    It asks us to give up our lives to Him in order to gain true life, one of service and stewardship – a Christian’s life is not his or her own.

    It also says that men love the darkness and hate the light…see John 3:16-21, and that this will be their undoing unless they repent.

    It also tells us that we live in a world in the middle of a civil war, a rebellion lead by an evil supernatural being who himself fell from grace and now drags us down with him in his rebellion (and we are all too willing to be dragged along).

    It is also about faith and trust, in taking God at His word (Hebrews 11:6), and that is difficult for modern man, who being so taken with scientism, demands empirical proof for everything.

  75. SteveK says:

    There’s internal evidence and external evidence. The internal evidence is not a mere subjective opinion about reality, but an undeniable truth impressed upon your mind by it. If you willed to deny that truth, reality itself would push back as if to say “you’re deceiving yourself”.

    I’m specifically thinking about the internal evidence for moral and rational realities that everyone knows are not a matter of opinion.

  76. Fleegman says:

    Hi Victoria,

    Always nice to meet a fellow physicist. While I appreciate your passion for expressing your beliefs, I’m not sure what you’re hoping to achieve. Every single thing you said is something I’ve heard many times before, and I have objections to each and every one of those claims. Ordinarily, I would list each of the points you made, and point out the problems I see in each of those claims. I’d be surprised, however, if the readers of this blog haven’t heard all of my objections before, so what would be the point? Also, the sheer number of claims you made means I’d have to pick and choose which ones to respond to, and how unsatisfying would that be? 

    There is honestly so much I want to say about what you’ve written, but I’m going to restrict myself to a couple of things. You said:

    It is also about faith

    It seems to me that it’s all about faith, isn’t it? In order to follow the teachings of the bible, you have to (well, some would disagree) throw out evolution, for one thing, and that’s faith, pure and simple. It’s a rejection of one reality for another based simply on the basis of your belief.

    Also, you said:

    And, I have studied the scholarly works on the essential historicity and trustworthiness of the New Testament documents as well as the critical skeptical objections to that.

    Fine, but did you then say “oh, now I believe, because the evidence is so good,” or did you already believe, and your interpretation of the evidence simply confirmed your pre-existing world view?

    @SteveK

    I’m specifically thinking about the internal evidence for moral and rational realities that everyone knows are not a matter of opinion.

    So do you mean we are all moral creatures, regardless of whether we accept Christ? If that’s the case, why are atheists branded as having no moral compass?

    @Mike

    You make some great points about evidence, and you’ve clearly given the subject a lot more thought than I have. I can’t see anything there that I necessarily disagree with, except perhaps the part about how evidence cannot be objective; I’ll read your article on it. It seems to me, however, that theists have to constantly make rationalisations about the world in order to make it fit. 

    What I meant when I said that the world makes more sense to me as an atheist, is that there’s nothing about the way the world works that I have to rationalise away in order to keep my world view intact. 

    …we are by choice. So I’m curious about something. Was there some feature about our world, some final straw, that led you to abandon your belief in God? Also, were you ever a Christian?

    Yes, I was a Christian, although probably quite a weak one by your standards. I went to church every Sunday, though, and I believed in God, Jesus, and the resurrection. I used to feel sorry for people who did not have those beliefs because I thought their lives must be so empty. Though university, I became interested in a critical way of thinking, and began investigating claims like homeopathy, psychic abilities, reiki, you know, the usual stuff. I never touched religion though, because I didn’t want to know. In truth, I was fearful that I would read something I didn’t want to read. But my course in skepticism was set, so it was only a matter of time before I succumbed to the overwhelming curiosity. 

    Now that you mention it, there was a moment that was the final straw, and I remember it like it was yesterday. I was discussing the awesomeness of the universe with a good friend of mine, and I was still clinging on to a belief in God with my fingertips (although at that point, it was no longer the Christian god, just a hand wavey god concept). At one point in the conversation, in exasperation, I screamed “but without God, what’s the point of all this?” He said “why do you assume there’s a point?” 

    It hit me like a bolt from the blue, and that was that. 

  77. Doug says:

    In order to follow the teachings of the bible, you have to … throw out evolution, for one thing

    You mean like Francis Collins throws out evolution?

  78. Doug says:

    why do you assume there’s a point?

    It is easy to underestimate the psychological impact of “perceived purpose”. But even as just a sociological phenomenon, the success of this book indicates a deep-rooted human need for it.

    The difficulty with treating the human need for “a point” as an illusion (or, for that matter, treating free will, intentionality, morality, etc, as illusions) is that those are the things that make us human (whether we pretend that they are illusions or not).

    As Charles Taylor puts it:

    What we need to explain is people living their lives; the terms in which they cannot avoid living them cannot be removed from the explanandum, unless we can propose other terms in which they could live them more clairvoyantly. We cannot just leap outside of those terms altogether, on the grounds that their logic doesn’t fit some model of “science” and that we know a priori that human beings must be explicable in this “science”. This begs the question. How can we ever know that humans can be explained by any scientific theory until we actually explain how they live their lives in its terms?

    The puzzle is that folks are more willing to jettison (grounds for) that humanity than to seek its Source.

  79. Melissa says:

    Fleegman,

    In order to follow the teachings of the bible, you have to (well, some would disagree) throw out evolution, for one thing, and that’s faith, pure and simple. It’s a rejection of one reality for another based simply on the basis of your belief.

    This is what happens quite often I think. You start from the belief that Christianity and evolution are mutually exclusive. (Not necessarily your fault, there are many churches that major on the minors). On examining the evidence you conclude that evolution is largely true, therefore Christianity must be false, but did you ever question the initial belief (that Christianity and evolution are mutually exclusive). A very large portion of Christians, I’d venture to guess that it could be the majority, do not agree with that, depending on how you define evolution. Many would have no issue with evolution as a description of how complexity arises, they reject that it is “blind”. So in this at least no need to reject one reality for another, maybe you have other examples?

  80. Melissa says:

    Doug,

    The difficulty with treating the human need for “a point” as an illusion (of, for that matter, treating free will, intentionality, morality, etc, as illusions) is that those are the things that make us human (whether we pretend that they are illusions or not).

    Feser in his latest of a series of blogs on Alex Rosenberg’s book points out what could be a problem with labelling intentionality as an illusion.

    For instance, the notion of “illusion” plays a central role in Rosenberg’s book. It is his main weapon, deployed again and again to deal with all the obvious counterevidence to his bizarre claims. Yet in what sense can there be illusions, mistakes, or falsehoods of any kind given Rosenberg’s eliminativism? For “illusion,” “mistake,” “falsehood” and the like are all normative concepts; they presuppose a meaning (whether of a thought, a statement, a model, or whatever) that has failed to represent things correctly, or a purpose that something has failed to realize. Yet we are repeatedly assured by Rosenberg that there are no purposes or meanings of any sort whatsoever. So, how can there be illusions and falsehoods? For that matter, how can there be truth or correctness, including the truth and correctness he would ascribe to science alone? For these concepts too are normative, presupposing the realization of a purpose, the accuracy of a representation.

  81. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Melissa:

    Feser in his latest of a series of blogs on Alex Rosenberg’s book points out what could be a problem with labelling intentionality as an illusion.

    Nitpicking, but I would say that Feser is not simply pointing out a would-be problem, but a right-down *incoherence* in the eliminative materialism of Rosenberg, and by extension on all materialism, because it is a recurring theme throughout all the series dedicated to Rosenberg’s book that all *consistent* materialism is eliminative. In other words, that the train of thought of Rosenberg is correct insofar as it means that materialism entails that all intentionality, purpose, meaning etc. is illusory and must be chucked out the window, but it is wrong, and abysmally so, in that he does not see that the whole argument is in fact a reductio against materialism, because eliminating intentionality, purpose, meaning, etc. is in the end, all things considered, simply incoherent.

  82. Victoria says:

    Hi Fleegman
    Wow, your story is an interesting one, and pretty much the inverse of mine, I’d say.
    I do hope you can find your way back.

    You said

    Fine, but did you then say “oh, now I believe, because the evidence is so good,” or did you already believe, and your interpretation of the evidence simply confirmed your pre-existing world view?

    Hmmm… I’d have to say ‘both’ – it was really a synergy between what I was learning as I read the New Testament and the work of the Spirit of God in convicting me of my sin and need for redemption, and opening my eyes and heart to the truth that this is the answer I needed – I was ready to listen and consider the Christian claims. It was a sort of positive feedback – as I learned more about what Christianity really is and as I learned more about the basis for accepting the Bible as a reliable, trustworthy book, my faith grew. As my faith grew, I began to see more clearly – things that I had never understood about Christianity became understandable, almost obviously so. One day I knew – Jesus is Lord and Christ, the Son of God, my Saviour and King. That was almost 30 years ago – my walk with God has not always been an easy one, not because I doubted its truth, but because I had to learn to let go of the illusion that I was in control of my life and circumstances. Belief is easy, true faith and trust are harder, being transformed into the character of Christ hardest of all. It is a life-long journey. I know more now than I did back then, of the grace and truth that God offers. Little wonder that Paul compares the Christian life to running a race – as a long distance runner myself, I know what it takes to train for and run a marathon event, so I appreciate the metaphor :)

    Christianity is presented to us in such a way as to draw those of us who have a heart for God, who are willing to love and trust Him. On the other hand, it repels and confuses those who want nothing to do with Him.
    The evidence is sufficient to point the way to God, if one is willing to follow the trail.

  83. SteveK says:

    Fleegman,

    So do you mean we are all moral creatures, regardless of whether we accept Christ?

    Yes, we all can perceive moral reality.

    If that’s the case, why are atheists branded as having no moral compass?

    Atheists are made in the image of God too, so I don’t know why someone would say that. They have a moral compass that points away from the moral equivalent of true north – i.e. God.

  84. Mike Gene says:

    Fleegman,

    You write: “It seems to me, however, that theists have to constantly make rationalisations about the world in order to make it fit.”

    I have not found atheism to be any different. For as you learned, atheism ends with the conclusion that there is no point to it all. It inevitably collapses into total nihilism. Atheists evade this truth with distractions and rationalizations.

  85. Victoria says:

    @Fleegman
    You would probably find this site quite illuminating
    http://www.asa3.org
    This is the Web Site for the American Scientific Affiliation – (primarily)for professional scientists who are professing Christians. I say primarily because one does not have to be a professional scientist to be a member. One does not even have to be a member to view the resources and most archived publications.
    Check it out sometime – you may be surprised :)

  86. Fleegman says:

    @Mike

    If by nihilism, you are talking about objective meaning, I don’t see a problem with that. If you mean life has no meaning, then I would disagree. As an atheist, I place my own meanings on living, and I see a great deal to live for. I don’t see the rationalisation there.

    Theists, on the other hand, are bombarded with things happening in the world that have to be explained away. Disease? That was because of the fall of man. Evil? That’s the devil, or free will combined with sin. Earthquakes randomly killing people on a world supposedly made for us? Ok, not sure about that one. A punishment for tolerating homosexuals? And on and on it goes.

    @SteveK

    Atheists are made in the image of God too, so I don’t know why someone would say that. They have a moral compass that points away from the moral equivalent of true north – i.e. God.

    Still not sure what you mean, sorry. Do you mean that you therefore consider atheists immoral? Or they have an innate morality that is at odds with your morality? Not sure how someone can have an innate moral code that’s based on what they believe.

    @Doug

    Whenever I hear the name “Francis Collins,” I think of the phrase “The cognitive dissonance is strong in this one…”

    Yes, of course you can make anything fit. In order to make evolution fit with what’s in the Bible, you need to take out a big black marker in your mind, and write all over the Genesis account of creation, or rip out the pages completely. You can say it’s allegorical, or it’s poetry, or days didn’t mean literal days or it whatever it is someone does when they make evolution fit with what’s actually written on the pages. The problem, is that isn’t what’s on the pages. So you can ignore it completely, or convince yourself it doesn’t matter. In fact you can do that with every single part of the Bible that you don’t like or makes you feel uncomfortable. But it always comes back to the same problem: that isn’t what’s on the pages.

    Christians the world over ignore huge parts of the Bible, or interpret it in convenient ways that make them feel more comfortable with their religion and make it feel less at odds with what they perceive as reality. How much of the Bible can you throw out or change before it’s not Christianity anymore?

  87. Melissa says:

    Fleegman,

    You can say it’s allegorical, or it’s poetry, or days didn’t mean literal days or it whatever it is someone does when they make evolution fit with what’s actually written on the pages. The problem, is that isn’t what’s on the pages. So you can ignore it completely, or convince yourself it doesn’t matter. In fact you can do that with every single part of the Bible that you don’t like or makes you feel uncomfortable. But it always comes back to the same problem: that isn’t what’s on the pages.

    You are just way off base here. May I suggest that instead of taking what biblical literalists say on the bible as “The Truth” you should also take into account what experts in the field of biblical studies especially those that specialise in the OT have to say. What you will find is that these experts base their opinion on careful and detailed analysis of the text as well as an understanding of the cultural setting in which it was written. In comparison to them I am a lightweight but I do know enough to realise that force fitting an ancient text into modern categories is not a legitimate tactic if you wish to work out what the original writers meant. Fundamentalism with it’s literal theology was birthed out of modern thinking; new atheism is it’s atheistic counterpart. They both make the same mistake, that only knowledge that is considered objective is trustworthy.

  88. Doug says:

    You can say it’s allegorical, or it’s poetry, or days didn’t mean literal days or it whatever it is someone does when they make evolution fit with what’s actually written on the pages.

    If you really want to consider “what’s actually written on the pages” intellectual honesty would suggest that going with the original language (rather than the English translation) might be the appropriate thing to do ;)

    Whenever I hear the name “Francis Collins,” I think of the phrase “The cognitive dissonance is strong in this one…”

    Mike Gene has something to say about that… perhaps the “cognitive dissonance” is yours: scientifically-minded Christians don’t seem to sync with your meta-narrative.

  89. Mike Gene says:

    Fleegman,

    You write: “If by nihilism, you are talking about objective meaning, I don’t see a problem with that. If you mean life has no meaning, then I would disagree. As an atheist, I place my own meanings on living,”

    Another way of saying the same thing is that you ignore the truth and pretend your life has meaning.

    see a great deal to live for. I don’t see the rationalisation there.

    Of course not. As you yourself said, “as humans we tend to believe evidence that confirms our own world views, and disregard evidence that does not.” Obviously, despite the gestalt shift which forced you to see it was all pointless, you have clung to the belief that your life has meaning (that last gasp of your theism).

    As for evil, how does your atheism handle that given that all that evil is pointless? Do you simply look for distractions so you don’t have to think about it? Or have you convinced yourself that you are doing your part to make the world a better place?

  90. Fleegman says:

    @Mike

    Another way of saying the same thing is that you ignore the truth and pretend your life has meaning.

    I’m not sure that’s true. I’m not ignoring what I believe to be the truth. I’m giving my life meaning. Does that mean I’m pretending my life has meaning? Only in the same sense that if I call my dog “Rover” I’m pretending that’s his name.

    As for evil, how does your atheism handle that given that all that evil is pointless? Do you simply look for distractions so you don’t have to think about it?

    Actually evil, as you call it, makes sense to me. I don’t need to interpret it in the frame of an all loving creator. Bad things happen, people do bad things, and I am doing my part to make the world a better place simply by not being one of those who does those things, and generally being nice to people. You imply that if I think I’m doing my part to make the world a better place, I’m actually not. I’ve only convinced myself of this. The fact that you judge me as an atheist and conclude that I can’t be a force for good in the world matters not a jot to me because I think you’re wrong. I would go as far as saying that we probably, in general, both treat people well, and don’t generally kill them, or torture them etc. The only difference, as I see it, is that you hold certain beliefs that I would consider immoral specifically because of your religion.

    You hold that your life has meaning, and yet the meaning you give life, in my opinion, actually cheapens the one life we’ve got.

    @Doug

    If you really want to consider “what’s actually written on the pages” intellectual honesty would suggest that going with the original language (rather than the English translation) might be the appropriate thing to do

    You’re sort of making my point for me, Doug. There are Christians who believe in they were literal days, and they will believe the literal day interpretation. There are others who believe in the “yom, in that context, means period of time” interpretation, because it sits better with their other beliefs (old earth, evolution, etc.). I think, for example, the people over at Answers in Genesis take issue with the “not literal days” interpretation. Look, I have many problems with the creation story, the length of a day being a very small piece in a very muddled puzzle, but given the difficulties with even interpreting a single word in that story, how can one put any stake in it at all?

    P.S. Are you happy now, Doug? You made me link to AiG.

  91. Tom Gilson says:

    Rover did not give himself his name. Meaning is a relational matter: meaning in relation to what? If your life’s meaning is in relation only to yourself, then it could be anything. Stalin had meaning in relation to himself, and so did Joan of Arc. Now, you will undoubtedly say that your life has meaning in relation to other people, to the world around you or some such thing, but all of those involve bootstrapping. There is no transcendence to it; nothing higher to aim for.

    If evil makes sense to you, then define bad in non-question-begging terms. I’ve never seen a successful attempt apart from theism. See Richard Joyce on the evolution of morality.

    I doubt anyone says, though, that you can’t be a force for good as an atheist. Only that in your atheism, the term good collapses in upon itself without any content. It requires something higher.

    How does theistic belief cheapen meaning?

    As for the interpretation of Genesis, sure, it’s controversial. These things happened a very long time ago, after all. Have you seen my bleat on that? And what about the things the Bible clearly teaches about victory over death in Christ?

  92. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Fleegman:

    This is not a provocative question, but a genuine puzzlement, but do you even pay attention to what you write?

    I’m not ignoring what I believe to be the truth. I’m giving my life meaning. Does that mean I’m pretending my life has meaning? Only in the same sense that if I call my dog “Rover” I’m pretending that’s his name.

    1. You admit that it is all pointless and then in the next sentence add that by an act of the subjective will, you can pretend that your life has meaning.

    2. Let us try a parallel case: Fleegman “knows” that God does not exist but he pretends that He does in order to give his life meaning.

    The Fleegman in 2. is doing exactly the same that the Fleegman in 1. is; he is letting his subjective will dictate the content of reality. This is what Mike Gene is getting at. Yeah sure, you can shout out loud that your life is meaningful, even though you admit that it is not, not in any objective sense of the word, but so what?

    And by the way, your analogy is nothing of the sort, it is actually very stupid and beneath your competence. You are just giving a name to an object as a matter of convention, you are not “pretending” that being named Rover is some objective characteristic of the dog. Actually, I take the stupid back, because the analogy actually *reinforces* Mike Gene’s point. In much the same way as calling a dog “Rover” is a pure matter of convention, so in a similar way is your doling out of meaning to your own life: a matter of convention. All bluster and hot air.

    Actually evil, as you call it, makes sense to me. I don’t need to interpret it in the frame of an all loving creator. Bad things happen, people do bad things, and I am doing my part to make the world a better place simply by not being one of those who does those things, and generally being nice to people. You imply that if I think I’m doing my part to make the world a better place, I’m actually not. I’ve only convinced myself of this. The fact that you judge me as an atheist and conclude that I can’t be a force for good in the world matters not a jot to me because I think you’re wrong.

    Once again you got everything wrong and fail to understand the thrust of the argument. First, Mike Gene never implied what you think he does. You are so fixated on what you judge to be the misdirected charge that atheists are immoral that you read that charge into every sentence. Chill out, ok, and actually pay attention to what people are trying to say.

    1. We all have an innate sense of what is morally wrong and right, whether we believe in God or not. And we can act according to or in violation of that innate moral sense, whether we believe in God or not. The Bible, St. Paul specifically says so. But whether you believe the Bible as God’s word or not, I think this point is rather uncontroversial.

    2. But now comes the question: how can you *rationally* justify the distinction between Good and Evil in your worldview? And even if you can answer the first question, how can you turn the distinction, which presumably is a fact of of reality (otherwise it is not objective in any sense), into a normative and binding ought for human conduct?

    If there is no purpose in the universe, there is no purpose in evil, there is no purpose in good, there is no purpose, period. But if there is no purpose, no telos, there is equally no purpose in your actions, so how can you rationally justify them? I mean besides the heavy doses of wishful thinking that you employ. As Mike Gene pointed out, there is evil in the world according to you, and at the same time, it is all pointless, but there is a disconnect here. That you do not see it, is your problem, or more precisely a problem of your own brand of atheism.

  93. Victoria says:

    @Fleegman
    It seems that you (non-Christian skeptics/atheists) are creating the dissonance by insisting on proposing a false dilemma to Christians – either a completely naturalistic process(old universe Big Bang cosmologies and their extensions/biological evolution as an unguided, but selective random process) or a literal, recent 6 day creation by divine fiat( perhaps with the appearance of age and history?).
    You tell us that we can’t interpret and understand our Bible (Genesis 1 & 2 in particular) in any other way. Now, unless you also happen to be an authority in ancient Near Eastern history, archaeology, culture and languages, of Biblical exegesis and hermeneutics and the nuances of actually studying the Bible diligently, intelligently and prayerfully, why should we accept your false dilemma? Please do us a favour by not telling us how we should interpret and understand God’s Word.

    Skeptics never seem to get that Christians view God as the effective author of both Nature (which we prefer to call Creation) and the Bible (His written revelation to us), and thus we affirm that He would never contradict Himself.
    You also don’t seem to understand the purpose of His revelation – it was to show us Who He Is, what His purposes for His Creation are, what our relationship to Him is supposed to be, and how we can have that relationship. It is a sufficient revelation, but not an exhaustiveone. It was God’s desire and intention to communicate Himself to us, so He chose to do so using language we could understand – imagery, analogy, metaphor, specifically targeted to a particular people at a particular time in history, even though His message is universal and transcends time and cultures.

    Many Christians do interpret Genesis using a YEC (Young Earth Creation) model, and reject the current model of origins that modern science is working out. I can’t help but wonder if the latter issue is a case of throwing out the baby with the bath water – Christians rightly reject the metaphysical naturalism that you skeptics insist is the basis of modern science, and then proceed to reject the results (especially in the case of ‘origins’ science (formative history), as opposed to the operational science(properties and dynamics)). However, YEC Christians do not speak for all Christians; while all Christians agree that God is the author of Creation, we do not all agree that His written revelation was given to inform us of the process of Creation. While some YEC’s would disagree, this issue is not a litmus test for Christian orthodoxy – the Nicene Creed would be such a test.
    Skeptics don’t seem to understand the difference between core Christianity and secondary, non-essential issues for which Christian liberty allows honest differences of opinion and practice. Of course, how could you understand, being on the outside and not privy to the actual conversations of real Christians on the inside?

    One more point – it is not cognitive dissonance on our part (Christians who hold to an Old Earth Creation model or models, which regard God as the Creator and tenativelyaccept the current scientific models as the inference to the best explanation so far). We have tentative interpretations and understanding of what the Bible has to say about Creation, and tentative models of how these might fit with our current scientific understanding. We freely admit that we don’t have all of the pieces of the puzzle. We admit that we don’t see how they might fit together, and that we might never know the answer until we get to ask God in person when we meet Him in His eternal kingdom.

  94. Victoria says:

    @Fleegman
    You might also want to get a hold of a little book called Clues to Creation in Genesis, by P. J. Wiseman (edited by his son, D.J). It’s actually 2 books, Ancient Records and the Structure of Genesis (about cuneiform writing methods and how the book of Genesis contains markers that suggest how its contents came into Moses’ hands), and Creation Revealed in Six Days, where he presents the view that Genesis 1 (at least) is a record of what God told and explained to early humans (about Creation, over a period of six days. It’s an interesting thesis, even if it is not widely known – too bad, since it really does make sense. The book is out of print, you might get lucky on Amazon, but I suspect you’d have to go to a British book seller to find a copy.

    John Walton also has some interesting viewpoints on Genesis in the light of ANE archaeology,
    here

  95. Doug says:

    @Fleegman,
    Implicit in your answers appears to be the (frankly, bizarre) double standard that:

    Christians, if we accept the Bible, must therefore require from that source a comprehensive account of everything? (i.e., as you apparently do)
    – but –
    Atheists have the luxury of waiting for answers as science is able to answer them.

    It really does set you up for the charge that you are looking at the Bible as a fundamentalist!

  96. SteveK says:

    Fleegman,

    Do you mean that you therefore consider atheists immoral?

    All of us are immoral because all of us are sinners. Atheists, however, are not saved from their sinfulness by God’s grace because they want nothing to do with God.

    Or they have an innate morality that is at odds with your morality?

    At odds with the only standard of morality that exists – God’s.

  97. JAD says:

    In his book, The First Three Minutes: A Modern View of the Origin of the Universe, Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg writes:

    “It is almost irresistible for humans to believe that we have some special relation to the universe, that human life is not just a more-or-less farcical outcome of a chain of accidents reaching back to the first three minutes, but that we are somehow built in from the beginning… It is very hard to realize that this is all just a tiny part of an overwhelmingly hostile universe. It is even harder to realize that this present universe has evolved from an unspeakably unfamiliar early condition, and faces a future extinction of endless cold or intolerable heat. The more the universe seems comprehensible the more it seems pointless.” (p.144)

    Weinbergs point is that without an eternally existing transcendent Mind (God) the universe has no ultimate or intrinsic meaning.

    Fleegman seems to be confusing intrinsic meaning and value with extrinsic meaning and value. Many people make this mistake with gold. Gold really doesn’t have any intrinsic value it’s only because people value it that it has value. The American Indians valued sea shells in the a same way that we value gold and we think that’s just silly.

    Fleegman needs to admit to himself and us that the universe cares nothing about his existence.

  98. Fleegman says:

    @G.Rodrigues

    In much the same way as calling a dog “Rover” is a pure matter of convention, so in a similar way is your doling out of meaning to your own life: a matter of convention. All bluster and hot air.

    Heh, I like your reasoning. Maybe you’re right, you know? Maybe the meaning I give my life is just pretend, now that I think about it. I mean, like you said, it can’t be objective. The consolation, of course, is that it’s my point of view that the meaning you place on life is just as pretend as the meaning I put on it. You don’t think it’s pretend, of course, so I can see why you have such a high and mighty attitude about it.

    I do like how this blog forces me to think about stuff in ways I hadn’t considered before.

    Once again you got everything wrong

    Yes, it seems to be a trait of mine. Thanks for pointing it out, again; I wouldn’t want to forget that you are the one who is right, and I am, of course, the one who’s wrong.

    You are so fixated on what you judge to be the misdirected charge that atheists are immoral that you read that charge into every sentence. Chill out, ok, and actually pay attention to what people are trying to say.

    I am quite chilled out, I assure you. I hope my first paragraph indicates to you that I am, to the best of my ability, paying attention to what people are trying to say. I may sometimes interpret it incorrectly, but that’s perhaps partly down to the shortcomings of communicating in text only. We all have baggage that influences how we interpret what other people say, so I’d appreciate it if you gave me the benefit of the doubt. You know, just occasionally.

    If there is no purpose in the universe, there is no purpose in evil, there is no purpose in good, there is no purpose, period. But if there is no purpose, no telos, there is equally no purpose in your actions, so how can you rationally justify them?

    I’ll give the short version: I don’t like seeing people suffering, because I empathise. I wouldn’t like that to happen to me, so I don’t like seeing it happen to others. I treat people how I would like to be treated. I’m not equipped to give you a detailed analysis of how I can justify that behaviour in a rational way, I’m afraid.

    …I mean besides the heavy doses of wishful thinking that you employ

    I apologise for this in advance, but… LOL…

    Sorry, I hate to do that, but from my perspective, the irony caused a literal laugh out loud moment from yours truly. Thanks G.

    Ahem… What am I supposed to be thinking wishfully about, anyway?

    @Victoria

    Please do us a favour by not telling us how we should interpret and understand God’s Word.

    I’m not telling you how you should do anything. My point was that Christians believe the interpretation that fits their pre-existing beliefs as part of some other point.

    It was God’s desire and intention to communicate Himself to us, so He chose to do so using language we could understand – imagery, analogy, metaphor, specifically targeted to a particular people at a particular time in history, even though His message is universal and transcends time and cultures.

    So the question becomes, if the above is indeed true, why is there so much disagreement on what is actually meant by what’s written on the pages? For example, which parts are analogy, metaphor, and imagery? If it is indeed God’s word, why is it not completely, 100%, absolutely clear what it all means?

    The point you make about core Christianity is well taken, but I think you’ve taken the things I’ve been saying as some kind of “you’re not a real Christian unless…” argument, which wasn’t my intention. When I posited that you can’t have evolution and the Genesis creation story without enforcing your own beliefs on which interpretation you accept, I wanted to expand on that by talking about morality in general, but got sidetracked. It’s difficult keeping track when chatting with four or five different people at once, so please excuse me if I’m not being as focused or clear as I’d like.

    @Tom

    If evil makes sense to you, then define bad in non-question-begging terms. I’ve never seen a successful attempt apart from theism.

    Isn’t that question-begging in itself? Successful by what standards?

    Only that in your atheism, the term good collapses in upon itself without any content. It requires something higher.

    How does theistic belief cheapen meaning?

    Why does it need something higher? What’s wrong with simple empathy? Or humans deciding what’s good behaviour by determining what results in the greatest happiness? I’m certainly no expert on morality, and I never claimed to be, so that’s just my simplistic way of thinking about it.

    As for cheapening, I meant cheapening life. I believe it cheapens it, because it treats the only life I believe we have as some kind of trial run.

  99. Fleegman says:

    @JAD

    Fleegman needs to admit to himself and us that the universe cares nothing about his existence.

    I have no problem admitting this, JAD. Consider it done.

  100. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Fleegman:

    What am I supposed to be thinking wishfully about, anyway?

    Just to quote two instances for your latest post #99.

    Exhibit 1:

    Maybe you’re right, you know? Maybe the meaning I give my life is just pretend, now that I think about it. I mean, like you said, it can’t be objective.

    You admit that *your* viewpoint (not mine) entails the consequence that your life is objectively meaningless, but you go on merrily as if that does not pose a serious problem for your viewpoint? If you do not think too much about it, everything will turn out just right. Yeah, sure.

    Exhibit 2:

    I don’t like seeing people suffering, because I empathise. I wouldn’t like that to happen to me, so I don’t like seeing it happen to others. I treat people how I would like to be treated. I’m not equipped to give you a detailed analysis of how I can justify that behaviour in a rational way, I’m afraid.

    So you cannot offer a rational justification for your moral views but it is all fine and dandy, business as usual. Huh? Two objections that function as reductio ad absurdum‘s for your brand of atheism and yet you blithely go on as if they do not pose a serious problem for your viewpoint. If this is not wishful thinking than what is?

    Now to backtrack, and respond to two further points you make.

    The consolation, of course, is that it’s my point of view that the meaning you place on life is just as pretend as the meaning I put on it. You don’t think it’s pretend, of course, so I can see why you have such a high and mighty attitude about it.

    This is a pretty lousy argument. If by your admission, your view is *subjective* and *personal* then as a matter of fact it does not apply to me nor to anyone else, so your conclusion simply does not follow, or to be more precise, it is simply another subjective judgment like saying that vanilla ice cream is better than chocolate ice cream.

    I wouldn’t want to forget that you are the one who is right, and I am, of course, the one who’s wrong.

    I pointed out that you misunderstood Mike Gene’s argument as you have done with many other arguments presented here — with a bit of rhetorical exaggeration to press the point, sure. And if I am mistaken somewhere, please have the courtesy to point it out with reasoned arguments, and do not invoke the mere theoretical possibility that I may be wrong. Sure, I am human, a sinner, and I am certainly wrong about many things and make many mistakes, but this is true about everyone, so why bring it up?

  101. Mike Gene says:

    Fleegman,

    You write: “I’m not sure that’s true. I’m not ignoring what I believe to be the truth. I’m giving my life meaning. Does that mean I’m pretending my life has meaning? Only in the same sense that if I call my dog “Rover” I’m pretending that’s his name.”

    Yes, the meaning you have assigned to your life is no different than assigning a particular vocalization to your dog. Humans like to name things. We name cars, ships, airplanes, stars, etc. Children like giving names to their toys. It’s all a purely subjective world that is spawned from our imagination. But the cold reality of atheism is that this is all pretense. I’m sure the meaning can feel real to you. Actors, for example, can become so invested in their roles that they end up feeling like the fictional character exists. Yet in the atheistic world, your feeling of meaning is no different from the theists feeling of god.

    Take two atheists. Atheists A gives meaning to his life. Atheist B pretends his life has meaning. How can we distinguish between the two?

    Nihilism seeps in deeper than this. For your dog’s name “Rover” is no more special or significant than my dog’s name, “Fido.” Just as the meaning you have given your life is no more special or significant than the meaning to the hoarder’s life who is obsessed with filling his garage with empty pop cans and plastic bottles.

    And as your dog could have just as easily been named “Fido”, the meaning that you make for yourself could have just as easily been different. It is often said by atheists that our god beliefs are a function of our personal psychology and our culture. So how is this any less true for the meaning you invent for yourself? Are you sure you’d give yourself the same meaning if you had born and raised in another culture?

    Actually evil, as you call it, makes sense to me. I don’t need to interpret it in the frame of an all loving creator. Bad things happen, people do bad things, and I am doing my part to make the world a better place simply by not being one of those who does those things, and generally being nice to people. You imply that if I think I’m doing my part to make the world a better place, I’m actually not. I’ve only convinced myself of this. The fact that you judge me as an atheist and conclude that I can’t be a force for good in the world matters not a jot to me because I think you’re wrong.

    I never said you can’t be a “force for good” because you are an atheist. I am just pointing out some of the rationalizations that you employ to remain an atheist given that , according to you, all is pointless. We’ll skip over the fact that while you think God is a delusion, you think “evil” and “forces for good” actually exist, as others have already noticed this. Let’s just consider your belief that you are doing your part to make the world a “better place.”

    Again, we’ll overlook that you beliefs about a “better place” come from the culture you were shaped by. Instead, note that up above, you made a point out of eyewitness testimony being unreliable. Wanna know something even more unreliable? People’s opinions about themselves. You think you are making the world a better place. Who doesn’t? Everyone thinks of themselves as a force for good and as doing their part to make the world a better place. Yet if this was true, why is there so much evil in the world?

    So yes, I am quite sure you believe your life has meaning and you are doing your part to make the world a better place. But, did you forget the foundation of your own skeptism? Is there any evidence that the world is a better place because of you? Are you saying we would all be worse off had you not been born? Remember, atheists insist on evidence. Not feelings or anecdotes. So, if you personal belief about making the world a better place is not a rationalization, you’ll have some solid scientific evidence to offer. Do you?

    Look, I am not trying to get you to abandon your sense of meaning or your efforts to do good. The thought of lots of atheists taking their atheism to its logical endpoint is horrifying. I’m just pointing out that when you do such things, you ignore the pointlessness of it all and convince yourself it is not pointless through rationalizations. You abandoned God and the Bible, but not the values that came from being raised in a Judeo-Christian culture. You’ve eliminated the parts of Christianity that made you uncomfortable and kept those parts that were comforting. You wrote, “Christians the world over ignore huge parts of the Bible, or interpret it in convenient ways that make them feel more comfortable with their religion and make it feel less at odds with what they perceive as reality.” But you are no different. You ignore huge parts of materialism, or interpret it in convenient ways to make yourself feel more comfortable with your atheism.

  102. Melissa says:

    Fleegman,

    So the question becomes, if the above is indeed true, why is there so much disagreement on what is actually meant by what’s written on the pages? For example, which parts are analogy, metaphor, and imagery? If it is indeed God’s word, why is it not completely, 100%, absolutely clear what it all means?

    I made this point in an earlier comment that appears to have got lost in the system so if it turns up please forgive the repetition. The literal theology of fundamentalism is birthed out of the modern thinking, that the only trustworthy knowledge is that which we term objective (new atheism is its atheistic counterpart, and both are subject to valid criticisms from from a postmodern viewpoint) Anyway, this leads to a view of scripture that is very close to divine dictation. ie. to be a trustworthy source of knowledge the bible must be an objective historical account. Now, if you were familiar with the field of biblical studies, you would realise that scholars reject this view of the bible due to their careful and detailed analysis of the text (or as you like to put it, what is on the pages). You claim it is for other reasons. Please provide evidence. Sound bites from fundamentalists do not qualify as evidence.

  103. Victoria says:

    @Fleegman
    1. God’s revelation is about explaining a transcendent, eternal, infinite, perfect being to transient, finite and limited beings (us). In addition, we have the added issue of being rebellious, sinful, fallen creatures whose hearts and souls no longer resonate with God’s until He gives us His life. There is the added problem that humans don’t want to hear what He has to say. Our relationship with God is complex and multifaceted: Sovereign King and subjects; Master and servants; Father and children; The Good Shepherd and His sheep; Husband and bride; Redeemer and redeemed; Judge of all the earth and sinners deserving of justice, yet needing mercy, to list a few. These are not inseparable – when some group emphasizes one at the expense of the others, that’s when problems arise. When these are denied wholesale, even greater problems arise.
    2. God’s revelation is progressive. Abraham knows more than Noah; Moses more than Abraham; Isaiah more than Moses; Paul more than all of them, and the Lord Jesus Christ most of all (and perfectly). Christians know more than non-Christians because of the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, and as we rely on Him to show us His truths. Problems arise when people try to interpret and apply Scripture apart from His illumination andn guidance, especially so if they deny His authorship of the Word.
    3. The Bible has a dual nature – it is the product of human authors, writing under the auspices of the Spirit of God. Godn did not override the authors’ personalities, or experiences – He let them write His truths within a familiar framework. Problems in interpretation arise when one does not understand and account for that framework. Many things that we might not consider to be stated clearly enough may have been self-evident to an Israelite living in Moses’ time, or Isaiah’s.
    3. We all love puzzles, riddles and mysteries (well, at least I do). God knows this, so I think He deliberately framed His revelation the way He did so that we’d have to dig deep, to study diligently, to chase down all the evidence and the clues, drawing on every source of true knowledge at our disposal. Of course, this presupposes a desire to actually learn what God is trying to tell us, of a desire to obey and apply the truths that we learn; it is not merely an intellectual pursuit (teachings), but for reproof, correction, and training in righteousness. When men and women fail to allow Scripture and the Holy Spririt to transform them into the character of Jesus Christ, problems arise.
    Typically, from my readings of the skeptics’ attempts to explain the Bible, they get it hopelessly wrong, because their attempts stop at the superficial level; they see every discrepancy as “proof” that Scripture is just another badly written human book; skeptics don’t see that the discrepancies and apparent contradictions are superficial, and they ignore the deep-rooted harmonies that are woven through the entire tapestry of Scripture. It takes real work to follow every thread in such detail – centuries of scholarship, in fact, as well as an individual’s lifetime;
    4. God’s revelation is not exhaustive – it doesn’t tell us everything there is to tell about God and His purposes. It does not answer every question we could ask. Problems arise when fallible humans try to interpolate answers to questions that Scripture was not designed to answer, like how old is the earth, or the details of the processes that God used to create, for example. It doesanswer the question ‘Why is there a universe?”, for example, and it answers the question ‘Who was responsible for it?’ It gives an answer to how God did it, in a language suitable for even the most unsophisticated child (God commanded, and it came about – see Hebrews 11:3 NASB for example.
    5. Much of God’s revelation is clearly stated and readily understood, even in translation. Problems arise when people deny the fundamental truth that God does speak to us through the pages of Scripture (those who would deny 2 Timothy 3:15-17, for example). That is where the disagreements really lie. For Christians who stand firm in the truths of the Nicene Creed (or any of the historic creeds), there is considerable agreement on core issues, whatever their denominational allegiances – we are still one Body of Christ.

    You are somewhat overstated in your claim that we are trying to make Genesis ‘fit’ with modern science. Our premise is that as the author of both Scripture and Creation, God does not contradict Himself.
    If our current scientific models of the formative history of the universe are even approximately good reconstructions of what actually happened, then God is the author of that history, too. If so, then the simple face value understanding of Genesis 1 as a literal history would seem to contradict what we know about God’s actual works. Perhaps we are asking the wrong questions of Genesis – if God did not mean that He spent 6 24 hour days (and only in daylight at that) creating the physical universe and its constituents, then perhaps He is telling us something else entirely (one reason why I really think Wiseman was on to something in his Creation Revealed in Six Days idea).
    Some groups, like Hugh Ross’ (www.reasons.org) propose a Biblical creation model where the 6 days represent vast time periods; The American Scientific Affiliation and BioLogos (www.biologos.org) represent a broader spectrum of possibilities.

  104. Victoria says:

    @Fleegman

    Christians the world over ignore huge parts of the Bible, or interpret it in convenient ways that make them feel more comfortable with their religion and make it feel less at odds with what they perceive as reality. How much of the Bible can you throw out or change before it’s not Christianity anymore?

    There are also Christians who do not ignore any part of the Bible and what it has to teach us, no matter how difficult or uncomfortable. We don’t throw any of it out.

    Whether we are many or few, I can’t say. There are those of us who undertake to read the Bible, cover to cover, year in and year out; to study it book by book, theme by theme, thread by thread; this is a lifetime commitment. I don’t read or study it to ‘feel comfortable’. I read and study it to learn its view of reality, and to conform my views to God’s.
    And so do the Christians that I have been blessed to know all these years.
    This is a lifetime effort; I will not have exhausted the Bible’s depths when I take my last breath; thank God I will have eternity with Him to get to know Him and worship Him :)

  105. JAD says:

    As I see it the only real debate here is whether or not man and mankind has any intrinsic meaning or value. From a non-theistic that is simply not possible. But how does the non-theist know that man has no intrinsic value or meaning? Is that something he is able to prove or is it something that he accepts and believes on faith?

  106. Holopupenko says:

    You’ll also notice that EVERY idea to which Fleegman clings most dearly (e.g., that there is no meaning–notwithstanding its self-stultifying character–except what he imposes, his atheism, his scientism, etc.) EVERY single one is held, well, unscientifically. In fact, it’s largely personal bias and emotion and pseudo-philosophical musing that animate these ideas.

    The irony is too sweet.

  107. Tom Gilson says:

    This is the same irony we’re finding everywhere: the constant insistence that atheism is the option for reasoning, scientific people, coupled with a readiness to lay down reason for whatever reason, and science whenever it doesn’t give the desired answer.

    I’m not faulting them for using methods of thought other than those of science; they could hardly avoid it, given the fact that science can only do so much. I fault them instead for not recognizing that’s what’s going on, and for continuing to insist that only science yields knowledge.

  108. Holopupenko says:

    Tom:

    Even if they suggest that science isn’t the only form of knowledge, they’ll certainly assert–nay, ram down critical thinkers’ throats–that science is the best form of knowledge. Which, again, is not itself a scientific assertion, which means the assertion is NOT the best form of knowledge…

    …which means… oh dear, a hamster in a carousel frenetically searching for peace while avoiding, per St. Augustine (our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee) the only thing that will give them peace… and truth… and love… and good… and beauty… and their very humanity. He is the very thing they intentionally and a priori and unscientifically and pseudo-philosophically and emotionally (angrily) avoid.

  109. Fleegman says:

    @G. Rodrgues

    You admit that *your* viewpoint (not mine) entails the consequence that your life is objectively meaningless, but you go on merrily as if that does not pose a serious problem for your viewpoint? If you do not think too much about it, everything will turn out just right.

    It what way is it not turning out alright? If life has no objective meaning, that’s somehow a serious problem?

    So you cannot offer a rational justification for your moral views but it is all fine and dandy, business as usual. Huh? Two objections that function as reductio ad absurdum‘s for your brand of atheism and yet you blithely go on as if they do not pose a serious problem for your viewpoint.

    I thought I gave a rational justification for what I think are moral actions.

    If this is not wishful thinking than what is?

    Believing in a God because you don’t want to believe your life doesn’t have meaning.

    The consolation, of course, is that it’s my point of view that the meaning you place on life is just as pretend as the meaning I put on it.

    This is a pretty lousy argument. If by your admission, your view is *subjective* and *personal* then as a matter of fact it does not apply to me nor to anyone else, so your conclusion simply does not follow

    I’ll try to be clearer, then. I think you are wrong about a God existing (or at least, I don’t believe in God), so telling me your life has objective meaning is exactly the same, to me, as you pretending it has meaning.

    @Mike

    You are right when you say that people generally believe they are a force for good in the world. I’m not sure there is an objective measure that indicates the amount of good of bad someone brings to the world. Do you know of one?

    Look, I am not trying to get you to abandon your sense of meaning or your efforts to do good. The thought of lots of atheists taking their atheism to its logical endpoint is horrifying.

    That kind of comment is beneath you, Mike.

    You abandoned God and the Bible, but not the values that came from being raised in a Judeo-Christian culture.

    I don’t know to what you’re referring, but if it’s treat others as you like to be treated, that didn’t originate with Christianity.

    You’ve eliminated the parts of Christianity that made you uncomfortable and kept those parts that were comforting.

    Seriously. What part did I keep that’s unique to Christianity?

    You wrote, “Christians the world over ignore huge parts of the Bible, or interpret it in convenient ways that make them feel more comfortable with their religion and make it feel less at odds with what they perceive as reality.” But you are no different.

    I think not being a Christian is a pretty big difference, Mike. Again, what teachings of the Bible did I keep?

    You ignore huge parts of materialism, or interpret it in convenient ways to make yourself feel more comfortable with your atheism.

    What parts of materialism am I ignoring?

    @JAD

    As I see it the only real debate here is whether or not man and mankind has any intrinsic meaning or value. From a non-theistic that is simply not possible.

    Well, I guess the debate’s over, then. For the record, I don’t think I’ve ever tried to argue the position that life has objective meaning. I’m not debating that at all.

    But how does the non-theist know that man has no intrinsic value or meaning? Is that something he is able to prove or is it something that he accepts and believes on faith?

    How does a theist know? Considering how many different types of theist there are on this planet, a significant number of which hold mutually exclusive beliefs, it’s clear that being a theist is no guarantee to knowing anything about intrinsic meaning.

    You’ll also notice that EVERY idea to which Fleegman clings most dearly (e.g., that there is no meaning–notwithstanding its self-stultifying character–except what he imposes, his atheism, his scientism, etc.) EVERY single one is held, well, unscientifically. In fact, it’s largely personal bias and emotion and pseudo-philosophical musing that animate these ideas.

    Well, I’ll give you the pseudo bit. I’m certainly no philosopher.

    I’m seeing quite a pattern in the responses, here. There’s a lot of focus on the meaning of life, and because I believe (quick reminder: I didn’t say I know) that there is no objective meaning, that somehow means something important in the “is there a god” debate. If we’re going to keep beating this horse, can someone explain what difference it makes? Like I said, I’m no philosopher, so can we keep it simple?

    This is the same irony we’re finding everywhere: the constant insistence that atheism is the option for reasoning, scientific people, coupled with a readiness to lay down reason for whatever reason, and science whenever it doesn’t give the desired answer.

    Not sure what you’re getting at, Tom. What are the desired answers?

  110. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Fleegman:

    If life has no objective meaning, that’s somehow a serious problem?

    If a viewpoint entails that there is no objective meaning, objective purpose, etc., yes, that viewpoint has serious problems. For everything: morality, knowledge, rationality, even science itself. I will not argue these claims here, but I hope that at least the point that the existence of an objective morality is in very serious trouble is obvious. Either you are unaware of them, or in the back of your mind they occasionally cause you to pause, but you go on merrily ignoring the problems — *that* is a form of wishful thinking. As if ignoring and pressing on, makes the problem go away.

    I thought I gave a rational justification for what I think are moral actions.

    You thought wrong. Your “justification” does not have a leg to stand on. This has been debated at length in this blog, but the short and sweet of it is that it is as subjective as pretty much everything else you have said, and thus cannot form the ground of a rational, objective morality.

    If this is not wishful thinking than what is?

    Believing in a God because you don’t want to believe your life doesn’t have meaning.

    So your response is not that you are not engaging in wishful thinking is that I am also — a charge by the way that is completely unargued, contrary to my claims.
    Thanks for making the point for me.

    I’ll try to be clearer, then. I think you are wrong about a God existing (or at least, I don’t believe in God), so telling me your life has objective meaning is exactly the same, to me, as you pretending it has meaning.

    You were clear the first time around, thank you. Repeating the same argument does not make it any less lousy and unfounded as it previously was. The “to me” in the quoted paragraph is all that I need to show that much.

  111. Mike Gene says:

    Fleegman,

    You are right when you say that people generally believe they are a force for good in the world. I’m not sure there is an objective measure that indicates the amount of good of bad someone brings to the world. Do you know of one?

    No. But I’m not the one who insists on rooting all our beliefs in some empirical demonstration. I’m not the one who sneers at faith while claiming “the evidence” is all that matters. You believe you are making the world a better place. Why do you give yourself a free pass on the whole demand for evidence thing?

    Seriously. What part did I keep that’s unique to Christianity?

    It doesn’t have to be “unique” to Christianity. It need only be a part of Christianity that has not been scientifically established. The whole belief that you are somehow significant and that somehow you are making the world a little bit better place comes from your Christian background. And you are holding on to that part with rationalizations.

    BTW, I also noticed this point:

    I’ll try to be clearer, then. I think you are wrong about a God existing (or at least, I don’t believe in God), so telling me your life has objective meaning is exactly the same, to me, as you pretending it has meaning.

    But the two positions are not truly symmetrical. If G. Rodrgues truly believes in God, he is not pretending when it comes to his belief about meaning. He may be mistaken, but that is not pretense. Given your belief that all reality is pointless, you are pretending when it comes to your beliefs about meaning. Once you have believed that everything is pointless and embraced the atheistic perspective, you have only two choices. Follow the evidence to nihilism. Or, pretend otherwise.

  112. Holopupenko says:

    Fleegman has asserted multiple times that life has no meaning, largely based on his personal, subjective opinion that the universe and existence itself have no meaning…

    … and yet, he grants himself special dispensation to inject meaning into his own life. The upshot is, [he thinks] he’s “making” meaning–in direct contradiction to the overall assertion that there is no meaning.

    This perfectly reflects his admitted ignorance of even the most basic–“simple” per his own request–philosophical principles. It also reflects precisely what Tom mentioned before: Fleegman will jettison even science at the slightest indication that he (1) has no empirical evidence to support his assertion, (2) doesn’t have a clue what “meaning” means, and (3) that science can in no way support his emotional assertions in the first place. G. Rodrigues fully exposed his “rational justification” as a joke. What, pray tell, could “rational justification… err… mean if everthing is meaningless? A normal mind can’t make this stuff up because a normal mind recoils in horror at such a nonsensical rejection of reality. (Remember the hard, painful grass and deadly rain to ghosts in C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce?)

    Recall, Tom, a few years ago I told you the true story about one of my masters degree-educated collegues who also believed everything was meaningless… but that there were “pockets” of “positive” and “negative” of meaning that balance out to zero? Talk about taking leave of one’s senses through a reductionist mathematicism!

    Well, here’s Fleegman’s version: I’m not sure there is an objective measure that indicates the amount of good of bad someone brings to the world. Do you know of one? Of course, what he’s surreptiously (and, perhaps, likely ignorantly) pushing here is positivism: he strongly implied to Mike that if it’s not empirically measureable, it doesn’t exist. Oh brother: another example of his self-stultifying nonsense. Fleegman will behave if as if good and evil really manifest themselves in his life whenever he protests against an injustice. But by that very act of protestation, Fleegman is inconsistent at best… a self-serving, will-to-power minion of falsehood at worst.

    It’s all about Fleegman, isn’t it? And Fleegman is a LIAR… to himself.

    His BEST attempt at meeting the challenge? A warped tu quoque: Believing in a God because you don’t want to believe your life doesn’t have meaning.

    Memo to Fleegman: we’re not talking about converting you to Christianity. We’re talking about something you–perhaps intentionally–keep missing: ALL conversation, all argument, and all of your personal, subjective (and ultimately groundless) desires to comfort yourself by pushing away from the hard facts of reality MEAN NOTHING per your own rules of the game. Forget christian faith: think for one moment just how irrational your position is. If there is no meaning, there is no meaning, and there’s nothing you can do to “make” meaning. Hey! Humor us: show us, per your rules of the game, an empirically-verifiable measure of “meaning” that you permit yourself so unscientifically to enjoy… just because YOU want to… just because it suits your personal reality-creating nonsense. Show us that for one moment you might consider your belief (!) in meaninglessness to be self-stultifying or that you have a shred of decency left to actually follow to the bitter end, per Nietzche, the implications of utter meaninglessness. Demonstrate to us that your silly railings against faith aren’t a priori emotional needs trying to be fulfilled.

    Heh. I thought so. It IS all about you, isn’t it?

  113. Holopupenko says:

    Fleegman:

    Partly referencing previous discussions:

    Do you get the fact that EVERY human being’s search for truth must begin with the acceptance of authority–not merely in religious faith but in all areas of human life? Do you get–counter to your silly game of hyper-rejecting eyewitness accounts–that historical claims in particular must be accepted or rejected on the basis of authoritative testimony… including ones in the natural sciences?

    You reject not just on flimsy grounds, but on idiotic grounds, the reasonableness (we’re not even close to the point of “ACCESSION to”) of the testimony upon which Christianity rests. You simply do not WANT to accept Christianity–even if reasonable… so you rail against reasonableness (hence your desperately-clingy will-to-power), you rail against evidence that counters your personal needs, you rail against an “evil” God or “bad” Christians (what, without meaning?!?) to help you get through another day of disbelief, you rail against “meaning” because it serves your self-delusional purpose of obtaining a “get out of jail free” card.

    Heck, if everything is meaningless, then it’s easy to reject all things that counter your personal needs–including the rejection of a central tenet of Christianity that human reason, if properly exercised, is capable of coming to some knowledge of God. (I bet you had no clue that the Catholic Church holds as dogma that a person can come to a knowledge of the existence of God based on reason alone, i.e., not on faith.)

    I bet you have no notion of the principle that seeking truth is an act of transformation rather than information acquisition.

    (You can file this response [to your meaningless assertions] under Tom’s category of “very persistent”.)

  114. Victoria says:

    @Fleegman
    You might find this article instructive in Christian approaches to Scripture and modern science.

    It seems to me that you capitulated too easily to the hyper-critical objections to Christianity, and did not spend nearly enough time and energy learning the reason for the hope that is in [Christians] (1 Peter 3:15). As Paul would have said, “you have shipwrecked your faith”
    (1 Timothy 1:18-20)

  115. Fleegman says:

    @Mike

    It doesn’t have to be “unique” to Christianity. It need only be a part of Christianity that has not been scientifically established. 

    Which parts of Christianity have been scientifically established?

    You’re trying to assert that any value I place on my life had to come from my Christian upbringing, which is a massive assumption on your part. How do you know I didn’t get my values from all the Star Trek I watched while growing up? You know, the Phelps family get their values from a Christian upbringing.

    The whole belief that you are somehow significant and that somehow you are making the world a little bit better place comes from your Christian background. And you are holding on to that part with rationalizations.

    Significant to whom? To my mother and father? The rest of my family? The other people in my life that I love? That’s the significance that I value, and that didn’t come from my Christian values. Significant to the universe? I don’t think I ever claimed to be significant to the universe.

    But the two positions are not truly symmetrical. If G. Rodrgues truly believes in God, he is not pretending when it comes to his belief about meaning. He may be mistaken, but that is not pretense. 

    I admit that if he truly believes, that’s not a pretence, but delusion — from my perspective, of course. Is delusion better than accepting your life has only subjective meaning? 

    And I have something to say about that, too. Why is subjective meaning such a bad thing? Subjective meaning, doesn’t mean “no meaning” as others have been arguing. 

    G.Rodrigues touches upon it here:

    If a viewpoint entails that there is no objective meaning, objective purpose, etc., yes, that viewpoint has serious problems. For everything: morality, knowledge, rationality, even science itself. I will not argue these claims here, but I hope that at least the point that the existence of an objective morality is in very serious trouble is obvious.

    [I’m having some trouble parsing that last sentence (I don’t mean that snarkily) but I think you’re saying that no objective morality is bad, and it’s obvious.]

    I’m afraid not; you will have to do better. Why? Because a purely secular consensus on what constitutes good behaviour, subjective as it may be, is no worse — and is, in my opinion better — than choosing to believe the supposed objective morality of the Bible. And picking and choosing the bits that you feel comfortable with, rather than taking it all wholesale and without question, is actively imposing your preconceived subjective values on to it. 

    This has been debated at length in this blog but the short and sweet of it is that it is as subjective as pretty much everything else you have said, and thus cannot form the ground of a rational, objective morality

    I’m not trying to. For hopefully the last time, I don’t hold that position. I’m not arguing that what gives my life meaning to me makes it objective. You can argue against these men of straw all day, but if you’re going to berate me, please try to stick to the things I’m actually saying.

    Thanks for the link, Tom. That’ll help me understand your position on this. And thanks for your links, too Victoria. Lots to read. I wish I had more hours in the day. 

  116. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Fleegman:

    Which parts of Christianity have been scientifically established?

    Please, provide the scientific evidence for any of your multiple assertions in this thread. If you fail to do so, would you be so kind and stop demanding scientific evidence from everybody else?

    I admit that if he truly believes, that’s not a pretence, but delusion — from my perspective, of course. Is delusion better than accepting your life has only subjective meaning?

    Again you missed the point. I, G. Rodrigues, believe that as a matter of objective fact God exists and life has an objective meaning. Now I may be wrong, or delusional according to your own *subjective* opinion, but I am not “pretending”. While on the other hand, you are indeed “pretending” that life has meaning. You know that life has no objective meaning, but by an act of the subjective will you endow it with a meaning reflecting your personal preferences and biases. *That* is the asymmetry that Mike Gene pointed out.

    And I have something to say about that, too. Why is subjective meaning such a bad thing? Subjective meaning, doesn’t mean “no meaning” as others have been arguing.

    Because if it is *subjective*, then it has no reference to existing reality and you are literally playing make believe. Truth can only be decided by reference to reality, to that which is. So your subjective views are neither true nor false, neither good nor bad, they are simply opinions, a reflection of your own personal preferences and biases. In order to break the vicious circle of habit, compulsion and indoctrination an objective theory is needed, theory in the sense of theoria, a detached vision of the means and ends of human action which makes it purposeful by enlightening its aims, and encompassing an objective hierarchy of values and goals. But that is precisely what you do not and cannot have.

    Because a purely secular consensus on what constitutes good behaviour, subjective as it may be, is no worse — and is, in my opinion better — than choosing to believe the supposed objective morality of the Bible.

    Consensus? How do you plan to get a consensus on a matter, that by your own admission, is purely subjective? And what is consensus? A majority ruling? Since it is not a matter of fact, but a mere reflection of the will, how will you settle the issue when these wills clash as they inevitably do? By force? Who will you choose as the scapegoat victim? In your opinion, your words not mine, a secular consensus is better. Well, on the opinion many people it is worse. Now what? Are you going to impose your subjective views — by your own admission — on everybody else?

    And by the way, there is nothing subjective about my view on morality, historically the mainstream view of Christianity. Somehow I suspect that you do not have the faintest idea of what that view consists of. If you think I have to go to the Bible to decide every moral question you are wrong, as many moral questions can be decided by reason alone and these answers accord with those of the Bible.

    And picking and choosing the bits that you feel comfortable with, rather than taking it all wholesale and without question, is actively imposing your preconceived subjective values on to it.

    Stop projecting the flaws of your own subjectivism on Christianity, ok? Stop telling us what Christianity is or how we should read the Bible, ok?

    This has been debated at length in this blog but the short and sweet of it is that it is as subjective as pretty much everything else you have said, and thus cannot form the ground of a rational, objective morality

    I’m not trying to. For hopefully the last time, I don’t hold that position. I’m not arguing that what gives my life meaning to me makes it objective.

    I know that very well, I am just drawing out what your position entails. Let me go at it one more time, as you seem to be having trouble recognizing the simplest of arguments. Let us take the case of morality. If morality is purely subjective, with no objective grounding, then there is nothing *objectively* wrong in raping, torturing and murdering. Why should say, a sociopath, refrain from raping, torturing and murdering *you*? He will get caught? What if he is very intelligent or very powerful and can get away with it? And even if he does get caught, why can he not simply reply “Life is short, and this is how I get my kicks. If I cannot do it, I might as well be dead”? And boom, he rapes, tortures and murders you. Remember, by your own account it is all a matter of subjective preferences so sociopathy does not really exist as a moral *disease* as there are no moral diseases at *all*. And since all you have to lean on to is a heap of subjective preferences, all you can do is tweedle your thumbs and hope to get to the sociopath first. Suppose that my imaginary sociopath is an eminently rational person, what arguments would you construct to make him stop? If it is all a subjective matter of opinion, and your opinion is no better than his, what would you say to such a man?

    The problems of your viewpoint go far beyond the non-existence of an objective morality and spill into the realm where rationality, and therefore all science, becomes unintelligible, but these arguments are more complicated so I will not hash them out here.

  117. Fleegman says:

    @G. Rodrigues 

    Which parts of Christianity have been scientifically established?

    Please, provide the scientific evidence for any of your multiple assertions in this thread. If you fail to do so, would you be so kind and stop demanding scientific evidence from everybody else?

    You brought up the science, this time. Not me, you. You talked about the parts of Christianity that haven’t been explained by science. It’s natural to ask which parts have been established by science. I thought the whole point of this thread was initially other ways of knowing and now your telling me parts of Christianity have been scientifically established. 

    Oh you then promptly ignored everything else I said regarding that point, so well done.

    I admit that if he truly believes, that’s not a pretence, but delusion   — from my perspective, of course. Is delusion better than accepting your life has only subjective meaning?

    Again you missed the point. I, G. Rodrigues, believe that as a matter of objective fact God exists and life has an objective meaning. Now I may be wrong, or delusional according to your own *subjective* opinion, but I am not “pretending”.

    Since I’m clearly not the only one with a reading comprehension problem, I’ve emboldened the bit you quoted and still ignored. That’s me admitting that from your point of view, you’re not pretending. 

    Because if it is *subjective*, then it has no reference to existing reality and you are literally playing make believe. Truth can only be decided by reference to reality, to that which is. So your subjective views are neither true nor false, neither good nor bad, they are simply opinions, a reflection of your own personal preferences and biases.

    You’re getting wilder and wilder with your claims, here. Our perception of the world is subjective, is it not? And that has no reference to reality?

    Consensus? How do you plan to get a consensus on a matter, that by your own admission, is purely subjective? 

    It doesn’t take a genius to realise that people don’t like being raped tortured and murdered. Are you arguing that since these are subjective feelings, it’s impossible to get a consensus on the matter and decide that those things are bad? Seriously?

    And by the way, there is nothing subjective about my view on morality, historically the mainstream view of Christianity. Somehow I suspect that you do not have the faintest idea of what that view consists of. If you think I have to go to the Bible to decide every moral question you are wrong, as many moral questions can be decided by reason alone and these answers accord with those of the Bible.

    I’m sure they do, since one of my points is how you impose your own subjective morality — even though you think it’s objective — on to the Bible. 

    Stop telling us what Christianity is or how we should read the Bible, ok?

    I’m not telling you what a Christian is or how to read the Bible. 

    This has been debated at length in this blog but the short and sweet of it is that it is as subjective as pretty much everything else you have said, and thus cannot form the ground of a rational, objective morality

    Do I really have to keep repeating myself on this point. Oh, wait, you actually quoted it in your response:

    For hopefully the last time, I don’t hold that position. I’m not arguing that what gives my life meaning to me makes it objective.

    I know that very well, I am just drawing out what your position entails.

    Then kindly stop it with the “it’s not objective!” cheap shots. It’s tiresome. 

    If morality is purely subjective, with no objective grounding, then there is nothing *objectively* wrong in raping, torturing and murdering. Why should say, a sociopath, refrain from raping, torturing and murdering *you*?

    What’s your point? Oh wait, there’s more, and you really go off the rails, here:

    What if he is very intelligent or very powerful and can get away with it? 

    What if he is? I think this probably happens from time to time, you know. 

    And even if he does get caught, why can he not simply reply “Life is short, and this is how I get my kicks. If I cannot do it, I might as well be dead”? 

    He can say that. That’s what makes him a sociopath.

    Remember, by your own account it is all a matter of subjective preferences so sociopathy does not really exist as a moral *disease* as there are no moral diseases at *all*. 

    Wow. You think that follows from what I said? There are norms, even in subjective terms. Someone who likes to rape and torture people is outside of those norms. Laws are put in place to protect those of us who need protecting from the sociopath you talk about. What do you rely on to protect yourself from these sociopaths?

    The problems of your viewpoint go far beyond the non-existence of an objective morality and spill into the realm where rationality, and therefore all science, becomes unintelligible, but these arguments are more complicated so I will not hash them out here.

    Well, I hope for your sake they’re better, too, because the “arguments” you made in your last post were disappointingly vacuous.

  118. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Fleegman:

    You brought up the science, this time. Not me, you. You talked about the parts of Christianity that haven’t been explained by science. It’s natural to ask which parts have been established by science. I thought the whole point of this thread was initially other ways of knowing and now your telling me parts of Christianity have been scientifically established.

    You must be confusing me with someone else, probably Mike Gene since I responded to your response to him, because I definitely did not brought up science or “the parts of Christianity that haven’t been explained by science”, whatever you mean by that. My point was simply this: if you keep asking for scientific evidence for the claims of other people, then you must provide scientific evidence for your own claims. Otherwise, just shut your yapper about this particular issue.

    Since I’m clearly not the only one with a reading comprehension problem, I’ve emboldened the bit you quoted and still ignored. That’s me admitting that from your point of view, you’re not pretending.

    My claim was never that you claimed that I am pretending, which I never did. My claim was that Mike Gene’s point was one of *asymmetry* between our two positions and that you missed it, and you keep missing.

    You’re getting wilder and wilder with your claims, here. Our perception of the world is subjective, is it not? And that has no reference to reality?

    My claims are perfectly ordinary and argued claims. You are equivocating on the word “subjective”: it can mean first-person point of view, which is what perception, all perception, is, or it can mean the opposite of objective, a merely personal opinion, depending on the cultural and social vagaries, of the precise mind that utters it, and with no referent in reality. I am using the word “subjective” in the second sense, which is the one that is, that has always been, relevant to this thread.

    It doesn’t take a genius to realise that people don’t like being raped tortured and murdered. Are you arguing that since these are subjective feelings, it’s impossible to get a consensus on the matter and decide that those things are bad? Seriously?

    Do you even pay attention to the arguments? That nobody likes to get tortured, raped and murdered I am ready to grant you. But you cannot deny that there are people that like to inflict such things on others. So why are they wrong? You are going to invoke what, the Golden Rule? According to you the rule can be nothing more than a subjective preference. Fear of retribution? This does not work for the reasons I have stated. So what?

    I’m sure they do, since one of my points is how you impose your own subjective morality — even though you think it’s objective — on to the Bible.

    Yes that is one of your points, but since you never provided arguments for it, why should I care? And since you do not even know what my view of morality is (google Thomistic natural law, if you are interested), what you have to say can only be the product of your ignorance.

  119. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Fleegman:

    I’m not telling you what a Christian is or how to read the Bible.

    You have done nothing else since you have joined this thread. One does not need to go far to find examples. Just in the previous paragraph you say: “one of my points is how you impose your own subjective morality — even though you think it’s objective — on to the Bible”, a charge that to make sense must presuppose that there is a way to read the Bible that presumably I do not have access but you do.

    Then kindly stop it with the “it’s not objective!” cheap shots.

    Cheap shots? You yourself admit that meaning along with a host of other things is subjective! I am just quoting you, so how can they be cheap shots?

    You think that follows from what I said? There are norms, even in subjective terms. Someone who likes to rape and torture people is outside of those norms. Laws are put in place to protect those of us who need protecting from the sociopath you talk about.

    Oh brother… yes it DOES follow. If morality does not, and cannot be, objectively grounded, then laws or norms are simply the expression of the preferences of the group, majority, what have you. Why should anyone, sociopaths included, follow these laws? Under your worldview there are *NO* sociopaths in any objective sense, because there is no objective standard of judgment. Sociopath is simply someone that does not play by *your* rules, but since the rules themselves are simply the expression of subjective preferences, the judgment is also subjective.

    What do you rely on to protect yourself from these sociopaths?

    Another clear sign that you do not understand what is at stake. This is not a matter of laws, protection, security, whatever, but of providing objective, rational grounds for the moral choices. I asked you for a rational argument that would convince my imaginary sociopath (assuming he is a rational person), you offered none, which leads me to conclude that you have none, thus conceding my point.

    Well, I hope for your sake they’re better, too, because the “arguments” you made in your last post were disappointingly vacuous.

    This from someone who systematically misses the points one makes, that is unable to follow a simple argument or even to construct a cogent one. As Dr. Johnson said, I found you an argument, I am not under the obligation to find you an understanding.

  120. Victoria says:

    I suspect that the ‘parts of Christianity established by science’ really does not mean the physical sciences, but the historical sciences instead. I don’t remember who brought it up either, but whoever did, is that what you meant?

  121. Fleegman says:

    @G.Rodrigues

    My point was simply this: if you keep asking for scientific evidence for the claims of other people, then you must provide scientific evidence for your own claims. Otherwise, just shut your yapper about this particular issue.

    Ok, let’s get something cleared up. I joined this conversation claiming that science was the only way of knowing. Since then, I’ve questioned that claim after reading the comments here. It’s difficult for me to imagine an experiment that could test how much I love my parents, but I know I love them. 

    So I have accepted that for certain things, science doesn’t really help. 

    Now, I have also made claims that I can’t back up with evidence, because I think they’re self-evident. In those cases I’m talking about things that you claim you can’t have any scientific evidence for anyway, so why demand it from me?

    Now it is you who is clearly mistaking me for someone else, because I’m not constantly bleating about requiring evidence for everything everyone is saying. I’m just not. To claim that I am, well, requires some evidence. I may have entered the discussion asking for that, but I’m actually listening to what people are saying, and I’m learning stuff. I am not asking for scientific evidence for everything

    But you can’t have it both ways. You can’t hold the view “there are things science can’t answer” and then logically conclude “therefore science can’t answer anything” which is what you’re expecting me to hold to. Before you start, I know that’s not what your saying, but telling me “since [I] can’t provide any evidence for [my] claims, [I’m] not allowed to ask for any for other people’s claims” is ridiculous. It’s ridiculous because the claims I’m making are the type of claims for which you believe science can’t provide an answer. 

    So you can now make any claims without the need to provide evidence for anything because according to you, I’m not allowed to ask for it.

    Well, I’ve got news for you, G.Rodrigues, if you are making scientific claims, it is completely appropriate to ask for evidence. If someone infers that parts of Christianity have been scientifically established, it is only natural to ask for the evidence. It is a scientific claim

    My claim was that Mike Gene’s point was one of *asymmetry* between our two positions and that you missed it, and you keep missing.

    And you keep missing that I admitted that ages ago. You seem to spend a lot of your time repeating things I have already admitted I was wrong about. Move on.

    I am using the word “subjective” in the second sense, which is the one that is, that has always been, relevant to this thread.

    Ok, fine, I’m not. I’m talking about forming opinions about, say morality, based on the subjective perception of the world. Do you seriously think I’m suggesting that subjective morality is the same as sticking your finger in the air and thinking “hmmmm…. Today, I think I’ll be a rapist?”

    You are going to invoke what, the Golden Rule? According to you the rule can be nothing more than a subjective preference. Fear of retribution? This does not work for the reasons I have stated. So what?

    The Golden Rule works when we’re talking about subjective experiences that people can agree on. The reason we have laws, is to deter, or prevent, those that do not share the same values — sociopaths. For what reason don’t you think this works? Because people can avoid the law and get away with it? 

    So what? 

    What you seem to be suggesting, is that having an objective morality means that will somehow prevent the sociopath from torturing, raping, and killing. Can you explain why? If you are talking about fear of retribution from God, or that they behave better because they’re Christian, then you are making a claim that can be tested. Christians should be underrepresented in prison, for example, if what you say is true. At least, if you’re claiming that believing in some kind of objective morality makes you behave better. As I explained above, if you’re making a scientific claim, provide the evidence, or stop making claims that are in the realm of science.

    I’m not telling you what a Christian is or how to read the Bible.

    You have done nothing else since you have joined this thread.

    Your capacity for hyperbole knows no bounds…

    One does not need to go far to find examples. Just in the previous paragraph you say: “one of my points is how you impose your own subjective morality — even though you think it’s objective — on to the Bible”, a charge that to make sense must presuppose that there is a way to read the Bible that presumably I do not have access but you do.

    My whole point is that there isn’t an objectively correct way to read the Bible. If there were, everyone would be doing it the same way, and interpreting everything in it the same way. That fact that they’re not, and that they aren’t, is the point I’m trying to make. That is not “telling [you] how to read the Bible.”

    Under your worldview there are *NO* sociopaths in any objective sense, because there is no objective standard of judgment.

    Nonsense. If subjective perceptions follow a pattern, those lying outside that pattern can be considered abnormal. How can you not see this?

    I asked you for a rational argument that would convince my imaginary sociopath (assuming he is a rational person), you offered none, which leads me to conclude that you have none, thus conceding my point.

    You never made a point to concede.

  122. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Fleegman:

    Now, I have also made claims that I can’t back up with evidence, because I think they’re self-evident.

    If a claim is self-evident then by the very meaning of the expression, there is evidence for it. If some claim is deemed self-evident there is a reason justifying such self-evident status and that reason just is the evidence. It may not be the *type* of evidence you count as evidence (it may not be empirical evidence, it may not be conclusive, etc.) but what counts as evidence is precisely one of the issues of contention in the first place.

    But you can’t have it both ways. You can’t hold the view “there are things science can’t answer” and then logically conclude “therefore science can’t answer anything” which is what you’re expecting me to hold to.

    The second in-between quotes does not follow from the first, so I am definitely not expecting you to hold to it.

    Before you start, I know that’s not what your saying, but telling me “since [I] can’t provide any evidence for [my] claims, [I’m] not allowed to ask for any for other people’s claims” is ridiculous.

    Well, yes you can demand evidence for other people’s claims, but you can hardly complain if they point out your double standard.

    It’s ridiculous because the claims I’m making are the type of claims for which you believe science can’t provide an answer. So you can now make any claims without the need to provide evidence for anything because according to you, I’m not allowed to ask for it.

    No, I never said or even implied that. As far as I am aware, all my claims have been backed up by evidence, evidence in the form of arguments.

    Well, I’ve got news for you, G.Rodrigues, if you are making scientific claims, it is completely appropriate to ask for evidence. If someone infers that parts of Christianity have been scientifically established, it is only natural to ask for the evidence. It is a scientific claim.

    Fair enough, but since as far as I can recall I have only made one scientific claim about Christianity and I did provide the evidence, I guess I am off the hook.

  123. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Fleegman:

    Ok, fine, I’m not. I’m talking about forming opinions about, say morality, based on the subjective perception of the world. Do you seriously think I’m suggesting that subjective morality is the same as sticking your finger in the air and thinking “hmmmm…. Today, I think I’ll be a rapist?”

    The Golden Rule works when we’re talking about subjective experiences that people can agree on. The reason we have laws, is to deter, or prevent, those that do not share the same values — sociopaths. For what reason don’t you think this works? Because people can avoid the law and get away with it?

    What you seem to be suggesting, is that having an objective morality means that will somehow prevent the sociopath from torturing, raping, and killing. Can you explain why?

    I have juxtaposed these three quotes because they show that you simply do not understand what the problem is. In the first quote you speak about “opinions”, but opinions can never ground an objective morality. In the second quote you speak about deterrence, but that is not the issue, the issue is why is the sociopath *morally wrong* in the first place? In the third quote you equivocate between providing rational justification for an objective morality with convincing a sociopath to stop his abhorrent behavior.

    My whole point is that there isn’t an objectively correct way to read the Bible. If there were, everyone would be doing it the same way, and interpreting everything in it the same way. That fact that they’re not, and that they aren’t, is the point I’m trying to make. That is not “telling [you] how to read the Bible.”

    If the Christians are right, then the Bible is the communication of an infinite mind to finite, fallible minds, so *of necessity*, teasing out the complete and full meaning of the Bible is an impossible task. But the fact that we cannot understand it fully does not entail that we cannot understand anything of it, as attested by the fact that every Christian is in agreement about certain core points. And as a warning, I would advise against pursuing this muddle-headed objection because I can pull out examples from science itself that refute it.

    Under your worldview there are *NO* sociopaths in any objective sense, because there is no objective standard of judgment.

    Nonsense. If subjective perceptions follow a pattern, those lying outside that pattern can be considered abnormal. How can you not see this?

    Yes, if “normal” is defined as “falling within a certain pattern” and “abnormal” those that are out of it, then sociopaths are abnormal. But why is being abnormal as you defined it is morally wrong as an objective matter of fact? Once again you show that you simply do not understand what the problem is. Google for the is-ought problem.

  124. Victoria says:

    @Fleegman

    My whole point is that there isn’t an objectively correct way to read the Bible. If there were, everyone would be doing it the same way, and interpreting everything in it the same way. That fact that they’re not, and that they aren’t, is the point I’m trying to make. That is not “telling [you] how to read the Bible.”

    If the Christians are right, then the Bible is the communication of an infinite mind to finite, fallible minds, so *of necessity*, teasing out the complete and full meaning of the Bible is an impossible task. But the fact that we cannot understand it fully does not entail that we cannot understand anything of it, as attested by the fact that every Christian is in agreement about certain core points. And as a warning, I would advise against pursuing this muddle-headed objection because I can pull out examples from science itself that refute it.

    What my brother G. Rodrigues said here is exactly right, and I’ll just add my own take on it.

    There is in principle an objective way to read and understand the Bible, as with any book – it is called authorial intent – what did the original authors mean, and how would the original readers have understood it?
    Now, in practice, this is going to be a challenge and we won’t be able to do it perfectly, as G. Rodrigues said.
    We are centuries removed from the original authors, with a different culture, informed by centuries of systematic scientific discovery and engineering skill. Our ways of doing things are different from theirs.
    So, in order to understand what the Bible says, we have to read it like an Israelite in Moses’ or David’s time would have, or how a citizen of the 1st century AD Roman empire would have read Paul’s letters or the Gospel accounts.
    To do that, we need to apply Hebrew and Greek linguistics and idioms for the appropriate time periods; we need to know history and archaeology; we need to know the literary standards and styles used by the authors. Centuries of scholarship have provided the resources for us, so that we don’t have to be professional scholars; but we can and should be informed readers.

    Secondly, you should be aware that readers of the Bible do bring their own presuppostions and worldviews along. However, one cannot impose one’s own presuppositions on the Bible and expect to understand it, especially if those presuppositions are in conflict with the Bible’s own context and worldview. An atheist reading the Bible will come away with a completely different idea of what it means than a Spirit-filled Christian would. In fact, that’s why we find the New Atheist’s caricatures of the Bible both so childish and infuriating – they get it so hopelessly wrong.
    Even within Christendom, there are those who do not believe the core Christian truths (as per the Apostle’s Creed or the Nicene Creed, for example) or that the Bible is God’s revelation to us – they interpret it rather differently than than those of us who affirm these core truths do – the result is what they used to call heresy. That’s why the Christian Church developed the Creeds – to capture the essential truths and state them unequivocally.

    As I said before, God’s revelation is not exhaustive, so it doesn’t provide the answer to every question we might ask. Some variations of interpretation come from human interpolations of what we think the answers might be.

    Some interpretative differences arise because many truths in Scripture are presented as balanced pairs, or perhaps paradoxes; emphasizing one at the expense of the other can lead to problems. Sometimes there are no further details provided to us, so we can’t do much more than accept the paradox and live without a more satisfying explanation.

    Jesus is presented to us a both human and Deity – there are two portraits of Him in Scripture – it was the conclusion of the early Christians that He is fully both – it would be heretical to deny one or the other.

    Some differences are mere difference in practice – do we celebrate the Lord’s Supper every week, every other week, once a month? Not at all the same issue as not celebrating it all because ‘we don’t believe it’.

    It is the teaching ministry of the Holy Spirit within the heart and mind and soul of the genuine Christian that guides our thinking, illuminates the written word, points us to the Living Word (who is Christ Jesus our King and God and Saviour), and shows us how to apply what we have learned, to obey the truths that He has shown us.
    Reading the Bible is not just about facts and figures – it is all about a transformation of the heart and soul, making the Christian more like Christ; it is all about service in the Kingdom of God. You will never understand the Bible unless you are prepared to believe it, obey it, let it change you and act on what it tells you.

    This is why we see so many people who have shipwrecked their faith – no anchor, no rudder, and no sails.

  125. Fleegman says:

    @G.Rodrigues

    …but what counts as evidence is precisely one of the issues of contention in the first place.

    Yes, that’s why I brought it up in my last comment.

    Well, yes you can demand evidence for other people’s claims, but you can hardly complain if they point out your double standard.

    It’s ridiculous because the claims I’m making are the type of claims for which you believe science can’t provide an answer. So you can now make any claims without the need to provide evidence for anything because according to you, I’m not allowed to ask for it.

    Why call it a double standard, and then go on to quote the bit where I am, in fact, explaining why I don’t believe it’s a double standard. I wouldn’t be arguing about it otherwise. 

    No, I never said or even implied that. As far as I am aware, all my claims have been backed up by evidence, evidence in the form of arguments.

    And I backing up my claims with arguments. You might not find them persuasive arguments, but they’re still evidence, as shoddy as you think that evidence is.

    I have juxtaposed these three quotes because they show that you simply do not understand what the problem is.

    Perhaps if you were clearer…

    In the first quote you speak about “opinions”, but opinions can never ground an objective morality. 

    I never claimed that they could. Read it again, please.  

    In the second quote you speak about deterrence, but that is not the issue, the issue is why is the sociopath *morally wrong* in the first place?

    I was just trying to answer your question. You asked what was to stop a sociopath from killing, or whatever. You didn’t ask what made a sociopath “morally wrong.” Don’t blame me for trying to answer the things you actually ask.

    In the third quote you equivocate between providing rational justification for an objective morality with convincing a sociopath to stop his abhorrent behavior.

    No. I’m attempting to ascertain what relevance it has to whether or not there is an objective morality, and you then went on to ignore my questions that might clarify the matter. Oh well…

    But the fact that we cannot understand it fully does not entail that we cannot understand anything of it, as attested by the fact that every Christian is in agreement about certain core points.

    If by that you mean “everyone you consider a true Christian,” then that’s a bit of a tautology, so I suppose I must concede this point, at least.

     

    And as a warning, I would advise against pursuing this muddle-headed objection because I can pull out examples from science itself that refute it.

    SCIENCE ITSEEEEEEEELLLLLF! – scary stuff.

    In all seriousness, though, for the sake of our free time, let’s leave that discussion for another time. 

    Yes, if “normal” is defined as “falling within a certain pattern” and “abnormal” those that are out of it, then sociopaths are abnormal. But why is being abnormal as you defined it is morally wrong as an objective matter of fact? Once again you show that you simply do not understand what the problem is.

    And once again you fail to explain why objective morality is so important. Since it’s such a core part of your argument, I’m surprised you haven’t done this. I’ll give you a word of warning, too: “Without objective morality, there would be no reason for people not to go around torturing, raping, and killing people!” is not an argument. If you can’t explain your assertions, don’t bother making them.

  126. Victoria says:

    and no compass either!

  127. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Fleegman:

    And once again you fail to explain why objective morality is so important. Since it’s such a core part of your argument, I’m surprised you haven’t done this.

    Actually I explained it many many times. Whether it is your obtuseness or my utter inability to explain, I do not know, anyway here it goes for the last time: if morality is not objective, then there is no objective standard by which to judge human actions as wrong or right. The sociopath category may be a biological category but it is *not* a moral category, so there is no objective reason why a sociopath’s actions (rape, torture, murder, etc.) are wrong in any objective sense. Period. All you can do is appeal to a sort of utilitarian calculus, where you scratch my back if I scratch yours, but which ultimately devolves into a mere power struggle. As Sault put it so aptly, if you are not in, you are out. If there is no objective standard, but only the preferences of the individual wills, social or evolutionary reasons or even a utilitarian calculus *cannot* provide a binding ought on human action. Period. Do you cry “Injustice!” whenever you are robbed, punched, demeaned or subject to any sort of unfair treatment? Sorry, but that language is not available to you. “Injustice”, “unfair” and similar words only make sense in a universe where morality is an objective matter of fact and not the end-product of a would-be social consensus. You have not suffered any injustice; you are not a victim. You were just the target of some action that you personally dislike, that is all. Your earlier claims that Christianity has suppressed knowledge and that that is somehow a bad thing? Sorry, mere subjective opinion. Your earlier asking for some example of a positive contribution of Religion? Sorry, no can do, as “positive” is a moral judgment and thus it is a purely subjective preference of yours. Do you complain about “the horrendously misogynistic aspects of the Bible”? Sorry, you are simply stating a personal, subjective opinion (*). The Israelites just happened to have a different opinion than your own, that is all. Moral progress? There is and there was none, because to speak of “progress” one must have an objective standard of comparison which if morality is just a subjective matter, one does not. I could go on and on, but I hope that by this time you get the gist of the problem.

    (*) Not that I grant the truth of your claim; just accepting it for the sake of making my point.

  128. Fleegman says:

    @G.Rodrigues

    Whether it is your obtuseness or my utter inability to explain, I do not know, anyway here it goes for the last time

    Well, I certainly can be obtuse, although I would argue that at least part of it is that you persist in debating against a position I do not hold. I appreciate you taking the time to hash it out once again, just so we’re clear.

    if morality is not objective, then there is no objective standard by which to judge human actions as wrong or right.

    As far as the universe is concerned (it’s not), I would have to agree.

    The sociopath category may be a biological category but it is *not* a moral category, so there is no objective reason why a sociopath’s actions (rape, torture, murder, etc.) are wrong in any objective sense. Period.

    Again, as far as the universe is concerned, I have already conceded this point on numerous occasions. 

    All you can do is appeal to a sort of utilitarian calculus, where you scratch my back if I scratch yours, but which ultimately devolves into a mere power struggle.

    Ok, you’re starting to go off road a bit. You turn consensus into power struggle? You’re trying to assert that the consensus would devolve into a battle between those that don’t think torture, rape, and murder, are just fine, and this who do? Where are the swaths of people who think torture, rape, and murder are just fine, or things that are ok to do to each other?

    As Sault put it so aptly, if you are not in, you are out. If there is no objective standard, but only the preferences of the individual wills, social or evolutionary reasons or even a utilitarian calculus *cannot* provide a binding ought on human action. Period.

    I never claimed they could. If you set fire to all these straw men you’re arguing against, I think you could see it from space.

    you cry “Injustice!” whenever you are robbed, punched, demeaned or subject to any sort of unfair treatment? Sorry, but that language is not available to you.

    My consensus on subjective morality begs to differ.

      “Injustice”, “unfair” and similar words only make sense in a universe where morality is an objective matter of fact and not the end-product of a would-be social consensus. 

    See above…

    You have not suffered any injustice; you are not a victim. You were just the target of some action that you personally dislike, that is all. 

    All claims from the baseless foundation you cling to that demands an objective morality in order to determine if something is right or wrong. 

    The rest of your post collapses under it’s own weight of misrepresentation of the position I hold, so it’s not worth addressing directly. You maintain that I can’t have any sense of right from wrong, because I don’t claim to have access to an objective morality. That’s just silly. 

    I could go on and on, but I hope that by this time you get the gist of the problem.

    Yes, and the gist of the problem is that you don’t know what you’re talking about.

    [re: misogyny in the Bible] Not that I grant the truth of your claim; just accepting it for the sake of making my point.

    If you want to go down that route, we can go down that route. 

  129. Victoria says:

    @Fleegman
    Remember that book I mentioned by Wiseman?
    You can get it on Amazon, but I happened to come across a web link where someone scanned the text in (guess they can do that because it’s out of print).
    http://www.angelfire.com/mo/launchingpad/

  130. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Fleegman:

    I am tired and I have little patience left. So I will try to make this short and spare us both any more grievances.

    I should first note that I do not understand what the expression “As far as the universe is concerned” is supposed to convey or even mean in this context. You use it in a couple of responses and I suspect that there is another misunderstanding here at work, either from one or from both of us.

    You turn consensus into power struggle? You’re trying to assert that the consensus would devolve into a battle between those that don’t think torture, rape, and murder, are just fine, and this who do? Where are the swaths of people who think torture, rape, and murder are just fine, or things that are ok to do to each other?

    Replace murder by abortion. Well abortion *is* murder, so there you have it.

    My consensus on subjective morality begs to differ.

    Wow, Sherlock, how perceptive of you. So your private subjective opinion is that some actions you happen to dislike are “unfair”. Tell me, why should I, the sociopath or anyone else care about your personal likes and dislikes?

    All claims from the baseless foundation you cling to that demands an objective morality in order to determine if something is right or wrong.

    If the Nazis had won WWII (and Nazi society was a secular one) and they managed to convince, brainwash or kill everyone that disagreed with them, we would end up with a society in which sticking Jews in gas chambers is right, while failing to denounce said Jews to the authorities is wrong — well strictly speaking, in such a scenario there would be no more Jews left, but I am sure you get the point. Now besides holding that actions are, or should be, evaluated right or wrong by a (secular) consensus, you also concede that:

    (1) There is no objective standard by which to judge human actions as wrong or right.

    Now given the proposed scenario mentioned above, your failure to understand the argument, and point (1), I am sure you can mount a rational argument to present to the Nazi that he is wrong. If you are not interested in arguing with Nazis that they are wrong, and instead say that they should all be thrown in jail or shot dead you will be proving my point that if morality is subjective, achieving consensus is another name for a power struggle. I am sure you can also see that appealing to a utilitarian calculus to a Nazi against persecuting Jews in the proposed scenario is completely useless. Appealing to a secular consensus is also a no-go, because on the proposed scenario there *is* a consensus and it ain’t pretty. Hey, get creative. I am just asking for a rational argument, consistent with your views on morality.

    You should also explain, if morality is a matter of subjective opinion, a personal like and dislike, on what grounds you criticize Nazis (assuming you do criticize them) or those horrible mysoginistic Israelites (which you did criticize). They just happen to have different likes and dislikes than you, so why all the indignation at what are just personal preferences? I mean, you can get as outraged as you want, but why does your outrage matter a single iota? Are you denying the right of those ancient Israelites of having their own personal subjective moral views? That cannot be, because you would once again reduce moral discussions to a power struggle where the out-group that does not agree with you is demoted and made into a scapegoat victim.

    note: apologies for my failure at making this post short.

  131. Doug says:

    @Fleegman,

    You maintain that I can’t have any sense of right from wrong, because I don’t claim to have access to an objective morality.

    Actually, the claim was different (but don’t feel bad, even folk as clever as Christopher Hitchens never seemed capable of understanding the distinction):
    the actual claim is not that you cannot have a sense of right and wrong; rather, the claim is that you cannot justify your sense of right and wrong. I.e., without objective morality, there is no warrant or grounding for any subjective morality. It. Just. Doesn’t. Matter.

  132. SteveK says:

    Fleegman,

    Where are the swaths of people who think torture, rape, and murder are just fine, or things that are ok to do to each other?

    Morality is not decided by counting noses. One murderer who thinks it’s perfectly fine to murder in order to get something out of it – that is the only example we need.

    You may dislike what the murderer did. The murderer may be a statistical oddball compared to the rest of humanity. In a reality where moral evil is synonymous with opinions and preferences, moral evil means “I really don’t like that”.

    In that reality the murderer is not immoral nor evil. The murderer is disliked by you because she is different than you.

    In that reality, murder is like anchovy pizza. A few like it and so they murder, but most hate it so they don’t. You wouldn’t think of putting an anchovy-eating customer in jail because they liked to enjoy anchovy pizza, but for some reason you want to put murderers in jail because they like to enjoy murdering.

  133. Fleegman says:

    @G. Rodrigues

    I should first note that I do not understand what the expression “As far as the universe is concerned” is supposed to convey or even mean in this context.

    Well, presumably, you think there exists an objective morality even in a universe in which there were no people.

    Replace murder by abortion. Well abortion *is* murder, so there you have it.

    Since I have no intention of opening that can of worms, let me ask you something: Do you think it’s morally right to kill someone if they’re going to kill your family? I realise that some people don’t think that, but if you do, how do you decide the point at which this action becomes moral? 

    Is it moral to kill if God commands it?

    Wow, Sherlock, how perceptive of you. So your private subjective opinion is that some actions you happen to dislike are “unfair”. Tell me, why should I, the sociopath or anyone else care about your personal likes and dislikes?

    The above quoted paragraph of yours is a testament to the fact that you persist — for whatever reason — to misrepresent my position. Over and over again. I never said he should care, which is why we have laws to prevent it. Those laws, once again, are a product of a consensus of subjective morality. 

    I’ll be right back after you Godwin the conversation. 

    If the Nazis had won WWII (and Nazi society was a secular one)

    Was it the “Gott Mit Uns” motto that clued you in, inspector? Or was it perhaps Hitler’s opinion on secular schooling: “Secular schools can never be tolerated because such schools have no religious instruction, and a general moral instruction without a religious foundation is built on air.” 

    Yep, that must have been it. 

    Now besides holding that actions are, or should be, evaluated right or wrong by a (secular) consensus, you also concede that:

    (1) There is no objective standard by which to judge human actions as wrong or right.

    Let’s talk about that universe with no people in it, again. With no people in the universe, does it make sense to say there is an objective morality? I certainly don’t think so, and I never said it did make sense to say that. That might be your position but it is not mine.

    I am sure you can also see that appealing to a utilitarian calculus to a Nazi against persecuting Jews in the proposed scenario is completely useless.

    Since the nazis weren’t basing their persecution of the Jews on anything like secular subjective morality, it is entirely irrelevant.  

    Then you once again equivocate my position with “just personal opinion”, thrashing out at a point of view I do not hold

  134. Fleegman says:

    @Doug

    Actually, the claim was different (but don’t feel bad, even folk as clever as Christopher Hitchens never seemed capable of understanding the distinction):

    Then I am in good company. Have you considered the possibility that you might not understand it?

     I.e., without objective morality, there is no warrant or grounding for any subjective morality. It. Just. Doesn’t. Matter.

    Nonsense. Doesn’t matter to whom? 

    Do you think that the Muslem’s sense of morals matches precisely with yours? If not, you no doubt think they’re wrong about it. And you’ve convinced yourself that you can reasonably say that your understanding of what you consider objective morality, is better than their understanding of objective morality. And yet that is just your opinion. Which is less useful than the consensus of subjective morality that I’m talking about because regardless of what people believe no one likes being raped tortured or killed. 

  135. Fleegman says:

    @SteveK

    You may dislike what the murderer did. The murderer may be a statistical oddball compared to the rest of humanity. In a reality where moral evil is synonymous with opinions and preferences, moral evil means “I really don’t like that”.

    Is this “Bring your Straw man to work,” day, or something? 

    In that reality the murderer is not immoral nor evil. The murderer is disliked by you because she is different than you.

    No. A consensus of subjective morality decides that what she’s doing is immoral. 

    In that reality, murder is like anchovy pizza. A few like it and so they murder, but most hate it so they don’t. You wouldn’t think of putting an anchovy-eating customer in jail because they liked to enjoy anchovy pizza, but for some reason you want to put murderers in jail because they like to enjoy murdering.

    That is not even close to being analogous from my “subjective morality” worldview, but I think it explains why people keep arguing agains the same, incorrect, position that I do not hold. Well, it explains a lot if the rest of you think that’s at all analogous, given that you think my position is one of personal opinion. 

    Let’s look at the anchovy pizza “analogy” you provide, here. In one hand we have murder, and in the other hand, we have enjoys eating anchovy pizzas. Can anyone spot the glaring difference between these two scenarios? A clue is that is has to do with the rights of other people.

    At what point did I say anything about any kind of morality that arbitrarily decided things were bad because we don’t like them? It’s the very presence of other human beings that makes it possible to perform an immoral act. When I invoked the Golden Rule based on a consensus of subjective experience, where did I say anything about the morality, or immorality, of doing things like eating pizzas?

  136. Doug says:

    @Fleegman,
    Still totally missing the point.
    Since you were clearly offended by my attempts at contextualization, let me reiterate without them — please appreciate that this is an exercise in logic and not an exercise in morality:

    the actual claim is not that you cannot have a sense of right and wrong; rather, the claim is that you cannot justify your sense of right and wrong.

  137. Fleegman says:

    Hi Victoria,

    Thank you for taking the time to give me such an informed opinion on how the Bible fits into your believe system. Perhaps I can ask a couple of questions, in regards to what you said, without going into any detail of any specific objections I might have to its contents. 

    You said that believing in it is a prerequisite for understanding it. How then, does the Bible form the foundation of your faith? And why can’t the same justification be made for a true understanding of other religious holy texts? 

    These are genuine questions, and I’m absolutely not trying to offend you by asking them.

  138. Melissa says:

    Fleegman,

    I didn’t think the arguments could get any worse … I was wrong.

    Let’s talk about that universe with no people in it, again. With no people in the universe, does it make sense to say there is an objective morality?

    Good and bad would still exist just not in the moral sense, but then again, with no people there would also be no human legs, arms or heads. What’s your point?

    At what point did I say anything about any kind of morality that arbitrarily decided things were bad because we don’t like them?

    Right here:

    Which is less useful than the consensus of subjective morality that I’m talking about because regardless of what people believe no one likes being raped tortured or killed.

    But seriously, part of the problem is that you haven’t shown what else there is to base your moral opinions on, if not your feelings of distaste for certain acts or your desire to avoid being the victim of the sociopath. Invoking the agreement of the majority does not help your case because that just becomes a case of might makes right.

    A clue is that is has to do with the rights of other people.

    Provide an argument that human rights exist and then we can talk.

  139. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Fleegman:

    Well, presumably, you think there exists an objective morality even in a universe in which there were no people.

    Moral actions concern the actions of rational agents. In a universe without such agents it is meaningless to talk about morality.

    In such a universe, there is still an objective sense to be made of good and evil, but this is not *moral* good and evil.

    Do you think it’s morally right to kill someone if they’re going to kill your family? I realise that some people don’t think that, but if you do, how do you decide the point at which this action becomes moral?

    If you mean self-defense, yes on the first question (with some qualifications depending on the specific situation). As for the second, probably what you want to ask is why killing can be morally right? Go read a book. I can offer some suggestions if you want me to.

    Is it moral to kill if God commands it?

    Sorry I am not going down your rabbit holes if you do not even have the decency to respond to my challenges.

    Was it the “Gott Mit Uns” motto that clued you in, inspector?

    Oh brother, now we have to deal with rank historical ignorance…

    Let me make this short. So are you saying that the Nazi society was not a secular one? So what was it, a theocracy?

    Since the nazis weren’t basing their persecution of the Jews on anything like secular subjective morality, it is entirely irrelevant.

    So tell me, what they were basing it on? Let me guess, on their extensive exegesis of the old testament?

    And in case you have not realized, you have just conceded my point — but you just cannot see it, can you? Oh well, I did try.

    Then you once again equivocate my position with “just personal opinion”, thrashing out at a point of view I do not hold.

    I am not equivocating anything; if you cannot understand simple arguments the fault is either yours, mine or of both of us. Since I do not really care about placing blame, I will leave the issue undecided.

    If morality is subjective, the fact that you think that action X (say, rape) is wrong is just a personal opinion. Period. Does a whole bunch of people agree with you? Sure. Does the fact that a whole bunch of people agree with you amounts to anything? No. A collection of personal opinions is nothing but a personal opinion that happens to be shared by a collection of people. Just that. You think being in the majority gives you the right (heh, we just cannot avoid the lexic of objective morals without falling into incoherent rambling, can we?) to impose your subjective likes and dislikes? Then you subscribe to might makes it right.

  140. Victoria says:

    @Fleegman (#139)
    Oh, those are really good questions :) As I was getting ready for work this morning, I realized that the answers were going to be deep or profound (I don’t remember off the top of my head which one of our famous physicists classified physics into trivial, profound and deep – sounds like Feynmann, perhaps).

    I think you really have multiple questions there, so perhaps we should address them one at a time.

    0. What is faith, and what is the Biblical concept of faith?
    1. Believing as a prerequiste for understanding [the Bible – both the Old and New Testaments]. I think there are auxillary questions here – what do we (Christians) mean by understanding the Bible, and what is the real purpose of having God’s written revelation?

    2. How is the Bible foundational for faith?
    3. Does (1) apply to other religious texts, and if so, how?

    I hope you don’t mind if I elicit support and contributions from my brothers and sisters here, or that I may refer you to the work of Christian scholarship on these questions.

    @Tom – sounds like enough material for its own thread – what do you think?

    I’m at the office now, and I doubt that I will have time to spare to even begin to answer these questions today to the depth that they deserve.

  141. SteveK says:

    I am sorry, Fleegman, but you don’t understand the logic of the argument being made.

  142. Fleegman says:

    @Melissa

    I didn’t think the arguments could get any worse … I was wrong.

    Believe me, I know how you feel. 

    [Re:universe without people in it] Good and bad would still exist just not in the moral sense

    So in what sense would good and bad exist?

    But then again, with no people there would also be no human legs, arms or heads. What’s your point?

    Ok…? What’s your point? No arms? What?

     

    At what point did I say anything about any kind of morality that arbitrarily decided things were bad because we don’t like them?

    Right here:

    Which is less useful than the consensus of subjective morality that I’m talking about because regardless of what people believe no one likes being raped tortured or killed.

    It’s poorly phrased, so I can understand why it confused you, Melissa. I’m trying to say that I’m not supporting the position that what’s moral or immoral on an arbitrary basis. You, and the rest of the gang, seem to think that is what I’m saying. You seem to think I’m advocating a world view where we wake up one morning and decide rape is good, and therefore it’s suddenly moral. This has it completely backwards.

    For the benefit of everyone, I’m going to break it down into small pieces, and hopefully you will stop arguing against the wrong thing. It’s really very simple:

    1) There are things that other people can do to us that we don’t like. For example: torture.
    2) The subjective morality I’m talking about takes the view that if we don’t like other people doing a certain thing to us, it is immoral to do it to them.

    Notice that this position has nothing at all to do with what we like doing. Basing a morality on this will not result in raping being ok, or torture being just fine, in some kind of “might makes right” battle, because it’s not about what the majority wants. It’s about what the majority agree they don’t want happening to them.

    The persecution of the Jews during WWII was not the result of a group of people basing a system of morality on this principle. 

    Does anyone think this would result in some group taking over insisting that torture was just fine? Based on what? That the members of this group like being tortured? 

    Provide an argument that human rights exist and then we can talk

    I see. So according to you, someone eating a pizza you don’t like is analogous to murder. Thanks for clearing that up.

    @G. Rodrigues

    In a universe without such agents it is meaningless to talk about morality.

    Well, we agree on something, at least.

    In such a universe, there is still an objective sense to be made of good and evil, but this is not *moral* good and evil.

    Do you mean, as a Christian, or do you mean good and evil in some other sense?

    Is it moral to kill if God commands it?

    Sorry I am not going down your rabbit holes if you do not even have the decency to respond to my challenges.

    You make it sound like I’m not responding to anything to say. Time limitations mean I can’t respond to everything since I’m responding to about four people. You’ve frustratingly left a lot off questions I’ve asked unanswered, but I like how you pull that excuse out of the hat when the questions get a bit uncomfortable for you. 

    Was it the “Gott Mit Uns” motto that clued you in, inspector?

    Oh brother, now we have to deal with rank historical ignorance…

    You read my mind. 

    So tell me, what they were basing it on? Let me guess, on their extensive exegesis of the old testament?

    Show me they were using anything like the subjective morality I’ve been talking about, and “then we’ll talk,” as Melissa likes to say.

    And now… Once again, you beat on the piñata of a position I don’t hold. 

    I’ll mention the bit where you betray this:

    You think being in the majority gives you the right (heh, we just cannot avoid the lexic of objective morals without falling into incoherent rambling, can we?) to impose your subjective likes and dislikes? Then you subscribe to might makes it right.

    I’m not talking about what you like. I’m talking about a subjective morality based on what people don’t want to happen to them.

    It’s not about not liking anchovy pizza. It’s not about wanting to kill the Jews. It’s not about thinking it’s ok to rape, torture, and murder people.

    Don’t worry, I’m sure I’ll be explaining it to you in my next post, in case you didn’t get this time round. 

  143. Doug says:

    @Fleegman,
    Every time I feel tempted to respond to what (I think) you are writing, I encounter something like this:

    Provide an argument that human rights exist and then we can talk

    I see. So according to you, someone eating a pizza you don’t like is analogous to murder. Thanks for clearing that up.

    And the “HUH?”-meter overloads. Sorry, bro’ — it really is hard to follow you sometimes!

  144. Melissa says:

    Fleegman,

    So in what sense would good and bad exist?

    A particular thing can be judged good or bad by reference to it’s essence.

    Ok…? What’s your point? No arms? What?

    Well if your point was that, to be objective morality should exist in a universe without humans, I was just giving you some examples of objective things that would also not exist in a universe without people.

    For the benefit of everyone, I’m going to break it down into small pieces, and hopefully you will stop arguing against the wrong thing. It’s really very simple:

    1) There are things that other people can do to us that we don’t like. For example: torture.
    2) The subjective morality I’m talking about takes the view that if we don’t like other people doing a certain thing to us, it is immoral to do it to them.

    Thank-you for explaining your view, but it does not escape the difficulties we have been raising.

    The persecution of the Jews during WWII was not the result of a group of people basing a system of morality on this principle.

    No one claimed it was. Our point is that you cannot apply the criteria of true of false, better or worse to either principle as a basis for morality. Therefore morality is determined by whoever is able to enforce their opinion by whatever means works best.

    Your principle also contains a convenient loophole that is ruthlessly exploited by the powerful – “we” also decide who counts as a person.

  145. Fleegman says:

    @Doug

    Heh, well considering that people here seem to use the tactic of arguing against things I’m not saying, I figured I’d follow suit for a laugh.

    In my defence, I didn’t bring up the whole “not liking anchovy pizza” being equivalent to “murder,” in the first place. I was being accused of arguing that position. That was a bit of a “huh?” moment for me, too.

  146. Doug says:

    @Fleegman,
    “Talking past each other” is, unfortunately, the rule rather than the exception of combox “conversations”. In my experience, the only way to avoid the trap is to go slow, and only talk to one person at a time. Your mileage may vary. :-)

  147. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Fleegman:

    In such a universe, there is still an objective sense to be made of good and evil, but this is not *moral* good and evil.

    Do you mean, as a Christian, or do you mean good and evil in some other sense?

    I do not understand your question, as in your proposed scenario there are no people, so what do you mean by “as a Christian”?

    You’ve frustratingly left a lot off questions I’ve asked unanswered, but I like how you pull that excuse out of the hat when the questions get a bit uncomfortable for you.

    The only thing uncomfortable in this thread is to have had to suffer so much foolishness from you (hint: if you do not like snarky responses, do not shoot the first salvo).

    Show me they were using anything like the subjective morality I’ve been talking about, and “then we’ll talk,” as Melissa likes to say.

    I have asked you two questions to make progress on making my point: if the Nazi society was not a secular society then what was it, and on what basis they justified their morality. You do not want to answer the questions, fine, suit yourself.

    And you still do not get it.

    On to your proposal.

    1) There are things that other people can do to us that we don’t like. For example: torture.

    2) The subjective morality I’m talking about takes the view that if we don’t like other people doing a certain thing to us, it is immoral to do it to them.

    Besides what Melissa said, a couple of points.

    1. You need to shore up your principle, since it only encompasses the moral blameworthy actions, but it is silent on inaction or on praiseworthy actions. But this is understandable, given how much you complained and whined about being misunderstood it sure took you a lot of time to come up with a first version of a moral view.

    2. You complained again and again that we have misunderstood your moral views, but your more articulate version is proof proven that we have not. It has always been perfectly clear that you espoused something very close to 1) and 2) put together. What you formulated is a negative version of the Golden rule and in my post #120, I explicitly asked if that is what you were going to invoke. Well, it seems my prediction was correct.

    3. You constantly railed at me for reducing your view of morality to likes and dislikes. How do you formulate your morals? In terms of likes and dislikes.

    4. You seem to think that by attaching the “immoral” label to a set of actions, lo and behold, they become immoral and this somehow carries any weight or binding normativity — but this latter sense of immoral is the old one, the one you have forfeited to use. But then I can hardly blame a nominalist peddling a subjective morality for trying to pull this stunt. But what this entails is that if I replace “immoral” by “fnarglist” than a person who does to others what he himself does not like is a fnarglist. A momentous consequence, I will grant you, but so what? I suspect you will fail utterly to understand my point, so tell me, why should anyone adhere to your personal, subjective definition of immoral actions? Why should anyone that dislikes X, but can X to others and avoid X to himself, tow to your own personal, subjective definition of immoral actions?

    5. As Melissa pointed out there is another loophole in your moral view: who counts as a person. And that is one of the reasons (besides what Melissa mentioned) why the Nazi example is instructive. All of them would, without great inconsistency, subscribe to what you defend. It just so happens that the Jews were not part of the moral community, ergo, they had no saying in the matter.

    I think you mentioned earlier that you are a man of physics. Discussing moral philosophy with you is like trying to explain what a Lagrangian is to someone who does not even know what a derivative is.

  148. SteveK says:

    You constantly railed at me for reducing your view of morality to likes and dislikes. How do you formulate your morals? In terms of likes and dislikes.

    Fleegman, by your own words, what G. Rodrigues said here is true. You may not like my pizza analogy, and I admit it’s not a complete parallel to what you are trying to describe (no analogy is), but both my analogy and your own moral system boils down to what you like or dislike.

    Yes, your likes and dislikes do not change arbitrarily or wildly (I never said they did), but that is beside the point that we were correct in saying your entire moral system is founded upon subjective likes/dislikes – and I would also add, feelings. I say that because what is liked one day CAN be disliked the next because your don’t feel in the mood for it for one reason or another.

    But I think your system is full of holes, or incomplete. For example, some people like to have others inflicted pain upon their bodies. Your moral system says it is perfectly amoral (not immoral) for them to inflict that same pain on others because you like it. Would you agree? If no, then it seems you’ll have to explain.

  149. G. Rodrigues says:

    @SteveK:

    For example, some people like to have others inflicted pain upon their bodies.

    Dialogue between a sadist and a masochist.

    Masochist (supplicant eyes): whip me, whip me.

    Sadist (malevolent eyes): I won’t, I won’t.

  150. Fleegman says:

    @SteveK

    You may not like my pizza analogy, and I admit it’s not a complete parallel to what you are trying to describe (no analogy is), but both my analogy and your own moral system boils down to what you like or dislike.

    Not a complete parallel? Regardless of how you’re interpreting what I’m saying, eating a pizza is a personal experience involving no one else. If someone were shoving an anchovy pizza done another person’s throat, then your analogy would be something that could be considered at all parallel. Once again, though, it’s about dislikes, not likes.

    But I think your system is full of holes, or incomplete.

    No doubt. I am, however, only describing the basis for a system of subjective morality. 

    For example, some people like to have others inflicted pain upon their bodies.

    Yes they do, but would you call that torture? They are asking the other person to do specific painful things to their body in a controlled way. The reason that people who enjoy that kind of thing have a safety word, is so they can stop it at any time. If the other person didn’t stop when they asked them to, that’s when it would become torture and against their will. 

  151. Fleegman says:

    @G.Rodrigues

    The only thing uncomfortable in this thread is to have had to suffer so much foolishness from you (hint: if you do not like snarky responses, do not shoot the first salvo).

    Since you brought it up, I’ll digress briefly and address this. 

    If you go back and read this thread from the start, you will witness me taking the brunt of countless snarky responses. Tom even wrote a post apologising for his personal level of snark. It’s only recently that I’ve come to realise that, apparently, in order to make any kind of point in the comments, here, you should do it like this:

    1) Make a snarky intro to put the commenter in his/her place, just so they don’t get too big for their boots thinking they might have actually put something interesting, or thoughtful on the page in response to what someone else has written. 

    2) The meat of the comment. This can often include something really worth reading and paying attention to.

    3) End with a parting shot aimed at making the person your directing your comments at feel stupid, or whatever. “I predict more idiocy from you,” is a good place to start, but you can be as elaborate as you like.

    It’s one of the things I don’t particularly like about the commenting on some atheistic blogs, even though I agree more often than not with what’s being said, or argued. It’s just my opinion that constantly insulting your opponent puts them into the frame of mind where they don’t want to agree or even engage with you, even if you’re making points that they might agree with, under differ circumstances. Waaaaaay up the page, several commenters were expressing a certain amount of exasperation (and, let’s face it, a large dollop of self-righteousness) by asking “what does it take for someone to admit they’re wrong on the internet?” Well, who wants to agree with someone who’s essentially calling them an idiot?

    But hey, that’s just me. I am by no means telling you how you should do things in the comments on this blog — I realise I’m just a guest in this place — so don’t interpret it that way. If you persist in being making jibes at me, then I will make jibes back; I don’t have a problem with that. What I find, however, is that this tends to entrench people into a position where they just turn off and don’t consider what the other side in the debate is saying. Your mileage may vary.

    As for your “(hint: if you do not like snarky responses, do not shoot the first salvo)” comment, you must be joking, and I think the evidence speaks for itself. I don’t know if you’ve made a single comment towards me without it. If instead you mean “even in the face of my relentless snark, you must never be snarky back or I’ll just get more and more insulting, and accuse you of starting it” then, you should have mentioned before that there were different rules for you and me..

    So finally, for what it’s worth, to address your actual comment.

    The only thing uncomfortable in this thread is to have had to suffer so much foolishness from you

    Glad to see you’re following the template and getting in a particularly nasty jibe. Believe it or not, I’m actually putting a lot of thought into what I’m writing. I’m sorry you think it’s all foolishness. 

    What you formulated is a negative version of the Golden rule and in my post #120, I explicitly asked if that is what you were going to invoke. Well, it seems my prediction was correct.

    Since I mentioned the substance of the Golden Rule in a reply to you in post #99 as the basis for what I consider immoral, I think your predictive powers are somewhat unimpressive. Closer to, I don’t know, postdictive, I guess. Well done, have a cookie.

    3. You constantly railed at me for reducing your view of morality to likes and dislikes. How do you formulate your morals? In terms of likes and dislikes.

    I railed at you because I’m not talking about likes. And you still are. 

    Why should anyone that dislikes X, but can X to others and avoid X to himself, tow to your own personal, subjective definition of immoral actions?

    I’ve got quite a bit to say on this, but I don’t think I’ll bother. As you point out, I’ve probably completely failed to see your point, anyway. 

    As Melissa pointed out there is another loophole in your moral view: who counts as a person. 

    This is a really interesting aspect to it all. I don’t think it’s a loophole in the system I’m describing, though, because treating all humans as equals is part of it. Probably should have included that above.  

    I think you mentioned earlier that you are a man of physics. Discussing moral philosophy with you is like trying to explain what a Lagrangian is to someone who does not even know what a derivative is.. 

    And the template is complete; good work.

    Don’t worry, I won’t waste any more of our time. 

  152. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Fleegman:

    Oh you misunderstand me; I have absolutely no problem in trading barbs with the opposition. The parenthetical remark upon which you poured so much comment was just introduced to preempt whining and complaining about snark by a Snarker. But you just could not help it, now even armed with a ready-made mold on which to squeeze me and all. So you got me catalogued and pinned down, congratulations.

    On to more substantive things.

    Is there a dislike without a like? I will leave the question aside as the answer is largely irrelevant anyway.

    What I said:

    How do you formulate your morals? In terms of likes and dislikes.

    In response to SteveK:

    Once again, though, it’s about dislikes, not likes.

    Dislikes, in much the same way as likes, are still just subjective preferences. That is all that matters; your distinction makes no difference and plays absolutely no role in the argument. But as you yourself admit it, you just cannot see it.

  153. Tom Gilson says:

    Fleegman, the point of my apology post was exactly to say that this is not required here:

    1) Make a snarky intro to put the commenter in his/her place, just so they don’t get too big for their boots thinking they might have actually put something interesting, or thoughtful on the page in response to what someone else has written.

    2) The meat of the comment. This can often include something really worth reading and paying attention to.

    3) End with a parting shot aimed at making the person your directing your comments at feel stupid, or whatever. “I predict more idiocy from you,” is a good place to start, but you can be as elaborate as you like.

  154. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Fleegman:

    Even though I said in my previous post that I have no problems in trading barbs with the opposition, in all honesty I also have to ask your apologies for the times when I have crossed the line.

  155. SteveK says:

    Fleegman,

    If the other person didn’t stop when they asked them to, that’s when it would become torture and against their will.

    Why *ought* you or anyone care? That question will lead you to the huge, gaping hole in your moral system. There is no ought in your moral reality and so there really is no morality at all. Why? Because moral terms require prescriptive “oughts”. In your reality there exists only strong, emotional, subjective preferences.

  156. Fleegman says:

    @G.Rodrigues

    I must admit that you have surprised me with your apology, and I gladly accept. I also apologise if I’ve been too snarky at times. 

    I’m not sure it’s worth continuing this discussion, though, since we’re already well beyond the limit of my understanding of moral philosophy. And as far as the is/ought problem that SteveK mentions, here? People who do know what they’re talking about have been debating that for centuries, so I’m not sure what light I would ever be able to shed on it. 

    It’s been an education, though, and I’ve enjoyed it a lot. 

    All the best,

    Fleegman

  157. Victoria says:

    @Fleegman
    Are you going to pop back in at some point?
    I was planning on starting to answer your questions about faith/belief/understanding the Bible, either this evening or on the weekend. I hadn’t forgotten you :) but it is turning into an interesting study project.

  158. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Fleegman:

    I also apologise if I’ve been too snarky at times.

    Think nothing of it, never once did you offend me. But since apologies are sincerely asked, I gladly and willingly give them.

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