What Is “Evidence” To Christians?

“Barefoot Bum” may hold the record for the most casual nom-de-blog of any commenter here on Thinking Christian. Nevertheless he asked some great questions in a comment here not long ago:

I am still quite curious precisely how theists would a) define evidence, b) define how conclusions are drawn from evidence and c) put forth an evidentiary case for the existence of the Christian God and c) put forth an evidentiary case for the non-existence of Allah or Krishna.

I’m going to use these questions to kick off a new series of blog posts, starting (naturally enough) with the first question: how would theists define evidence? I will of course be speaking from the standpoint of Christian theism as I understand it, and not from other versions of theism.

I would define evidence broadly (and simply) as any information that would tend to lead a person toward a conclusion. Evidences are not always proofs—a court will consider circumstantial evidence, and rarely does a case turn on one piece of evidence alone. Evidences may qualify as such even if there is contradictory evidence. If she smiles at you, that’s evidence that she might like you; if she smiles even brighter at another man, that doesn’t mean her first smile wasn’t evidence, it just means that it needs to be interpreted in a broader context. Evidences can be misleading and still be evidences; otherwise the whole genre of mystery fiction would collapse overnight.

Evidences specifically for Christianity would include any information that would tend to lead someone toward any or all of what we might call a packaged set of conclusions, including ideas such as that there is an infinite, personal creator God, that he has spoken through the Bible, that he has personally revealed himself through Jesus Christ, that we humans were created for relationship with him, that we are being called from a state of alienation and rebellion from God, back into relationship with him through Jesus Christ, that Jesus Christ is the king of creation, and so on.

As I think about this I can’t help thinking of what Sam Harris wrote in The End of Faith (p. 23):

“In fact, every religion preaches the truth of propositions for which no evidence is even conceivable.”

He must have been thinking of some different definition for evidence. I find it hard to come up with any charitable interpretation; I think he was thinking of evidence along the lines of “something that a committed atheist like me would accept as proof for God, which of course I know in advance doesn’t exist, so since I can’t conceive of it, it must not be conceivable, even though millions of people throughout history have thought it was.” Actually there are mountains of evidence for Christianity’s claims. As one of the Gang of Four “New Atheists” he doesn’t find it convincing, to say the least, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

I think, though, that Barefoot Bum was looking for something more than just some general definition for evidence. What kinds of information do theists have in mind when we speak of evidences for Christianity? I’ll list some of them in bare outline form. You might view this as a sort of table of contents for future blog entries, in addition to being part of the answer to Barefoot Bum’s question.

  1. The historical, documentary testimony of the Bible
  2. Historiographical and bibliographical indicators that the biblical documents are what they present themselves to be
  3. Prophecies made and fulfilled in history
  4. The existence of the Christian church as an historical movement
  5. Changed lives of Christians
  6. Miracles, signs, wonders, visions, etc., both historical and contemporary
  7. The self-authenticating wisdom of Biblical teaching; its close fit with the realities of human experience
  8. A long list of philosophical evidences
  9. The internal testimony of God in one’s life

Comments 268
  1. Joseph A.

    I’d take issue with something else BB said, though it would likely have me taking an outlier position.

    “put forth an evidentiary case for the non-existence of Allah or Krishna.”

    I don’t think that’s necessary. I think jews, christians, muslims, theistic hindus, possibly buddhists of panentheistic stripes, neoplatonists and more are generally talking about the same God at a certain level. What differs is the accuracy of their views – and just about every single one of them would admit that their views of God are incomplete, even if they made hold firm to certain views as being true.

    Ten people may have wildly different views about Socrates – his appearance, what his intentions were, what his character was, etc. In fact, these differences may be tremendous. But it doesn’t follow that they’re all talking about ten different people. They could be talking about one man – Socrates – known imperfectly. One of them may be more right than the rest, none of them may be perfectly right, but that doesn’t matter.

  2. SteveK

    I look forward to reading this series, Tom.

    I think there is a difference between Evidence and Evidence in favor of X. I haven’t thought to define the terms narrowly, but roughly speaking I would say Evidence is something that gets our attention in some particularly meaningful way, while Evidence in favor of X comes as a result of a reasoned and emotional response to the evidence. Not everything gets our attention in a meaningful way, so not everything is considered evidence. A rock next to a basket of dirty laundry doesn’t strike me as meaningful evidence for anything beyond the facts already stated. Put the two facts in a unique context, like a crime scene, and they might be very meaningful.

    I don’t think we can, or should, dismiss the emotional component entirely. Some hyper-rationalists attempt to do that, and in the course of doing so, they make silly statements and turn reality into something that is unrecognizable to most everyone – including themselves. The intellect should rule over the emotions as a means of keeping them from getting out of control.

    Anyway, those are my initial thoughts. I’d like to hear what others have to say.

  3. Charlie

    Thanks for that link, Holopupenko. Peter Kreeft is excellent and I highly recommend his Fundamentals Of The Faith for Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

  4. The Barefoot Bum

    I would define evidence broadly (and simply) as any information that would tend to lead a person toward a conclusion.

    I assume that by “any information” you do not mean to include false information. If, for example, a report of the miraculous restoration of an amputated limb at Lourdes lead someone to conclude the truth of the Catholic religion, I assume that information would not count as evidence if it were false.

    Thus you’ll have to tell us how you differentiate between true and false information that will lead to a valid or potentially invalid conclusion.

    Second, you need to define “lead to” more precisely. Again, I will assume that you mean “lead to” more narrowly: if observing that the sky is blue (somehow) leads someone to believe the moon is made of green cheese, we intuitively think that such a person has a very different conception of “leading to” than we do.

    Regarding your evidences of Christianity:

    1. The historical, documentary testimony of the Bible

    From a naturalistic perspective, it is definitely the case that the extant texts of the Bible, indeed all extant ancient texts, are evidentiary: I can see these texts and directly verify their content. In other words, I know directly they exist and make certain definite statements. Assessing their veracity, however, determining whether the statements are true, requires drawing conclusions from the evidence of their content, as well from as the superstructure of all the evidence that we have regarding the general physical operation of the world.

    2. Historiographical and bibliographical indicators that the biblical documents are what they present themselves to be

    There’s a stronger statement: “Historiographical and bibliographical indicators that the biblical documents are literal reportage.” Why make the weaker statement?

    3. Prophecies made and fulfilled in history

    To a naturalist, this is not strictly an item of evidence, it is a conclusion that might or might not be validly drawn from the evidence. However, evidentiary arguments can be cumulative under naturalism: If I have evidence supporting some proposition, I can use that proposition as evidence for another.

    I will, of course, mention that naturalists find the conclusion of prophecy to be one that can in principle be supported evidentially (i.e. it is a scientifically meaningful statement), but is not in fact supported by the extant evidence (i.e. it is a false scientific statement).

    4. The existence of the Christian church as an historical movement

    I will easily admit the historical and present existence of the Christian church is an undeniable evidentiary fact.

    5. Changed lives of Christians

    To be more specific, we have reports of some Christians’ changed lives. We must draw conclusions (on a case-by-case basis) on whether those lives have actually been changed. We also have millions of Christians (many commendable, some abhorrent) who do not report that their lives were changed by Christianity, as well as non-Christians and atheists who report changed lives; some whose lives have been changed by abandoning Christianity.

    6. Miracles, signs, wonders, visions, etc., both historical and contemporary

    Here the distinction between reports and actuality becomes more than a mere technicality as in 5. The actual evidence (to the naturalist) consists of reports that allege various actions and observations.

    7. The self-authenticating wisdom of Biblical teaching; its close fit with the realities of human experience

    I don’t know what you mean by self-authenticating. To the naturalist, authentication is an external process. I also don’t know why you mention Biblical teaching rather than the Bible itself.

    And again, a naturalist would find some parts of the Bible (or biblical “teaching”) to be a close fit, and other parts — at least read literally — to be profoundly… er… counter-intuitive and a poor fit with present understanding of human experience.

    8. A long list of philosophical evidences

    I consider myself extremely well-informed regarding apologetic philosophy, at least for someone lacking any academic credentials (one provenance for my sobriquet).

    I don’t know what you mean specifically by philosophical evidences; I do know that philosophical arguments are not typically evaluated in an evidentiary manner. Furthermore, apologetic philosophical arguments all seem fatally flawed.

    9. The internal testimony of God in one’s life

    Much depends on what level one is performing analysis. The evidentiary method does apply to one’s internal, subjective understanding of the world. However, in conversation, the naturalist considers “private” experience to lack evidentiary value: I have to be able to see or experience something for it to have evidentiary value to me; We both have to see or experience something for it to have evidentiary value in conversation.

  5. The Barefoot Bum

    Note: I understand you are making introductory remarks here, more-or-less staking out a position. I intend my commentary as an exhortation to more specificity, not a criticism of vagueness.

  6. The Barefoot Bum

    Also, let me briefly list the evidence that I myself, as a naturalist and skeptic, rely on to conclude the non-existence of any deity, defined to be a personal being who is omniscient, omnipotent and omnibenevolent:

    1. The existence of apparently unnecessary suffering.
    2. The failure of anyone, anywhere, to propound scientific knowledge that can be plausibly explained by nothing except mysterious revelation.
    3. The success of many people to propound scientific knowledge on the basis of observable evidence.
    4. The incompatibility between modern ethical notions and the consistent actions during centuries, if not millennia, of supposedly authoritative religious organizations and institutions.
    5. Errors, inconsistencies, absurdities and atrocities (by ordinary modern standards) in the literal text of various religious scriptures.

  7. Tom Gilson

    @Joseph A.:

    I don’t think that’s necessary. I think jews, christians, muslims, theistic hindus, possibly buddhists of panentheistic stripes, neoplatonists and more are generally talking about the same God at a certain level. What differs is the accuracy of their views – and just about every single one of them would admit that their views of God are incomplete, even if they made hold firm to certain views as being true.

    George W. Bush and Bill Clinton are both human males with four limbs, hair, teeth eyes, and plenty of other physical commonalities. They are both former presidents of the United States. They both have had strong supporters and strong opponents. They’re both married, and have at least one child. Heck, maybe at a certain level they’re the same man.

    That makes as much sense as saying all these religions are speaking of the same God “at a certain level.” Where Christians, Jews, and Muslims speak of an infinite, personal, creator God, Hindus speak of multiple gods. I admit I’ve never heard of “theistic Hindus,” actually. What is it? Neoplatonists’ view of God is not very personal, and for panentheistic Buddhists god (or whatever—the term hardly even applies here) is not at all personal. Only Christians take the Trinity to be true, and only Christians view Jesus Christ as the revelation of God.

    I don’t see how we could all be talking about the same God, even “at a certain level.” That’s not to say that there is absolutely no point of agreement between these various religions, but the differences are so great I don’t think your statement stands.

    BTW, Is there something about mobile computing (or whatever) that makes it hard for people to use the shift key and capitalize proper nouns?

  8. The Barefoot Bum

    @Tom Gilson

    You’re most welcome. Such is my intention.

    @Joseph A.

    I’m in agreement with Tom Gilson: As you get more inclusive, you say less and less; by subsuming all religions as speaking authoritatively about God, you eliminate any specific meaning to the term and end up with reference to a vacuous entity without any particular attributes.

    You might as well include even atheists in that list; once one has eliminated any specific meaning, it’s easy to stretch the definition of “God” to encompass ordinary physical law, and make the controversy between theists and atheists about only the euphony of particular terminology.

    I myself believe there is a genuine, substantive controversy between naturalists, skeptics and atheists on the one hand and theists on the other: we really are saying substantively different things. Likewise, I believe there is a genuine, substantive controversy between theists of different religions, denominations and sects about the actual properties of God.

    Hence my inquiry into whether a definition of evidence can both distinguish between different theistic statements as well as between theists and atheists; an epistemology that can distinguish between the latter but not the former would seem unacceptably weak.

  9. The Barefoot Bum

    @Tom Gilson

    Is there something about mobile computing (or whatever) that makes it hard for people to use the shift key and capitalize proper nouns?

    I’m not sure what you mean here: a proper noun “is arbitrarily used to denote a particular person, place, or thing without regard to any descriptive meaning the word or phrase may have.” The only uncapitalized nouns I can see you might be referring to in Joseph A.’s comment refer to groups (not particular persons) and have descriptive meaning.

    However, it is common usage to refer to religions and religious groups with capitalized nouns… perhaps we should see such descriptions as arbitrary and without descriptive meaning. (wink)

  10. Holopupenko

    Come clean on your presuppositions, naturalists, and cut to the chase: what you consistently avoid admitting is your a priori commitment to “evidence” counting only as that data accessible to the five primary senses. What you despise—unscientifically and anti-philosophically—is the ability of human reason to arrive at knowledge that is not accessible to the five primary senses… even while you depend on such things all the time. (While all knowledge comes through the senses, not all knowledge is sensory knowledge.)

    When you can provide us with direct sensory data (“evidence”) of the existence of the scientific method or the rules of chess or “the day after tomorrow,” we might begin to take you seriously. If you stop the inherent (if not intentionally hidden) reductionist nonsense (Paul comes to mind) that demotes concepts to “it’s all just neurons” (while employing convenient labels as “shorthand” symbols (such as “love” or “virtue” or “dignity”) that point to complex neural activities), then we might begin to take you seriously. When you can successfully stop using the “vague” labels “I” or “we” when referring to yourselves and play by your own rules that demand exclusive use of univocal scientific terms when referring to yourselves, then we might begin to take you seriously.

    We challenge your implied claim (advanced, incidentally, in various forms by Marxists, deconstructionists, Islamists, Darwin-ISTS, etc.) that the notion of universal human rights is merely a species of Western cultural imperialism, and that there are no universal human rights because there is no universal human nature. We reject to your face your Hobbesian-inspired worldview where all are at war with all—animated by the unscientific and anti-philosophical claim that there is no universal human nature, and therefore no universal moral law, and therefore there is no possibility of a general conversation regarding the future of mankind.

    Christians are far more capable of defending certain moral objectives (including universal human rights) than radical skeptics and naturalists are of defending religions freedom, freedom of speech, and other basic human rights. Because Christians defend the prerogatives of reason, we can far better defend democracy against irrational (and often violent) religion (jihadism) than the skeptic or moral relativist for whom the claims of reason are a mere cultural construct.

    You guys just don’t (read: refuse to) get it: demonstrations for the existence of God introduce nothing new to the senses. (Another reason, by the way, why I reject Intelligent Design because they’re looking for God scientifically in DNA… but that’s another discussion.) Rather, human reason uses sensory data already in hand to reason to the existence of God—not in the way one reasons to the existence of the neutrino or black holes, but in a way similar to “seeing” that cooking the numbers in laboratory notebooks is wrong. No one who claimed to demonstrate the existence of God claims to employ the reductionist, sensory-only “evidence” ya’ll so narrowly define to suit your purposes.

    I don’t need a logical argument to prove the existence of this or that tree because they are there for all to see, but I do need a logical argument demonstrate the efficacy of a deductive syllogism or the objective knowledge of virtues and vices or the existence of God because human reason is too weak to “see” (know) these things immediately. That is what science (writ large) is all about: mediate intellectual knowledge obtained through demonstration. You naturalists a priori limit knowledge to sensory knowledge. Critical thinkers are expansive: we reason to the existence of things beyond the senses. Theology and moral philosophy are “real” sciences because they trust in the capacity to human reason to obtain knowledge about those things beyond mere sensory import. The difference is that the standards of what counts as “proof” or “evidence” are different in the case of the MESs vs. metaphysics or moral philosophy. If you want to discount the efficacy of moral philosophy or metaphysics simply because they fail your self-serving preconceived notions of how the world should be, then by all means flail yourselves into non-critical thinking bliss. But, please, don’t expect to be taken too seriously.

  11. The Barefoot Bum

    @Holopupenko

    Come clean on your presuppositions, naturalists, and cut to the chase: what you consistently avoid admitting is your a priori commitment to “evidence” counting only as that data accessible to the five primary senses.

    To a certain extent, I agree, at least to the extent that we are discussing evidence in the context of conversation and mutual persuasion. I cannot count as my own evidence any private subjective experience you might have, nor can you count my private subjective experience as your own evidence.

    What you despise—unscientifically and anti-philosophically—is the ability of human reason to arrive at knowledge that is not accessible to the five primary senses…

    It seems both uncharitable and presumptuous for you to tell me what I despise. I’m perfectly capable of speaking for myself.

    We challenge your implied claim (advanced, incidentally, in various forms by Marxists, deconstructionists, Islamists, Darwin-ISTS, etc.) that the notion of universal human rights is merely a species of Western cultural imperialism…

    I am indeed a communist. (I find the term “Marxist” as objectionable as “Darwinist”; I consider neither Marx nor Darwin to be prophets, merely brilliant human beings.)

    Note that universal differs from objectively true: a universal human right is one that I apply equally to all human beings, even if it does have its ultimate ground in my subjective preferences. And many communists, myself included, consider specific objective physical circumstances, such as economic exploitation and political oppression, to be universally objectionable.

    We reject to your face…

    Reject as you please. Argue if you can.

    No one who claimed to demonstrate the existence of God claims to employ the reductionist, sensory-only “evidence” ya’ll so narrowly define to suit your purposes.

    I am, after all, inquiring as to Tom Gilson’s alternative, and I am willing to examine his position with a mind more open than yours appears to be, and with manners considerably more polite.

    Rather, human reason uses sensory data already in hand to reason to the existence of God—not in the way one reasons to the existence of the neutrino or black holes, but in a way similar to “seeing” that cooking the numbers in laboratory notebooks is wrong.

    I’m unsure of what you’re getting at: Why I disapprove of “cooking the numbers” has much in common with why I believe neutrinos exist and nothing at all in common with the apologetic arguments I’ve studied. But perhaps I’m mistaken; I am willing to listen to Gilson’s alternatives with an open mind. I’m also willing to listen to your own, should you care to offer something more substantive than antics I find neither enlightening nor offensive, only mildly amusing.

    I do need a logical argument demonstrate the efficacy of a deductive syllogism or the objective knowledge of virtues and vices or the existence of God because human reason is too weak to “see” (know) these things immediately.

    Having studied apologetic arguments for a decade, I have seen no such sound argument. Offer such an argument, and I will examine it carefully on its own merits.

    Theology and moral philosophy are “real” sciences because they trust in the capacity to human reason to obtain knowledge about those things beyond mere sensory import.

    Bold claims indeed. I eagerly await your demonstration.

    But, please, don’t expect to be taken too seriously.

    If you consider my views inherently unserious, there seems no reason to consider present the presumption of good will and sincerity necessary to conduct a civilized conversation. You are, of course, entitled to your opinion, but I find the exchange of ridicule to be inappropriate and unseemly in a third party’s venue.

    Should you wish to venture an actual argument, to be considered on its own merits, I will be more than happy to respond substantively.

  12. Joseph A.

    Tom Gilson,

    Like I said, I know I’m taking an outlier position here, but I’ll do my best to explain.

    First, I should have qualified my mention of theistic hindus. My understanding of some schools of hinduism is that there is simply one God – Brahman. Any other god is not an actual separate entity, but just some manifestation of an aspect of this god, who is personal in nature. I won’t pretend I’m an expert on hinduism in general or even the schools specifically, but from what I’ve read, that seems to be the case. And Brahman certainly seems tremendously close in conception to the fundamental qualities of the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim God, though naturally there are differences (for one thing, a kind of idealism/panpsychism).

    A second point: There are absolutely, positively differences between the religions. And I am not advancing the argument here that, say, ‘Islam is just another form of Christianity’ or any such piffle. But the statement I was responding to was specifically that of disproving the existence of other deities of different religions – and my response was that I don’t need to argue that Allah doesn’t exist, or that Brahman doesn’t exist, any more than I need to argue that the Jewish God does not exist, or that the God of the open theists does not exist, or that the God of the Calvinists does not exist.

    You give a fair criticism with your presidential example, but here’s my response. With your example, you’re dealing with men. Limited beings that we know are in abundance – no mere man is utterly singular, in their own class distinct from all other men. When we’re dealing with the single, maximal Creator, things get more complicated. With Brahman, with the Neoplatonist God, with the Christian God, with the Jewish God, with the Muslim God, with (most concepts of the) Christian non-Trinitarian God, we are dealing with conceptions of God that fundamentally have so much of major, defining importance in common that it’s far more justified to treat it akin to my argument over Socrates rather than your arguments about presidents.

    Third point: I am not at all saying that ‘anyone who worships god(s) is talking about the same God’. A person who is talking about, say.. Aphrodite, is not in my view talking about ‘the same God’. Even in that case I think there are going to be strong points of agreement between faiths, but clearly an anthropic, created, drastically limited entity is nothing at all like the Gods otherwise in agreement. At the same time, I don’t need to deny their existence and remain Christian – I can simply regard them as lesser entities, misunderstood humans, some other force, etc. Even in that case, denial isn’t required.

    Fourth point: Since BB raised this point, I’ll mention it briefly. I actually don’t think ‘atheists’ are actually ‘atheists’ in a complete sense either. Nor do I, of course, think they ‘really believe’ in God (meaning, the God I believe is in common between Jews, Christians, Muslims, and some others). I do believe many/most are best regarded as believing in a radically different god. I won’t bother to expand on that since I’m already derailing this thread considerably, but I was called on it, so I respond.

    Either way, I doubt what I said here will convince you I’m taking the right approach, but I hope it clears up where I’m coming from. No, I’m not using an utterly empty or generic idea of God here. No, not every god would qualify. No, not all *religions* are ‘the same’.

    And, forgive my lack of proper capitalization. It’s not meant as disrespect, it’s just a side-effect of comment culture I’ve picked up and need to shake.

  13. Holopupenko

    Barefoot:

    Under separate cover you wrote:

    To be absolutely honest and completely sincere: I did not understand a single concept of your previous comment; I am thus unable to reply substantively.

    Fair enough and I appreciate the candor, but you raise a point that, perhaps, I’ve been reluctant to admit even to myself… and it connects to your comments just above: you guys aren’t aware of the centuries–if not millennia–of arguments which people of faith reference either directly or indirectly. That’s point one. Point two: for this reason and for others, naturalists and their fellow travelers are very, very prone to straw-man arguments against Christianity in general and the existence of God or moral objectivity in particular.

    This latter point has been raised over and over and over on this blog… only to be largely met with deafening silence. I believe I can safely vouch for Tom, Charlie, Steve, myself and other believers that we DO listen (err, read) your arguments/points, and those of us philosophically trained and experienced have a very strong basis for responding. (We are admonished by the Scriptures to do so, in fact.) We “get it.” Can we assume the same about naturalists and their fellow travelers? Perhaps you do read our responses and so I’ll give you that. But your sincere admission that you “did not understand a single concept of your previous comment” should be more important to you than to us. At some critically-important level, you don’t “get it.” Note we’re not necessarily looking for agreement but for understanding. Unfortunately, that’s not what we get.

    So, how do I respond to your most recent comments immediately above: potential lack of clarity on my part notwithstanding, I respond with arms thrown up wondering whether it’s worth spending the time necessary to teach (no condescension intended) highly-nuanced and quite important philosophical concepts.

    The “politeness” thing you raise is only one example: if you are a reader of this blog, then you should be aware of us pushing the envelope to have you demonstrate to us on what objective basis you can impose such moral imperatives (including not cooking lab notebooks). I can state–based on training, experience, and being a three-year reader/participant on this blog–the best (although certainly neither rigorous nor acceptable) responses have been akin to the worn-out tu quoque “neither can you.”

    Another example is your lack of understanding (both historical and formal) that the definition of science is “mediate intellectual knowledge obtained through demonstration.” That’s huge… and it lies (to a significant extent) at the basis of the a priori limitation of evidence to sensory import and the incorrect characterization of any other form of knowledge as allegedly “subjective.” (What, pray tell, is “subjective” about the scientific method, which, I remind you, is NOT accessible directly to the five primary senses?) If theology or moral philosophy (which ARE sciences) are for you by their natures merely subjective, then so is the scientific method… and all discussion can end because the battle descends to one over epistemological territoriality. That’s not science, that’s not philosophy, that’s not faith… it’s opinion. Opinions are fine, but that’s not what’s at the core of discussions at this blog.

    Finally, regarding your “Marxist” comment… ummm, you’re barking up the wrong tree: I have an advanced degree in Sovietology from what is arguably the best university in the United States and another degree in philosophy… and I have a Ph.D. in engineering from the best engineering institute in the U.S… I “know” Marx, Engles, the earlier (19th century) Russian thinkers, Lenin, Stalin (and their fellow travelers), the relevant history, etc. better than you can imagine. I’ve lived in the former Soviet Union for approximately 13 years, and have traveled widely beyond it as well. I have stood on the grounds of at least 10 former communist killing fields, and I have seen at two sites the remains of humans exhumed. I know the body count left in the wake of communism. Does is make me an “authority” to be accepted without question? Of course not. But I do know what I’m talking about, and I leave you with a bitter and true joke peoples of the former Soviet Union tell about themselves: What is a communist? One who has read the works of Marx, Engels, Lenin, etc. What is an anti-communist? One who has read the works of Marx, Engels, Lenin, etc… and understood them. Most certainly I don’t know your background, or whether you’ve spent extended time in any communist or former communist countries and really tried to live that life. Forgive me for saying this: I doubt it. To deflect a possible criticism: does a doctor need to suffer cancer himself to know how to treat it or to know it should be treated? Of course not… but to use such a criticism here would be to misuse it: the objects of knowledge are quite different in kind.

  14. The Barefoot Bum

    @Holopupenko

    [Y]ou guys aren’t aware of the centuries–if not millennia–of arguments which people of faith reference either directly or indirectly.

    I’m only one person. I’m aware of a lot of arguments; I just didn’t understand your argument. Argument by reference is tedious, anyway: give me the gist, not only of the position but the substantiation, and a solid reference for more detail.

    This latter point has been raised over and over and over on this blog… only to be largely met with deafening silence.

    I haven’t been reading this blog for long. I’m neither interested in nor responsible for others’ responses.

    But your sincere admission that you “did not understand a single concept of your previous comment” should be more important to you than to us. At some critically-important level, you don’t “get it.” Note we’re not necessarily looking for agreement but for understanding. Unfortunately, that’s not what we get.

    [shrugs] Perhaps I get it, and “it” is banal or wrong. Perhaps I don’t get it because you’re not explaining it properly. All I can do is read and do my best to try and understand. If I fail to understand, I’ll let you know. After that, it’s up to you. To be honest, earning your good opinion of my intelligence and character is not particularly high on my priority list.

    I respond with arms thrown up wondering whether it’s worth spending the time necessary to teach (no condescension intended) highly-nuanced and quite important philosophical concepts.

    You are under no obligation whatsoever to further my philosophical education. Do so if it pleases you to do so; otherwise spend your time in more pleasant ways.

    Another example is your lack of understanding (both historical and formal) that the definition of science is “mediate intellectual knowledge obtained through demonstration.”

    There are a lot of definitions of science. That’s not a bad definition, albeit somewhat vague.

    [That definition] lies (to a significant extent) at the basis of the a priori limitation of evidence to sensory import and the incorrect characterization of any other form of knowledge as allegedly “subjective.”

    There’s a lot of philosophy packed in there. We’ll have to unpack it to do any serious work. I’m interested in Tom Gilson’s view of evidence, right now, not in defining and defending the naturalistic, scientific view of evidence.

    Let me just say that as the scientific method is a human invention, we are free to change and refine it as we see fit; we are not bound absolutely to any authoritative, immutable definition. If there is a flaw in either the scientific method or our philosophical understanding of it, we can correct that flaw.

    I have an advanced degree in Sovietology from what is arguably the best university in the United States and another degree in philosophy… and I have a Ph.D. in engineering from the best engineering institute in the U.S…

    I am categorically unimpressed by any credentials. Only actual arguments impress me.

    Most certainly I don’t know your background, or whether you’ve spent extended time in any communist or former communist countries and really tried to live that life.

    That’s not really relevant. Many factors other than ideology shape the political and social landscape of any society and culture, and few modern communists (and none that I approve of) wish to blindly replicate the entire culture of any historical society. Human history in general is a history of blood and suffering; no group — communist or capitalist, atheist or theist — stands blameless. No communist I know wishes to justify the unnecessary suffering of the past. But again, we digress; I’ll be happy to discuss modern communist ideology at a more appropriate time.

    Let me say this: I am just one person. I speak only for myself. I am here, listening, as it were, with both ears. Impugn my character, my intelligence and my credentials as you please; poison the well as you please; pump up your own credentials as you please; I’m categorically uninterested in anything but actual arguments.

    With all your credentials and vast philosophical acumen, it does not seem immoderate to ask you to deliver the goods.

  15. theObserver

    Hi – I too look forward to reading this series but
    @Holopupenko:

    Under separate cover you wrote:

    lol you newb.

    That really is the total substance of both your comments above.

  16. Holopupenko

    Observer:
    Where? To what are you referring? I don’t understand…

    Barefoot:
    I’m not convinced this is going to go anywhere. Risk of cherry-picking notwithstanding, when you assert There are a lot of definitions of science. That’s not a bad definition, albeit somewhat vague… it’s another example of your not being equipped (albeit unintentionally, I’m sure) with precise terminology. The definition isn’t “vague”–it is, in fact, quite precise. It is also, however, broad. There’s a huge difference, and it is particularly suited to a proper approach to understanding. We humans must start with what is most accessible to our knowledge of the real world (what is directly accessible to our senses, i.e., what is most “broad”) and then proceed to the less know (to those things not accessible to the senses and to those things that are more narrow in the knowledge obtained). That may sound like a “duh!” statement, but you’d be amazed by how many people violate the principle–especially among scientists. Many physicists, for example, start with subatomic particles and work “up”… which is inherently reductionist: an electron has spin, but a tiger does not.

    Anyway, given this, how can anyone proceed with highly-nuanced philosophical arguments (no, the simple-minded sound-bite “summaries” you seek don’t work well in philosophy… nor should they: the job of philosophy is not to be vogue-relevant to zeitgeist de jure) when an allegedly open-minded person is not in command of important terms?

  17. Holopupenko

    Barefoot:

    By the way, regarding the various scientific methods being “subjective”: you are only partially correct. Of course, any methodologies are human constructs (mental artifacts), and hence they are subjective with respect to the subject (the knower), i.e., it is a “relation” thing. But that does not mean all methods (or knowledge obtained via these methods) are subjective by their natures. (“Nature” is used analogously here.) The various scientific methods are all objective subsets of the broader epistemic cycle, i.e., the way by which human know anything and everything. We employ logic, methodologies, mathematics, etc. precisely because we need to reason to knowledge about the world… precisely because our intellects aren’t angelic but dependent on sensory import as data. You’re strongly implying that the scientific methods by their natures are subjective. Surely, you don’t want to go there because the implication is all knowledge obtained by the MESs is subjective by its nature. If so, then the further implication is we can no nothing objectively about the world… which borders on Kant’s grave error that is ultimately so destructive to the MESs.

    There are very few things we know immediately (i.e., without the need to reason), and because of that we know them with 100% certitude. (The first principles of real being, such as non-contradiction, are among them.) The modern empirical sciences, on the other hand, provide contingent knowledge, i.e., knowledge that is subject to updating, and as such is not certain. BUT, that’s not always the case: we know with 100% certitude that a human circulatory system involves two lungs for oxygen exchange, a four-chambered heart, arteries, veins, capillaries, etc. There is no new information that could ever be introduced that would change our 100% certain knowledge of the basic structure of a healthy human circulatory system. This is partially why the concept of “intersubjective empiricism” bandied about by Mr. Clark is in the narrower sense correct, but in the broader scheme of things a non-starter. And, since he’s employing “the rise of science and intersubjective empiricism” as the epistemic basis for naturalism, he’s really built his worldview upon epistemic sand… wet sand at that.

    Finally, regarding my bona fides I qualified the point by specifically asserting you should not accept what I say on authority… which you seemed to miss (selective inattention?). Also, I understand you are “unimpressed” by a person’s credentials—and, to a certain extent, rightly so. But don’t you think—all things being equal—that I’m in a better position to be unimpressed by a self-proclaimed dropout who is not in command of nuanced terminology and hence is unable to provide sound arguments? (Cue: self-righteous indignation promulgated objectively…) The point, of course, is not about how intelligent you are (you appear to be highly intelligent), but about how little you know, how you build arguments upon that deficit of knowledge, and a deficit of intellectual humility as well.

  18. faithlessgod

    Hi Tom and the Barefoot Bum

    I think BB provided goods point to help in the specificity of your arguments and I will only add a number of additional points.

    This post was triggered by an entirely different question – what counts as evidence in a court of law or what should count. Now what counts as evidence for you or any other Christian to substantiate your beliefs is a different matter. I regard it as none of my business for me to argue as to what supports your beliefs and nor do I expect it to be any of your business for what is evidence for my beliefs.

    The only issue of concern to me – and you are entitled to ignore this in your series if you want, but it was the original trigger that got BB here – is if those beliefs can cause harm to others and,likewise, I do not see why you should have any concern over my beliefs unless they cause harm to others.

    The issue that then is moot is what is harm.
    That issue is pertinent when there is a clash of personal beliefs over what is and is not harm. I do not know your position on this but what about for example homosexual marriage springs tomind and Proposition 8 in California? I see no basis for my personal beliefs, whatever they are on this to cause harm to others. I do not see why anyone else’s personal beliefs likewise should interfere with the happiness of others nor to support double standards over differential tax benefits.

    c) put forth an evidentiary case for the non-existence of Allah or Krishna.

    This is a crucial point you do not appear to be intending to address in your series. And without it you are just preaching to the converted. I want to see what you would regard as evidence that could convince others whether of another religion or no religion to become Christian.

    In that light let me ask a few question over the specificity I would like to see.

    1. The historical, documentary testimony of the Bible
    How does it compare to other historical documented testimony on document from other religions, whether regarded as scared or not. How does this compare to other historical documented testimony on religious subjects.

    2.Historiographical and bibliographical indicators that the biblical documents are what they present themselves to be
    As BB noted a rather weak if not odd phrasing. again how does this compare to religious documents from other religions. How does this compare to non-religious documents such as equivalent scientific texts.

    3.Prophecies made and fulfilled in history
    Compared to other religions and compared to non-religious prophesies such as scientific predictions.

    4.The existence of the Christian church as an historical movement
    What on earth is this meant to show. How doubts it exists?

    5.Changed lives of Christians
    Compared to other religions, human potential movements, psychotherapy, cognitive therapies, pharmaceutical treatments, physical therapies, artificial limbs, medical treatments, surgical interventions…

    6.Miracles, signs, wonders, visions, etc., both historical and contemporary
    How do you compare your religion’s miracle claims versus and other religions. How does this compare to non-religious view such as scientific skepticism and research over these claims. Or do you take any miracle anywhere as just support of a supernaturalist worldview?

    7.The self-authenticating wisdom of Biblical teaching; its close fit with the realities of human experience
    Compared and contrasted to other religions claims on self-authenticating wisdom and the wisdom obtained by non-religious pursuits such a empirical science (although I would not call that self-authenticating, I am focused on the question of wisdom here).

    8. A long list of philosophical evidences
    As BB said these are evidence but arguments, so how are they meant to fit into this list at all. If you do pursue this as evidence the only pertinent question would surely be how can any of these point in the direction specifically of Christianity over any other religion or any other deity.

    9.The internal testimony of God in one’s life
    Compared to the internal testimony of other religions, theistic and atheistic – such as Buddhism, Advaita Vedanta and Zen (obviously I am treating as internal testimony or revelation, including Buddhist revelations that there is no god).

    Captcha: nitpicks 3 1/4 5 3/4 (=9!)

  19. Tom Gilson

    fg,

    Whether gay marriage produces harm is another topic. In short, I think that if one can establish that God has spoken on the topic, then one has the answer; for God is a loving God whose commandments are for good and not for harm. There are sociological/psychological effects we could also discuss, but I don’t intend to take this post in that direction.

    This [the non-existence of other religions’ gods] is a crucial point you do not appear to be intending to address in your series.

    Then I miscommunicated and must apologize. I do intend to cover that topic.

    The rest of your comment includes some very good points I also intend to cover.

  20. SteveK

    If Tom’s list isn’t evidence for the truth of Christianity, then what is it evidence for? Clearly it is evidence for some positive truth claim. I don’t think you can say it is evidence for Christianity being false, or evidence for God’s non-existence.

    What truth claim do the skeptics think Tom’s evidence points to, and why?

  21. The Barefoot Bum

    What truth claim do the skeptics think Tom’s evidence points to, and why?

    We must, of course, examine Tom’s evidence in more detail, but a superficial examination seems to point to the power and scope of the human imagination.

  22. SteveK

    I don’t see how Tom’s evidence can lead anyone to that conclusion. Perhaps some other evidence can lead you to that conclusion, but how does Tom’s evidence do that specifically?

  23. Holopupenko

    Compared to Tom’s list, superficial examination is much more prone to the vagaries, power, and scope of human imagination… as well as to horrendous errors. I believe the psychiatric term for it is “Wikipedism”. It’s kind of like quitting school and thinking one can learn philosophy and theology autodidactically from blog debates.
    😉

  24. James F. Elliott

    I’m fairly certain that formal instruction is very likely one of the worst ways to learn philosophy. Blog debates — at least the good ones, of which I have seen BB participate in many — are probably the most brutally Socratic of all arenas and, as such, can be immensely helpful.

  25. TheVillain

    @ Holopupenko

    “When you can provide us with direct sensory data (“evidence”) of the existence of the scientific method or the rules of chess or “the day after tomorrow,” we might begin to take you seriously.”

    High school science textbooks, chess rule books, and box office sales qualify as direct sensory data as to the existence of these respective clams. These are also all human inventions. God certainly then does exist using this logic but merely as a human invention…which is, I think, something other than you wish to claim.

    “It’s kind of like quitting school and thinking one can learn philosophy and theology autodidactically from blog debates.”

    Isn’t the blog debate the modern rendition of the dialogues of Plato’s writing? At any rate, attacking BB’s ideas on these grounds seems like an odd thing to do in a blog.

    As for the OP, I find it trivial to attempt to justify faith on rational grounds. In my experience, faith and even the lack of faith are purely emotional responses. You believe in god because on a purely emotional level you must do so.

  26. faithlessgod

    Hi Tom and the Barefoot Bum

    Another key thought triggered by BB’s question

    b) define how conclusions are drawn from evidence and c) put forth an evidentiary case for the existence of the Christian God

    is that in all your 9 types of “evidences” you need to state what would relevantly count as disconfirming evidence, which, if it existed, would make you draw a different conclusion from the evidence, say that there is an evidentiary case for the non-existence of the Christian God or the existence of another God or none of these three.

    Clearly, I presume, you do not think such evidence exists to a sufficient degree, otherwise you would not be a Christian, however the rest of us need to know what this could be in order to fully understand what is meant by evidence being used in these 9 categories.

  27. The Barefoot Bum

    Regardless of the merits of formal instruction vs. self-instruction, formal instruction is simply not a realistic option for me. If Holopupenko believes only formal credentials establish standing to fully participate, or if he believes that a debate on the public comment section of a blog is a poor venue to seek the truth, I would suggest he focus his attention on academic journals rather than on, well, the public comment section of a blog.

    I understand the difference between an insult and an ad hominem fallacy: clearly Holopupenko’s commentary falls into the latter (when he is not merely Poisoning the Well): the clear implication is that my arguments are false because I lack various credentials, because I have not yet supplied arguments outside the scope of the present discussion, or because he uncharitiably nitpicks trivial, irrelevant issues of terminology. (I’m a native English speaker, I have written professionally, and I understand the difference between “vague” and “broad”.)

    On my own blog, I most definitely would not tolerate an atheist displaying behavior similar to Holopupenko’s. I relentlessly mock the stupid, but I demand of both myself and my commenters that they attack the substance — a charitable interpretation the substance — of any position, not peripheral, irrelevant and off-topic issues. Thus I conclude that because Tom Gilson has neither moderated nor responded to Holopupenko’s buffoonery, Gilson in some sense approves of or at least tolerates Holopupenko’s antics. That’s Gilson’s prerogative, of course: it’s his blog. It’s my own prerogative, however, whether or not I participate.

    I comment for recreation: it is not my job and, outside my own blog, I have no specific agenda to push. I have my point of view, but I offer it only when I believe it has been solicited. As Holopupenko’s buffoonery has moved from mildly amusing to desperate and tiresome — and still without any substantive content whatsoever — the enjoyment of participating in an intellectual conversation here has been entirely nullified.

  28. faithlessgod

    I think this is one of the best blogs I have seen to discuss issues on ethics and get a Christian perspective on this.

    However unless Gilson manages his trollish minions such as Holopupenko and Medicine Man, the potential high level of constructive debate – where we might learn from each even if we do not ultimately agree – is irreparably tarnished and renders pointless any productive engagement in the comment threads.

    Like Barefoot Bum I presume, through lack of action, that Gilson’s implicitly endorses such behaviour and it is, after all, his blog, but this does not reflect well on him.

  29. Holopupenko

    Barefoot:

    You’re hiding behind a ghost you’ve created to avoid addressing the weakness of your assertions (faith is emotional, moral precepts are preferences, etc.): you claim “Holopupenko believes only formal credentials establish standing to fully participate, or if he believes that a debate on the public comment section of a blog is a poor venue to seek the truth.” Please show us where this occurs. In fact, I responded to your first attempt to do this by specifically referencing my comment NOT to consider arguments based on authority (which includes bona fides). I also intentionally applied your own medicine against you by comparing my bona fides with your bona fides precisely to emphasize why that should not be done. You missed the point, sir. Would you like to try again?

    You then claim, repeatedly, that I’m not responding to the issues. Yet, you are the one who stated you don’t understand the material I presented. Your point is? Perhaps, because of your honest admission, indeed you’re missing something? Here’s a hint: when you assert some of the issues raised are outside the scope of the discussion, does this also apply to those issues which reveal the basis of naturalism (which I point out), why they are invalid, and hence why they cannot be used to support what you claim does or does not count as evidence… or cannot the wet sand upon which your worldview is built be criticized as it relates to what counts as evidence?

    Then, you try to implicate Tom in this. Again, this is a defense mechanism used to avoid the difficulties pointed out in your position. Memo to you: you can’t cry moral “foul” if you’re a moral relativist… unless, of course, you’re resorting to a show of power to do so.

    Finally, I wonder (help me out, here): was your label of “buffoonery” an objective morally-based criticism… or was it a personal “preference” of yours. If the latter, why should anyone take notice; if the former, what is the basis for your moral objectivity? The same applies to your attempting to turn the tables by saying you would never tolerate (on your blog) “an atheist displaying [similar] behavior…” Really? Again, is that, by its very nature, an objective moral imperative you’re imposing? By your own rules, no… and yet you grant yourself leave to apply it “objectively” (reference you’re point above) by utterly misunderstanding what “objective” means in the moral realm: you’re talking about the objective application (to all persons… which means you should have used “consistently” rather than “objectively”) and conflating that with the (admitted by you) “subjective basis” for any moral claim. Memo: get it straight–if the basis for moral imperatives is “subjective” (per your words), then it doesn’t matter whether you apply consistently. Wet sand is wet sand.

    I have no specific agenda to push. Really? No comment…

    Villain:

    High school science textbooks, chess rule books, and box office sales qualify as direct sensory data as to the existence of these respective clams.

    That’s not true and you don’t get it. High school text books don’t contain the “scientific method”–they contain pigments on paper arranged in very specific ways. I asked, very specifically, that you measure–employing only your five primary senses–real world properties of the scientific method. Do it now. I don’t care how many textbooks you show me: a mountain of pigments don’t add up to a method because pigments are ontological one thing, a method is something very different. You repeat the very mistake the young man in The Meno makes when asked by Socrates, “what is virtue?” you point to things and say, “there’s a scientific method, and there’s one, and there’s another one, etc.” That doesn’t at all tell what the scientific method is–it merely points to what you believe to be instances of it… and, again, even here you fail, for specifically-arranged pigments on a page are most manifestly NOT the scientific method.

    This is yet another example of the sloppy thinking and presuppositions that enter into most of the points raised by naturalists’ and atheists’. They consistently and ubiquitously cash in on the centuries of thinking that went into carefully, painstakingly, and quite precisely defining terms… and then end up denying them (substance, nature, form, meaning, etc., etc.), and they objectively cry moral “foul” while decrying moral objectives. And, heaven forbid anyone point these painful mistakes out to them: the white-hot fury of ten-thousand suns cannot match the self-serving indignation of an atheist whose world view is punctured through with critical thinking.

  30. Holopupenko

    You too, faithless? Trying to suppress difficult challenges to the points you raise by unfairly implicating Tom? Thank you for reconfirming your intentions.

  31. MedicineMan

    Faithless,

    I think you throw around too many loaded accusations in response to questions to make those criticisms worth taking seriously. You have exhibited a strong habit of responding to challenges to your views with some version of “I don’t have to answer that” and/or oversensitive indignation. Some of us simply expect answers.

  32. faithlessgod

    Medicine Man and Holopupenko

    As I have said before, I am not interested in meta-discussions but only in substantive debate on the topic at hand. You have both repeatedly failed to that. If either of you can address points without unnecessary rhetoric, sophistry, mis-representations, insinuations , bearing false witness and abusive ad hominems, if you dont I shall ignore you. I have no time to waste on time wasters and on those, who, when they do not get their way, throw their toys out of the pram.

  33. SteveK

    Speaking of addressing the topic at hand….Barefoot attempted to answer my question here, but it was an answer that made no sense. Can anyone give me a reasoned response that makes sense?

  34. Jacob

    Holopupenko –

    I can only speak for myself, but I actually overcame my a priori “commitments” to religion before I reformed everything into my current beliefs. So you could say that I began to question the merits of Christianity using the Christian presuppositions to start. I found it all wanting, especially when one gets to the idea of divine revelation or innate awareness. The divine may not be directly quantifiable, but the physical remnants that are left behind should be extraordinary, I think most would admit. That is to say, I found little evidence of a personal God interacting with humanity directly and ubiquitously. I’m not a strict naturalist, for I still find the idea of a God-like being fascinating. I just think that if there is a God, we probably lack the proper vocabulary to understand him directly. If he exists outside of time, then he is not necessarily bound by things like consequences or morality as we know it. If he can form atoms without a concept like the atom existing, then why not emotions?

    Anyway, I feel like I’m getting off track. You talk a lot about morality, and I think that it would be proper to talk about that topic in the previous thread since I responded directly to your comment there. It has relevance, for I challenged your mischaracterization that universal human nature is lacking and got somewhat into the idea of the abstract manifestation of physical matter. It would be better to keep these topics separate, I think.

  35. Holopupenko

    Faithless:

    I find your allegedly objective appeals to “charity” (one of three theological virtues) and “bearing false witness” (please point to a specific instance of this), etc., as deliciously ironic as they are pathetically hypocritical given the moral relativism lurking under the surface.

    With respect to “meta-discussions,” that’s a convenient label to hide from criticisms of the presuppositions ya’ll bring into these discussions. You’re points cannot be separated from your antecedents, for those are what your points are based upon. (Tom Clark’s views of morality, whether you like it or not, ARE animated by his self-admitted scientism.) It’s not very productive to engage in back-and-forths in addressing some of the cultural war topics when, in fact, it’s your world view and the presuppositions upon which it so weakly rests that must be exposed. I’m all for discussing “evidence” or “choice” in killing unborn humans or what have you. But your views on these exceedingly important topics are nonetheless animated by some horrendous philosophical mistakes, a significant level of ignorance of what Christian faith is, and certain emotional commitments.

  36. Holopupenko

    Hey, you guys want to get involved in multiple strings of exchanges dealing with “evidence”? See the reviews and associated comments at Amazon for Ray Comfort’s book You Can Lead an Atheist to Evidence, But You Can’t Make Him Think: Answers to Questions from Angry Skeptics See if you can guess from the data available there what percentage of atheists actually read Comfort’s book. I have not read it, and so cannot comment on it… but the title is beautiful.

  37. Tom Gilson

    Since comment moderation has been brought up, I note what Barefoot Bum wrote:

    Regardless of the merits of formal instruction vs. self-instruction, formal instruction is simply not a realistic option for me. If Holopupenko believes only formal credentials establish standing to fully participate, or if he believes that a debate on the public comment section of a blog is a poor venue to seek the truth, I would suggest he focus his attention on academic journals rather than on, well, the public comment section of a blog.

    This reminds me of something I said to Kevin Winters once. He kept writing about Heideggerian philosophy, and then adding, “but you haven’t studied Heidegger so you wouldn’t understand anyway.” I asked him why he kept writing things he didn’t think we would understand. What was the point? He recognized why I asked the question, and to his credit he stopped doing that.

    On this, I think, Holopupenko, you may actually be making the same mistake. Most of us have not studied theology, and especially not Thomistic philosophy. I myself have a pastor’s-level knowledge of theology or better (depending on which pastor you’re speaking of), but very little background in Thomas Aquinas. What’s plain and simple to you is not always so to all readers, including me.

    Therefore rather than saying (directly or indirectly), “You should have understood this all along,” it seems it would be better to recognize that’s not what’s being taught these days, and take it as an opportunity to let everyone catch up with those points you find to be important. That one comment of yours that BB didn’t understand? I didn’t either, I have to admit.

    I would remind you of other discussions of this sort we have had in the past. I value your contributions here when they bring forth arguments on the issues. To speak, however, of motivations (like defense mechanisms, for example) is to speak of another person’s inner psychology, which I don’t think is that accessible on a blog comment thread. I myself don’t know why the people who disagree with Biblical principles and instruction do so, at least not in specific. There is rebellion against God associated with all disagreement with God’s word, but that takes different forms in different people. It may be noetic, volitional, doxastic, or emotional, or any combination of those, and in different forms of each. None of us, myself included, would have any clue what God wants humans to understand about himself if not for his graciously granting it to us anyway.

    So since I don’t know enough of the specifics going on inside any writer to guess why they say what they say, at least on any level more specific than what I just wrote, I try to respond just to what I can read, which is the arguments (or non-arguments, whichever is the case) that the writer wrote.

    I would not say that what I’ve just addressed characterizes all of your writing here by any means. Your response to Villain beginning, “That’s not true…” and for the rest of that paragraph, to take just one example, is a great contribution to the discussion. You point out serious issues and problems, and you do it from a knowledge base that few of us have, which makes your input valuable—when we can understand it, and when it’s not aimed at persons’ un-knowable internal states.

  38. Tom Gilson

    My request and encouragement to everyone here is along the lines I just wrote: to work out the discussions in the context of what’s being said, to try to be clear, and to not make assumptions about things we really can’t know about the other person.

    I’m not trying to moderate this discussion every hour. I don’t have a schedule that permits that; in fact, there are times when I don’t catch up for a day or two.

    I think this is still one of the better groups of people discussing these kinds of things on the Internet, and I ask us all to keep it that way. I just directed something specifically at Holopupenko as a friend who I know will take it under advisement, as something offered from a friend. Some of the same kinds of things could be directed toward any of us here (except for maybe the part about being opaque with Thomistic philosophy!). I trust we’ll all keep these kinds of things in mind. Thanks.

  39. Holopupenko

    Tom:

    Fair enough. However, I do take one issue: when someone claims they adhere to philosophical naturalism as a world view, to point out to this person that their antecedent presuppositions animate the mistakes they make in discussions of narrower issues (not to mention the serious problems this poses for their world view itself) is not to psychoanalyze them. Nor do I believe I even implied naturalists must have a command of Thomism. What I did demand is that they justify their antecedents and demonstrate a clear understanding of the terms bandied about… which, again, is not to psychoanalyze them.

    Apart from that, you are correct. Thanks.

  40. Chris

    Holopupenko,

    You responded to Faithless, “I find your allegedly objective appeals to ‘charity’ (one of three theological virtues) and ‘bearing false witness’ (please point to a specific instance of this), etc., as deliciously ironic as they are pathetically hypocritical given the moral relativism lurking under the surface.”

    I am not answering for Faithless, but I will add my own thoughts. I suspect you do understand the difference between the objective fact that one can bear false witness and the question of whether the proposition It is morally wrong to bear false witness is objectively true. Objectively, one can tell a lie and it might or might not be something of which I subjectively disaprove.

    You further respond to Barefoot Bum with “Finally, I wonder (help me out, here): was your label of “buffoonery” an objective morally-based criticism… or was it a personal “preference” of yours. If the latter, why should anyone take notice; if the former, what is the basis for your moral objectivity?”

    Again, I am not answering for him, but will comment. I too hold that morals are ultimately subjective, so if I had made that comment it would be a judgment based on personal preference. As to the question of why anyone should notice, there is no objective sense that they should do anything at all. Again, I might prefer that they notice, or at least wish that they should. I certainly prefer that people follow certain culturally constructed rules of debate and discussion. The problems of ethics and morals are ultimately problems of how groups and societies collectively decide what they believe is of value and what laws and other various rules they agree to follow. Before you go there, no, I am not suggesting that people ought to follow the collective nor is anyone required to let others do whatever they want. If everyone else thought slavery was OK, and I did not, then I am not required to follow the herd. But I cannot pretend that there is an external objective wrongness to slavery beyond my (and I hope most others) personal preferences.

    What I have never seen is a clear and compelling reason to believe that morals are objective. It seems to me that those who argue strenuously for objective morals are merely stating their strong personal preferences.

  41. SteveK

    Those who argue for subjective morals in a classroom setting or on the internet, argue and behave as if they are objective when in a real life setting.

  42. Jacob

    I guess I’ll argue it here if Holopupenko won’t take it to the other thread. Within a naturalist structure, I think that morality can be defined by the way in which we apply what is innately human to circumstances within the larger context of the universe. To use your example, we all generally agree that buffoonery represents a certain concept. We use logic and reason to deduce that someone can approach something of a buffoon irrelevant of the circumstance. But the way in which it is applied to each and every circumstance depends on the subjective values of an individual. We can find common ground and attempt to reason differences through. It is true that ultimately one does not have to take notice, for buffoonery as a concept means nothing without someone to understand it. But, of course, most people tend to be reasonable in different ways, which is why people usually try to justify things to themselves and others. You’ll rarely find someone who just does things. I don’t think, however, that the lack of an ultimate, objective morality is a huge problem for naturalism, for you still must prove why there ought to be such a thing.

    EDIT: I don’t use morality in the strictest sense either, for I think of it more as action-based imperatives contingent on the circumstance. The way in which we act and chafe against others is what we are ultimately interested in.

  43. Chris

    SteveK, what do you mean that we behave as if they were objective? Do you mean that we have preferences and we act on those prefences? Do you mean that we have as a preference that there be some order and control in society? Do you mean that at times, the preference of living in a society overwhelms other preferences and that I will forgo some things I may prefer in order to gain other things I prefer more?

  44. Fortuna

    @ Holopupenko

    “When you can provide us with direct sensory data (“evidence”) of the existence of the scientific method or the rules of chess or “the day after tomorrow,” we might begin to take you seriously.”

    When you stop committing the reification fallacy, we might begin to take you seriously.

  45. Holopupenko

    Chris:

    Regarding your first point, while the distinction you draw is well taken (and correct), it is irrelevant to what Faithless addressed and does not address the focus of my point—the nature of the moral act. In any event, where exactly did I bear false witness? And, even if I did, if neither you nor faithless believe this is objectively morally wrong, then why are you wasting your breath?

    Your second point borders on the incoherent: you admit to moral subjectivity, you “prefer” people not be held as slaves against their wills, and yet you strongly imply you’d never be caught dead supporting slavery—even if you were the only one and didn’t want to follow the herd (as you say). Does that make any sense at all to you? You’ve literally eviscerated any sense at all for why you wouldn’t want to follow the herd: per your subjectivity, it makes NO difference one way or the other.

    The “preference” thing is more damaging that you may realize. “Choice” or “preference” not a stand-alone goods but ones that should be ordered to the truth. Think about it: you’re actually making a moral claim (and hence trying to impose a moral imperative—albeit a disordered one) by putting forth “preference” because you believe, by it’s very nature and as an act, “preference” is somehow an objectively good thing… which is why SteveK is correct: you talk the talk, but don’t walk the walk.

    With respect to your never having seen a good argument for why morally objective verities can be had, I find that odd. IF there is no God, then I have NO argument whatsoever with you or the loyal opposition. Why? Because then indeed the subjects (i.e., us, i.e., the creatures who act) give rise to the basis for moral acts. Crudely put, morals would be subjective because they would be subject only us—the subjects who are moral agents.

    But, if there is a God (in the full sense of what God really is—Being or “Isness” itself, Goodness itself, Beauty itself, Truth itself, Life itself, etc.), then everything is contingent upon God. But if that’s true, even thought we are the moral agents (subjects), the ultimate grounding for morals is Goodness itself, i.e., God.

    I’m not going to get into the differences between speculative and practical knowledge here. I’m not going to get into the three components of a moral act. I’m not going to get into the First (utterly unavoidable, utterly undeniable) Principle of Practical Reason. I’m not going to get into the differences between the Eternal Law, the Natural Law (“natural” here meant in the the realm of practical reason and knowledge), the Human Law, etc. And, I’m not going to get into a Platonic error lurking just beneath the surface of your words when you state, “an external objective wrongness to slavery beyond [me].” While these would make for interesting discussions, not only would we really stray away from the subject of this particular blog entry, but it would take a huge amount of time.

    The one thing I will conclude with—quite adamantly—is you are quite incorrect and very broad-brushing when you state “It seems to me that those who argue strenuously for objective morals are merely stating their strong personal preferences.” If you study moral philosophy AND its historical development, it is anything but “personal preferences.” That’s not to say there aren’t people out there (usually of the fideist bent) who take this tact—there are. But that’s not what truth and philosophy and faith are about: personal opinions and preferences, when discussions orbit about vitally important issues, should be checked at the door.

  46. Holopupenko

    Fortuna:

    The reification fallacy is when an abstraction (abstract belief or hypothetical construct) is treated as if it were a concrete, real event or physical entity.

    When and where did I state or even imply that “the rules of chess” or other concept or methodology was an entity that exists like physical objects? (They don’t—which is precisely my point: these existents do NOT exist like physical entities… but they do exist as ontological different kinds.) If you cannot provide a reference to the fallacy of which you accuse me, you will not be taken seriously.

  47. Jacob

    Holopupenko –

    One could describe it as a preference, but it is not merely a preference. If I say that blue is better than green, I have no objective basis. All I can say is that blue is personally pleasing to me, but words like “pleasing” and “nice” have no context. They exist merely to express opinion. But morality is based around concepts that generally any human can understand. In fact, such a thing cannot be helped. By merely acting, we are staking out moral claims. In this sense, there is no “try” to it. Imposition cannot be helped. Since we have to live with the actions of others, and they have to live with our actions, there is a constant process of justification. Just because it’s not “right and wrong are totally objective, independent, and unchanging” does not mean “it’s completely subjective because there is no basis whatsoever”. We must look in between those two extremes.

    Because then indeed the subjects (i.e., us, i.e., the creatures who act) give rise to the basis for moral acts.

    But the subjects themselves are bound to specific properties. The pressures of the universe, our “humaness”, our experiences, the way in which we develop…all of these things inform our values. There is a huge element that people cannot change or cannot change so easily. These objective elements form the foundations and allow us to relate or appeal to others.

  48. Chris

    Holopupenko said:
    Regarding your first point, while the distinction you draw is well taken (and correct), it is irrelevant to what Faithless addressed and does not address the focus of my point—the nature of the moral act. In any event, where exactly did I bear false witness? And, even if I did, if neither you nor faithless believe this is objectively morally wrong, then why are you wasting your breath?

    Because I find it personally objectionable when people lie? (BTW, I did not say that I believed you had lied.)

    Your second point borders on the incoherent: you admit to moral subjectivity, you “prefer” people not be held as slaves against their wills, and yet you strongly imply you’d never be caught dead supporting slavery—even if you were the only one and didn’t want to follow the herd (as you say). Does that make any sense at all to you? You’ve literally eviscerated any sense at all for why you wouldn’t want to follow the herd: per your subjectivity, it makes NO difference one way or the other.
    If I find slavery abhorrent then I find slavery abhorrent. As long as I find slavery abhorrent I am not likely to support it. Seems clear to me. One problem I see with objectivists is their insistence that subjectivism, in a sense, forces one to follow certain normative prescriptions–”Subjectivists have to follow the herd”; “Subjectivists cannot judge other people”; etc. This is absurd.

    The “preference” thing is more damaging that you may realize. “Choice” or “preference” not a stand-alone goods but ones that should be ordered to the truth. Think about it: you’re actually making a moral claim (and hence trying to impose a moral imperative—albeit a disordered one) by putting forth “preference” because you believe, by it’s very nature and as an act, “preference” is somehow an objectively good thing… which is why SteveK is correct: you talk the talk, but don’t walk the walk.
    Slippery bit of reasoning here. I make a moral claim. Period. If I find that my subjective preferences concerning this moral claim are strong enough I may well decide to use the democratic process (since I live in the states) to try to pass a law concerning the claim. In that sense, I suppose I am trying to coerce people to do what I prefer. I do not know what you mean about forcing a moral imperative. I cannot force anyone to have a particular preference. But when you jump to the contention that I am saying preferences are objectively good, then you push too far. I have made no such claim. In fact it is false.

    With respect to your never having seen a good argument for why morally objective verities can be had, I find that odd. IF there is no God, then I have NO argument whatsoever with you or the loyal opposition. Why? Because then indeed the subjects (i.e., us, i.e., the creatures who act) give rise to the basis for moral acts. Crudely put, morals would be subjective because they would be subject only us—the subjects who are moral agents.
    But, if there is a God (in the full sense of what God really is—Being or “Isness” itself, Goodness itself, Beauty itself, Truth itself, Life itself, etc.), then everything is contingent upon God. But if that’s true, even thought we are the moral agents (subjects), the ultimate grounding for morals is Goodness itself, i.e., God.

    Yes, yes, I know the drill. But do I obey god because he is good, or is something good because it is what god prefers? You seem to say the latter. But that is not good enough reasons to do what god wants (except to the extent that his desires might mirror mine or out of fear I will burn in hell.)

  49. faithlessgod

    SteveK

    Those who argue for subjective morals in a classroom setting or on the internet, argue and behave as if they are objective when in a real life setting.

    We agree on this!

    However Mackie showed how this works, it is an error to think there are intrinsic values (error theory), and this error is caused by reifying our values as if there are intrinsic objective values (Objecification Theory).

    (Note also that I am a critic of subjectivist ethics, including theistic ethics).

  50. Fortuna

    @Holopupenko

    You implied it when:

    “I asked, very specifically, that you measure–employing only your five primary senses–real world properties of the scientific method.”

    That would imply that the scientific method is an object with concrete properties that can be measured.

    Of course, you were being facetious, so technically the question is moot. I just don’t think it’s good form for you to hold us to answering a question that we all know is fallacious, and hence un-answerable.

  51. faithlessgod

    On proper nouns I think Barefoot Bum is right. Whatever label such as atheist, naturalist, agnostic, secularist, free thinker, skeptic, theist,supernaturalist, deist, or fideist. So now I am quiet unsure of the need to capitalise religions such as christianity or buddhism, these do not look like proper nouns at all.
    We do not capitalise political positions either liberals, socialists or conservatives etc. We do capitalise when mentioning specific political parties such the Conservatives.

    So again if I refer to specific institutions I will capitalise such as Catholics, Protestants, Shia, Sunni, Theravads, Mahayana etc. but when I am referring to religions it makes more sense to lower case them as christians, muslims, buddhists etc.

    For the gods ditto except when already noted in another thread I am referring to a specific deity such as Yahweh, God, Allah or Zeus. However christianity (i.e not just Catholics, Protestants or Evangelics etc.) suffers from having the generic singular term “god” as their name for god as in “God”, see when I am using this generically it makes more sense to lower case it. So that is how I intend to use it, for clarity. Is that Okay?

  52. Holopupenko

    O Fortuna (with apologies to Carl Orff):

    First, I suspect you’re covering your tracks… but in due deference to Tom, I’ll let it go.

    Second, “bad form”?? Really? Because it forces naturalists, materialists, and atheists to actually THINK about beingness and existence as pointing to modes of existence beyond the senses, i.e., beyond that accessible to the modern empirical sciences (MES)? Because it forces them to employ their own scientistic and reductionist rules of the game… and then see those rules crumble into inefficacy? Puhleez…

    Third, “unanswerable”? Of course it’s answerable: you MUST explain the existence of the scientific method–no matter what mode of existence it enjoys. The scientific method is “there”… the problem is, what kind (mode) of existence does it enjoy? The same as the ring on my finger? No. The same as the neurons in mind brain? No. Yet, there it is. To avoid answering the question is to evasively avoid critical thinking (which indeed IS bad form)… perhaps for fear of what it may imply. (Dumb scientistic/positivistic mantra: “if one can’t sense it or measure it, it doesn’t exist”.)

    For the MESs, to prove the existence of something means to manifest it to sensation… and hence to quantification… and hence to mathematical models as tools for predictability and verifiability. Yet the scientific method is not accessible to sensation… but, curiously, it exists in some way. (Would you like to try to reject that the scientific methods exists? If so, if it doesn’t exist, you would have no cognizance of it.) Can we employ the MESs to obtain knowledge of it? No: it’s not sensible. Yet, again, it exists. HOW does it exist? Ahhh… that’s the rub, and the beginning of the collapse of materialism and naturalism and ultimately atheism for an honest critical thinker.

  53. SteveK

    fg (and Chris),

    However Mackie showed how this works, it is an error to think there are intrinsic values

    As far as relativism goes, this goes without saying. Yet most DO think (not emote) there is intrinsic value when it comes to many real life situations. It’s duplicitous thinking.

    I don’t know anyone who would equate the act of expressing violent force with the act of expressing a strong personal, moral preference. The reason they don’t is because they know they are not the same. Only in classroom or internet settings do you get the equivocation.

    If real life thinking reflected classroom/internet thinking then there would be no intrinsic value as Mackie said, just various expressions of strong personal, moral preferences.

    If real life thinking reflected classroom/internet thinking, rape would be an expression of one’s strong personal preference. Why make a law preventing people from expressing their preference of rape? Do we pass laws preventing people from expressing their preference wrt ice cream flavors or cars? No. Why the duplicitous thinking on the part of relativists?

    BTW, there’s no intrinsic value in the concept of mutual consent so we can logically do away with that part of the law too.

  54. Chris

    SteveK,
    I wish to pass laws outlawing rape because I find its expression to be repugnant. I do not find your choice of ice creams repugnant. I do not doubt that there are biological reasons for this, as well as some cultural artifacts, but nonetheless, it is still a matter of preference.

    Finally, I prefer, quite strongly, that people not be given the right (a cultural artifact) to rape if they wish (although there is no doubt that it was acceptable–and still is–to many cultures throughout history–including ancient Israel.) I am a subjectivist. I make judgements and decide on actions based on my preferences–or at least a conglomeration of them.

    There is no point in you continuing the argument that a subjectivist must live two lives–online and everyday. My life online life is no different than my everyday life. What would help you is to stop assuming that subjectivism imparts some sort of normative requirement on my behavior. In other words, I am not required to stop making judgements; I am not required to support the right of people to do what they want. Since I believe that subjectivism is a fact of reality and not a suggestion on my part, then obviously people can and do make judgements, enter into debates, both logical and not, pass laws, both local and universal, despite the fact that morals are subjective.

  55. TheVillain

    “That’s not true and you don’t get it. High school text books don’t contain the “scientific method”–” Ok sure…I’ll give you that much. Maybe my reply was a bit hasty. I have spent the better part of the day trying to answer your question to myself, and I have some ideas.

    While it is certainly true that no direct physical evidence for the existence of the scientific method exists, I don’t really see how this fact provides a means of proving the existence of god. The scientific method is an idea…as are the rules of chess. Aren’t all ideas inventions of the human mind? It seems that we can say that ideas do in fact exist, but certainly, as you rightly pointed out, their existence is independent of the physical universe and thus no direct phyical evidence could possibly exist. It seems that, in turn, the claim you are putting forth is that god could thus exist independent of the physical realm as well and thus one not need to try and find direct physical evidence as to god’s existence. But doesn’t this place god in the realm of ideas? Doesn’t that point to god being a human invention rather than an objective truth?

    If that is what you indeed wish to claim then you will find little argument from my part, but my problem with theists in general is that they usally make the claim that god exists independent of human thought. It is at which point the demand for physical evidence has warrant, as everything else that can be said to exist independent of human thought has direct physical evidence. Why is god’s existence free from this distinction?

    Am I missing something? Are there things that we think exist physically that do so without direct physical evidence? Are there ideas that exist outside of the human mind?

    You mention morality. Isn’t morality a tool that the human mind came up with in order to better succeed as a species? Does that point towards the existence of god somehow?

    If your aim is merely to squash philisophical naturalism then I think you have successfully done so, but I’m not an advocate of naturalism anyway…

  56. faithlessgod

    SteveK

    First I am too busy to engage further in this debate for now. When I do have time I wll be addressing Tom in the Euhtyphro debate.

    All I will say is that I am a critic of moral relativism – and moral subjectivism including theistic ethics. There are no intrinsic values but that does not prevent being objective about values. In Mackie’s terms the satisfaction or not of requirements or needs or interests is quite objective. As Railton said Mackie was not an anti-realist he just denied a particular type of realism, what I call stereotypical realism – intrinsic prescriptivity – and argued for, what Railton labelled, a pragmatic realism.

    Anyway all your points about relativism and subjectivism are quite irrelevant to me, although if you espouse a theistic ethics they are relevant to you. The problem with theistic ethics is that it shares all the flaws of stereotypical realism, relativism and subjectivism (excluding of course normative relativism which it denies).

    Either someone else can take over my position or it will have to be dealt with another time.

  57. Holopupenko

    Villain:

    I’m leaving for a long weekend, so I won’t have time to pursue this (maybe) until Tuesday.

    Regarding the existence of God: slow down, big guy! FIRST, let’s just make sure we take care of what ideas (concepts) ARE (their nature) as opposed to mere images before we continue. You yourself admit that ideas are constructs of the human mind and therefore beyond physical reality. Let’s say I grant you that. You now must tell me WHAT they are (a “construct of the human mind” is not a definition, it doesn’t express “whatness”)… and partially you have: you’re strongly suggesting ideas are immaterial. If ideas are immaterial, they must originate (if they are human constructs) in the mind and the mind (as opposed to the material brain) must itself be immaterial. If that is the case, then surely it would be silly to eliminate the possibility of other immaterial existents. But if that is the case, i.e., if you’ve shown that immaterial existents can be reasoned to, then surely you must explore the arguments in support of the existence of God.

    Now, don’t get me wrong: I’m NOT suggesting an Anselm-like ontological argument for the existence of God… which is what you’re suggesting. That argument is false: one cannot start from an idea in our minds (“the greatest thing that can be thought”) and work toward God. One has to look elsewhere. In fact, one has to start–I repeat–with that knowledge directly accessible to us (sensory knowledge) and reason to God’s existence from that. (You may want to consider Aristotle’s and Aquinas’ Uncaused Cause argument, if you like.) While all knowledge starts in and through the senses, not all knowledge is sensory knowledge.

    Also, I don’t see what problem you could have with “[G]od exists independent of human thought.” The chair I’m sitting on exists independent of my thoughts, i.e., it’s not contingent upon my thinking about it, i.e., I don’t think it into existence. If I pass away, it’s still there… and it may have been there before I was born. If it’s existence is independent of my thoughts, then how much more is God–Existence itself–independent of my thoughts? Independent of my thoughts does not mean inaccessible.

    Finally, you ask “Are there ideas that exist outside of the human mind?” No, there are not: that’s Plato’s mistake and it can be readily argued away. So, no, in respect to morality, there is no “injustice” existing out there. Injustice “exists” in the human act because it is a deprivation of justice, which in turn is tied to human nature. But human nature is critically dependent upon its Creator–God–so ultimately human morality is grounded in God. There is the Eternal Law, the Natural Law, human law… but I’m not going to get into that.

    Example to think about: what is a “good” phone? One that functions well, obviously. Is “good” as it’s used in this example a moral category? Of course not: the phone does not live, and hence it has no free will–the sine qua non of moral actions. BUT, it does have a function, doesn’t it… and it doesn’t matter that the function was designed by a human, i.e., that the function is a human artifact. We CAN say (analogously) that the phone in front of me is a “good” phone because it functions well. The rock in my yard is a “good” rock because by its very nature it does what it’s supposed to do: it’s “function” is to exist. So, to be complete in our thoughts, we must ask what is the “function” of a plant, any brute animal, and a human being (rational animal). Once you get that function straight, if the entity under consideration deviates from its nature, then it is acting outside its nature and hence NOT doing good. So, don’t we need to figure out what the “function” of a human being is before we can properly judge whether (1) morality applies in the first place, and (2) if so, what human acts can be judge morally good or evil? Can you tell me the one animal on the face of the earth that can actually change its nature? A human… for we can become, quite literally, inhuman. A human being can choose to act virtuously or to do evil acts. Quite oddly, a human being can also try to argue away (quite unsuccessfully, of course) that it even has a nature.

    God does not create individuals merely be combining materials–He creates natures.

    It is to your great credit that you, on some level, sense or understand that philosophical naturalism is a non-starter.

    Enjoy.

  58. DrDeb

    I think this discussion is an excellent reflection of the ongoing debates between belief and non-belief, between creationism and evolution, etc. I see evidence of this played out even on the “fish” bumpers stickers on people’s cars. In Florida, the debate is moving into a new forum as legislators debate whether or not to allow Christians to have a custom license plate with a cross or image of Jesus:
    http://www.examiner.com/x-7312-Miami-Interfaith-Spirituality-Examiner~y2009m4d25-Religious-license-plates-with-Jesus-Christ-or-cross-soon-a-Florida-reality

    I don’t know whether religious license plates would be simple personal expressions, or whether they would fuel these kinds of discussions? Maybe either consequence would be OK?

  59. Chris

    Holopupenko says,
    [W]hat is a “good” phone? One that functions well, obviously. Is “good” as it’s used in this example a moral category? Of course not: the phone does not live, and hence it has no free will–the sine qua non of moral actions. BUT, it does have a function, doesn’t it… and it doesn’t matter that the function was designed by a human, i.e., that the function is a human artifact. We CAN say (analogously) that the phone in front of me is a “good” phone because it functions well.

    Yes, we can decide the phone is good or bad because it does what we want it to do. That does not mean the “goodness” exists anywhere except in relation to our preferences.

    The rock in my yard is a “good” rock because by its very nature it does what it’s supposed to do: it’s “function” is to exist.
    This is completely wrong. It is incoherent to say that a rock’s function is to exist. What would a rock be like that was not fulfilling its function?

    So, to be complete in our thoughts, we must ask what is the “function” of a plant, any brute animal, and a human being (rational animal). Once you get that function straight, if the entity under consideration deviates from its nature, then it is acting outside its nature and hence NOT doing good.

    I would say that an entity that is not acting within its nature is simply not acting within its nature. If you want to define this as not good, that is your preference. But then goodness and badness becomes merely definitional (and hence subjective.) I don’t think this is entirely what you mean. Of course this is close to how I define right and wrong myself. If something is successful at providing me what I desire I will tend to call it good. A phone that does what I want is “good” (although, of course not in a moral sense.) But, returning to the phone example, one person’s “good” phone is another’s piece of crap. The physical reality of the phone is no different from one person to another but our assessment of to what extent the phone meets our needs is different.

    But I would only say something can act (metaphorically) outside of its nature in this sense if we have made it or are using it in a particular way and it is not doing what we want. But the determination of its goodness is just my preferences. It has no bearing on the entity itself. It might well not care what my desires are. That horse that refuses to pull my plow is, to me, a bad horse. The horse will disagree.

    So, don’t we need to figure out what the “function” of a human being is before we can properly judge whether (1) morality applies in the first place, and (2) if so, what human acts can be judge morally good or evil?

    We can no more act outside of our nature (function) than an animal can. Our nature includes all the potential and real choices in what we call free will. We of course can, and do, set personal parameters of what we prefer and abhor in ourselves and others. These usually relate to what we believe will lead to what might be called happiness. Because this is biologically bases, there will be great overlap on what we find preferable. But there is also great diversity. So yes, we can judge within these parameters and although these parameters are based on objective reality to an extent, they are still ultimately subjectively developed. There is no objective means of determining who’s set of parameters best describe the true nature of man or more precisely, that outside of our subjectively defined standards (preferences), there is no objective means of determining what is better or worse, good or bad.

    Can you tell me the one animal on the face of the earth that can actually change its nature? A human… for we can become, quite literally, inhuman. A human being can choose to act virtuously or to do evil acts. Quite oddly, a human being can also try to argue away (quite unsuccessfully, of course) that it even has a nature.

    Literally inhuman? This is incoherent. You seem to be guilty of the equivocation fallacy. We determine an animal’s nature by studying what it does. We do not claim a whale is acting un-whale-like because it fails to fly. A whale does not fly. Since its nature is merely what it tends to do and no more, it would be incoherent to claim a whale can act out of nature. But this is not because of any peculiar property of its nature, per se but because of how we use the word nature. In other words, we do not find out whale nature independent of studying a whale and then discover that, by golly, whales do seem to follow that nature quite naturally. But you use the idea of human nature in a radically different way. You seem to argue that we can discover a human nature that is somehow distinct from what we actually do. This allows you to describe some actions that humans do as therefore inhuman. It makes the rest of your argument easier, true, but it also means your overall argument is fallacious. But even if we grant your point (and you have not shown how we go about discovering this human nature distinct from what we observe humans actually doing), it still does not follow that you have shown that we ought to act according to your peculiarly defined human nature as opposed to acting within our more conventionally defined nature (like all other animals). I understand that if god made us to act in a certain way that he might well be displeased if we fail to do so and consequently he may well toss those of us who deviate into the bowels of hell much like you might toss that phone you don’t like into the trash.

  60. SteveK

    Chris and fg,
    Perhaps neither of you fit the description I have typed out.

    If relativists would stop using moral terms when they really mean to speak in preferential terms, then the problem would go away. The terms (morally) ‘wrong’, or ‘evil’ do not mean ‘strongly prefer’ to most everyone. There is a distinct and meaningful difference. I suspect they purposely equivocate because they would like to use these other terms to their advantage.

    By analogy, it would be like equivocating between ‘borrow’ and ‘steal’, and using the term ‘steal’ when you really meant ‘borrow’ because it gave you some emotional advantage. It’s dishonest to say the least.

  61. SteveK

    Just a reminder that nobody has bothered to respond to my earlier challenge in comment #38 (originally stated in #25).

    As it stands now, Tom’s list of evidences are evidence in favor of Christianity being true, and not evidence in favor of something else being true.

  62. Chris

    If relativists would stop using moral terms when they really mean to speak in preferential terms, then the problem would go away. The terms (morally) ‘wrong’, or ‘evil’ do not mean ’strongly prefer’ to most everyone. There is a distinct and meaningful difference. I suspect they purposely equivocate because they would like to use these other terms to their advantage.

    There are problems with this. I am not arguing that we ought to see morals as mere preferences but that subjectivism is a fact. Everyone is stating their preferences, in some sense, when they speak morally. So I face a dilemma. An objectivist will use terms such as evil or right or wrong when I know they are simply presenting their strongly held preferences (no matter how they claim otherwise) and consequently they privilege their moral propositions above a subjectivists strongly held preferences even though I see them as the same.

    Also, I tend to refer to matters as moral or ethical when I so strongly prefer the matter that I wish to use societal coercion (laws or what not) to force others to follow my preferences (even if they do not actually prefer the matter.) I would call this matter as an example of an ethical right or wrong.

    But, in any case, I do not believe I have used the term evil in this thread. I also try to make it clear that I mean preferences whenever I talk about morals. I wish everyone would do this.

    Also it is not an equivocation unless the person uses the same term in two or more ways in one argument or deliberately uses someone else’s term with a different definition without making it clear. I agree it can be confusing for different people in a discussion if they use the same term in different ways, but not strictly equivocation. We both agree that there are moral propositions. People make them all the time. We are disagreeing on their nature.

  63. Jacob

    SteveK –

    I anticipated your ice cream argument a bit in post 52, although I used the example of color. Again, morality isn’t a mere preference, for we cannot simply call it pleasing. It has an actual objective basis rooted in the very laws of the universe that are ubiquitous to all human beings. Our factual experiences might inform or alter our natural impulses, which refine our value systems. There is a process going on that we need to be cognizant of. As Chris and others have said, subjectivity is simply a reality.

    I will take up faithlessgod’s banner a bit and say that subjectivity is a thorn in the side of the ethical theist; perhaps just as much or more so than objectivity is for ethical naturalists or atheists. For instance, when does murder become ethical? How do we know when self-defense or war are considered just? These are examples contingent on human concepts of competing values of harm vs. justification of harm Nor can we have God whispering in our ear constantly. If we strive toward the perfection of God’s moral goodness, then how do define that in juxtaposition to situational ethics? Yes, that is an extension of the argument from the ED thread, but if something like justice is subjective, then how can God hold it in such perfect amounts? Or is there always a perfectly just way? Are we sinning when we don’t follow it?

    Regarding your question in post #25: I’m not exactly sure what you’re referring to, for I would question the efficacy of the proofs on that list. I’m willing to play on those grounds (and, once again, things like innate knowledge or divine revelation also need to be considered). But I expect them to be rather profound evidence. For instance, if I find a problem with the Bible and you rationalize it, what makes your rationalization superior? What if my issue with it is actually backed up by superior evidence? Does that not cast doubt on the Bible and allow me to question the entire institution? So it could be used as evidence against Christianity.

  64. SteveK

    Jacob,

    Regarding your question in post #25: I’m not exactly sure what you’re referring to, for I would question the efficacy of the proofs on that list.

    Evidence for Christianity, not proof of Christianity.

    For instance, if I find a problem with the Bible and you rationalize it, what makes your rationalization superior?

    You’re not answering the question I asked. I’m saying Tom’s list is evidence in favor of Christianity being true. You disagree, so without bringing in other evidence or arguments as a distraction, what are your reasons for thinking Tom’s list is evidence of some other truth (conclusion)?

    You tell me what the other conclusion is and how that evidence got you there. If it helps to focus on one item on the list, then explain why you think #1 is evidence for some other conclusion.

  65. Jacob

    SteveK –

    The list may be evidence if it fits into a larger contextual girder, but standing alone they are mere claims, floating free from any mooring, which I guess is where I still need to understand you clearly. Do you want to examine the evidence for each claim? My last post was sort of getting at that. I was asking at which point, for instance, does an unfulfilled prophecy count against Christianity? For my only point is to prove that Christianity is not true; or, more specifically, it is hardly a profound, timeless religion that can readily account for all of these issues. So it’s important to establish when we cross the threshold of evidence counting against Christianity. For anybody can hold up a single claim and say, “See? There is no good evidence against it.” When in actuality it could be a house of rotting wood.

    Anyway, I want to be clear about what you want to argue. For instance, I might say of the first claim, “The lack of historical, documentary testimony of the Bible is a mark against it,” and I’d give evidence A, B, and C as reasons. Is that what you were aiming for? Forgive me for being cautious here.

  66. ordinary seeker

    It seems clear to me that (some) Christians point to a set of information, consider it evidence, and claim it as a reasoned explanation for their faith, and that non-Christians look at the same set of information and reason from it differently. This phenomenon occurs in many other areas of life (we are all familiar with the axiom, “the devil can quote scripture to his purpose.”) Similarly, Christians and non-Christians look at evidence for atheism and reason from it differently. This has been going on for centuries, and I doubt that any argument anyone presents here will contain the ultimately enlightening new perspective that decides the debate once and for all. So, why not accept that and move on?

    What I am interested in is why it makes a difference for Christians whether morality is objective and ordered by God. Is it because they believe if God demands a certain stricture, they can rightfully enforce it on others?

  67. Tom Gilson

    No, it is because if morality is not objective, then those who hold power in the world can decide what will be moral and enforce it on others. Look at Pol Pot, Mao, Stalin, and even (closer to home) gay rights political activism, which has clearly been a successful power maneuver, with the result that one group’s morality is being enforced forced on others.

    If morality is objective and grounded in a good God, then all of us, including the powerful, are subject to the same standards, and even the powerful will have to account for themselves in view of God’s justice.

    Study the founding documents of the United States and you’ll find that view pervades their insistence on government of laws, not men, and of checks and balances.

    Additionally, I believe moral objectivism is important because it is true, it is an expression of the character of God, and that alone would be enough to value it.

  68. ordinary seeker

    Tom:

    Well, if Christians held more power in the world, then they would be the ones who “[could] decide what will be moral and enforce it on others,” correct? What is the difference, exactly, between gay rights political activism and the political activism of the Christian right? Seems to me that the only difference is that the Christian right believes that it is representing the singular morality defined by God.

  69. Tom Gilson

    And that has happened, when Christians held too much political power specifically as Christians. It was not good for the church or anyone else. Christians holding power and representing their own purposes and desires can be as corrupt as anyone.

    But the answer is not to replace the power of the church with the power of some other human group or agent. The answer is to recognize the objective morality that exists in God, and for all people, in power or not in power, to recognize they are subject to God’s morality, which specifically excludes us from exercising power for selfish gain or to harm others.

    I recognize that some things Christians hold to be central to God’s morality are things you might consider harmful to others. That’s just the way it is; it’s not expected that all would agree. I think that those who oppose God’s morality are opposing God to their own harm. Still, don’t forget those founding documents I mentioned. They were based on a Christian view of humankind: recognizing our penchant for self-aggrandizement and corruption (our sin), they set up a government of laws and of checks and balances.

    Don’t forget your original question, by the way. It was about why we consider objective morality to be important, and that’s a major part of the answer, regardless of difficulties in practicing it.

  70. ordinary seeker

    Tom,
    How is asking all to recognize the Christian interpretation of God’s morality different from asking everyone to, say, recognize the Muslim interpretation of God’s morality, or even just the liberal Christian interpretation of God’s morality?

  71. Chris

    No, it is because if morality is not objective, then those who hold power in the world can decide what will be moral and enforce it on others.

    This is true in any ethical framework.

    Look at Pol Pot, Mao, Stalin, and even (closer to home) gay rights political activism, which has clearly been a successful power maneuver, with the result that one group’s morality is being enforced forced on others.


    It is uncharitable that you place gay rights in the same category as Stalin, Pol Pot, et al. The only thing gays are forcing on you is the restriction that you not oppress them.

    If morality is objective and grounded in a good God, then all of us, including the powerful, are subject to the same standards, and even the powerful will have to account for themselves in view of God’s justice.

    Even assuming you are correct, how does this solve the problems you mention above? A person’s accounting would occur after death, would it not? Facing god’s wrath did not deter Stalin. People who are out of tune with god’s desires (whatever they are), or who are subjectivist can try to force their morals on others. You gave examples. But moral objectivist do the same thing. Take slavery. Was slavery the result of people not being in tune with god’s will. Or did slave owners simply read the bible and decide that slavery was consistent with god’s will. They held power and they forced their morals on others (primarily on the millions of africans who had different moral preferences concerning slavery). Those who were in tune with god’s “will” concerning slavery treated dissent as blasphemy against god. After all, slavery was a part of the old testament. Moses supported it. Jesus, who tells us to radically love our enemies never tells us to literally let your people go. But we now know better. God never approved slavery! Jesus hated it too. Almost 2000 years after Jesus we finally discover god’s true intent. The abolitionists were the one’s in tune with god’s will the whole time! How convenient! Few really questioned slavery 300 years ago.

    Study the founding documents of the United States and you’ll find that view pervades their insistence on government of laws, not men, and of checks and balances.

    A nation of laws is perfectly acceptable in a subjectivist or relativist framework. You are not suggesting that the laws come from some other source than men, are you? Besides, I think it is better to characterize us as a nation of people who govern.

    Additionally, I believe moral objectivism is important because it is true, it is an expression of the character of God, and that alone would be enough to value it.

    Well, I don’t have to value it. You have to give me a reason to value it. Even if you convince me god exists; even if you convince me that your conception of god is the true god; even if you can show me clearly what this god wants of me, you still have to provide me an epistemic framework that allows me to know that what god wants is truly what I ought to want as well.



  72. Chris

    Tom, what exactly is a nation of laws as opposed to men? Laws are made by men. Even the bible is made by men. And exactly how do you determine what god’s will is and then enforce it on those who disagree. When we had slaves, we were acting in accordance with god’s will. Do you doubt that people could justify slavery in five minutes with bible in hand? What epistemic method do you use to show that slavery is wrong?

    Your interpretation of how the founding documents reflect a biblical view of man is misguided at best. There is nothing in the bible about government except for theocracy. The bible may have pressed the point of our inherent sin, but the bible’s solution was not to acknowledge and accept our fallibility by pushing for free speech, democratic elections, etc, (in other words not expecting perfection and limiting the problems through democracy). The bible does not hint at this at all. We are imperfect but god is perfect. The purpose of government, in the bible, was to discover and enforce (often brutally) god’s will.

    I suspect that deep down, Christians believe that god’s will is the only true way to live and that a theocracy is the only form of government that would enforce that. But moderate Christians have been culturally guided (brainwashed) by secular philosophy over the last two or three hundred years to believe that freedom and democracy are consistent with god’s will. It is fun to watch the squirming as christians attempt to fit a round peg into a square hole as they try to convince themselves that secular freedom is consistent with the harsh realities of the bible. I fear though that the idea of a theocracy is starting to take hold in some of our more reactionary religious groups.

  73. Tom Gilson

    Gays are forcing their morality on the country. Catholic adoption services are being required to place babies with gays. Iowa county clerks are being forced to issue marriage licenses against conscience. Businesses are being required to treat gay couples as if they were married. I took a walk on the William and Mary campus last week and was treated to bulletin board signage everywhere, forcing on me the incorrect belief that gay sex is good and fine.

    I did separate this from Pol Pot and etc. as an issue on a different level of seriousness, because obviously it’s not the same in that respect. But that does not change the fact that gays have found a way to use their power to force their morality on the rest of us.

    As for the rest of your questions and os’s I’m going to punt and say it’s too far off the main topic for me to spend time on; I have other things to work on.

    And Chris, please read the Discussion Policies on capitalizing proper nouns.

  74. Chris

    Tom, you are not clear on what you mean by their morality. They are forcing (using persuasion and democratic action) society to treat them equally–in employment, marriage laws, and yes, adoption policies. They are not forcing anyone to like gay people or to be gay people. But as a subjectivist, this is inevitable and the only way we can coerce others to accept or live by those values we strongly prefer. If you wish to fight the gay agenda from within the democratic process, that is your business. I have no problem with that, per se. That is the only way you can hope to see your values become prevalent or universal.

  75. ordinary seeker

    Off-topic? Tom, my questions and Chris’ are at the heart of the topic. Is it that you have no response?

  76. Tom Gilson

    The topic was “what is evidence to Christians.” That was the topic I raised with this blog post. Someone asked a question about ethics, and I answered it, and it started us down a different road, not on topic.

    So why am I not responding? Because I’ve been managing a huge load of communication with flg on another thread, I have a commitment to post more than one post on the book review I posted yesterday, I have another writing project aside from this blog I’m responsible for (with a deadline), I have a wife and two kids, and sometimes I just have to say I can’t let all my time be controlled by any question anybody asks on this blog.

    Have I no response? Of course I have one. It’s not a short one, though, because a short one would inevitably be inadequate. But I don’t have time to write a long response. So I’m just saying I’m done here with this off-topic topic.

  77. ordinary seeker

    Well, I’m disappointed, Tom, but I understand that you have other things to do. I hope that someone else will take up your position or that you will address these questions in the future.

  78. Paul

    I took a walk on the William and Mary campus last week and was treated to bulletin board signage everywhere, forcing on me the incorrect belief that gay sex is good and fine.

    Free speech is not necessarily speech we agree with. If we don’t run across speech that we detest, speech isn’t really free.

    You’ve also stretch the idea of “forced” out or proportion. To merely read an example of free speech is having is merely having the idea that someone disagrees with you forced on you, but that is inherent in free speech.

  79. Chris

    Tom,
    Expanding on Paul’s point, at what point in your walk at William and Mary’s did you believe that gay sex is good and fine, and when did you decide it was a false belief?

    I don’t wish to be pedantic, but if you say you had a belief forced on you, then you must of believed it at some point. I suspect you mean someone tried to force (use persuasive rhetoric, perhaps?) the belief on you. As Paul says, this is merely an example of free speech. That is the problem with democracy, even one built on laws and not men. It is messy. Unless you wish to support democracy in name only, then at the least, as our wise founders understood, you have to allow some speech that is difficult if not abhorrent for many others. And that means supporting free speech that might well go against what you believe to be God’s will. You feel it is God’s will that gays not be allowed to marry and that the gay lifestyle is a degradation. You can support that with passages in the Bible. I agree, that is exactly what the men who wrote the Bible believed was God’s will. I also believe that the Bible is clear about God’s will on the matter of slavery (hint: HE seems OK with it). Yet Christians now believe that it is a sin–that despite the clear teachings in the Old Testament in favor of slavery and the lack of clarity in the New Testament, Christians now see this as wrong. I guarantee you that there are plenty of clergy who believe the same about gay rights. They believe that gay rights are consistent with God’s will.

    And this returns us to evidence. Much of your evidence will fall into this trap. How do you decide which clear moral rules in the Bible are genuine reflections of God’s will and which are not. If you say they are all reflections then you have to explain what epistemic method you employ to decide why we seem to have different moral standards today (within the church) than what God’s will (as recorded in the Bible) seems to advocate. One example is slavery. Why was slavery OK two to three thousand years ago, but wrong today. Why did Christians (or nearly all) see it as OK three hundred years ago? What did they do wrong? How would you decide today that a majority of Christians are wrong on a moral issue, as presumably you would have done if you were alive in 1730 concerning slavery? How do you know you are not wrong about gays? Most Christians in 1730 believed that black slavery was acceptable, too.

    You asked me before what type of subjectivism I am. I am not sure about labels, but probably some form of constructivism. I admit I am influenced by Barefoot Bums Meta-Ethical Subjective Relativism, although I don’t pretend that I present it perfectly.

  80. MedicineMan

    Chris,

    If I may…

    Why did Christians (or nearly all) see [slavery] as OK three hundred years ago? What did they do wrong?

    They made the same mistake that critics who bring this up make. When we say “slavery” today, it’s a term that’s loaded with a lot of cultural and social baggage that didn’t exist in the term translated as “slave” or “servant” in the original text.

    In a civilization without social security, welfare programs, or other social constructs, indentured servanthood was a better option than homelessness. If you actually read what the Bible says about the treatment of servants, you won’t see anything compatible with the chattel slavery we identify with the term today.

    In short, what is described in the Bible is not the same as what was practiced in the 1700’s. I’m quite sure some will try to claim that distinction as invalid, but it’s actually a pretty big difference. The emotionally-loaded nature of the word “slavery” distorts the reality of what the Bible is actually describing.

    In other words, those who have something to gain by associating the Bible with slavery (or just don’t know any better) make a false comparison between what they are doing (or did) and what the Bible actually discusses. So, I think you’re being premature in calling the Bible’s teachings on slavery “clear”, because a person with a clear understanding of the text and the culture in question wouldn’t see it the way you’re presenting it.

    Regarding government, the Bible is primarily concerned with man’s relationship to God. The vast majority of governments, leaders, politicians the world has ever seen or ever will see could really care less what the Bible says about how to be a good ruler, or a good citizen. So, the Bible’s model is one of working within the system, but not necessarily one of theocracy.

    There’s a recognition that humans will always tend to abuse power, which is why God never wanted a human king in the first place. Rather than call for theocracy, the Bible talks about submission (though not necessarily obedience), and a call for Christ-like treatment of others. This is why the primary commandments involve loving God and loving each other, and nothing about how nations should be structured. Suggesting that the Bible calls for theocracy (rule by the priests) is incorrect.

  81. MedicineMan

    …and I just saw Tom’s reminder about topical questions, so I’ll leave a checkup on Biblical social issues for later discussion, as well.

  82. Chris

    Medicine Man,

    Certainly the OT did call for a theocracy, your claim that God did not originally want it notwithstanding. Jesus did not talk about government, but it is hard to see how democracy, especially when the majority goes against the will of God, derives in anyway from the teachings in the Old or New Testament.

    I think you are partly right and partly wrong on the question of slavery. I do not doubt that some slavery back then was “better” than chatel slavery of 150 years ago. But to suggest that it was not really slavery is wrong. Slavery was an excepted part of the cultures back then and often horribly brutal, which is why I don’t specifically condemn the Jews of 3000 years ago, but nor do I look to their book for moral wisdom. In any case, God did condemn the Egyptians for their use of Jewish slaves (If we are to believe the OT) but did not condemn it universally. He did not even order the Egyptians to be better to their slaves. I guess being a slave under nice conditions was OK for everyone but not for Jews. I am sure that you will claim that it is obvious that the Egyptian slavery was brutal while Jewish slavery was benevolent. I think it is a just too convenient argument. I have been in many debates over these issues and every clear example of brutality that God commands in the OT is brushed away. Moses commands that the Jews kill defeated enemies and force the women to become wives. This is by definition genocide and rape. God kills all the first born males of the Egyptian empire (not to mention killing about everyone in the flood). I can understand why a small tribal group would do this in the brutal clime of the time or believe these about God, but concerning a tribe with the protection and support of the true God, it is morally repugnant today to suggest it was OK.

    Obviously if Good is defined by whatever God decrees, then God is good. But I don’t have to buy into it.

  83. MedicineMan

    Chris,

    If it’s “certain” to you, regardless of what I might say, then details are definitely best saved for a different thread. There are some important distinctions that you don’t recognize, such as between Mosaic servanthood and the captivity in Egypt, and especially here:

    This is by definition genocide and rape.

    I don’t know what book you’re reading, or what definitions you’re using, but please don’t parrot what others might have said about the text. I have also discussed these issues often, and without fail those who put their criticism in those terms can’t explain them when confronted with the actual text. In other words, they didn’t see this problem themselves, they just repeated it from someone else. I can’t speak with certainty for you, of course, but I think an actual reading of the source material would help.

    The reason the Exodus was so frequently mentioned by civil rights leaders was because it had great similarity to civil-war-era slavery – and you can see God’s level of approval of that. I think you also need to distinguish between “brushing away” and “putting in context”, depending on who you talk(ed) to. If I say, “John shot Bob point-blank eight times,” it’s not “brushing it aside” to add, “but John’s a cop, and Bob was rushing at him in the dark with a knife.” Is it impossible that a truly good God would actually have justifications or everything He does?

    Related to this, and virtually all other possible threads, I guess, is this:

    But I don’t have to buy into it.

    I agree, you don’t have to. I hope you don’t go the route some others do, though, and blame God when you (or others) choose not to “buy into it” and bad things happen. I think this is also an important sentiment to consider when dealing with evidence, and it’s one reason why some of us are reluctant to deeply discuss it. Some people don’t care if God’s real or not, or if He’s good or not. I can respect the honesty of a person taking that approach. But, I think it’s acceptable to agree that, if a person knows beforehand that the presentation of evidence won’t make any difference, there’s no point in risking an argument.

  84. Chris

    Numbers 31:7 And they warred against the Midianites, as the LORD commanded Moses; and they slew all the males.
    31:8 And they slew the kings of Midian, beside the rest of them that were slain; namely, Evi, and Rekem, and Zur, and Hur, and Reba, five kings of Midian: Balaam also the son of Beor they slew with the sword.
    31:9 And the children of Israel took all the women of Midian captives, and their little ones, and took the spoil of all their cattle, and all their flocks, and all their goods.
    31:10 And they burnt all their cities wherein they dwelt, and all their goodly castles, with fire.
    31:11 And they took all the spoil, and all the prey, both of men and of beasts.
    31:12 And they brought the captives, and the prey, and the spoil, unto Moses, and Eleazar the priest, and unto the congregation of the children of Israel, unto the camp at the plains of Moab, which are by Jordan near Jericho.
    31:13 And Moses, and Eleazar the priest, and all the princes of the congregation, went forth to meet them without the camp.
    31:14 And Moses was wroth with the officers of the host, with the captains over thousands, and captains over hundreds, which came from the battle.
    31:15 And Moses said unto them, Have ye saved all the women alive?
    31:16 Behold, these caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to commit trespass against the LORD in the matter of Peor, and there was a plague among the congregation of the LORD.
    31:17 Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him.
    31:18 But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.

    Genocide, rape, slavery, pure and simple. I am sure they were kind to the slaves, nice to the young virgin women, and killed the other men and women with one swift stroke of the sword.

    It is amazing how behavior that common with every other tribal group at that time is elevated to moral goodness when the Jews did it.

  85. MedicineMan

    Chris,

    Copy-pasting is not the same as contextual understanding. If you see “genocide”, or “rape”, in that passage, you’re dealing in pure fantasy, seeing what you want to see. You need to educate yourself on the OT laws regarding treatment of captured women and the rules of engagement for enemy nations, both of which apply and make a significant difference in the way a reasonable person will fill in what this passage does not say. Specifically, it contradicts this assertion:

    behavior that common with every other tribal group at that time

    It would also be good to understand what’s briefly described in the very passage you pasted: why these actions were taken in the first place.

    This is an example of the evidence quandary. Even after being reminded that there’s a greater cultural and scriptural context, you’re interpreting scripture as though any hostile fantasy you choose to insert into it actually applies. If I cited anything else, would you read it, or simply imply a third time that such information is not needed? Why give evidence if it’s going to be ignored?

    Related note: this is not historically accurate:

    Few really questioned slavery 300 years ago.

    Same problem.

    Your questions are legitimate, but your approach gives the impression of both ignorance and prejudice. The thread was intended to be about evidences, so feel free to contact me via email [screen name with a numeral seven between the two words at gmail dot com] if you actually care about understanding what it is you’re attempting to criticize.

  86. ordinary seeker

    Like so many discussions in comments here, this is dissolving into, “You’re stupid,” “No I’m not, you’re stupid;” “No, you’re stupid,” “no you’re stupid.”

    How about we stop that and discuss the core of the issue, which is why does it matter whether morality is objective?

  87. Chris

    I do know what was going on in that Numbers passage. God was angry that the Israelites were whoring with women from Moab back in chapter 25. When an Israelite walks by with a Midian women, Phinehas kills them and God stays his plague (which had already killed 25,000.) This is the context that lead God to command Moses to attack the Midianites.

    Sorry, but killing 24000 in a plague is not the actions of a good god. Ordering that a tribe be slaughtered because the men of Israel were whoring is not the actions of a good god. Ordering the specific killing of the older women and the forced marriage of the younger is not the sign of a good god. It is certainly not a sign of an omnipotent and all good God.

    Telling me I lack understanding of the laws of the OT misses the point. I can see what the laws of the OT were and can even understand why the nation might develop them. They are not however evidence of a good God. They are not good in any context. It is one thing to forgive them for acting like all other tribes of the time (relatively speaking) and another to argue that the laws were given by an ever present all powerful and good God. God did not have to follow around behind a rag tag group of tribal wanderers sending out the odd plague and ordering enemy tribes to be slaughtered. He was all powerful! If he wanted Israel to work it all out for them selves, then he should never have resorted to sending plagues that killed thousands and he should have just let them work it out. If he wanted to directly intervene than he should have done so in way that would seem today to be good. If what God was just doing what he felt like doing, including acting like every other two-bit local God in that region, then just admit it. But let’s not call Him good. (Why not just admit that the Israelites invented this OT God to explain and justify the harsh realities of their lives. We can even grant they developed some cultural norms that were better than the other tribes around them.)

  88. Chris

    Ordinary Seeker,

    Morals are objective or they are not. Our own preference is irrelevant to the truth of that fact. Of course, if they are subjective (which is what I hold) then moral reasoning is at some level preference. It is not a matter of that I prefer that morals be that way. They just are.

  89. MedicineMan

    Chris,

    You seem convinced that these actions are absolutely wrong. That there is absolutely no context in which they could possibly be justified. As SteveK said,

    Those who argue for subjective morals in a classroom setting or on the internet, argue and behave as if they are objective when in a real life setting.

    Further, you said this:

    Telling me I lack understanding of the laws of the OT misses the point.

    Actually, for a self-professed subjectivist, it is very much the point. How can you determine the morality of actions unless you know the context, especially when you don’t think there’s an absolute standard to be followed, anyway? Since you don’t know the full context and don’t seem interested in knowing it, there’s no point in discussing it further, at least not publicly.

    Like I said, if you really care enough to know, contact me. I agree that you “can” (are able to) see how these laws operate, but right now you clearly don’t. If you just want to vent about how (absolutely) evil you think God is, do it somewhere else.

  90. Fortuna

    @Holopupenko

    My apologies for the late reply.

    First, I suspect you’re covering your tracks… but in due deference to Tom, I’ll let it go.

    I don’t know what you mean.

    Second, “bad form”?? Really? Because it forces naturalists, materialists, and atheists to actually THINK about beingness and existence as pointing to modes of existence beyond the senses, i.e., beyond that accessible to the modern empirical sciences (MES)? Because it forces them to employ their own scientistic and reductionist rules of the game… and then see those rules crumble into inefficacy? Puhleez…

    No, because you seem to be holding those groups to a standard they don’t espouse, ie. that everything has to be empirically accessible in order to exist. I have yet to see any of those groups fail to grapple with the notion that things, such as the scientific method, can exist in a purely conceptual sense.

    Third, “unanswerable”? Of course it’s answerable: you MUST explain the existence of the scientific method–no matter what mode of existence it enjoys.

    Well, sure. My objection is that you phrased the question, deliberately as it turns out, in the form of a fallacy. You might as well have asked the Bum what colour the number seven is, and then taunted him for not answering.

  91. Chris

    Medicine Man.

    I never said they were absolutely wrong. That is your very deliberate misquote. Also, I think you are confusing subjectivism with Cultural Relativism. While most subjectivists do look at context to the extent that our own personal preferences often change depending on the context, I am not in any way a cultural relativist. But I can read Numbers as well as you. I am just not as able to modify my own moral beliefs because the supposed author was in cahoots with God.

    We do not need an absolute standard in order to judge an action. There is no absolute standard. No one has an absolute standard and consequently since we all judge, we must be able to do so without our own standards.

    Last, I do not think that God is absolutely evil. I do not think God exists. I also don’t think that it is coherent to even talk about the conception of God as absolutely evil. There are no absolute standards. But, I will fight using the democratic method to make sure that we never codify our laws specifically to align with someone’s conception of God.

  92. ordinary seeker

    Chris, you didn’t answer my question, which was why does it matter–to you, or to anyone else–whether morality is objective or subjective? Why are you engaged in this discussion here? What does it mean to you to think that morality is subjective?

    To me it matters because I believe that it is more moral to believe that morality is subjective than that it is objective. I engage in this discussion to find out more about how others think about this.

  93. Chris

    Medicine Man,

    You are right in the sense that you did not “quote” me. But you did use the term absolute multiple times in my reference to Numbers when I never did and never do use that term. You used the term four times. It is important because if you can get me to admit that there are absolute wrongs or rights then I undermine my subjectivist position. It is annoying as it is to have to deal with objectivists who persist in claiming that any judgement, even if at its core it is based on subjective or arbitrary criteria must by its nature imply objective normative values to have to deal with gross mischaracterization of my position.

  94. Chris

    Ordinary Seeker,

    You ask:
    Chris, you didn’t answer my question, which was why does it matter–to you, or to anyone else–whether morality is objective or subjective? Why are you engaged in this discussion here? What does it mean to you to think that morality is subjective?

    It matters for a couple of reasons. Since I believe that the question is one of fact and not opinion, I have an interest in it like I might want to know about the world as a whole. I just like philosophy.

    But also, I would certainly prefer that more people accepted that morals are subjective. Since morals are subjective, and since I do tend to avoid statements that contain words like “you should”, “you ought”, etc, I sometimes feel I am at a disadvantage. “Objectivists” simply have to state their preferences and demand fealty because they are “objectively” true.

    Morals or ethics become an issue to the extent that we want to influence or coerce other people’s behavior when those people’s preferences do not match our own. I prefer that people understand this and I hope that because of this they will understand the importance of negotiation and dialog. Obviously, people can and do simply use direct and brutal force to coerce others (and for some few things I agree), but this is true of any moral system, objective or subjective. But when you realize that one’s preferences are just that and not some fiat from on high, then there is hope that one will pause for just a second and give some credence to other’s thoughts as well. But when one’s morals, benign or not, come from on high or are set in stone, then the temptation to dogmatism arises.

    To me it matters because I believe that it is more moral to believe that morality is subjective than that it is objective. I engage in this discussion to find out more about how others think about this.

    I am not sure what you mean here. How can it be more moral to believe one or the other. If you are a subjectivist, then I suppose you would prefer that it be true. But who cares. If you prefer to do X, and you are currently doing X now, believing that subjectivism is true, what would change if you were convinced that objectivism is true? If this leads you to new facts about X and you no longer preferred X, then the point is moot. You would stop doing X. But that is because your preference changed. This could have happened even if subjectivism is true. If, your relationship to X remained the same, how would your understanding of the foundations of morality change your mind about X?

  95. MedicineMan

    Chris,

    Yes my use of the word “absolute” was intentional and obvious. I don’t think there was any mystery about my drawing a distinction between subjectivism and such ardent, confident expressions of the “wrong-ness” of certain actions.

    Annoying or not, you’re not helping anything by leveling accusations of dishonesty (“very deliberate mis-quote”).

    And yes, admission of absolute moral values does undermine the subjectivist position, which leads to the obvious question: is there any circumstance, ever, in which the actions described in Numbers would ever be morally acceptable to you? I’m not even asking you to remove the emotionally loaded, inaccurate terms of rape and genocide. I just want to know if there’s ever any possible circumstance in which you could see those actions as moral.

  96. MedicineMan

    Chris,

    Also, don’t you think that a person can be dogmatically subjective? Or that an insistence on subjectivity of morals can help a person dogmatically self-justify certain moral positions? To pick and choose whatever suits them?

    In other words, could I not say, “But when one’s morals, benign or not, come from the self or are totally subjective, then the temptation to dogmatism (and/or antisocial behavior or arbitrariness) arises”?

  97. Chris

    Medicine Man,
    I never used the words absolute. I did not imply otherwise. It is all in your mind. I was clear that I thought I understood why the historical tribe of Israel might do something like what is described in Numbers. I cannot imagine ever having subjective acceptance of what is described in Numbers. I am talking about the descriptions and motives listed there. But I am mainly talking about God, or the concept of God. An all powerful God that did what is described in Numbers (and elsewhere in the Bible) under any personally conceivable circumstances, is not a good God.

    The fact that I cannot conceive of my subjective preferences changing has no bearing on the objective truth of morality. I also cannot conceive of ever accepting child rape, but its “wrongness” is still relative to my subjective preferences. Or to be more precise, objects and situations do not have moral properties. Only our subjective relationship to these objects and situations are properly called moral.

  98. Chris

    Medicine Man
    Chris,
Also, don’t you think that a person can be dogmatically subjective? Or that an insistence on subjectivity of morals can help a person dogmatically self-justify certain moral positions? To pick and choose whatever suits them?
In other words, could I not say, “But when one’s morals, benign or not, come from the self or are totally subjective, then the temptation to dogmatism (and/or antisocial behavior or arbitrariness) arises”?


    True.

    But I cannot pick a meta-ethical framework based on hope or my wishes. Subjectivism is true. I have looked long and hard for over twenty years for some basis for objective morals and have not found it.

    But since I believe that morals are subjective, then obviously, people do and can act in restrained and socially conscious ways without objective moral truth. Maybe this is because they believe morals are objective. Certainly many atheists argue that morals are objective (they are wrong.) But on the whole, over the centuries I think mankind has progressed (by my subjective standards) by fighting the perceived “objective” truths of those in power. This, I think, has happened because people just went with their gut and stopped listening to the traditionalists (hard nosed objectivists.)

    But I am dogmatic only to the extent that I can only go to where the evidence seems to take me. Whatever my feelings about subjectivism, good or bad as a pragmatic societal strategy, I still believe that it is the true fact of the world.

  99. MedicineMan

    Chris,

    I never said you used the word “absolute”. But even in your reply, you’re implying an objective sense of morality, at least personally, if not universally.

    An all powerful God that did what is described in Numbers (and elsewhere in the Bible) under any personally conceivable circumstances, is not a good God.

    As was said before, this supports the contention that subjectivist moralities exist only in theory. In practice, there are certain things about which every person will say, “that is always wrong”. You were just as clear before when you said (emphasis mine):

    I can see what the laws of the OT were and can even understand why the nation might develop them. They are not however evidence of a good God. They are not good in any context.

    On the flip side, what would be invalid, in your view, of me responding to your criticisms of Biblical morals by saying, “hey now, you need to acknowledge that morals are subjective. You need to be more understanding. These actions and situations are not moral, only our relationship to them is. So, I’m just as right as you are.”

  100. Chris

    Medicine Man,

    You seem interested in having me look at the cultural and situational conditions of the chapter in Numbers. I don’t want you to get into that right now, but I want to ask you a question.

    One group that the Israelites killed were older women. Medicine Man, under what conditions, today, or in some conceivable future, would you say it was acceptable to kill the older women of a defeated army?

  101. MedicineMan

    Chris,

    I don’t think those who have enacted social progress, either leftwards or rightwards, would agree that their success was based on inherent subjectivity. For example, Martin Luther King didn’t beat around the bush in calling racial discrimination “wrong”. He didn’t say it was “less preferable to many people”. Telling a despot that morals are subjective is just preaching to the choir – he’s already acting with the assumption that whatever he wants is fine. Revolutions don’t run on chants of “we no longer prefer this”.

    I have looked long and hard for over twenty years for some basis for objective morals and have not found it.

    With respect, is it possible that you have found at least one, but chosen to reject it specifically because of meta-ethical wish fulfillment? You’re rejecting any possibility of you accepting God as good, for example.

    Also, as a subjectivist, are you open to the possibility that you might be predisposed to reject objective morality out of a (subjective) preference for non-objective morality?

  102. Chris

    Medicine Man says,

    Chris,
    I never said you used the word “absolute”. But even in your reply, you’re implying an objective sense of morality, at least personally, if not universally.
    An all powerful God that did what is described in Numbers (and elsewhere in the Bible) under any personally conceivable circumstances, is not a good God.
    As was said before, this supports the contention that subjectivist moralities exist only in theory. In practice, there are certain things about which every person will say, “that is always wrong”. You were just as clear before when you said (emphasis mine):

    Notice how you go from acknowledging that these are my personally (subjectively) conceivable circumstances to “certain thing about which every person [emphasis mine] will say, ‘that is wrong.’” Clearly I never said or implied this. I don’t pretend that what I prefer is or ought to be universal. Obviously, Numbers 31 shows us that not everyone would say it is wrong. You also don’t seem to understand objective morals if you think that the fact that “every person will say ‘that is wrong’” is a sign of objective moral truth. Everyone in agreement is a sign that the proposition is not in fact a moral proposition. Do you mean that “everyone ought to believe it is wrong”? If that, then I definitely don’t believe that. While I support laws coercing behavior and do try to affect people’s preferences at times, I never (or rarely) say “you ought to do this or that.”

    I can see what the laws of the OT were and can even understand why the nation might develop them. They are not however evidence of a good God. They are not good in any context.
    On the flip side, what would be invalid, in your view, of me responding to your criticisms of Biblical morals by saying, “hey now, you need to acknowledge that morals are subjective. You need to be more understanding. These actions and situations are not moral, only our relationship to them is. So, I’m just as right as you are.”

    You would be just as right if you were honestly stating your preferences. Our subjective beliefs are properly basic and their truth is not open to debate. When we feel so strongly about an behavior that we wish to stop people from doing it, all we can do is try to use persuasion to change their preferences or force them to change their behavior.

  103. Chris

    Medicine man wrote,

    Chris,
    I don’t think those who have enacted social progress, either leftwards or rightwards, would agree that their success was based on inherent subjectivity. For example, Martin Luther King didn’t beat around the bush in calling racial discrimination “wrong”. He didn’t say it was “less preferable to many people”. Telling a despot that morals are subjective is just preaching to the choir – he’s already acting with the assumption that whatever he wants is fine. Revolutions don’t run on chants of “we no longer prefer this”.

    You do tend to switch gears in the middle of an argument.

    Yes, most people are objectivists. They are wrong. It does not mean I harbor them any necessary ill will or am particularly bothered. I am only interested in what the person stands for on the whole.

    But then you say that telling a despot “we don’t approve of their behavior” is preaching to the choir, what, because despots are automatically assumed to be subjectivists? Come on now. As you start to imply, most who push for social change (not just progress) are objectivists. Most people are objectivists. It is the most effective way for a leader to coerce support. You don’t think that Hitler saw his morals as objective?

    Why would I tell a despot his morals are subjective?

    With respect, is it possible that you have found at least one, but chosen to reject it specifically because of meta-ethical wish fulfillment? You’re rejecting any possibility of you accepting God as good, for example.
    Also, as a subjectivist, are you open to the possibility that you might be predisposed to reject objective morality out of a (subjective) preference for non-objective morality?

    Look, my wife is a Methodist. I do not reject that a God could be good? I don’t believe in one. Please don’t think that I have rejected God because of the OT. The OT is not always an accurate reflection of God’s real purpose and influence. Just ask any moderate and liberal Christian.

    All joking aside, the OT is just a set of documents of a tribal group trying to survive and understand their place in the world.

  104. MedicineMan

    … I don’t want you to get into that right now…

    Well, you might not want to get into it, but any sensible reply to your hypothetical would require exactly that. I’ve offered you an avenue to explore that, if you wish.

    I could invent a situation, I guess, but why create one from whole cloth? I don’t have to be able to invent a different circumstance in order to assess the one at hand. If I lay one out in detail, you could always accuse me of 1) stacking the deck in my favor or 2) giving an example irrelevant as a comparison to the situation in Numbers 31.

    I think that the full (and I mean full, not scattershot) context of Numbers 31 makes what happened morally defensible. That starts from an understanding that this was directed by God, and in a very specific way. I didn’t say I liked it, felt good about it, am glad for it, or am happy for it, but as you said, we shouldn’t choose our metaphysics on the basis of personal preferences.

    I think you’re misunderstanding my point in comment #109, and I’ll take responsibility for phrasing it poorly. My point was that every person has their own set of certain moral positions to which they will never give approval, no matter what. They won’t even acknowledge that there could be a circumstance in which they would. In your case, child rape is an example. I obviously was not implying that everyone agrees on any moral idea. What you wrote afterward is based on that misunderstanding / careless phrasing.

    You would be just as right if you were honestly stating your preferences.

    So what, then? I’m right, you’re right, we’re all right. What’s the point of discussing it if there’s nothing more to morality than preference?

    You do tend to switch gears in the middle of an argument.

    You brought it up, Chris.

    Hitler was deeply invested in Nietzsche’s philosophy. Nietzsche believed that morals were just expressions of subjective feeling, and one of the things he hated most about Christianity was its insistence on actual, applicable, moral truths, which he found constraining. It’s the reason Nietzsche replaced “morals” with “values”. History tells us that a common theme with tyrants and depots is an assumption that there are no higher rules that apply to them. So, no, actually, Hitler would have been unlikely to define his moral outlook as “objective”.

    That’s exactly what emerged at the Nuremberg trials. Defenses based on following the laws of Germany could only be countered by appealing to a moral law above that of German leadership. Without that assumption, there was no moral justification to pursue the charges.

    My remark about “telling” a despot is the concept of appeal. If you look at a man running roughshod over a nation, and tell him that all morals are matters of subjective preference, you’ve just handed him another excuse to keep doing as he does. Like I said, if he’s right, and the people are right, then so what? Telling him what he’s doing is wrong, no matter what he thinks, at least has some philosophical weight in terms of changing his mind.

    No offense, but I find it odd to see someone simultaneously indicate a rejection of God and claim that certain texts don’t “always” accurately reflect His “purpose and influence”. That seems like more of the pick-and-choose approach I was concerned about.

  105. Chris

    Medicine Man said:

    I could invent a situation, I guess, but why create one from whole cloth? I don’t have to be able to invent a different circumstance in order to assess the one at hand. If I lay one out in detail, you could always accuse me of 1) stacking the deck in my favor or 2) giving an example irrelevant as a comparison to the situation in Numbers 31.
    I think that the full (and I mean full, not scattershot) context of Numbers 31 makes what happened morally defensible. That starts from an understanding that this was directed by God, and in a very specific way. I didn’t say I liked it, felt good about it, am glad for it, or am happy for it, but as you said, we shouldn’t choose our metaphysics on the basis of personal preferences.

    Full context of Numbers 31? Is this context different from what is actually written there? But I think you hit the crux. If God commands it, you would do it even if you are not happy about it, feel good about it, or like it. In other words, you would do something you consider wrong if God commanded it. You would participate in the slaughter of older women and all the males of a defeated army. This is considered a war crime today.

    Why would the acts mentioned in Numbers be a war crime today? What objective standard would you employ to let people know that it is morally evil? Moral objectivists believe that the avoidable slaughter of innocents in war is a universal evil. I would even support the universal application of the law concerning this. But if you would commit these war crimes if God commanded you too, what does it really mean to say morals are objective?

  106. Chris

    Medicine Man said:
    So what, then? I’m right, you’re right, we’re all right. What’s the point of discussing it if there’s nothing more to morality than preference?

    Because when others are doing things we really want to stop, or if others are failing to do things that we really wish they would do, then we have one of two basic strategies. We can negotiate or we can forcibly coerce.

    That’s exactly what emerged at the Nuremberg trials. Defenses based on following the laws of Germany could only be countered by appealing to a moral law above that of German leadership. Without that assumption, there was no moral justification to pursue the charges.

    One does not need a moral justification to pursue Hitler beyond one’s own preferences. But whatever moral justification you claim, you still have to use force to stop the atrocities.
    There are no objective higher laws. In any case, the higher law that we would have appealed to if Hitler had lived 1000 (or three thousand) years ago would have been radically different from the one we appealed to in 1945.

    No offense, but I find it odd to see someone simultaneously indicate a rejection of God and claim that certain texts don’t “always” accurately reflect His “purpose and influence”. That seems like more of the pick-and-choose approach I was concerned about.

    I was referencing the liberal Christian tendency to treat OT passages like these as not really reflective of the will of God. In other words, they might argue that the Jews in Numbers were acting on their own accord and not God’s. I would simply add that there is no God’s will to discover.

  107. ordinary seeker

    Chris,
    You said you don’t know what I mean when I say I believe it is more moral to believe morality is subjective, yet you wrote,

    “But when you realize that one’s preferences are just that and not some fiat from on high, then there is hope that one will pause for just a second and give some credence to other’s thoughts as well. But when one’s morals, benign or not, come from on high or are set in stone, then the temptation to dogmatism arises.”

    This is exactly what I mean. I believe ethics are (almost) all about relationships, and believing that morality is subjective enables us to create better relationships.

  108. MedicineMan

    Chris,

    Full context of Numbers 31? Is this context different from what is actually written there?

    If by “there” you mean the 31st chapter of Numbers only, then yes, “context” implies all of the relevant facts of the situation, many of which are not repeated in that exact passage. I know that you’re completely ignorant of that context, because you keep talking about these “older women” as though they were thousands of sweet little grannies dragged away from their knitting by a surprise attack. That situation is that situation – you keep trying to transpose it into some other place and time (literally de-contextualizing it) in order to make it easier to criticize.

    What would you do if gravity made things fall upwards? What would you do if you woke up tomorrow with a “gut feeling” that burning your house down was a good idea? The first question should be meaningless as a hypothesis contrary to fact. The second is clearly relevant to you, since you don’t think morals are grounded in anything other than yourself. What’s described in Numbers 31 is a unique situation, directed by a sovereign God with adequate justification. God’s not a random, capricious character who’s liable to tell someone to nuke a capital city tomorrow. In fact, if someone made that claim, I’d have ironclad proof that they weren’t getting that from God at all. So, your attempt at moral indignation isn’t any more meaningful than saying, “you’d just tumble into the sky if gravity reversed, wouldn’t you!”

    Let’s take the flip side, which is part of my point about application of subjectivism to real life. Are you suggesting that a person ought never, ever to do anything they aren’t fully in agreement with? Doesn’t that bring us right back to the “so what” problem of subjectivism? I can acknowledge that I’m not the supreme arbiter of morality, so I can acquiesce to a higher standard. A subjectivist has no reason to do anything (or stop doing anything) no matter what anyone else says. I could just as easily say that you could do anything you felt like doing – murder your family, burn down a hospital – since you don’t think a person ought ever deny their internal subjective moral feelings.

    We can negotiate or we can forcibly coerce.

    I’m being charitable and assuming that you’re referring to an attempt to convince the other person that your moral view is correct when you say, “negotiate”. Unfortunately, you have nothing to negotiate with, in that regard. When you believe that all morals are subjective preferences, there is no longer any reason for anyone to change their moral position. Force is all you have. I can appeal to an actual, real moral standard. I can at least present the possibility that the other person’s actions are truly immoral. I can tell the guy with a “gut feeling” that he wants to kill his wife that his “gut feeling” is warped. You can’t.

    I’m referring to the Nuremberg trials, not the war. Force stopped Hitler’s army, but it takes moral justification to try and sentence a person for atrocities like the holocaust. The trials afterwards were not necessary to stop the acts from happening. They were about enacting justice for those acts. Your approach gives no justification for doing that. After all, according to you, I’m right, they’re right, everyone is right. What they did can’t be called “wrong” by any universal standard, according to you, so punishing them is just you committing “slaughter” purely on the basis of preference.

    I was referencing the liberal Christian tendency to treat OT passages like these as not really reflective of the will of God. In other words, they might argue that the Jews in Numbers were acting on their own accord and not God’s.

    Which is part of the problem with “liberal” “theology” (yes, separate quotes were intentional). The text is clear that this was a direct assignment from God, not the decision of some leader. I realize that some liberal approaches agree with you, that there is no God and the Bible is just another collection of books…but that makes talking about “the will of God” absurd. If we’re going to ignore the text we’re criticizing, what’s the point of criticizing it?

  109. Holopupenko

    What the $%&*#@ could “better” relationships possibly mean if morality is subjective? “Better” compared to what… to something else that is “subjective”… and for what purpose? That’s rich… once again we see moral relativists incoherently and hypocritically imposing absolutist moral categories: it’s a thinly-veiled “might makes right.”

  110. Fortuna

    ordinary seeker can respond as well if he wishes, but here’s my 2 cents:

    What the $%&*#@could “better” relationships possibly mean if morality is subjective?

    I tend to imagine it would mean a relationship that satisfies more and/or greater desires on the part of the individuals involved, as compared to the previous one.

    “Better” compared to what…

    See above.

    … and for what purpose?

    Preference satisfaction.

    That’s rich… once again we see moral relativists incoherently and hypocritically imposing absolutist moral categories:

    I suppose if you insist on interpreting everything from within your framework, the other guy’s arguments are going to look a little weird.

    it’s a thinly-veiled “might makes right.”

    There’s a difference between claiming “human morality arises from human minds for the purpose of satisfying our desires” and “morality is whatever I personally say it is, and I intend to make you abide by it.”

  111. Holopupenko

    Fortuna:

    And if Jeffrey Dahmer’s “preference” is to hurt you badly… then how can you justify imposing your “preferences” over his? Because of the numbers (which means might make right), because you “prefer” it that way (which exposes the silly gerbil-on-a-wheel circularity of moral relativists’ assertions)? How is your “relationship” with Dahmer improved by an imposition of your personal “preferences” upon him?

    I realize relativists are eschew objective truths (epistemological, ontological, moral) because they “prefer” it this way… but give us a break, please.

    Also, to respond briefly to your earlier message, you are covering your tracks, aren’t you… and you know it. You might as well have asked the Bum what colour the number seven is, and then taunted him for not answering. Bingo! You got it because you had to be taunted (my personal “preference” by the way) to get your thinking out of a rut. Now, consider this (per your own realization): “You might as well have asked the naturalist why only sensory evidence counts as evidence… or, why can’t we “see” virtue?” Because virtue CAN’T be seen. Get it?

  112. Chris

    What would you do if gravity made things fall upwards? What would you do if you woke up tomorrow with a “gut feeling” that burning your house down was a good idea? The first question should be meaningless as a hypothesis contrary to fact. The second is clearly relevant to you, since you don’t think morals are grounded in anything other than yourself.

    If I woke up tomorrow with the complete and total preference to burn down my house, then I would have the preference to burn down my house.
    What if you woke up tomorrow with the certainty that God really did accept gays and did accept their right to marry? You would just join a growing number of other Christians who agree with that. But I doubt that would happen. Nor do I imagine that I will want to burn my house down. Morals are subjective, but not arbitrary.

    God’s not a random, capricious character who’s liable to tell someone to nuke a capital city tomorrow.

    Could have fooled me. You obviously don’t pay much attention to radical religious groups.
    In fact, if someone made that claim, I’d have ironclad proof that they weren’t getting that from God at all.

    I want to see your proof. There are thousands of theologians who would like to see it as well. They would love to have a clear epistemic method of determining what God does and does not decree.
    So, your attempt at moral indignation isn’t any more meaningful than saying, “you’d just tumble into the sky if gravity reversed, wouldn’t you!”

    This makes no sense.

    Let’s take the flip side, which is part of my point about application of subjectivism to real life. Are you suggesting that a person ought never, ever to do anything they aren’t fully in agreement with?

    I don’t ever claim someone “ought” to do anything at all. I do plenty of things that I am not in full agreement with. Sometimes because I have competing desires and sometimes I do things because it is preferable to going to jail or paying a fine or getting fired. But all things considered, if I want to do X, and I can do X without it impacting on other things I value, then yes, I always do X.
    A subjectivist has no reason to do anything (or stop doing anything) no matter what anyone else says.

    I usually have a reason why I do things. I desire to do them. I will sometimes stop doing things if I am asked. Why? Because I am a nice guy.

    I could just as easily say that you could do anything you felt like doing – murder your family, burn down a hospital – since you don’t think a person ought ever deny their internal subjective moral feelings.

    I do not hold that any proposition containing the word ought is objectively true. Please be precise.
    Of course I could try to do anything I felt like doing. But you are vague on what you mean by internal subjective feelings. I choose to do things that on the whole I want to do. This is grounded on subjective considerations. But internal reasoning as well as feelings all are a part of this. I rarely act merely on my immediate feelings.

    Unfortunately, you have nothing to negotiate with, in that regard. When you believe that all morals are subjective preferences, there is no longer any reason for anyone to change their moral position. Force is all you have.

    This is silly. Of course we can negotiate; we do it all the time. You do realize that we are a nation of divers religions and a large number of non-religious citizens. We all negotiate all the time. Are you saying that only Christians who agree with you (or that part of the Bible you think is correct) can negotiate? And if there is a higher standard, why negotiate at all? Just read the standard.
    We negotiate when we lack agreement—when we do not agree upon the higher standard or do not agree on what the higher standard actually says. A fundamentalist Christian and an atheist who holds to objective morals have great trouble negotiating primarily because both sides demand that the other adhere to their higher standards.
    You are not looking to negotiate. You want people to follow your standards.

    I can appeal to an actual, real moral standard. I can at least present the possibility that the other person’s actions are truly immoral. I can tell the guy with a “gut feeling” that he wants to kill his wife that his “gut feeling” is warped. You can’t.

    How well does that work to wag your finger at him ? If he wants to kill his wife, he might not agree that your higher standard is his. If he is a Christian, he might well believe that he is acting in accordance with God’s will. Oh, but you have proof he is not doing what God wants. Well, he might not just by into your proof.

    After all, according to you, I’m right, they’re right, everyone is right. What they did can’t be called “wrong” by any universal standard, according to you, so punishing them is just you committing “slaughter” purely on the basis of preference.

    No, there is no objective right or wrong here. A person is only right in that they know their own preferences. I am sure the Israelis committed slaughter based purely on their preferences too. They just believed those preferences were OK’ed by God.

    Which is part of the problem with “liberal” “theology” (yes, separate quotes were intentional). The text is clear that this was a direct assignment from God, not the decision of some leader. I realize that some liberal approaches agree with you, that there is no God and the Bible is just another collection of books…but that makes talking about “the will of God” absurd. If we’re going to ignore the text we’re criticizing, what’s the point of criticizing it?

    Because there are people today who wish to hold the Bible as a standard for our laws today. I have no problem with that, per se, (you can use any standard you want as part of negotiating) but I do think that it helps me more than you if people read the OT a little more closely.

  113. Fortuna

    @Holopupenko

    And if Jeffrey Dahmer’s “preference” is to hurt you badly… then how can you justify imposing your “preferences” over his?

    Quite easily, thanks for asking.

    because you “prefer” it that way (which exposes the silly gerbil-on-a-wheel circularity of moral relativists’ assertions)?

    I do “prefer” it that way, sarcasm quotes notwithstanding. The fact that mental qualia have to be described tautologically doesn’t mean they don’t obtain.

    How is your “relationship” with Dahmer improved by an imposition of your personal “preferences” upon him?

    By the absence of what would, no doubt, be a horrific level of human suffering. That whole “more and/or greater desires” thing I mentioned earlier.

    I realize relativists are eschew objective truths (epistemological, ontological, moral) because they “prefer” it this way… but give us a break, please.

    Perhaps they do, but what do I care? I’ve only indicated that I think human morals are grounded in our desires, not that I’m a relativist in the way you describe.

    Also, to respond briefly to your earlier message, you are covering your tracks, aren’t you… and you know it.

    No, I don’t. I have not the slightest idea what you’re talking about. I am mildly amused that you seem to think you’re agitating me, though.

    Bingo! You got it because you had to be taunted (my personal “preference” by the way) to get your thinking out of a rut.

    Good for living by your preferences, I suppose you get it after all. I’m also quite familiar with reification, by the by. Not much of a surprise to me, really.

    Now, consider this (per your own realization): “You might as well have asked the naturalist why only sensory evidence counts as evidence… or, why can’t we “see” virtue?” Because virtue CAN’T be seen. Get it?

    Yeah, I get it. You’re really fond of reifying things in order to score imagined rhetorical points. Ho hum.

    As to why only sensory evidence “counts” as evidence, I’ll happily offer you my personal opinion, since you seem to be asking.

    Other forms of evidence, like divine revelation, certainly do count as evidence, but it’s very difficult, from a practical perspective, to count them as evidence for intersubjective propositions. I seem to recall you mentioned you have a doctorate, so I doubt I need to explain this any further.

  114. Chris

    To Holopupenko,
    Re: response to Fortuna
    And if Jeffrey Dahmer’s “preference” is to hurt you badly… then how can you justify imposing your “preferences” over his? Because of the numbers (which means might make right), because you “prefer” it that way (which exposes the silly gerbil-on-a-wheel circularity of moral relativists’ assertions)? How is your “relationship” with Dahmer improved by an imposition of your personal “preferences” upon him?

    We don’t have to justify our preferences to anyone. You don’t have to justify your preferences. Of course, if you wish to stop us from doing something, or force us to start doing something else, then you might want to negotiate with us (or just try to use force or pass a law). The same goes for us. It is when we try to impose our will on others, that the question of justification comes up. But negotiations amount to the parties in question being clear about what they value, looking for common ground, willing to give up something to get something else and being respectful (or you could just be a dogmatic despot and force your will.)

    It would be easier to understand your argument if you would write more clearly and avoid the silly attacks.

    I realize relativists are eschew objective truths (epistemological, ontological, moral) because they “prefer” it this way… but give us a break, please.

    When you get into an argument with a relativist who holds that there are no epistemological or ontological truths, let us know.

    Also, to respond briefly to your earlier message, you are covering your tracks, aren’t you… and you know it. You might as well have asked the Bum what colour the number seven is, and then taunted him for not answering. Bingo! You got it because you had to be taunted (my personal “preference” by the way) to get your thinking out of a rut. Now, consider this (per your own realization): “You might as well have asked the naturalist why only sensory evidence counts as evidence… or, why can’t we “see” virtue?” Because virtue CAN’T be seen. Get it?

    So, your earlier lack of clarity was really a cover to get us out of a rut. Fortuna, do you get it now? Virtue can’t be seen. Amazing.

  115. Chris

    I appreciate Tom for allowing this to go on, and I appologize for dragging this so far into the morallity question, but it is time to leave. I thank Medicine Man for trying to reach me, but I thing there is too great of a gulf there. To Holopupenko,well, what can I say.

  116. Holopupenko

    First its “better relations”. That didn’t work, because no “justification” is needed… and hence it’s as empty as the one pushing for “better relationships.” Now its “you might want to negotiate with us.” Really? Why… because now “negotiation” is the “preference” of the day? As with “better relationships,” what possible value could “negotiation” have in a world of subjective values. Sorry, but Dahmer prefers imposition–not negotiation, and the only way that you can stop him is by forcefully imposing your “preferences” upon him. That, and all other examples you provide, is precisely why–sooner or later–moral relativism leads to might-makes-right.

    If you didn’t get the other stuff… oh well.

  117. MedicineMan

    Chris,

    …it is time to leave.

    I think that’s sensible for both of us. You’re starting to get silly, and I’m starting to get impatient. Case in point: negotiation. Obviously, it’s possible, so I have no idea what inspired you to go off in that direction. The very act of trying to convince someone to change their moral position implies that there’s a right or wrong way to approach that moral issue, and that only one of you is actually correct. If everyone’s right, there’s no reason for anyone to change their mind. Second case in point:

    I do think that it helps me more than you if people read the OT a little more closely.

    Right. From the one who refuses to do just that. This is why I’m more than willing to let the rest of your commentary go…this could go on forever, and you’re presently immune to reason. I offered to discuss this in another medium, which you declined. The offer is still open, should you change your mind.

    I think you’ve chosen a prejudiced approach to reading the Bible, and a dogmatic approach to morality, which leads me to agree that there’s a gulf here not liable to be settled any time soon. Hopefully, we’ll take it up again some other time.

  118. SteveK

    MM,

    The very act of trying to convince someone to change their moral position implies that there’s a right or wrong way to approach that moral issue, and that only one of you is actually correct. If everyone’s right, there’s no reason for anyone to change their mind.

    I was going to comment on this so I’m glad you did. If there are reasons (argument) that drive the changing of one’s mind then it’s no longer a matter of personal preference…it’s the reasons. If the reasons don’t do anything to support the change then why bring them up? Just state your preference and be done.

  119. Fortuna

    SteveK

    I’d like to respectfully disagree on one point of yours;

    I was going to comment on this so I’m glad you did. If there are reasons (argument) that drive the changing of one’s mind then it’s no longer a matter of personal preference…it’s the reasons.

    From within a desire utilitarian framework, one could still maintain that intellectual positions are rooted in personal preferences, even if there are reasons/arguments capable of changing an individual’s mind on a given issue. It may simply be the case that one party believes themselves to possess a more effective means of meeting the other party’s desires (which may or may not be common to both parties.)

    For instance, two individuals debating the merits of different economic systems may both hold in common the desirability of minimizing human suffering, while still holding differing views on the relative effectiveness of their preferred systems at satisfying their shared preference.

    In other words, reasons/arguments could, in principle, change the mind of one person or another, while the issue at stake would still be preference satisfaction.

  120. ordinary seeker

    Holo,

    I would have to say that your presentation here is a good argument for my belief that subjective morality is more ethical.

  121. SteveK

    Adding to #128 (piling on, actually)

    This is perhaps a better example of how relativists et-al. run into trouble with everyone around them. Reasons are NOT the same as preferences. I think the implications of that equivocation are obvious and devastating to the concept of rational thought and the sciences.

    Knowing that, why not restate your preferences over and over hoping the other person will eventually come around out of subjective preference (or fatigue)? I can only think of three reasons why that isn’t done…

    (a) the desire to purposefully mislead and manipulate the other person by making it appear like there are reasons for changing ones mind. They are purposely equivocating terms of reason with terms of preference. Of course this falls under the same category of subjective preferences so in their mind there’s nothing morally wrong here. It’s a case of sloppy reasoning done purposely, or…

    (b) they didn’t realize they were doing something that made no sense, or….

    (c) they actually think there are reasons that we can all attest to.

  122. Tom Gilson

    os, you picked a strange time to say that. Holo is presenting some of the logical outcomes of subjectivism, and yes, those outcomes are distasteful, but that’s his point, isn’t it?

  123. SteveK

    Fortuna,

    From within a desire utilitarian framework, one could still maintain that intellectual positions are rooted in personal preferences, even if there are reasons/arguments capable of changing an individual’s mind on a given issue.

    If true then I think this destroys universal concepts altogether, which destroys science and the concept of evidence (the subject of this post).

    Perhaps Holo would be so kind as to give a brief explanation as to why. 😉

  124. ordinary seeker

    Tom wrote, “Holo is presenting some of the logical outcomes of subjectivism, and yes, those outcomes are distasteful, but that’s his point, isn’t it?”

    The problem is not what Holo is presenting, it’s how he’s presenting it. Are you suggesting that disrespect is a necessary attribute of objectivism?

  125. Tom Gilson

    I’ve looked at his replies over the past several days, and what I see is disrespect for a viewpoint, not for persons. Believe me (and you can ask him this) if I saw disrespect for persons there I would say so.

  126. ordinary seeker

    Tom:

    This, from the man who requires respect for his own viewpoint to such an extent that he won’t allow his view of God to be disrespected by allowing others to use a lower-case “g”? This is the same person who is proposing that it’s permissible to disrespect the viewpoints of others? Yet another reason to find subjective morality superior, if subjective morality requires us to be respectful of others’ viewpoints. I would say, Tom, that debating others’ viewpoints is perfectly acceptable, but that disrespecting others’ viewpoints is completely unacceptable. One can disagree without disrespect. What happened to the golden rule?

    And now I think I’m done here for awhile.

  127. Tony Hoffman

    Along that line, then, I think it’s disingenuous and blatantly biased to tolerate disrespect and gratuitously antagonistic speech from those who share your close-mindedness, and to demand a different, higher set of standards from those who oppose your views.

    Of course, that’s only meant as disrespect for a viewpoint, not for a person.

  128. Holopupenko

    OS:

    No, you’re very wrong. People deserve respect… while viewpoints, ideas, opinions not necessarily so because those ideas can be false… if not diabolical. The onus is on the person promulgating an idea to present a sound argument in its support. For many ideas, that is an impossible task.

    The very idea that all ideas are of equal merit or somehow meriting “respect” is a sick lie. It’s clear you don’t even know how to properly apply the term “respect”–its object has to be a rational being, not an idea or opinion or viewpoint or even lifestyle. To not understand that is to have a deeply disordered view of what it means to be human.

    Your mistake is a very important hurdle (among others) that atheists and their fellow travelers must overcome–intellectually and morally–if they want to be taken seriously or open-minded. Hidden deep within your mistake is a repugnant equivocation between humans and their ideas, and it is imposed in absolutist moral terms! You’re whining about your ideas not being given respect in the same way that you want humans to be given respect, and then you promulgate moral relativism–something that eviscerates all meaning from making any moral complaint… whining or otherwise.

    The right to free speech doesn’t mean what you say ought be respected. It is one thing to respect a person’s right to speak, it verges on totalitarianism to expect everyone must then “respect” that which is said. Whether you personally like that or not is irrelevant: if what you promote is false, dangerous, silly, a waste of time, or all of the above… and if someone does not respect what you promote, well then… too bad for you. If you seriously think it’s “closed-minded” to criticize in the strongest terms (i.e., disrespect) ideas such as Nazism or homosexuality or postmodernism or phrenology or female circumcision or 2+2=5 or philosophical naturalism or moral relativism, then perhaps you need to question your personal views.

    And so there can be no confusion: I will never respect the opinion that 2+2=5… no matter who asserts it. I will never respect the idea that the color of a person’s skin somehow makes them inferior. I will never respect the repugnant opinion that homosexuality (whose representative acts are medically dangerously risky) is merely a lifestyle “choice.” I will fight the moral and intellectual evil that is atheism to my dying breath. I will never respect the stupidity and destructiveness of deconstructionism and its postmodern fellow travelers. I will point out foolish outcomes of any form of absolutist relativism and the resulting hypocrisy of its proponents. I will laugh out loud at the inherent circularity of scientism and the self-refuting nature of positivism.

  129. Jacob

    MedicineMan –

    But according to Christians, no man is truly innocent. This makes the justification easier. It’s not like God hasn’t wiped out nearly everybody on the planet before or ordered punishments that went far beyond the crimes. Without a knowable standard, the idea of true objective morality in this context runs against many problems. And I would argue about Hitler’s motivations, but certainly men can justify their actions through God. What are you going to tell them? That God hasn’t ever ordered anybody’s death? How do you even convince them that God really doesn’t want such a thing? So we’re back to the same problem of imposing morality if God merely waits until after death to judge (of course, if God was actually interacting with us on a more physical level like the Bible talks about, it would help to clear things up).

    Holopupenko and MedicineMan –

    No one is arguing for a world of complete relativity. For if we observe simple human behavior, then we would see that people do negotiate with one another. And I would say that negotiation has nothing to do with right and wrong. Morality is much like any debate. I might argue that Tom Brady is a better quarterback than Peyton Manning. I’ll use things like stats and championships to back up my arguments. There is nothing inherently true about either opinion, for we’re talking about human values, but Tom Brady is still a better QB than, say, Gus Frerotte. If anybody with an ounce of football knowledge can see this, then there is clearly a basis for believing so.

    It is true that there is no stopping somebody who is determined. I would argue, however, that it does not mean might makes right. By our very acts, we are probably imposing standards upon someone. That itself cannot be helped. But we generally understand the concept of positive and negative consequences. One still knows that burning a house down will probably effect someone negatively, but maybe such a thought is outweighed by a desire for revenge or just a plain desire. It can be reasonably argued that we generally want positive consequences for everyone – or at least very few negative consequences. Because we have to live with each other. People generally want stability, and they recognize the consequences of their actions. Right there we have a basis to work off of. When someone does harm another badly enough, it’s usually because of an ego or some kind of “mission”. And certainly the idea of might can go a long way – but so does the idea that sometimes we have to answer for what we do to our fellow man.

    SteveK –

    Reasons are not preferences, but that doesn’t change the consequences of things. One could say that employing good reason and good judgment will reduce consequences. Of course, people try to reduce consequences in other facets. You can look at the current fiasco in which people got rich by causing a financial meltdown – there was no impetus to do anything but cause a windfall. But that’s reality, not abstract philosophy.

  130. TheVillain

    In an effort to not hijack Tom’s thread I have posted my response to many of the ideas presented in the commentary here in a post on my own hole-in-the-wall blog which can be found here: http://thevillainousblog.blogspot.com/2009/04/evidence-and-morality.html

    As for the OP I will check back to your blog and see exactly how you approach each of your evidences in later entries so that I may more fully understand what you mean by each of them. I think I’m done with this thread though.

  131. Tom Gilson

    @Tony Hoffman:
    @ordinary seeker:

    Along that line, then, I think it’s disingenuous and blatantly biased to tolerate disrespect and gratuitously antagonistic speech from those who share your close-mindedness, and to demand a different, higher set of standards from those who oppose your views.

    Of course, that’s only meant as disrespect for a viewpoint, not for a person

    (os’s complaint was similar, though see further below).

    What can I say? I was wrong. I used the wrong word. I apologize for that error.

    Now, before I proceed I want you to know that I have used sarcasm often enough in my writing, and I have used irony. The two often coincide. What I am about to write is going to be ironic, but it is intended in all seriousness and without sarcasm

    I was wrong when I said Holo was disrespecting the world view. What he was really doing was respecting it by thinking through what it actually means. If a world view says preference is the ultimate source of values, then that is what it says. Then the question becomes whose preference?

    I was an education major in the mid-1970s when “values clarification” was all the rage. I don’t know how long that terminology lasted, but the basic viewpoint still prevails. In education, it meant that teachers were not to impose their own values on students, but to help them clarify their own. The assumption was that the students’ values were every bit as valid as the teachers’, so it would be disrespectful and arrogant to correct them. They were just to be taught to understand their own more clearly (of course that’s a value too, but we won’t chase that rabbit trail).

    So it was that when Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were writing in their journals–one of them genuinely psychopathically violent, the other despondently willing to follow along–they were doing what we would have taught them: clarifying their values. It would have been disrespectful and arrogant for teachers to have corrected them. By extension I suppose it would have been disrespectful and arrogant for any other authority to have corrected their values.

    They were doing what we would have taught them: in fact, they were not only clarifying their values, they were doing what they could to practice them. That’s even better, usually, isn’t it? We do frown on hypocrisy, after all, probably more than any other “sin” in today’s world except the “sin” of intolerance. (We’re inconsistent on that: we tolerate intolerance toward people who disagree with rampant sexual promiscuity, whether straight or homosexual.)

    All of this is really just moral subjectivism, though. Subjectivism means having your own values, your own preference.

    And this leads back to the question, whose preference? Harris and Klebold had weapons. They had a preference toward violence. Other people had a preference toward not being killed. Had their violent intent and their possession of weapons been known sooner, others with weapons would have come and seriously disrespected their personal freedoms. They would have expressed their preference, and they would have enforced it successfully by virtue of their greater physical power. Instead, however, Harris and Klebold retained the superior power up until the end, so they got to express their preference.

    Jeffrey Dahmer used his superior power as long as he was able to, also. And he was doing just what values clarification, if consistently understood and applied, would have validated him in doing. He was expressing his preferences.

    There’s another word for what Holopupenko has been doing. He has been respecting the ideas by exploring the full extent of they really mean, and he has been disagreeing mightily with them.

    Obviously you have thought that I was being hypocritical for not putting a stop to that. Maybe this perspective will change your mind. If you had been around here a year or so longer than you had, however, you would have known that I have held Christians to a higher standard than skeptics or atheists for a long time. If you were paying attention, you would have noticed that I had a word for Holo just this week, which he accepted.

    os: not capitalizing God is not just a matter of grammar. It is a matter of disrespect to a person, God, whether you recognize his reality or not.

  132. The Barefoot Bum

    Let me just say this: I am no longer contributing to this blog because I believe Holopupenko’s bullying — specifically his repeated assertions that I am unserious and unqualified to contribute to the discussion — was disrespectful to me as a person, not to my ideas, and I believe you tolerate and condone that bullying. Your opinion obviously differs. It’s your blog, and you can run it any way you please, and I am free to contribute or not as I please: it does not please me to contribute further.

    I’m sharing information about my preferences, not making any deep ethical judgments. I don’t think Holopupenko’s actions are objectively wrong, and I don’t think your toleration is objectively wrong. It merely does not accord with my preferences. But so what? The internet is large, and I ignore the content of millions of blogs, and billions of of people ignore your blog. One more or less either way makes little difference.

  133. Jacob

    @Tom Gilson:

    I don’t feel like repeating myself, as I feel like I adequately responded to most of the points in my last post. I will just say that terms like subjective and objective are woefully unrepresentative of the true nature of what we’re arguing. We all use some combinations of the two.

    I would say that morality is like philosophy itself. Maybe there isn’t such a thing as right or wrong philosophy, but sometimes there just is better philosophy – because ultimately we have a foundation to appeal to each other and argue. It’s a strawman to argue like most naturalists considers actual moral preferences as equal forces merely expressing themselves with no basis whatsoever. Most people, regardless of moral foundation, don’t act that way, so naturalists don’t argue it. It is true that some people cannot be reasoned with. Neither can you reason with a Muslim terrorist or someone who blows up an abortion clinic or a church that protests the funerals of soldiers. For every Klebold, there is someone willing to give his life for religion. At least with naturalism, we would not expect a higher power to put them in their places. So I hardly find that a theist properly characterizes the argument. It’s hard to explore the full implications under that context.

  134. ordinary seeker

    Tom,

    Your IDEA is that God is a person. But, as I said, I’m done here for now. What I (naively, I suppose) continue to hope to find here is people working toward understanding of each other’s beliefs; instead, I continually find contributors who bash each other’s beliefs. Does anyone know of any forum in which conservative Christians and progressives are working toward understanding each other? That’s where I want to go.

  135. Holopupenko

    Among other things, it’s scary the loyal opposition now demands people of faith think like them: we MUST–in morally absolutist terms–“respect” their ideas, preferences, opinions, etc. no matter how disordered, goofy, or diabolical they are.

    One of the characteristics of fascism is to overtly and formally forbid and suppress criticism and opposition… period. Isn’t that the goal behind the clearly-stated complaints here? These guys demand criticism be stopped and that we “respect” their ideas… or else they’ll whine about “bullying”. Sheesh.

    I couldn’t help notice that this kind of disordered thinking is behind the push to enforce the so-called “[un-]Fairness Doctrine”–a policy of the FCC that required (under pain of license suspension) the holders of broadcast licenses both to present controversial issues of public importance and to do so in a manner that was (in the view of the FCC) honest, equitable and balanced. So, the FCC (hence the administration in power) gets to decide what rates as “honest, equitable, and balanced” instead of what the people decide (through market place pressures) to what they want to listen. If an atheist wants to promulgate his views, should EWTN or the 700 Club be forced to grant air-time… even if it’s paid airtime? No morally upright person would impose such foolishness: if an atheist wants to promulgate his views, let him set up his own radio station and exercise his lungs as much as he wants, and then ride the wave of what the market decides. NOTA BENE: I’m not suggesting a vote or the market place decide what is formally morally good–I’m suggesting let the people listen to what they want to listen, and not be forced to listen to what they do not, well, “prefer.”

  136. Holopupenko

    OS:

    If you demand others respect even the most hideous of ideas, then you are looking for anything but “understanding each other.” We understand quite clearly that Nazism, racism, atheism, deconstructionism, positivism, necrophilia, burning widows on the funeral pyres of their husbands, female circumcision, moral relativism, etc. are disordered ideas or psychoses. Given that understanding, we can then properly judge such ideas.

    You’re looking for a “group hug” moral and substantive equivocation over all ideas, and then think you achieve “understanding” in such a manner. One understands in order to act upon that understanding. To dumb-down all ideas to the same mediocre level–no matter how inspiring and true or diabolical and false–(in the vain hope of achieving “understanding each other”) is the clear sign of disordered thinking, for it takes people’s most deeply-held convictions, beliefs, and reasoning… and considers all that unimportant.

  137. Jacob

    You certainly talk a very big game, but I’m very unimpressed by what you’re saying. I think that somewhere along the way you’ve managed to out think yourself and convince yourself of the superiority of your own views. Unfortunately, everything you’ve argued fails to back up your claims. I think it’s much worse that you’re puffing your chest when you can’t even address all of the arguments. Stomp on the grave afterward.

  138. MedicineMan

    Barefoot,

    On my own blog, I most definitely would not tolerate an atheist displaying behavior similar to Holopupenko’s.

    I am no longer contributing to this blog because I believe Holopupenko’s bullying — specifically his repeated assertions that I am unserious and unqualified to contribute to the discussion — was disrespectful to me as a person, not to my ideas, and I believe you tolerate and condone that bullying.

    That is a blatant lie. On your blog you engage in insults and name-calling. You do more than tolerate such behaviors, you instigate and participate in them. What appears above is nothing like what you perpetrate on your site.

    You have referred to Ted Koppel, Chris Bowers, and Scott Adams as “idiots”.

    You allowed a friendly poster to call another poster an “idiot” here, and you responded by joining in, using the same terms.

    You also said that creationists were cretins and intelligent design supporters were idiots, in this thread.

    You called Ray Comfort a “banana-loving moron”, and a “f****ing idiot”. In fact, your assertion was that those who believe in God are all described that way. On that thread is a lot of directly abusive language. Unless, of course, you’re going to justify it by saying that he wasn’t there to hear it…

    You used phrasing like this:

    “Phritz: Is there an argument buried somewhere in the incoherent and ignorant ramblings that form your previous post?”

    “You’re still missing the actual logic, but the stupidity is coming through five by five.”

    “Jumpin’ Jesus on a pogo stick, son, are you incapable of even reading your own writing?”

    You also said that anyone who affirms belief in God is “either a moron, a liar or an infantile s***-disturber.”

    You even said this to a poster on your blog: “I will, however, consider you a retard who couldn’t spot a contradiction if it bit you on the ass and didn’t bite you on the ass.” This, after calling him a “dipsh**”, and telling him he was full of sh**.

    You made this comment:

    But you still sound like a retard. At least you’re consistent….My head is not firmly lodged up my ***, and I’m much smarter than you are. The latter is not a brag: my cat is smarter than you are.

    So any complaint about what Holopupenko has said to you is ridiculously hypocritical at best. In fact, it’s worse, because nothing that was said to you was abusive or offensive. Your claim that you would not allow such behaviors can only be fairly described as a lie, as the linked evidence demonstrates.

    Any claim that you would not tolerate what has happened here is not only a blatant falsehood, but incredibly hypocritical. You have not only allowed far more personal attacks on your own site, you have actively participated in them. For you, of all people, to complain about the way you’ve been treated here is about as asinine as it gets.

  139. The Barefoot Bum

    We understand quite clearly that Nazism, racism, atheism, deconstructionism, positivism, necrophilia, burning widows on the funeral pyres of their husbands, female circumcision, moral relativism, etc. are disordered ideas or psychoses.

    This is precisely what I’m talking about. Of course, you and Holopupenko have whatever opinions you have. But given this opinion, discussion is simply not possible. In just the same way, I refuse to discuss torture, slavery and genocide: I disapprove, and my disapproval far outweighs any interest in discussing these topics.

    I unequivocally support your right to publish and condone opinions such as Holopupenko’s. But it is ridiculous to expect people who do not consider atheism, deconstructionism, positivism and moral “relativism” to be the moral equivalent of Nazism — as well as those who find Holopupenko’s substance-free bullying tedious and banal — to waste their time contributing to your venue.

  140. MedicineMan

    Jacob,
    If we’re going to go by Christian concepts, then we have to go by all of them. That’s part of the point – there is a “knowable standard” for morality in Christianity. This does not allow a person to justify anything they want. It has to be consistent with those principles, or it’s not “Christian”. I could say, “pancakes are round, therefore I can kill my neighbor.” Not all justifications are valid. You cannot validly justify anything you want if you’re going to claim Christianity.

    To compare Brady and Manning, you have to agree on some objective standards by which to compare the, something even you could not avoid. Stats and championships are needed to make that discussion valid; if you tried to claim that “well, your stats are just your preferences”, then the conversation becomes impossible. There’s also an implied subjectivity in saying “best quarterback”, so it’s a bit circular to point to something overtly subjective and apply it to morality.

    Might does not make right, for anyone. But to a subjectivist or relativist, that’s only because there is no “right” at all. People may want stability – but a dictator with all of the guns and money would probably achieve better stability through oppression than freedom. That makes things stable for him. It makes his desires more easily obtained. If I have to tell this dictator that morals are purely preferential, then he’s almost definitely going to say, “good, because I prefer to be the dictator”.

  141. Tom Gilson

    @The Barefoot Bum:

    Let me just say this: I am no longer contributing to this blog because I believe Holopupenko’s bullying — specifically his repeated assertions that I am unserious and unqualified to contribute to the discussion — was disrespectful to me as a person, not to my ideas, and I believe you tolerate and condone that bullying.

    Five days ago I directed a corrective comment toward Holopupenko. That’s how I always respond to commenters who are going over the line of courtesy in my view. Everybody gets fair warning, and if they respond, I’m happy to let them continue here. (Very rarely, when a comment contains nothing but pure anger, profanity, etc. do I ban a commenter without a warning. I think that happens about once a year or so.)

    Holopupenko answered “Fair enough,” with some additional thoughts added to it.

    As blog administrator it’s easy enough for me to do a search that brings up only Holopupenko’s comments, and I have done so. Between that “fair enough” response and the time Tony and os raised a complaint about him last night, he posted these comments (in reverse chronological order):

    https://www.thinkingchristian.net/2009/04/what-is-evidence-to-christians/#comment-12825

    https://www.thinkingchristian.net/2009/04/what-is-evidence-to-christians/#comment-12826

    https://www.thinkingchristian.net/2009/04/what-is-evidence-to-christians/#comment-12835

    https://www.thinkingchristian.net/2009/04/an-open-letter-to-the-atheist-ethicist/#comment-12838

    https://www.thinkingchristian.net/2009/04/what-is-evidence-to-christians/#comment-12852

    https://www.thinkingchristian.net/2009/04/what-is-evidence-to-christians/#comment-12943

    https://www.thinkingchristian.net/2009/04/what-is-evidence-to-christians/#comment-12945

    https://www.thinkingchristian.net/2009/04/what-is-evidence-to-christians/#comment-12950

    https://www.thinkingchristian.net/2009/04/what-is-evidence-to-christians/#comment-12954

    If you wish I can easily copy their entire texts into another comment, but I don’t know why that should be necessary. You can click to them. As I read those comments, he has responded to my call for him to focus on the arguments. He has cast no aspersions on your qualifications. He has not even mentioned them.

    So I strenuously object to the accusations you have raised at me, that I have “tolerated and condoned… bullying.” Whether “bullying” was the right term for what he was doing before I addressed him five days ago is a matter of very subjective interpretation, but I addressed him anyway, and you can go back to that comment and see how specific I was (rather than name-calling, for example). He responded positively. He most definitely has not been bullying since then, and I object to your insinuation that he has been.

    Everybody gets fair warning, and this is yours: your unsupportable personal accusations on both of us are the kind of thing that is unwelcome. Holopupenko responded when I gave him a word of correction. What more could you ask of me or of him? Now I invite you to do the same. Your thinking and writing are interesting and valuable here, and I would not be eager for you to pull out of these discussions, but this name-calling is certainly not up to the Starbucks standard.

  142. Tom Gilson

    Medicine Man’s 9:32 am comment was held up in the spam moderation queue, for obvious reasons. It came in out of order when I released it from the queue, so you might miss it for that reason. It’s important enough to draw this extra attention to it—in other words, be sure to go back and read it.

  143. The Barefoot Bum

    That is a blatant lie. On your blog you engage in insults and name-calling.

    That’s not my assertion. I don’t deprecate insults and name-calling per se. As I mentioned in my comment, I require that insults and name-calling be directed towards the substance of comments or positions. Since Holopupuenko started the name-calling and insults before I had contributed any arguments of substance (I was, in the spirit of the OP, making my own introductory remarks), my position is consistent.

    There’s nothing wrong per se with mutual hostility. I merely remark that civilized conversation is difficult if not impossible under such conditions. On my own blog, I’m not particularly interested in civilized conversation with Christians; after a decade of attempts, I’m convinced the endeavor is, if not completely impossible, too difficult to be worth my time. My experience here has done nothing to change my opinion.

  144. SteveK

    On my own blog, I’m not particularly interested in civilized conversation with Christians

    Yet you repeatedly comment that you prefer them with Holo and MM, here. This is getting more confusing.

  145. MedicineMan

    As I mentioned in my comment, I require that insults and name-calling be directed towards the substance of comments or positions.

    Also a lie. Calling someone a “moron”, a “f***ing idiot”, or saying that your cat is smarter than them, are not remarks directed at the substance of their positions. Those are direct personal insults. And you know it.

    On my own blog, I’m not particularly interested in civilized conversation with Christians…

    Obviously. So why come here and pretend that you are?

    …after a decade of attempts, I’m convinced the endeavor is, if not completely impossible, too difficult to be worth my time.

    If throwing feces is what passes for an attempt at dialogue in your mind, then it’s no wonder you have so little success in discussions. If what’s on your blog is even remotely representative of your decade of “attempts”, then I’d have to say you don’t make any effort at all.

  146. Pingback: | Otium Sanctum - Holy Leisure

  147. Pingback: What is evidence? A Christian viewpoint | Otium Sanctum - Holy Leisure

  148. Holopupenko

    I see another interesting parallel.

    Demands are now being made on Ms. California to apologize for the convictions she expressed. Perez Hilton goes off on his own blog to use expletives against Ms. California and to hurl personal insults at her… after he trashed her chances to be crowned Ms. America.

    Demands are made on me to “respect” views no matter how disordered they are. BB (as wonderfully exposed by MM) resorts to hate-speech and insults and profanity on his own blog, and then comes to Tom’s blog demanding a higher standard than he applies to himself… and lies about his own tactics. That’s what moral relativism is all about and what it permits its adherents: hypocrisy, lies, double-standards, might-makes-right.

    Birds of a feather flock together…

  149. Paul

    You can click to them.

    I think I just may do that.

    As I read those comments, he has responded to my call for him to focus on the arguments.

    But notice those times that H.’s ideas are still about the other person, and not that person’s ideas:

    April 24, 2009 at 9:40 pm

    First, I suspect you’re covering your tracks

    Because it forces naturalists, materialists, and atheists to actually THINK about beingness and existence . . . .

    To avoid answering the question is to evasively avoid critical thinking . . . .

    April 28, 2009 at 1:04 pm [oops, this is an actual personal attack]

    once again we see moral relativists incoherently and hypocritically imposing absolutist moral categories

    April 28, 2009 at 3:22 pm

    Also, to respond briefly to your earlier message, you are covering your tracks, aren’t you… and you know it.

    Still, this is a vast improvement.

  150. Tom Gilson

    @The Barefoot Bum:

    As I mentioned in my comment, I require that insults and name-calling be directed towards the substance of comments or positions.

    I think the answer to this is rather plain.

    Since Holopupuenko started the name-calling and insults before I had contributed any arguments of substance (I was, in the spirit of the OP, making my own introductory remarks), my position is consistent.

    Does consistency mean continuing to hold to the same opinion about another person, and continuing to say that they continue to act the same way, no matter what they say or do differently? Does consistency also require you to stick with your position that I “condone bullying,” even after I clearly demonstrated (same link) that I have not done so?

  151. Holopupenko

    See below for corrected links
    Recent stirrings in the comments section as orbiting about moral relativism nicely exposed some important fault lines, and also brought to light the intentions, tactics and a priori commitments of the loyal opposition. Now that this is over and we see how dedicated (if not emotional) the loyal opposition is to moral relativism (instead of focusing on “evidence”), may we move on with “evidence”?

    Regarding “evidence,” I responded to Villain here, but it appears he lost interest in being incorrect and went to his own blog entry to be incorrect again… AND he went to Barefoot Bum’s blog to, well… I’ll let you read his and other atheists’ charitable comments here (recall, this is the same Barefoot Bum who claims not to tolerate such practices… while even participating himself in such practices per Medicine Man’s exposition).

    NONE of them touched with a ten foot pole Villain’s candid disagreement with philosophical naturalism or his apparent agreement that not all things are physical and hence sensory accessible (but nonetheless demand an explanation). Chris tried to respond but only focused (almost exclusively) here on attempting to buttress moral relativism by not grasping the nuanced points I made regarding morality (Chris appears not to have a strong grasp of analogical language). Of course, I’m dammed if my responses are too long, and in this case dammed for a summary response which is full of densely-packed highly-nuanced points… but that’s okay.

    Perhaps we should restart the “evidence” topic under a new entry, but not permit off-topic comments (for example morality)… or is that too limiting?

    From Tom: Holopupenko emailed me corrected links. I have a busy morning going on, so I can’t take time to insert them into the body of the comment. Here they are:

    1st link “here”: https://www.thinkingchristian.net/2009/04/what-is-evidence-to-christians/#comment-12852

    2nd link “incorrect”: http://thevillainousblog.blogspot.com/2009/04/evidence-and-morality.html

    3rd link “here”: https://www.blogger.com/comment.g?blogID=28755195&postID=5184151655530531883

    4th link “here”: https://www.thinkingchristian.net/2009/04/what-is-evidence-to-christians/#comment-12854

  152. Fortuna

    @ SteveK

    If true (that intellectual positions are grounded in personal preference) then I think this destroys universal concepts altogether, which destroys science and the concept of evidence (the subject of this post).

    Sorry, I meant to say “moral positions”, rather than intellectual positions (like the validity of the theory of gravity, say). If you read the example I used, hopefully you can agree that’s what I was getting at.

  153. Jacob

    MedicineMan –

    Of course not every justification is sound, but you offered a very general criticism of the point. God has condoned death before. People have gotten away with a lot in their own minds because they think that God is on their side. This can be very subtle, as people try to seek the justification of the “good” of a give situation, but we don’t actually know the standard in which murder is separated from killing. So people use God to justify all sorts of acts. They think that they’re doing good in the eyes of God.

    Even stats have certain standards based on objective criteria, for the rules of the game are already set. We just need to know how best to accomplish them. For instance, many would argue that the RBI is a relatively useless stat when evaluating individual performance. It’s contingent on a teammate in scoring position. Or, perhaps, I can say that yards thrown are meaningless if interceptions are high. There are all sorts of fundamental things I can appeal to that bridge the gaps between opinions. And morality, like sports, is situational. Maybe it’s better to bunt in a given situation. We can build an entire argument off of that. It uses philosophy, debate, and opinions. If one’s views are silly, then perhaps they are wanting, and one can be “better” than others. But other times it simply does depend upon who is effected. If a wildlife area gets mowed down for a school, then what is right and wrong? To some people it might be very positive, to others very negative. It’s all contingent on individual values.

    I would argue that instability is the problem. Most dictators gain power because people allow them to. The usual problems are the corruption, selfishness, and poverty that breed such men, so it’s hardly a simple matter of his preferences. It’s the preferences of the people. Naturalism holds water because ultimately human behavior is predictable. When people grow desperate, they lash out in negative ways. Instability leads to rash leaders, which lead to even more instability. This cycle of violence perpetuates itself everywhere, and it does not end well for anyone. But the more secure of an environment, the more harmony that is achieved. Even if it means that people know they cannot do things against the pack, it helps to reduce negative behavior. Without functioning structures, things tend to degrade. While people think that they’re fulfilling themselves, they actually tend to hurt themselves. So those are ideas that can be built upon and have been built upon throughout the centuries of human civilization.

  154. MedicineMan

    Jacob,

    Agreeing that not every justification is valid is a good starting point. That’s why you cannot blame a philosophy for something contradictory to it. With the Bible, for example, you have commandments not to murder, not to take revenge, not to hate, etc. A person can say, “You’re a sinner, so I can kill you,” but that’s not in keeping with Biblical mores. So a person who takes that approach is no more validly justified than the atheist who says, “there is no God, so I can kill you,” or the relativist who says, “I’m fine with killing you, so I can kill you.” In fairness, of course, there’s nothing in atheism prohibiting such a position, because it’s an amoral (moral-less) worldview. That a person thinks they are justified in their actions does not mean that they are, even in terms of their chosen metaphysical views.

    As you said, stats need an objective basis. Evaluating a player can involve plenty of leeway in determining how various stats are weighed against each other – but there is still a need to appeal to objective measurements of “good” or “bad”. More RBI is good. Higher batting average is good. Higher ERA is bad, and so forth. Relativism and subjectivism are not compatible with these, because they claim that there are no universal standards (which is what stats are a measurement of).

    Christians don’t disagree that morality has to be evaluated situationally, but that’s not the same as saying morality itself is situation-dependent. Evaluating the morality of shooting a man ten times at point-blank range is greatly affected by whether or not the deceased was cowering in fear or charging you with a knife. Morality is not created or affected by any situation, but the specifics of the situation help us know what objective moral principles apply. Or, to be more precise, which ones might be violated (since they all apply all the time). Fetal position vs knife does not determine whether murder is right or wrong in that instance, it tells us whether the shooting was murder, or self-defense.

    How a dictator comes to power is not an issue. And, yes, his preferences do make a difference, because they will affect how he rules. There have been so-called “benevolent” dictators in the past, and there have been despots. It’s perfectly compatible with atheism and subjectivism to say, “I could care less what happens when I’m dead, so I’m going to take life for all it’s worth,” and become that despot.

    I see where you’re coming from with reciprocal benefits, and there’s some practical truth to that. But the problem is still the person who’s got more power than the rest of the flock. There’s also the problem of prejudiced weighing of “benefits”, or “desires”, etc. Appealing to a person’s sense of altruism becomes meaningless in a subjectivist framework, because that sense is totally capricious. Appealing to selfishness or force (“do it my way or it will be bad for you”) only works if they both believe and care that it’s true.

    It’s a dilemma I’ve seen amoralists, subjectivists, and atheists struggle with in the past. They talk about disbelief in God / objective morality as liberating (or belief in them as constraining). The flip side of that, though, is that that liberation works in all directions. The atheistic freedom to disobey “no adultery” has to come along with the freedom to disobey “no murder”. In my mind, that’s the biggest secular, practical problem with non-objective morals. They can only say, “yes”, they can never say “no”. Subjectivism gives plenty of good reasons to say why a person is permitted to do something, and nothing to say why they should not.

    While people think that they’re fulfilling themselves, they actually tend to hurt themselves.

    That is absolutely, positively true. It’s actually a fundamental principle of objective morals, from a Christian standpoint. When Christ said, “I am come that you might have life, and have it more abundantly”, that’s exactly what He was talking about. What we think we want is not always what we need, or what is best for us. Subjective morality does nothing but allow “what I think I want” to become all that really counts.

  155. david ellis


    I would define evidence broadly (and simply) as any information that would tend to lead a person toward a conclusion.

    I would suggest that this definition needs one small refinement: as information which would JUSTIFIABLY lead a person toward a conclusion.

    We can all, I would imagine, think of a great many cases where people were inclined toward a conclusion by information when, in fact, that information in no way supported the conclusion. In other words, your definition fails to take into account logical fallacies and errors of reasoning.

  156. Fortuna

    @MedicineMan

    Subjectivism gives plenty of good reasons to say why a person is permitted to do something, and nothing to say why they should not.

    Strictly speaking, that’s not true. If I do not wish to live in a brutal, tyrannical or violent society, for instance, then I should not behave in ways that I have good reason to think will make that outcome more likely.

    Subjective morality does nothing but allow “what I think I want” to become all that really counts.

    On the contrary, it can allow quite a bit more than that. If someone I care about is acting in ways that they think are likely to bring them fulfillment, but that I have good reason to think will frustrate that goal instead, I have sufficient reason to interject. If someone I care about were to inadvertently pursue a suicidal course of action while attempting preference satisfaction, my love for them would furnish sufficient reason to apply restraint, even if against their will.

  157. SteveK

    david ellis,

    Your comment is noteworthy. We’ve discussed the justification aspect of belief/knowledge many times and I’m glad you brought it up again here.

    If you disagree with Tom’s conclusion that his list is evidence for Christianity, then you are saying a person is not justified – EVER – in thinking the things on that list support the conclusion that Christianity is true. How so?

  158. ordinary seeker

    There’s another reason why a person would choose not to do something. Remember the Beatles’ “I am the Walrus”? Remember “I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together”? Well, this is an expression of the highest level of morality according to Kohlberg: the understanding that the needs of the other and the self are interchangeable, that the needs of the other are as important as the needs of the self. Some religious figures reached this level (MLK) as well as some political leaders (Ghandi). It is, I think, a morality supported by both religious and naturalist worldviews.

  159. david ellis


    If you disagree with Tom’s conclusion that his list is evidence for Christianity, then you are saying a person is not justified – EVER – in thinking the things on that list support the conclusion that Christianity is true. How so?

    Perhaps another distinction needs to be made:

    between the idea of “evidence for” a proposition and reasonable grounds for believing a proposition.

    For example, if a person claims to have personally been abducted by aliens his testimony constitutes evidence for the claim that aliens exist and visit earth.

    I think most of us would agree, though, that it doesn’t constitute anything approaching good grounds for being convinced that aliens exist and visit earth….or even for taking the claim particularly seriously as a possibility.

    And I don’t think that the list of 9 kinds of evidence for christianity stated in the conclusion of the post constitute anything approaching reasonable grounds for being convinced christianity is true.

    Some of them dont even seem very pertinent to the question.

  160. MedicineMan

    Fortuna,

    If I do not wish to live in a brutal, tyrannical or violent society, for instance, then I should not behave in ways that I have good reason to think will make that outcome more likely.

    Pragmatically, and theoretically, that’s true. But when you have a legitimate opportunity to become the tyrant, or otherwise get away with the crime, then that kind of thinking gets less and less compelling. Objective morality gives a person a reason not to do action X, even when they know (think) they’ll never get caught for it. Subjectively, people who think they won’t get caught, or are above/outside the law aren’t swayed by that kind of thinking. And a strong desire to do X can make it easier to believe you won’t. The reason so many people do bad things in secret (so they think) is that they don’t think anyone sees it.

    If someone I care about is acting in ways that they think are likely to bring them fulfillment, but that I have good reason to think will frustrate that goal instead, I have sufficient reason to interject. If someone I care about were to inadvertently pursue a suicidal course of action while attempting preference satisfaction, my love for them would furnish sufficient reason to apply restraint, even if against their will.

    Ahh, so you also understand that really loving a person does not mean letting them do whatever they want – also a good point of agreement!

    But, your example is still confined to your morals, not the other person’s. Those are your subjective, internal reasons for you to act – those are not sufficient or valid reasons to convince the other person to stop doing whatever it is that’s putting them in harm’s way. Your preferences, as you’ve explained, give you cause to act…but you can’t use a subjective view of morals to tell someone else that they should act (or not act).

  161. MedicineMan

    OS,

    Well, this is an expression of the highest level of morality according to Kohlberg: the understanding that the needs of the other and the self are interchangeable, that the needs of the other are as important as the needs of the self.

    More or less, yes and no, but close enough for the point at hand. That’s why the two greatest commandments are to love God with everything you are, and all you have, and to love your neighbor as yourself. The problem is that simply stating that this is the highest moral virtue, with nothing to anchor it to, is just another preference. Highest virtue, according to who?

    Again, this is still internal, as was Fortuna’s example. It’s also another aspect that’s subject to diffusion by subjectivism. What if my personal preference is not to care for the needs of others? Simply saying that that’s a virtue, especially if you espouse moral relativism, is no more valid than my view or any other.

    A Christian can say that altruism is both pragmatically good, and morally good, because of a belief that the God who created us knows the best way to “run the machine”, so to speak, and that those concepts of good are rooted in an objective source: His unchanging nature. I can tell someone else that altruism is actually good. A subjectivist can merely say that is “most preferable”, and preferences by definition don’t apply to everyone.

    That’s why I said that subjectivism can only be used to plead for permissiveness. It’s logically contradictory to argue for moral restrictions from a subjectivist position.

  162. MedicineMan

    David,

    I don’t want to jump between you and Steve, but are you familiar with the work of Simon Greenleaf? I think that’s at least a start towards explaining why UFO abduction tales and the evidence for Christianity are in completely different categories in terms of supportability.

    And I don’t think that the list of 9 kinds of evidence for christianity stated in the conclusion of the post constitute anything approaching reasonable grounds for being convinced christianity is true.

    Some of them dont even seem very pertinent to the question.

    Not to be too blunt, but what could ever possibly be valid, if those are not? It’s one thing to argue that those points are not true, or that those evidences are not valid, but if they’re real and true, how could one possibly reject what they point to?

    Or, from another angle, how would you frame a rejection of those points that wouldn’t destroy the validity of all other forms of history, forensics, or archaeology?

  163. ordinary seeker

    MM,
    If you know Kohlberg you know that he theorized that people developed morally not by being “told” what is “actually true,” but by being exposed to moral dilemmas. In other words, the more we practice subjectivism–which is really standing in the other guy’s shoes–the more ethical we become.

  164. MedicineMan

    OS,

    No, I’m not familiar with Kohlberg (yet), but isn’t that still a subjective view? And a circular one?

    Altruism requires empathy, so if Kohlberg says that practicing empathy (seeing through others’ eyes) is the means of moral behavior, and the ultimate morality is altruism, then all he’s saying is that we become more empathetic when we become more empathetic.

    And there’s still the problem of the times when each of us (some more than others, but all of us do it) choose to prioritize our preferences over others’. Just saying, “well, that’s not moral” doesn’t work when there are supposedly no “true” morals anyway. It also doesn’t help with the “getting away with it” problem. What’s invalid about me saying, “hey, don’t tell me not to do X…put yourself in my shoes! If you really saw things as I see them you’d agree with me…since it’s all subjective anyway.”

    It’s an interesting hypothesis, but from the way it’s phrased above, it looks like a tautology to me.

    Also, doesn’t that assume that subjectivism is just a means to achieve morality? That morals are not necessarily subjective, we just become more moral by being subjective in our approach to them? If we’re becoming “more” of something, doesn’t that imply an objective standard by which we can measure our progress? How do we know what that is?

  165. MedicineMan

    Related question:

    If I try to see through the eyes of Jeffrey Dahmer, why should I reject his view and accept someone else’s? The idea that we learn what is moral by examples makes sense, I guess, but don’t you still have to have a way to know when you’re “progressing” in the wrong direction?

    Or, I know that rapists would be terribly angry, unhappy, and depressed if they were put in jail. What justifies me rejecting their feelings unless there is a greater standard of morality guiding my decision?

  166. david ellis


    I think that’s at least a start towards explaining why UFO abduction tales and the evidence for Christianity are in completely different categories in terms of supportability.

    You seem to have misunderstood my intent. I was not implying that they were the same in terms of how reasonable it is to believe. It was simply an illustration of the the distinction I was making between \evidence for\ and \justified belief\.


    Not to be too blunt, but what could ever possibly be valid, if those are not?

    I didn’t say none of them were pertinent to the question. I only said some weren’t. Specifically:


    4. The existence of the Christian church as an historical movement

    That the christian church exists seem rather irrelevent to whether the claims the christian church makes are true.


    5. Changed lives of Christians

    That believing a religion and being strongly committed to it changes one’s life is not surprising (in fact, how could it not) and has little or no relevence to the question of whether the religions claims are true.


    7. The self-authenticating wisdom of Biblical teaching; its close fit with the realities of human experience

    Every believer in every religion feels this way about their religions teachings. I don’t think it carries any significant weight as a reasonable ground for belief in any particular religion. And I certainly don’t think a christian can make any cogent argument for why its more true of their religion than for most other religions and ideologies.


    9. The internal testimony of God in one’s life

    Problematic for reasons similar to number 5.

    On the other hands a couple of the categories would be exactly what was needed in order to have good grounds for believe (if there was actually good reason to think there was much evidence of this sort—which I think there isn’t):


    3. Prophecies made and fulfilled in history

    6. Miracles, signs, wonders, visions, etc., both historical and contemporary

    Not so much visions. At least not when its content is indistinguishable from hallucination. But verifiable miracles. Sure.

    As to this one:


    8. A long list of philosophical evidences

    He’d have to defend the particular philosophical arguments he has in mind. I’ve never encountered one that I think stood up to critical scrutiny.

  167. david ellis


    If I try to see through the eyes of Jeffrey Dahmer, why should I reject his view and accept someone else’s?

    Are you familiar with ideal observer theory in metaethics?

    I think it provides a good answer to that question. One far less problematic than theistic moral systems (I’ve never encountered one that wasn’t devastated by some variation of the euthyphro dilemma).

  168. MedicineMan

    David,

    I have to be brief, but I’ll be back later to see what else transpires. Till then:

    I don’t understand the distinction between evidence and justification, as it pertains here. If the evidence is legitimate, is real, and is applicable, how can belief on the basis of that evidence not be considered justified?

    I think Tom’s point about the existence of the church has more to do with the “impossible faith” hypothesis than it’s existence. I think it’s obvious that it’s mere existence is not being posited as reason to believe that it’s true.

    I’ll check out observer theory. In the meantime, I’d be careful about how much stock you put in the ED. Every person I’ve ever heard describe it as “devastating” hasn’t really understood its implications (especially when it’s applied to concepts like logic) well enough to say that. You might, of course, but ED has been under discussion even here recently, and (in short), it’s a false dilemma.

  169. david ellis


    I don’t understand the distinction between evidence and justification, as it pertains here. If the evidence is legitimate, is real, and is applicable, how can belief on the basis of that evidence not be considered justified?

    I thought my example made that fairly clear. Basically, the fact that X is evidence for something doesn’t not necessarily mean its GOOD evidence for something.

    When, for example, one is on a jury and a person testifies to seeing the defendent stab a man to death this is, strictly speaking, evidence.

    However, if the person testifying hated the defendent, has good motives for lying about the defendent, has been shown to have lied in previous testimony about the case, and even has motive for commiting the murder himself, I think we could judge the evidence provided by his testimony to be very weak indeed and nothing approaching grounds for belief the defendent is guilty.

    That X is evidence for a claim is not the same thing as X being reasonable grounds for believing the claim. X might be only very weak evidence. Or X might be good evidence in and of itself but not quite strong enough to consider the claim more likely than not to be true. Or other, better evidence, may contradict X (for example, the many cases where a jury convicted a man on a eyewitness testimony but DNA evidence later showed the man to be innocent).


    I think Tom’s point about the existence of the church has more to do with the “impossible faith” hypothesis than it’s existence.

    OK. I’d like to see a good defense of that one.


    You might, of course, but ED has been under discussion even here recently, and (in short), it’s a false dilemma.

    Before we even discussed it in relation to your views on meta-ethics I’d have to know what particular theistic meta-ethical theory you subscribe to. If you have a solution to it I’d like to see it. If you’ve actually solved it you’d be the first person in history to do so.

  170. SteveK

    david,

    Basically, the fact that X is evidence for something doesn’t not necessarily mean its GOOD evidence for something.

    So how do we get to the justification part – the reasonable grounds – you mentioned before? The way you state it here makes it sound like you can never get there because there is always one more question hanging out there that looks just like the one above.

    You go on to give a courtroom example where ‘lying about the defendent’ is evidence for something, but the question remains – is it GOOD evidence for that conclusion? Tell us how you get to the ‘reasonable grounds’ part?

  171. ordinary seeker

    MM,
    We don’t learn morals by example, we become increasingly ethical as we experience and respond to moral dilemmas. When, for example, we have to decide whether and how to remain in relationship with someone who has hurt us; or we have to decide whether to take the personal risks in being a whistle-blower; or we fall in love with someone we know our family will reject, we develop our capacity for ethical thinking and behavior.

    It’s not solely about empathy. Do you remember the scene in the last MASH episode in which the Korean mother smothered her crying infant so that the baby wouldn’t give away their location to the soldiers? Our reaction to that isn’t just empathy, it’s a full-on understanding of all the complexity of humanity. And it’s when we have that understanding that we have the greatest understanding of morality.

  172. david ellis


    Tell us how you get to the ‘reasonable grounds’ part?

    Its pretty much common sense. You have reasonable grounds for belief in something when the evidence or arguments in its favor is such that its implausible that such evidence could exist and the claim be false. And there is also the matter of how good our judgement of plausibility is. Sometimes, through errors of reasoning of many kinds, we can misjudge the matter. There’s no simple formula for these things—if that’s what you’re asking me to provide you must, inevitably, be disappointed.

    Of course, here we also get into questions of degrees of assent to a claim.

    For example, I might find the evidence such that a claim is more likely than not to be true and be reasonable in giving it provisional consent. But if it seems only slightly more likely than not to be true then it would, again as a matter of common sense, not be reasonable to hold the belief as an ironclad conviction.

    But I’m less interested in discussing these things in the abstract than I am in particular claims.

    For example, the claim that christianity is the “impossible faith” or fulfilled prophecy or whatever argument for christianity you may prefer to propose.

  173. MedicineMan

    David,

    I thought my example made that fairly clear. Basically, the fact that X is evidence for something doesn’t not necessarily mean its GOOD evidence for something.

    I guess the question then is really how you choose to interpret the list Tom gave. Not to be crude but…duhh. These are not issues that have never been considered before, and Christians are not somehow ignorant of what constituted good or bad evidence. When reference is made to the gospels and the testimony of the Bible, for example, what is not being said is that the mere existence of those written words is good enough for us. It’s the Bible existing as a document supported by external sources, archaeology, history, and so forth in ways which give us good confidence that it’s an accurate and honest source.

    There’s a rough outline of the impossible faith hypothesis here.

    Regarding ED, I have to politely say that we’re not going to discuss it at all. It’s been a major topic of conversation here just within the last few days, and frankly I’m completely disinterested in going through the same baloney over and over again. That’s especially true when you’re giving me more ED cheerleading. Dilemmas don’t have to be solved to be answered; they can be shown false and therefore not a dilemma at all.

    Check the post from this blog about the Atheist Ethicist for more on that.

    This isn’t an attempt to dodge the issue, it’s just an honest statement that I’m all ED’d out right now. Plus, the way you’re talking about it sounds to me like this probably sounds to you: “If you have a solution to the Ontological argument, then I’d sure like to hear it. If you’ve actually solved it, you’d be the first person in history to do so.”

  174. SteveK

    david,

    Its pretty much common sense.

    I would go a little further and say it’s common sense, critically examined.

    You have reasonable grounds for belief in something when the evidence or arguments in its favor is such that its implausible that such evidence could exist and the claim be false.

    I think that sounds about right. I would argue that belief in Christianity fits that. There are reasonable grounds for believing.

    There’s no simple formula for these things.

    I agree that you can’t put this into some equation, formula or flowchart. I wish the positivists, verification-ists, method-ists, etc would wake up enough to see this.

  175. Jacob

    MedicineMan –

    One man’s justified killing is another man’s murder. One man’s justice is another man’s revenge. The Bible does not reasonably define one from the other, so we don’t actually have a definable standard here. Has God ever killed a sinner? I can certainly find many examples from the Bible. Christians justify it by saying that it was justice being done, but they can’t tell you why one man might deserve justice and another mercy. Because of that, people can’t actually tell when justice needs to be done, even if it does sound reasonable at the time. This is dangerous, for even if you could prove that atheism is amoral, it is just as bad when a man thinks he has justification and the objective source of morals is not there to rebuff him. No one can convince him, and other people can only try to stop him.

    I would also argue that people recognize when something is “good” or “bad” in the sense that they are positive or negative. In a neutral world, most people would love to promote life and happiness. But we inevitably chafe against one another, and so we try to justify our actions to other people. My entire point is that we use certain “metrics” to accomplish this by appealing to basic human impulses and desires. I made this point before, and it’s a better one: morality is essentially like philosophy (I used the sports analogy because a lot of philosophy is used in sports). There are certain standards in philosophy that we use to appeal to each other. If atheism is amoral, then it’s also aphilosophical. But I would actually say that the ability to understand and appeal to others is absolutely pertinent to atheism, for a species would not be able to survive without it. It’s true that no one really has to listen to other people, but that’s not generally how things work, so it’s an argument only half based in reality.

    Of course a dictator’s preference matters in a sense, but he is irrelevant if people don’t allow him to come to power. It’s pertinent because the Christian argument is essentially, “What’s stopping anybody from doing anything?” Well in this case it’s millions of people that stand between him and power. He can’t just do whatever he wants and “take life for what it’s worth”. People have an innate response to fear for the consequences in this life. There are some who don’t fear for the consequences, but that is as true of a religious terrorist as a school shooter. The sense that this world does not matter pervades both worldviews.

    There are many benefits that are universal to humans: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness most definitely. This idea of trying to limit any one person’s power so that no one person’s freedom can be infringed upon too much I think is the best system possible. I’m a big believer that weakness, stupidity, or desperation are the root causes of 90% of the world’s crimes. The allure of power or ego probably account for the rest. Again, I think that atheist morality works because these things are quite predictable. If you look at the genesis of morality from a naturalist view and the way in which the mind actually works, then we can see the general system that humans work in innately. True, no one has to listen to you when you tell someone “no”, but people do listen, most certainly under specific circumstances, and that ultimately is what makes the entire thing run. So we have to look at the general principles of humanity and the ways in which they express themselves throughout society.

    EDIT: To response to something ordinary seeker said: I’ve held that experience is absolutely key to a moral system. How others effect us has a lot to do with it, but there are also ways in which we effect ourselves.

  176. david ellis


    This isn’t an attempt to dodge the issue, it’s just an honest statement that I’m all ED’d out right now.

    That’s fine. I’m similarly problem of eviled out right now.


    When reference is made to the gospels and the testimony of the Bible, for example, what is not being said is that the mere existence of those written words is good enough for us. It’s the Bible existing as a document supported by external sources, archaeology, history, and so forth in ways which give us good confidence that it’s an accurate and honest source.

    I’m sure you think so.


    There’s a rough outline of the impossible faith hypothesis here.

    I’m already quite familiar with the argument. And I refer you to Carrier’s response to Holding’s book

    http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/improbable/


    I would argue that belief in Christianity fits that. There are reasonable grounds for believing.

    Why, specifically, do you think so?

  177. MedicineMan

    David,

    I had seen Carrier’s analysis of the TIF, and found it pretty thin. I’d refer you to Holding’s response, which actually prompted Carrier to change some of his arguments…which actually made them worse.

    As long as we’re referring, have you read “The Testimony of the Evangelists” by Greenleaf? It’s one of the many answers to your question about what evidences are reasonable to use as support for Christianity.

  178. MedicineMan

    The Bible does not reasonably define one from the other, so we don’t actually have a definable standard here.

    First of all, if you’re suggesting that we have absolutely no way, using scriptural principles, to tell the difference between murder and self-defense, or between justice and revenge, then I don’t think you’re willing to give scripture enough consideration to make this a sensible conversation. Second, if the Bible doesn’t give us solid ways to tell one from the other, then atheism or subjectivism certainly can’t. So a criticism in that regard is essentially meaningless.

    My entire point is that we use certain “metrics” to accomplish this by appealing to basic human impulses and desires.

    But if your “metrics” are capricious and arbitrary, then so is your morality.

    If atheism is amoral, then it’s also aphilosophical.

    Not true. That atheism make no moral pronouncements does not mean that it makes no philosophical ones. There are implications to one’s philosophy that come attached to atheism, just like any other worldview.

    the ability to understand and appeal to others is absolutely pertinent to atheism, for a species would not be able to survive without it.

    Pertinent, yes, but that’s still just an appeal to consequences, preferences, etc. There’s no compelling “ought” in there, and no logical reason for a single person to deny his impulses in the name of some other person’s impulses.

    It’s pertinent because the Christian argument is essentially, “What’s stopping anybody from doing anything?” Well in this case it’s millions of people that stand between him and power. He can’t just do whatever he wants and “take life for what it’s worth”. People have an innate response to fear for the consequences in this life. There are some who don’t fear for the consequences, but that is as true of a religious terrorist as a school shooter.

    In other words, the only real power subjectivism has to change another person’s mind is force. That’s especially true when it’s atheistic subjectivism – some people would consider it a “consequence” to give up what they want in the only life they have…why not get what you want before oblivion hits?

    The sense that this world does not matter pervades both worldviews.

    Christianity does not say that this world does not matter, only that it is not as important as the next. There are rewards and consequences for what happens in this life, beyond human actions, to the Christian. To the atheist, there are none. A mass murdering tyrant and a philanthropist have exactly the same fate in atheism: oblivion. If everyone gets the same thing in the end, that’s more than just a reason to ignore the preferences of others. It’s a license to “get” while the “getting” is good.

    I would argue that the “specific circumstances” you mention cannot include telling people that morals are all subjective, that there will be neither reward nor punishment for what they do, and that once they die, that’s it. Those ideas are logically contradictory to the impetus to get along, work together, and behave altruistically.

    It’s true that no one really has to listen to other people, but that’s not generally how things work, so it’s an argument only half based in reality.

    A moral approach that can only explain (or handle) the “general”, and not the specific, is all but useless in reality. Objective morality, particularly Christian morality, can not only explain general and specific behavior, but it can give general and specific reasons (i.e. applying to all situations) to behave in a moral way.

  179. david ellis


    I had seen Carrier’s analysis of the TIF, and found it pretty thin. I’d refer you to Holding’s response, which actually prompted Carrier to change some of his arguments…which actually made them worse.

    Care to get into specifics? Personally, I found Holding’s arguments thin before I had even read critical responses to it.

  180. MedicineMan

    Care to get into specifics?

    I linked to Holding’s rebuttal, which is pretty comprehensive.

    I don’t think Carrier took the hypothesis seriously. I think he made excuses, not arguments, and the excuses he made weren’t very well thought out.

    Example 1: Carrier arguing that a Sumerian deity was crucified, so Jesus’ crucifixion was no big deal was pretty shallow. Not only was she not “crucified”, but she was already considered a God when it happened, and it supposedly happened in the realm of the Gods, not in the real world.

    Example 2: Carrier also has a habit of trying to deflect cultural and social concerns by saying, “well…not everyone thought that,” as though the prevailing views of the time were irrelevant. He keeps trying to apply modern cultural preferences to that time, despite all evidence to the contrary.

    Example 3: Carrier trots out the silly, “faith means no evidence” schtick, failing to make a common-sense distinction between “proof” and “evidence.” This, in the middle of a discussion of how the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection produced converts immediately after His crucifixion.

    When Holding noted that Carrier was interpreting his point directly in contradiction to known history, Carrier brushed all of that off as “irrelevant.”

    I can see a person disagreeing with Holding’s conclusion, and disagreeing with his interpretation of the circumstances. I think calling his approach “thin”, especially if you’re going to compare it to what Carrier tried, is tough to defend.

  181. MedicineMan

    I think another point that needs to be made is about co-supportive evidence (if that term means anything).

    There seems to be a habit by skeptics of looking at single pieces of evidence (a la the 9 Tom gave above), and declaring each one to be insufficient to prove (or give good reason to believe in) Christianity. They reject them one by one, then declare that belief is unjustified.

    The problem is that it’s not one single piece of evidence, but the combination of them. Each additional piece of evidence adds to the reasonable-ness of believing. That each individual piece of evidence, by itself, is not a self-contained airtight case is not a problem.

  182. SteveK

    MM,

    The problem is that it’s not one single piece of evidence, but the combination of them. Each additional piece of evidence adds to the reasonable-ness of believing.

    True, because the more pieces you have the stronger the conspiracy theory must be to nullify all of that. I’m thinking of Habermas’ Minimal Facts Argument. The conspiracy theory that you have to invent to wipe away all of that is big one – and worst of all most of these conspiracy theories take on huge doses of speculation rather than actual evidence (swoon theories, lost body theories, borrowed myth theories, etc). I think this falls in line with david’s earlier comment:

    “you have reasonable grounds for belief in something when the evidence or arguments in its favor is such that its implausible that such evidence could exist and the claim be false.”

  183. Jacob

    You’re still being impossibly vague with the first point. God is always right because he’s perfect, but we don’t necessarily understand what is good about the acts of wrath or mercy he commands, for we must suppose that the things that come from God are good in nature. What was necessarily good about the flood? One must certainly have faith that such an act is good because God is perfect. And so all it takes is one man convinced that he knows God’s will. He will say that it is a good act because it conforms with the goodness of God. How many times in a war have you heard that God is on one’s side? But the entire thing is just one big guess. My intention here is merely to show that Christian ethics uses a similar process of justification, putting it on a similar level to the atheist system. For even if you have certain rules, you can find an exception to any one (except maybe sexual deviances, but a lot of people think that some of those tend to defy human nature anyway), making the rules themselves pointless, and many of them don’t seem to have an easy answer. Don’t kill…unless you’re justified in doing so. Don’t disobey parents…unless you’re justified. Well that’s a wide, subjective berth we just opened up. Even if there were obvious and totally objective principles, it’s still contingent on people knowing them. When most people in the world don’t follow a specific religion, you can hardly use eternal consequences as a defense (most invent reasons for why they’re going to get into heaven anyway, just for being as they always were). When even believers sometimes deviate wildly on right and wrong, then it’s even less palpable.

    I say that ethics exists in a general sense because ethics only exists as an approach. In reality, ethics has to be general, for absolutely no specific system could be used to accommodate the values of every single person. It is simply easier to concentrate on the way in which our morals clash. I don’t know why you’d claim atheist philosophy but not morality. For with atheism, no one should “ought” to believe or listen to anything. But there are some things that people just believe given logical connections. If one can appeal to another with philosophy, then one can appeal to another with morality. And you haven’t really met that point yet. Many people want to be appealed to or can be appealed to.

    Why not get what you want? Because most people can’t get what they want unless others capitulate. We’re only individuals, after all, in a sea of humanity. Humans are naturally meant in a psychological sense to fit into a social framework. Many are already prepared to deal with self-control, especially if one grows up with that attitude. And then, of course, there is the entire issue of whether one can actually find happiness by doing what one wants. Usually these kinds of people are searching for something and are rather child-like in a sense. But then again I’m very distrustful of people’s decision making ability and thus the ability to make moral decisions. There’s a huge connection between the psychology of an individual and their actions. So what people want may be no more than a product of psychology, and one has to ask in what sense that is real. I would argue that psychology is the defining factor in morality, not necessarily religion (or afterlife), but I’ll get into that later, for there are many such topics we can delve into, and they are all pertinent as ways in which we can appeal to people. These are things rooted in human nature, which might themselves sometimes call upon universal truths, but to us the “innateness of our humanity” is all that matters, so I don’t think they’re arbitrary in that sense.

    I do have one thing to say about evidence: it may take awhile to build up a case for Christianity, but it can be torn down pretty quickly, as it espouses quite a bit that is supposed to be inerrant and ineffable. Anything that casts doubt on that hurts quite a bit, in my opinion.

  184. david ellis


    He keeps trying to apply modern cultural preferences to that time, despite all evidence to the contrary.

    Can you quote an example?

    What it comes down to for me is simply that the central claim Holding makes is pretty obviously nonsense. Christianity only has to convert a small number of people in its early days for it to survive and have the chance to grow over time (when its claim would be impossible to either verify or falsify). That it would be impossible for that to happen without good evidence that Jesus really rose from the dead is just absurd. There are more than enough people willing to believe things for very poor, irrational reasons for this claim to hold up. Look at the Millerites. Their predictions of when the Jesus would return failed. Repeatedly. And yet the church they found actually GREW in numbers following these failures.

    History, and our own times, are full of examples of small religions (most of us would dismissively call them cults) who believe massively implausible claims on little or no evidence. Holding’s claim that Christianity, unlike all the many cults in history, couldn’t have gotten off the ground if it wasn’t true simply doesn’t take into account how irrational human beings can, unfortunately be.

  185. david ellis

    Do you have a link to a statement of the minimal facts argument in something in the form of text rather than audio?

  186. SteveK

    I don’t know if it exists in text form. Google is your friend. I enjoyed watching the video he has on his site and I think you would too if you have the time. EDIT: I haven’t listened to the audio version, which might be taken from the video I watched. Don’t really know.

  187. MedicineMan

    Jacob,

    I think the charge of vague-ness rings a little hollow coming from a subjectivist or a-moral position.

    There are not exceptions, only a hierarchy. Obedience to parents is not more important that obedience to God, for example. no matter how you slice it, Christianity provides some objective, external moral guidelines that atheism does not and can not. Even if you choose to see those as subject to self-justification, you can’t argue that those justifications are as easy or as valid as those for atheism.

    When most people in the world don’t follow a specific religion, you can hardly use eternal consequences as a defense (most invent reasons for why they’re going to get into heaven anyway, just for being as they always were). When even believers sometimes deviate wildly on right and wrong, then it’s even less palpable.

    As you said, they “invent” reasons. What happens under philosophically or metaphysically inconsistent circumstances is not the fault of that philosophy. That many people disagree on a truth does not mean that the truth does not exist, which is more or less what that argument implies.

  188. Paul

    MM, may I clarify and expand one of Jacob’s points?

    You’ve mentioned a case (obey God over parents) in which the question of which Commandment applies is, according to you, easily answered, but wouldn’t you agree that there are many cases in which the question of which Commandment should be followed, when two or more are in conflict, is not at all easily answered, or is obvious?

    (I won’t be able to post again until Sunday.)

  189. MedicineMan

    David,

    Re: Carrier and modern sensibilities, that’s just an impression from when I read his response. He seems quick to dismiss Holding’s supportable claims about how people in that culture thought and acted. IIRC, he claimed that Christianity was just meeting a “market demand” for ways to improve one’s status…ignoring the idea that bucking the system was the worst way to do just that, in that time, for instance.

    What it comes down to for me is simply that the central claim Holding makes is pretty obviously nonsense.

    Then perhaps you’re considering a different claim than the one he makes. He’s claiming that Christianity’s spread and success in the early years are explicable only if it’s backed up by very strong evidence and reasoning, since it had so many strong drawbacks. Holding mentions how false faiths had rapid success and died quickly, or grew slowly and died later. He’s not ignorant of flash-in-the-pan faiths.

    The fact that you mention such groups is part of the point. With all of the drawbacks it faced, Christianity survived and thrived specifically because it could be verified in ways other claims could not. That’s why they died and it survived. Holding confronts the glib dismissal that “well, people are irrational, so who cares.”

    The claim is not that absolutely no one, ever, could possibly have believed in Christianity in that day. It’s that the speed, nature, and mechanism of its spread doesn’t make sense given all of its cultural drawbacks – unless it also had some very powerful supporting evidence (i.e., it was actually true).

    When the critic responds with, “well, people are just irrational,” that’s just a dodge, in my mind.

  190. Tony Hoffman

    MM,

    How do you explain the figures that show that Mormonism is growing faster than Christianity, given the same time frame? And given that this were true, doesn’t that demolish the claim that only great evidence can fuel a vast number of religious adherents in the face of great social resistance?

  191. david ellis


    I don’t know if it exists in text form. Google is your friend.

    Yeah, I googled it and found some people presenting variations on it but nothing written by Habermas. I preferred for you to link to a text version of the argument rather than me so that there could be no accusation that I was just attacking a weaker, less well stated, version of the argument.

    The argument seems to have some fairly obvious flaws from the start.

    The essay WHY THE MINIMAL FACTS MODEL IS UNPERSUASIVE (found at: http://evaluatingchristianity.wordpress.com/2009/03/05/why-the-minimal-facts-model-is-unpersuasive/ ) has what I think are some good criticisms of the argument. One example below:


    Worse, Habermas also concedes that for the linchpin “fact” in his argument — the empty tomb of Jesus — the level of agreement among his sources is not 95% but only 70%. Think about that for a moment. What Habermas is really saying is that, among Christians who have dedicated their lives to studying the Bible, nearly one in three denies the empty tomb!

    Isn’t that staggering?? I mean, if three out of every ten biologists denied the common descent of all living animals from a last universal common ancestor, then the creationists would really be on to something. Imagine if three out of every ten cosmologists thought it was possible that the universe was 6,000 years old instead of fourteen billion, or if three out of every ten astronomers thought that the Moon landing was faked, or… you get the idea.

    In other words: Habermas’s case is, on close inspection, a powerful argument against the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and a good reason for even Christians to take seriously the work of skeptics….

    He also discusses the obvious problem that most biblical scholars were christians going in. That’s why they became biblical scholars in the first place. So the fact that 70 to 90 percent of them believe these “minimal facts” is hardly surprising. Clearly, in most cases being christians before even beginning their studies of the bible, they may have more than a little bias going in.

    How seriously would you take an argument based on the assent of 70 to 90 percent of scholars specializing in the Koran regarding it’s claims? Not very, I suspect. Since you’d probably think them less than objective, mostly being committed muslims.


    Medicine man: Christianity provides some objective, external moral guidelines that atheism does not and can not.

    So christians claim. I’ve never seen a good argument for that conclusion though.

  192. MedicineMan

    Paul,

    No doubt, there are instances where it can be tough to tell which action is more moral. That there are such situations, though, does not mean that there are no morals that actually apply, or that there is no right answer. It does not mean that everyone is right. At the very least, there are objective standards that can be used to come to a determination about which is actually correct. I know it’s a very rough analogy, but the fact that some forensic analysis can be difficult does not mean that any approach is correct, or that there is no answer to a whodunit.

    The alterative view (here) is subjectivism. A subjectivist is correct in saying that there can be some tough moral questions, ones which can be hard to determine the right answer to. A subjectivist using that as a criticism of objective morality is like a blind man criticizing someone for needing glasses.

    I also think that the simplicity of the Commandments is intentional, and helps to relieve that problem. They’re also put into two sections (relationship to God, relationship to each other) which helps even further. I think in the vast majority of cases, there’s not that much difficulty in knowing which is the authoritative commandment.

    We also have to remember that Christianity does not place morality in a vacuum-sealed box. There’s an assumption that a believer gets help from the Holy Spirit in determining what is right and wrong. Like evidences, none of these happen alone…we have to weigh everything together.

    Be safe until Sunday…

  193. david ellis


    Holding mentions how false faiths had rapid success and died quickly, or grew slowly and died later. He’s not ignorant of flash-in-the-pan faiths.

    That christianity was the one from that period of the Roman Empire than rose to prominence is no reason to think it true. If false faiths (even one’s making demonstrably false claims) can flourish quickly why could not christianity, even if false, do the same? There is obviously no credible reason to think it couldn’t.


    With all of the drawbacks it faced, Christianity survived and thrived specifically because it could be verified in ways other claims could not.

    This is patent nonsense. How would some lower class convert hundreds of miles from where Jesus supposedly died verify the claims of christian missionaries like Paul? Whether it was true or not, most of its early converts would have little or no means to either verify it or falsify it. It only had to convert a few in its early days to survive long enough for its claims to become totally unfalsifiable. To claim that there weren’t enough people in the whole Roman empire who might have been attracted to it for that to occur unless its claims were true is an absurdity.

  194. MedicineMan

    Paul,

    Because, “the same time frame”, meaning converts over years, or growth at year 100, or whatever, is not the same thing as “at the same time”, period. Mormonism is/was not attempting to grow in the ancient middle east, 2,000 years ago. It was/is not contradicting much of what the prevailing population wants/wanted to believe about God. There are no comparable social stigmas, levels of persecution, or socially contradictory messages involved, as there were with early Christianity.

    I think you and I touched on this once before, and I’ll say the same thing about Mormonism, which is that it has some significant advantages, e.g. it’s connection to legitimate Christianity. Mormonism is not an unlikely sect to arise during the time that it did.

    To be precise, Holding is talking about the early church, not any religion at any time, so the fueling of adherents in the face of resistance is not being posited as a blanket statement for all cases. He’s talking about a particular time and place, and a particular set of hurdles, that show how weak all counter-claims of credulity, ignorance, or conspiracy really are wrt the early Christian church.

    (Gentle joke alert) My “demolish” detector just went off…let’s not go down that road again, aye?

  195. david ellis

    The supposed “drawbacks”, even if attractive, or at least not sufficiently unattractive, for christianity to appeal to only one person in 10,000 (or less)would be enough for the religion to get off the ground.

    It is simply not plausible that culture throughout the Roman empire was so monolithic for this to not plausibly occur.

    This impossible faith argument is crackpot nonsense.

    That so many christian apologists come to the defense of it only weakens the credibility of christian apologetics to any nonchristian with a modicum of critical thinking skills.

  196. SteveK

    david,

    So the fact that 70 to 90 percent of them believe these “minimal facts” is hardly surprising. Clearly, in most cases being christians before even beginning their studies of the bible, they may have more than a little bias going in.

    Okay, if the facts as presented should not be considered as facts then skeptics will have to provide evidence to the contrary. I’ve heard the conspiracy theories and other various speculative theories that cast doubt on the facts being actual facts, but as I said before they are high on speculation and low on evidence. I’m willing to look at evidence that says the facts are not the facts and any scholar worth his salt should do the same.

    Give me a few facts of your own that would help undo the claim that Habermas’ facts are actual facts.

  197. david ellis


    It was/is not contradicting much of what the prevailing population wants/wanted to believe about God. There are no comparable social stigmas, levels of persecution, or socially contradictory messages involved, as there were with early Christianity.

    Are you kidding?

    A. American christians considered the canon of scripture closed. Adding a new book was, and remains, a serious no-no among christians.

    B. Polygamy was, and is, completely against American mores.

    C. Mormonism massively alters christian theology. Its not even remotely similar. It was, and is, pure heresy to most christians.

    And I’m sure someone who’s more knowledgable than me about what Mormons believe could add many more.

  198. david ellis


    Okay, if the facts as presented should not be considered as facts then skeptics will have to provide evidence to the contrary.

    There is simply too little evidence of any sort to draw any hard conclusions about what went on.

    I can’t, and don’t, draw conclusions on the basis of such paltry evidence. That you and christian apologists try your best to only displays the degree of your bias.

  199. Tony Hoffman

    MM,

    Mormonism is/was not attempting to grow in the ancient middle east, 2,000 years ago.

    This is a statement, not an argument.

    It was/is not contradicting much of what the prevailing population wants/wanted to believe about God.

    False. Mormonism popped up and flourished in an almost entirely Christian nation that looks for the second coming of Christ, not a new prophet.

    There are no comparable social stigmas, levels of persecution, or socially contradictory messages involved, as there were with early Christianity.

    Right. The Mormons, starting with the founder, had such fun with mobs they couldn’t concentrate on their religious studies so they decided to relocate to Utah for the climate. And there wouldn’t be any stigma to polygamy in the U.S. (I’m not sure what socially contradictory means.)

    To be precise, Holding is talking about the early church, not any religion at any time, so the fueling of adherents in the face of resistance is not being posited as a blanket statement for all cases.

    To be precise Holding’s arguments have to stand scrutiny, and one of the best ways to put them under scrutiny is to examine the claims against analogs in other religions. If you’re not willing to put the argument to the test against similarities in other religions then you’re just begging the question.

  200. MedicineMan

    David,

    Let’s decide whether we’re going to approach this rationally, or if we’re just going to roll our eyes at it and move on to the “agree to disagree” phase.

    That christianity was the one from that period of the Roman Empire than rose to prominence is no reason to think it true.

    That is not the claim. If you’re going to criticize it, criticize it, not some more easily refuted idea.

    If false faiths (even one’s making demonstrably false claims) can flourish quickly why could not christianity, even if false, do the same?

    Answered in Holding’s work, which I’m becoming more sure you have not read. You need to get your info from the source, not Carrier’s rebuttal or some other counter-position. The claim is not simply that it grew quickly. The claim is that the drawbacks it faced were substantial, and actually heightened the scrutiny it was under. That is, it was a faith not conducive to credulous acceptance, as laid out in TIF itself. The other faiths that are described by critics faced far fewer drawbacks, but died as fast as they popped up.

    There is obviously no credible reason to think it couldn’t.

    Then it’s obvious that you don’t get and have not considered the impossible faith hypothesis. If it’s so obvious to you, and so clear that it can’t be “credible”, then why feign interest in evidences or answers at all? You already know everything there is to know about it, don’t you? You don’t seem to get what is being claimed, or how it’s supported, why should I think your rejection is any more informed?

    How would some lower class convert hundreds of miles from where Jesus supposedly died verify the claims of christian missionaries like Paul?

    This misses that point that the most rapid growth and the earliest converts were in the immediate vicinity of, and immediately after, the crucifixion. The people closest to the supporting (or possibly refuting) evidence were among the fastest to accept Christianity. The people with the strongest motivations to debunk it, and who were the closest to such available evidence, were unable to.

    It only had to convert a few in its early days to survive long enough for its claims to become totally unfalsifiable.

    But it didn’t hang on by a thread until centuries or millennia later. It grew like wildfire right after the crucifixion. Holding discusses many of the points where falsification could have happened, but did not. Again, you need to start by actually looking at the situation you’re attempting to criticize. I think you’re starting to confuse what you assume to be true with what actually is.

    All in all, if you just want to be dismissive of any possible evidence for Christianity, then you don’t need me to do it. It’s all obvious patent nonsense, there can be no possible reasons for any of it, and none of it could be credible anyway. So why ask?

    This impossible faith argument is crackpot nonsense.

    That so many christian apologists come to the defense of it only weakens the credibility of christian apologetics to any nonchristian with a modicum of critical thinking skills.

    Riiight. We’re all deluded drooling morons, and only you, the skeptical elite, posses the wisdom to contort your way around these ideas. Look, nothing weakens credibility like someone who doesn’t even know what they’re criticizing sneering about how those who disagree with him are thinking impaired.

  201. SteveK

    david,

    There is simply too little evidence of any sort to draw any hard conclusions about what went on.

    The claim of facts being actual facts stands by way of your statement below**, until you can supply facts that undo that reasonable conclusion. Common sense, critically examined will do the job but first you have to give me facts that will lead me away from my current conclusion. Got any?

    ** “you have reasonable grounds for belief in something when the evidence or arguments in its favor is such that its implausible that such evidence could exist and the claim be false.”

  202. MedicineMan

    A. American christians considered the canon of scripture closed. Adding a new book was, and remains, a serious no-no among christians.

    B. Polygamy was, and is, completely against American mores.

    C. Mormonism massively alters christian theology. Its not even remotely similar. It was, and is, pure heresy to most christians.

    And I’m sure someone who’s more knowledgable than me about what Mormons believe could add many more.

    All true. None of which put it in the same category as what the early church experienced. The social and cultural situation that Mormonism found itself in was not the same as that of the ancient middle east.

  203. MedicineMan

    Tony,

    This is a statement, not an argument.

    Yes, and…? Did you really need me to add the “therefore your analogy to Mormonism is a false one”?

    Mormonism in practice doesn’t blatantly contradict the mores of a Christian society, outside of polygamy. The early Christian church was seriously bucking the prevailing attitudes towards behavior. America was far more permissive and less concerned with conformity – those who were theologically wrong in the US had nowhere near the backlash that they got in Judea.

    You mentioned isolationism – that was another point I made to you once before. The early Christian church did not have the ability to pull away from their critics as Mormons did. That’s exactly the kind of factor that I’m talking about. Having the freedom to be left alone, avoiding criticism, shunning dissent, and so forth? That’s awfully conducive to ingraining false belief. Are you trying to help me prove my point, or what?

    Analogs in other religions are no problem – but you seem to think that any religion that didn’t get a red-carpet welcome was just as opposed as Christianity was 2,000 years ago. It’s those very comparisons that you’re not bothering to make, as shown above wrt Mormonism.

  204. david ellis

    No one said it was the same. Only that it was facing a strongly hostile attitude based on the views and mores of the general public but, as in ancient Rome, there was still enough diversity for it to manage to thrive.

  205. david ellis


    The claim of facts being actual facts stands by way of your statement below**, until you can supply facts that undo that reasonable conclusion. Common sense, critically examined will do the job but first you have to give me facts that will lead me away from my current conclusion.

    Your current conclusion is not a reasonable one. There is far too little evidence to support ANY conclusion about what went on with the very early church. There can only be speculation. That you draw firm conclusions on the basis of so little supporting evidence only shows that your position is not based on reason or evidence.

  206. MedicineMan

    That you draw firm conclusions on the basis of so little supporting evidence only shows that your position is not based on reason or evidence.

    So says the one firmly concluding thusly. This, while waffling on exactly what this hypothesis that he’s so thoroughly dismissed actually says.

    David, you’re not even giving a plausible appearance of having come to some conclusion on the basis of evidence, or that you haven’t made a determination. You’re quite sure, and very determined, so let’s please not feign otherwise.

    TIF aids in refuting claims that the early church’s success can be explained away as credulity or ignorance. It’s one of the pieces of evidence that combine to create the reasonable assumption. If you’re trying to pretend that conclusions about Christianity are being made solely on the basis of TIF hypothesis, you need to remember all the other points of evidence that you yourself mentioned early on.

  207. MedicineMan

    There is far too little evidence to support ANY conclusion about what went on with the very early church. There can only be speculation.

    Then on what basis can you possibly argue with the impossible faith hypothesis? Your response has not been, “I can’t agree or disagree,” but, “you are wrong.” You keep saying that the rise of Christianity was perfectly plausible…what evidence do you have that counts in ways ours does not? Referring again to your comment before, how is this not a blatant self-contradiction?

  208. Tony Hoffman

    MM,

    I prodded you once on this but again you simply repeat the statement.

    The social and cultural situation that Mormonism found itself in was not the same as that of the ancient middle east.

    If you’re going to make an argument you should sometime show us what the (material) differences were and how they make a (material) difference. All you’ve really done on this front is make patently false statements or so couched your terms in qualifying and gauzy language that it makes them easy to move later on. (“There are no comparable social stigmas, levels of persecution, or socially contradictory messages involved…”) Sheesh, and you guys say you treasure objective terms.

    Mormonism in practice doesn’t blatantly contradict the mores of a Christian society, outside of polygamy. The early Christian church was seriously bucking the prevailing attitudes towards behavior. America was far more permissive and less concerned with conformity – those who were theologically wrong in the US had nowhere near the backlash that they got in Judea.

    This appears to be purposely vague (“blatantly contradict”, “seriously bucking” “less concerned with conformity,” etc.) and is backed up with nothing. It ignores the theological challenge Mormonism presents to Christians. To the extent I think I understand what you’re saying it is not an accurate description of our historical (non-biblical) understanding of the two periods you cover, nor is it possible to really compare something like 19th Century American (for which we have a great deal of historical documentation) with something like Judea during Antiquity (for which we have so little).

    But this is becoming tedious. If you can’t refine your argument and support some of your statements I’m out, unless DE and you can somehow make this more substantive.

  209. MedicineMan

    Tony,

    I gave you examples of the differences, and why they matter.

    Mormonism is not as contradictory in practice to recent US Christianity as early Christianity was from the surrounding culture of the time. Mormons were able to flee from rebuttals and become isolationist – removing the opportunity for falsification and giving time to develop ingrained belief without criticism. Mormons were never subjected to the level of physical and legal abuse that Christians were in Judea. The culture of the US was very permissive in comparison to that of the ancient middle east, making it much less personally costly to deviate from the norm. And so on and so forth.

    In summary, Mormonism had nowhere near the challenges to its growth or survival that early Christianity did. That’s why the differences matter. Saying that TIF is powerless by pointing to Mormonism is unwarranted.

    I’m not going to insult you by believing that you can’t grasp the concepts in my “gauzy (sic)” language. The social stigma of polygamy in the recent US is not nearly so strong as the social stigma of crucifixion in the ancient middle east. Moving to where you can be left alone is not the same as being thrown into the arena to be eaten by a lion. Saying, “love your neighbor” in a culture that already believes it is not the same as saying, “turn the other cheek” in a culture steeped in honor and revenge.

    Honestly, Tony, if my statements are backed up by nothing, then we’ll have to use negative numbers to say what yours are backed up by. I’m at least giving you the reasons why I can draw a distinction between what happened to Mormons and what happened to Christians. All you’re giving me is a juvenile “nuh-uh!”

    When mentioning the “theological challenge”, you’re again ignoring the fact that Mormons had the (comparative) luxuries of isolation and a highly permissive society. They had the ability to say, “leave me be” in a way that early Christians could not.

    If you don’t think the two cultures can be compared, then what possible reasons can you have for making any claims about similarities between Mormons and early Christians, anyway? Saying that we know “so little” about the culture of Jesus’ day is profoundly ignorant.

  210. Holopupenko

    MM:

    You should have underscored the word “profoundly”: there is a TREMENDOUS amount of historical data/records, literature, proto-business transactions, etc. available. Lot’s of people have spent hundreds of man-years translating, studying, identifying, organizing, synthesizing, etc. upon the what is out there to study. For heaven’s sake, isn’t that (in addition to archeological evidence) how do we know so much about ancient Rome and Greece?

    Think about it this way: the partial remains of a skull and femur are found in an African desert and dated to 3.1 million years ago… and Darwinists have no problem speculating (based on the remains) that the skull was human, living in a certain part of the African plains, that this alleged human ate grasses 60% of the time, that he was right-handed, etc., etc., etc. And these guys criticize tons of recorded evidence from Ancient Rome if it supports Christianity in any way, shape, or form? The level of bias and intellectual non-integrity is breathtaking.

    Is there some automatic, unquestionable veil that is dropped by atheists as soon as Christian aspects of ancient societies is broached? That is not only profoundly ignorant but profoundly fallacious (cherry-picking) as well. It is also a perfect example of dragging preconceived (and presumed unassailable) notions into a discussion. Apparently, for these folks, evidence is only evidence if it supports a preconceived conclusion as supported by preconceived epistemological (scientistic, in this case) methodologies.

    Antidote for such disordered thinking: as a first step read Josh McDowell’s Evidence That Demands A Verdict.

  211. david ellis


    Then on what basis can you possibly argue with the impossible faith hypothesis? Your response has not been, “I can’t agree or disagree,” but, “you are wrong.” You keep saying that the rise of Christianity was perfectly plausible…what evidence do you have that counts in ways ours does not? Referring again to your comment before, how is this not a blatant self-contradiction?

    What’s self-contradictory in saying we don’t have enough evidence to know what really went on in the early days of christianity and saying that a religion that makes the claims christianity does could have been embraced by at least some people in the Roman Empire of that day?

    Nothing.


    You’re quite sure, and very determined, so let’s please not feign otherwise.

    I’m quite convinced that there is no rational basis for believing the miraculous claims made in the NT are true.

    That is in no way inconsistent with my claim that we have far too little evidence to come to any firm conclusion about the real events of early christianity….rather, its a direct and inevitable consequence of that position.

  212. MedicineMan

    Holo,

    You should have underscored the word “profoundly”.

    After I read that again, I think I responded with a quick one-liner because my brain exploded in my head a little. I don’t want to belabor it for the sake of not offending Tony, but I think I was (and am) at a loss for words to explain how that comment could possibly have come from him.

  213. MedicineMan

    What’s self-contradictory in saying we don’t have enough evidence to know what really went on in the early days of christianity and saying that a religion that makes the claims christianity does could have been embraced by at least some people in the Roman Empire of that day?

    That’s contradictory itself. If you know enough to know that it could have been embraced, you know what went on. How do you know it could have been embraced? You’re willing to make that decision, what’s wrong with positing the contrary (which…again…is not what the TIF says, but for the sake of my point…)

    This is a simple logical issue. Either you say, “I can’t say if TIF is valid or not”, or you can say this…

    It is simply not plausible that culture throughout the Roman empire was so monolithic for this to not plausibly occur.

    This impossible faith argument is crackpot nonsense.

    …but not both.

    You’re expressing exactly the kind of skepticism here:

    That is in no way inconsistent with my claim that we have far too little evidence to come to any firm conclusion about the real events of early christianity

    That you’re not in the above baloney about “crackpot nonsense”. Make up your mind. Either we know enough to say TIF is invalid (or that it is), or we don’t know enough. You can’t pick the friendly parts of both. This is just classic self-serving-skepticism, where we must doubt Christianity, but we cannot doubt that which contradicts it.

  214. Holopupenko

    Hi MM:

    Sorry–I should have been more clear in indicating that underscoring the word “profoundly” in the last sentence of your 3:06 pm comment draws attention to what I fear is intentional irrationality introduced by Tony. It is yet another side of how atheism wrecks havoc with a person’s ability to reason properly. Keep up the good work.

  215. SteveK

    david,
    I haven’t got caught up with the comments yet. You said this in #216

    Your current conclusion is not a reasonable one.

    How so? If reasonable conclusions aren’t reached via a formula – if it’s a matter of common sense, critically examined – then explain why my conclusion doesn’t fit the criteria for reasonable grounds. Why ought I not think my conclusion is reasonable?

  216. SteveK

    david,

    What’s self-contradictory in saying we don’t have enough evidence to know what really went on in the early days of christianity and saying that a religion that makes the claims christianity does could have been embraced by at least some people in the Roman Empire of that day?

    You are saying we have reasonable grounds to conclude that we don’t have enough evidence yet. This is the kind of stuff that juries must deal with. They must ask themselves, when does the evidence rise to the level of “enough” in order to deliver a guilty verdict?

    The answer/solution is found through reason and it seems there are a lot of people who have reasoned their way to conclude that Christianity is ‘guilty’ according to the evidence.

    You are not one of them – which is fine – but how can you say the conclusion was NOT reached by way of reason? What evidence or argument would you offer to support such an extraordinary claim?

  217. david ellis


    That’s contradictory itself. If you know enough to know that it could have been embraced, you know what went on.

    I embrace two positions:

    a. we don’t have enough data to know how the christian claims came to be what they were.

    b. however those christian beliefs came to be what they were, it is not implausible that some people of the time might have converted to christianity.

    Those are two quite distinct claims. One does not entail the impossibility or even the implausibility of the other.

  218. Tony Hoffman

    MM,

    I wrote

    … nor is it possible to really compare something like 19th Century American (for which we have a great deal of historical documentation) with something like Judea during Antiquity (for which we have so little).

    This is a completely uncontroversial thing to say, despite your and Holo’s seeming agreement on its profound ignorance.

    And I’m not just talking about the volume of documentation, for which there is a huge difference. I’m talking about the type. Find me photographs, a painting (even a drawing done in linear perspective), letters or diaries written from all classes (not just a miniscule portion that was wealthy and literate), sound recordings, or a sheet of music. Show me reporting done in anything that approaches what we call journalism, or better yet, a single work that illuminates manners and cultures in a way that a novel does. Tell me what the people had for breakfast, what slaves thought about their owners, or what 99% of the population thought about the society in which they lived. You can’t, because the documentation for it doesn’t exist.

    Compare that to the 19th Century, and tell me the differences are so miniscule as to make me ignorant.

  219. MedicineMan

    David,

    Your a) is false. We do have data telling us how the positions came to be what they were; you simply insist that it can’t exist or that it’s irrelevant when it is presented, e.g. here:

    I’m quite convinced that there is no rational basis for believing the miraculous claims made in the NT are true.

    Which followed assertions to the contrary that you characterized as nonsense, crackpot, and other assorted terms. If you don’t want to look, I can’t help you.

    Your b) is true, but means nothing to TIF as stated. Once again, you clearly have not read TIF, or bothered to understand it at all. TIF does not say that no one, ever, in any way, could ever have possibly believed this unless it was true. It says that the rate and level of growth that Christianity experienced strongly suggests that it was convincing, supported, and factually solid enough for people of that time to overcome some colossal hurdles. If only ten people at a time believed it for forty or fifty years, your comment might mean something. That tens of thousands living in the immediate time/vicinity believed almost immediately makes TIF worth considering.

  220. MedicineMan

    Tony,

    What made your comment particularly ridiculous was this:

    …nor is it possible to really compare…

    Let’s cut the bull and stop playing games. You’re plenty intelligent enough to know that just because we don’t know what 99% of a population is thinking moment by moment doesn’t mean we can’t understand the culture they exist in. Once again, you fail to think your own argument through. If that (above) is supposed to be taken seriously, then we can’t really understand anything about Nazi Germany, Renaissance Italy, or even 2004 in the US, because in a very real sense, no such documentation exists as you’re framing it. Don’t you ever again try to talk about the effect or influence of religion, atheism, or anything else on a culture ever again, because according to you, it’s simply “not possible to really compare” them unless we can count REM cycles in their bedbugs.

    On that note, are you really asking for letters and diaries from the illiterate? Are you claiming that there were linear drawings in ancient Egypt, but none in Judea a thousand years later? That a book beginning with the stated intention of collecting facts about a man for use as a reference (Luke) doesn’t count well enough as journalism? Or are you hoping to find tapes from the Judean News Network’s 41 AD satellite feed before you take this discussion seriously?

    This is not rocket science. We know from good, solid, objective science what the people of that time and region felt about cultural, religious, moral, and other issues. We know what the society was like. We have historical documentation and other evidence laying it out for us, for crying out loud. You’re attempting to defend a lame analogy to Mormonism by pretending that if we don’t know what color underwear the Pharisees wore, or because there are no TiVo recordings of Pilate, that we can’t understand the culture sufficiently to compare it to 19th century America. That’s ridiculous.

    Further, if your claim that comparison is not possible is true, then what use is your Mormon analogy anyway? You should be retracting it immediately on the grounds that, since we can’t really compare the cultures, you have absolutely no grounds for saying that Mormons experienced what ancient Christians did. Pick one or the other, or pick the assertion up off the table.

    So yes, as it pertains to the relevant details, we know plenty of what we need to know to consider how something like Christianity was received in ancient Judea. We can compare the relevant properties of the two cultures to make that determination in a reasonable and sensible way. The pertinent details, and even the majority of the points you suggested are actually available. Unless, of course, you’re suggesting that we have no artwork, no writings, no history no nothing from that time…in which case let’s pick up the pointless Mormon argument and get on with it.

    We are more than historically and factually equipped to compare the cultures with respect to the question at hand. Suggesting otherwise is factually and intellectually indefensible. If that makes you ignorant for arguing as such, then so be it. I guess you’re ignorant.

  221. Fortuna

    @MedicineMan

    Pragmatically, and theoretically, that’s true.

    Yay! Agreement.

    Objective morality gives a person a reason not to do action X, even when they know (think) they’ll never get caught for it. Subjectively, people who think they won’t get caught, or are above/outside the law aren’t swayed by that kind of thinking.

    For that matter, people who do think that morality derives from on-high don’t appear to be reliably dissuaded from committing crimes by that belief alone . Surely you’ve noticed?

    Sorry, that probably reads more sarcastically than I’d really like.

    And in any case, the hypothetical consequences of holding/not holding to objective morality are irrelevant to its actual truth. I know that’s not strictly apropos of anything, but in the interests of arguing openly, I should probably point out that I’m a moral subjectivist because I see no convincing reason to think moral objectivism is actually true. Whether it’s useful to some people is an interesting question, but not really relevant to me personally.

    If anything, it perturbs me a little when people focus on the utility of moral objectivism, rather than its putative truth. Left unsaid is that it could well be a noble lie.

    Your preferences, as you’ve explained, give you cause to act…but you can’t use a subjective view of morals to tell someone else that they should act (or not act).

    I think it would be more accurate to say that a subjective view of morals can’t be used, by me, to tell another person what they should prefer. In the examples I used, it’s presumed that the other person cares about their personal fulfillment; we have that in common. They can’t obtain fulfillment if their goals are frustrated, or if they’re dead. So as a matter of fact, I would have a basis for getting up in their business, no objective morals required.

  222. Fortuna

    @MedicineMan

    Also;

    But when you have a legitimate opportunity to become the tyrant, or otherwise get away with the crime, then that kind of thinking gets less and less compelling.

    Remember how I said that I didn’t want to live in a tyrannical/violent/brutal society? Why would that stop being the case if, FSM forbid, I were to be put in charge?

  223. MedicineMan

    Fortuna,

    Sorry, that probably reads more sarcastically than I’d really like.

    No, no no. Sarcasm by itself isn’t an issue. Give me lively and open over stilted and meaningless any day!

    Besides there’s some important truth in your point. Realize that, in Christian terms, every moral failing violates an objective principle, and every person who breaks one is behaving inconsistently with their professed beliefs. The original sin was pride: “you will be like God, knowing good and evil!” (i.e. pick your own good and evil!)

    So, that people sin (break what they think are objective morals) at times isn’t evidence that those morals aren’t true (as you inferred later). It is an indication of how consistently they are adhering to what they claim to believe. “Reliably” gets fuzzy, and if that means, “guaranteed”, then no moral view is ever “reliable”. If “reliable” means, “more than otherwise”, that’s part of what Tom was getting at with changed lives, etc.

    Philosophically, it is superior in no uncertain terms. Belief in objective morality at least gives a framework for a person to believe that “good” is not subject to their preference, that they can lie or hide or fool others, but it doesn’t make it right. Belief in subjective morality allows the (philosophically) legitimate ability to wriggle out of any moral statement a person does not like.

    Law vs anarchy is a decent enough example. Passing laws does not mean everyone plays by the rules. People still commit crimes…but knowing that those laws exist and that they are not subject to their preferences will dissuade some people from breaking them. It will give (some of) them pause. From a purely practical standpoint, law is better than anarchy (everyone just do what feels right or what is good for everyone).

    The reason I tend to argue on practical grounds is that most subjectivists aren’t interested in discussing whether or not objective morals are really true or not. I completely agree that practicality does not affect truth. But I won’t discuss something in terms that the other person has already rejected, if I can avoid it.

    I think it would be more accurate to say that a subjective view of morals can’t be used, by me, to tell another person what they should prefer.

    Agreed.

    So as a matter of fact, I would have a basis for getting up in their business, no objective morals required.

    But no basis for your business getting up in theirs, so to speak. As you said, your subjective morals can influence you, but they have no weight (strictly speaking) with anyone else’s subjective morals.

    Remember how I said that I didn’t want to live in a tyrannical/violent/brutal society? Why would that stop being the case if, FSM forbid, I were to be put in charge?

    The reason you don’t is that you don’t want to be oppressed in return. But, if you were really in a situation where you could become the ultra-powerful dictator, the “knowledge” that there’s no “real” reason you couldn’t do it would be an accelerator where a sense of objective morals would be the brakes. Power goes to people’s heads in a real hurry. So does a belief that there are no real consequences. That’s why otherwise normal people become flaming, filthy, nasty ogres on the internet. They don’t want to live in a world like that…but given the chance to do it with no consequences…

  224. Fortuna

    @MedicineMan

    So, that people sin (break what they think are objective morals) at times isn’t evidence that those morals aren’t true (as you inferred later). It is an indication of how consistently they are adhering to what they claim to believe. “Reliably” gets fuzzy, and if that means, “guaranteed”, then no moral view is ever “reliable”. If “reliable” means, “more than otherwise”, that’s part of what Tom was getting at with changed lives, etc.

    Mmmhmm, nothing really to dispute there. All I was getting at is that the belief in some kind of objective morality has been around for a long time, and yet people (on the whole) pretty much do what they want regardless of whether it conforms to their moral systems. I don’t wish to dispute that conversion experiences change lives and yet…the most devoutly religious states in the Union are the ones with the highest rates of pornography usage, and last I checked, their rates of murder, adultery, divorce, STD infection and elective abortions were not statistically different from less religious states or were noticeably higher (depending on the state.) One might think that they’d be trending in the opposite direction, given that most people living there think of those things as being antithetical to their objective morality.

    I guess my point is that it’s too simplistic to say that objective morality gives you reasons not to misbehave, and leave it at that. Perhaps that’s so, but someone needs to tell Texas.

    Philosophically, it is superior in no uncertain terms. Belief in objective morality at least gives a framework for a person to believe that “good” is not subject to their preference, that they can lie or hide or fool others, but it doesn’t make it right.

    I suppose I can grant that it’s superior in the hypothetical, utilitarian sense you’re claiming. I don’t find the notion of a divine surveillance and retribution system very noble, or even very coherent conceptually, but your mileage will vary.

    Belief in subjective morality allows the (philosophically) legitimate ability to wriggle out of any moral statement a person does not like.

    That’s so.

    Although I will say this about my subjective morality; if I dislike a moral statement, it’s probably because it offends my sense of compassion or fairness. No wriggling required; I will flat-out tell you that I think it’s needlessly harmful and is bull-hish, and will gladly explain why.

    Just a shot in the dark here, but I’m guessing the subtext of the phrase ‘wriggling out’ of moral statements is meant to convey that one might choose to evade a moral precept because the consequences would be inconvenient. For what it’s worth to you, I doubt that many moral subjectivists actually behave that way, and I suspect the ones that do wouldn’t be helped much by an objective moral system. Examples of devout people interpreting their religious doctrines in whatever way they must in order to square the ethical circle are just too abundant.

    As you said, your subjective morals can influence you, but they have no weight (strictly speaking) with anyone else’s subjective morals.

    Unless they do, of course. Oddly enough, people agree with me about things sometimes, and can find common ground with my values. But I get what you’re saying, there’s no reason handed down to us from a Platonic realm that they should carry any weight with others.

    The reason you don’t is that you don’t want to be oppressed in return.

    That is certainly a reason. In case I haven’t made it clear, let me point out that I loathe cruelty and oppression.

    Power goes to people’s heads in a real hurry.

    Mmmhmm. I still don’t like degrading other humans, though, or even animals for that matter. Believe it or not, I’ve been in a position to do one or the other at various times, and could have gotten off scot-free if I had.

  225. Jacob

    MedicineMan –

    No, I’m simply operating on the Christian’s ground. If the Christian ethics is so superior, then it should be born out. That is irrelevant of what I believe. However, I think you just confirmed what I said. If obedience to God is everything, then one needs only to be convinced that one is doing God’s will. No other normative guidelines could dissuade such a person. And that’s the problem. The biggest argument against atheism is the lack of normative principles. But you equally cannot convince someone of what to do if they do not agree with you. Therefore, the subjective becomes no better or worse than the objective that most people don’t follow. In reality, most people deal in their own subjective principles anyway, so we must operate on those grounds. I’d like to think that much of what I say about the way in which we work with human morality conforms with the world as it actually is. I’m really more agnostic than anything, so I look toward actual human psychology, and I really think that you’re mischaracterizing the way in which people do think.

  226. Jacob

    As for the Christian movement – These were people who believed in faith healers and miracle workers. Such a thing might only have been a sign of a special man, though not necessarily the one messiah, son of God, so each one built up followers. I would argue, based on what I know, that people were eager to embrace such a figure that promised some kind of redemption, as these were hardly a fastidious people, which is why the Jesus movement proved popular to begin with. Prophecy and signs merely forced people to take notice (both of which I would argue are very flimsy as we view them today).

    The ultimate brilliance of the Jesus movement, and the reason it was initially embraced and ultimately rejected by the Jews, was because of the expectation of it. The Jews would have embraced a messiah figure and expected a swift return and the ascendancy of Israel. The Jews embraced many such special figures and supposed messiahs, and I would even argue that the disciples themselves had some similar expectations of this. By the time Christianity had spread to the Gentiles, it had already adapted and could not be squashed because that future hope would not die.

    Now I know that many argue that the Jesus movement should have ended at his death if it were not true, but I would argue the exact opposite. If Jesus had begun the revolt before his death, then it might never have amounted to anything. But if people could be convinced that he rose and would soon establish Israel’s ascendancy, then that’s something they could have believed in. The only argument that has merit is this entire idea about producing the body, but that also assumes there was a body to produce. I don’t think that Jesus was alive, but I also don’t trust the gospel accounts, written decades after the fact, as many principle players had already died, and with clear missions in mind. They probably started with a few generalized stories at first, and then they morphed into a complex telling. One can’t say much about it, but that’s exactly the problem. I can’t form conclusions based on flimsy evidence. All I can do is trust the scriptures. If one wants to prove to me that the scriptures are ineffable, then go ahead.

    What is the TIF anyway?

    Holopupenko –

    Evolutionists prove evolution other ways. By the time one even gets to a single skull, one has already been over genetics and the idea of common descent. So if evolution has, in fact, been proven, then clearly that skull must fit into it somewhere. Therefore it’s the end of the evidence, not the beginning. It’s not a foundational issue. Like I was just saying, the voracity of the Bible is a foundational issue. Therefore, we should look at more of its claims.

  227. Tom Gilson

    Jacob,

    Now I know that many argue that the Jesus movement should have ended at his death if it were not true, but I would argue the exact opposite. If Jesus had begun the revolt before his death, then it might never have amounted to anything. But if people could be convinced that he rose and would soon establish Israel’s ascendancy, then that’s something they could have believed in.

    That’s speculation. Would you be willing to read an excellent historian’s take on that? N.T. Wright, in The Challenge of Jesusshows just what the Jews’ expectations of the Kingdom, the Messiah, and resurrection were, and that everything that happened in the early Jesus movement ran counter to that.

    The Gospel accounts were written decades after the fact, but the section Paul quotes in 1 Corinthians 15:3-6 on the resurrection is probably datable to within a few years, no more than 5-7, after the resurrection. You speculate (again) about how the stories began vaguely and morphed, and you say, ” One can’t say much about it, but that’s exactly the problem. I can’t form conclusions based on flimsy evidence.” I think Wright might inform you on all of that, especially on the expectations of Messiah and also on the quality of the evidence.

  228. MedicineMan

    Fortuna,

    …the belief in some kind of objective morality has been around for a long time, and yet people (on the whole) pretty much do what they want regardless of whether it conforms to their moral systems.

    Yes and no, but close enough for this conversation. That’s where Tom’s point about conforming to what we know of human experience comes in. Any system can tell you what is right, but the only system that gives you a plausible answer for how to do right is Christianity. It acknowledges that we’re all prone to failing even our own personal moral codes, let alone God’s (Romans 7:21-25). That’s the reason there’s a need for salvation (eternally) and the influence of the Holy Spirit (temporarily).

    There are certainly problems in those areas you mentioned…but those are also some of the most hospitable, charitable, and giving places in the country. If we’re going to compare, we have to compare across the board. Those are also some of the poorer states, and having a higher proportion of believers does not mean everyone is. For as much as it aggravates people to hear it, it’s also logically true that just claiming to be a believer does not make it so. Then there’s the question of causality. Do those states have more problems because they’re religious, or are they more religious because they have problems? History seems to suggest the latter.

    So this is true:

    I guess my point is that it’s too simplistic to say that objective morality gives you reasons not to misbehave, and leave it at that.

    We both agree (I think) that the truth of those values is critical, and that there is still an issue of whether or not people choose to conform to them.

    Just a shot in the dark here, but I’m guessing the subtext of the phrase ‘wriggling out’ of moral statements is meant to convey that one might choose to evade a moral precept because the consequences would be inconvenient. For what it’s worth to you, I doubt that many moral subjectivists actually behave that way, and I suspect the ones that do wouldn’t be helped much by an objective moral system. Examples of devout people interpreting their religious doctrines in whatever way they must in order to square the ethical circle are just too abundant.

    One critical difference being that subjectivists are philosophically obligated to accept the “wriggling” because there are no ultimate standards anyway, even if they don’t accept the conclusion. That’s why I said what I did about permissiveness vs. restraint. Objectivists can reject the self-serving interpreters, and they can appeal to them on the basis of something that actually carries weight with them. Once a person chooses to ignore objective morals…well, that’s sort of the point; they’re behaving as subjectivists.

    There’s also a distinction between “missing the mark” and “rejecting” moral values. There’s a difference between a person who believes in kindness, but who is occasionally unkind (and recognizes his error) and a person who rejects kindness.

  229. MedicineMan

    Jacob,

    TIF is The Impossible Faith, discussed above. The details supporting it answer some of your points.

    Is the following valid?

    The biggest argument against anarchy is the lack of normative principles. But you equally cannot convince someone of what to do if they do not agree with you. Therefore, having no laws becomes no better or worse than having laws that most people don’t follow. In reality, most people deal in their own personal rules anyway, so we must operate on those grounds.

    In other words, I think there’s a sensible parallel between legal statutes and objective morals. Not everyone obeys every acknowledged legal statue. However, we know that there are many people who are dissuaded from certain illegal actions purely because they know that it’s illegal. We don’t argue that laws should be jettisoned, or treated subjectively, simply because they are not universally obeyed, even by those who agree with them. Obviously, that makes the foundation of those statues critical, but clearly Christians are comfortable with that requirement.

    We all agree (I think) on free will, or at least it’s a required assumption for this conversation to make sense. So the fact that everyone will ultimately choose what to do or not do is noncontroversial. But both sides are interested in appealing to others to see moral positions their way. Only objectivists have philosophical grounds for saying, “this applies to you whether you want it to or not.”

  230. david ellis


    That tens of thousands living in the immediate time/vicinity believed almost immediately makes TIF worth considering.

    And what is your evidence for the claim that “tens of thousands living in the immediate time/vicinity believed almost immediately”?

  231. MedicineMan

    All,

    Here’s a perfect example of “wriggling”. I happen to know that someone by the name of SteveK has, at times, cheered for the L.A. Lakers. Yet, so far as I know, he claims to stand for what is good, what is right, and what is true.

    But he wriggles right out of all of that and habitually roots for They Who Shall Not Be Named. Now, I can appeal to him on the subjective basis that rooting for “Them” is not preferable for me, for sports, or for good taste. Or, I can appeal to the objective principle that…it’s the Lakers. When he chooses to root for LA despite the self-evident moral principle at work, he’s acting as a subjectivist, saying that such things are purely a matter of taste.

    Now, if he wants to get right with God and cheer for Cleveland, he’d be submitting to some fundamental truths about the universe.

  232. MedicineMan

    David,

    Cited in the evidence supporting TIF, which includes friendly and hostile sources. The earliest and fastest growth of Christianity happened in Jerusalem immediately after the resurrection. I’m not going to play “gimme” games with someone who’s demonstrated an unwillingness to check out sources he doesn’t want to pay attention to, so feel free to cite a hostile source if you disagree.

  233. david ellis

    One small comment on the ongoing discussion of morality:

    subjective does not mean arbitrary.

    Illustration: being in physical agony is an intrinsically “bad” or undesirable thing.

    Why? Not because it does not fit some “objective” standard. Its precisely because of the subjective content of the experience that is an indisputably bad thing to be in agony. To look anywhere besides the subjective content of the experience for the reason why one shouldn’t want to be in agony is to fail right from the start—you will never find the reason anywhere else.

    Because the reason for not wanting to be in agony is subjective doesn’t, of course, mean that there is no truth of the matter in the question “is being in agony a bad thing”, “is it something I ought not to want”.

    This thinking has relevence to moral issues as well. There is no morality in the absence of beings capable of experiencing happiness, and suffering—who are capable of subjective states of mind.

    The whole issue of values IS DIRECTLY related to subjective experience.

    And, again, subjective does not mean arbitrary.

    The reason, for example, that love is intrinsically worthwhile is precisely because of what it is like to love and what it is like to part of a community of loving individuals.

    It is not to external standards imposed from without that we are to find real moral truth but in the living experience of rational beings trying honestly to discover the best way to live in the world.

    And, finally, I would point out that the theists in this dicussion of the basis of morality have not, so far as I’ve seen, actually stated what meta-ethical theory they subscribe to.

    This seems a rather major oversight.

    Mine, by the way, is ideal observer theory. If anyone wants to know.

  234. david ellis


    Cited in the evidence supporting TIF, which includes friendly and hostile sources. The earliest and fastest growth of Christianity happened in Jerusalem immediately after the resurrection. I’m not going to play “gimme” games with someone who’s demonstrated an unwillingness to check out sources he doesn’t want to pay attention to

    An essay by Holding on his impossible faith argument can be found online here:

    http://www.tektonics.org/lp/nowayjose.html

    However, I cannot find anywhere in it where he claims that tens of thousands converted in the immediate time/vicinity converted almost immediately much less what sources he cites. I do not own this book. So if you are unwilling to quote him or to support your claim I suppose there’s nothing further to say. I’m certainly not going to spend my free time doing your work for you.

  235. SteveK

    david,

    I would appreciate a response to my comments in #226 and #227 when you get the time. Thanks.

  236. MedicineMan

    David,

    You asked for a source, I gave you at least one. The Bible is another (contrary to Tony’s ‘demolishing’ assertion, the Bible is a written work from that time). Others are available. What Luke wrote, for example, should be taken seriously because of his excellent reputation as an accurate historian. You could also check out some of the works by Hardy (of Oxford).

    Work for who, now? You’re the one saying that you don’t make decisions without ample evidence, and saying that TIF is “crackpot nonsense”, etc. Either you’ve got plenty of evidence from that time (including who converted and when) in order to say that, or you’re hypocritically dismissing it out of hand. You’ve also mis-stated the idea beind TIF several times. So where’s my impetus to give you what you either already have or won’t consider?

  237. SteveK

    All,
    Here’s what I don’t understand about the term ‘evidence’ being discussed. David brought this up in #170 and it got me thinking.

    He said (paraphrasing) that a claim is evidence for a claim, but not evidence in favor of the conclusion made by the claim. However, a second claim that confirms what the first claim said is considered evidence that the first claim is true – or is it not?

    In legal cases if we have 10 people that claim to have seen Joe at home on the night of the crime, that is considered evidence for the conclusion that Joe did not do the crime. There may be other evidence that counters those 10 claims, but still, isn’t this evidence in favor of the conclusion?

  238. david ellis


    You asked for a source, I gave you at least one.

    What was that? I don’t recall any source for this claim concerning tens of thousands of converts.


    The Bible is another…

    Supporting the Bible’s assertions with the bible’s assertions? The whole issue is whether the bible’s claims are true. If we’re just going to stipulate that the bible is reliable then there’s no need to bother with the TIF.

    Besides which I don’t think the bible even makes the claim of tens of thousands of near immediate converts. Care to quote where it does?


    You could also check out some of the works by Hardy (of Oxford).

    I’m not going to spend my time hunting up books by people to see if your claim of tens of thousands of almost immediate converts is true. Its up to you to support your claims. I have no reason to spend my time attempting to refute an unsupported assertion. If you’re content to just make unsupported assertions I’m content to leave them as such.


    Steve: I would appreciate a response to my comments in #226 and #227 when you get the time. Thanks.

    OK

    I haven’t got caught up with the comments yet. You said this in #216

    Your current conclusion is not a reasonable one.

    How so? If reasonable conclusions aren’t reached via a formula – if it’s a matter of common sense, critically examined – then explain why my conclusion doesn’t fit the criteria for reasonable grounds. Why ought I not think my conclusion is reasonable?

    Actually I answered that question already. in the part of my post immediately following what you quoted from me above:

    “There is far too little evidence to support ANY conclusion about what went on with the very early church. There can only be speculation. That you draw firm conclusions on the basis of so little supporting evidence only shows that your position is not based on reason or evidence.”

    I think that explains my assessment of your position more than adequately and I see little need to add anything more. You are free to disagree with my opinion.


    david: What’s self-contradictory in saying we don’t have enough evidence to know what really went on in the early days of christianity and saying that a religion that makes the claims christianity does could have been embraced by at least some people in the Roman Empire of that day?

    Steve: You are saying we have reasonable grounds to conclude that we don’t have enough evidence yet. This is the kind of stuff that juries must deal with. They must ask themselves, when does the evidence rise to the level of “enough” in order to deliver a guilty verdict?

    The answer/solution is found through reason and it seems there are a lot of people who have reasoned their way to conclude that Christianity is ‘guilty’ according to the evidence.

    You are not one of them – which is fine – but how can you say the conclusion was NOT reached by way of reason? What evidence or argument would you offer to support such an extraordinary claim?

    Are you really claiming christians reason their way to their beliefs? Honestly?

    From my own experience being brought up christian this isn’t what I’ve found. And when the evidence in support of their beliefs is so paltry I find it impossible not to think that even the few who claim to believe in christianity based on reason are merely rationalizing views held for far less cerebral reasons.

    Again, feel free to disagree.

  239. david ellis


    All,
    Here’s what I don’t understand about the term ‘evidence’ being discussed. David brought this up in #170 and it got me thinking.

    He said (paraphrasing) that a claim is evidence for a claim, but not evidence in favor of the conclusion made by the claim. However, a second claim that confirms what the first claim said is considered evidence that the first claim is true – or is it not?

    A suggestion: don’t paraphrase. Quote. Your paraphrasing doesn’t much resemble what I really said.

    What I actually said concerning evidence and conclusions, in the most relevent passage of that discussion was:

    “That X is evidence for a claim is not the same thing as X being reasonable grounds for believing the claim. X might be only very weak evidence. Or X might be good evidence in and of itself but not quite strong enough to consider the claim more likely than not to be true. Or other, better evidence, may contradict X (for example, the many cases where a jury convicted a man on a eyewitness testimony but DNA evidence later showed the man to be innocent).”


    In legal cases if we have 10 people that claim to have seen Joe at home on the night of the crime, that is considered evidence for the conclusion that Joe did not do the crime. There may be other evidence that counters those 10 claims, but still, isn’t this evidence in favor of the conclusion?

    Yes, but depending on other factors and relevent information (like the reliability of the witness, physical evidence contradicting their claim, etc) it may or may not be GOOD evidence for the conclusion. That is, it may or may not be sufficient grounds for a verdict of not guilty.

    All of which is clear from what I actually said about evidence and drawing conclusions (unlike your mangled attempt at paraphrasing).

  240. Jacob

    Tom Gilson –

    It really depends upon what you are referring to when you say expectations. First, I think that there are two points in conflict here: your claim in the original blog post of fulfilled prophecy rings a little hollow when you utilize the Jew’s belief of the messiah to buffet your point here, for they got their beliefs from prophecy. If they couldn’t even predict the correct messiah, then I question the efficacy of prophecy. To that end, Peter’s initial words to the Jewish crowd about prophecy and signs seem to take scripture out of context in order to prove his point. Since the Jesus movement was itself merely a shift from the standard messiah, then it merely requires a shift in thinking; that Jesus suffered and conquered death might be considered a sign of the messiah. The disciples could then point to the whatever scripture they please and say, “See? Jesus was the messiah.” And the Jews that were taken in by it could still believe that Jesus conquered death in the present and in the future would come “soon” and fulfill the final pieces of prophecy to their own ends. In reality, the Jesus movement was still relatively small. That they could get a segment of Jews to go along with this isn’t too surprising. Unless, of course, you were trying to foment a different argument. I don’t quite have access to that book now, although I’ve read similar arguments in other books.

    Wasn’t 1 Corinthians written in the mid 50s, a few decades after Jesus’s death?

    MedicineMan –

    I still don’t think that solves the issue of one appealing to the will of God in order to do something, and it still is contingent on belief in order to be applied ubiquitously. Nor do I think that it answers some of the tough issues – laws, after all, also have to be interpreted and weighed carefully. So we still have the problem of trying to appeal to others, which is supposedly the problem of an atheistic system too.

    I also don’t think that Luke is a very critical historian. Many of his arguments are along the line of “you know this to be true”. It’s a rather biased take to begin with, so I would expect a biased recounting. I would be more impressed if he exhaustively provided sources or information that he appeals to.

  241. SteveK

    david,
    Yes I honestly think reason will lead you to the conclusion that Christianity is true. I and others reason our way to conclude that the evidence is GOOD evidence and STRONG enough evidence to support the conclusion.

    You and others have not given an argument that supports your claim that we don’t use reason or that the evidence is not GOOD and STRONG.

    Your claim of being the most rational/reasonable person in the room has so far fallen flat.

  242. SteveK

    david,
    Furthermore, the claim that Christians don’t use reason is disproved by the fact that we weight the evidence and put forth arguments that the evidence is GOOD enough and STRONG enough to support the conclusion.

  243. david ellis


    Yes I honestly think reason will lead you to the conclusion that Christianity is true. I and others reason our way to conclude that the evidence is GOOD evidence and STRONG enough evidence to support the conclusion.

    Sorry, I guess its my fault for not noticing all those passages in the Bible praising critical thinking and high standards of evidence and telling potential converts not to believe until and unless they have examined the evidence thoroughly.

    And I guess I forgot all those hymns you christians sing in church exhorting the virtue of critical thinking in matters of religion. Unlike those muslims who sing songs that say things like “you ask me how I know he’s real, he lives inside my heart”

    Oh, wait. That’s you guys, isn’t it?


    You and others have not given an argument that supports your claim that we don’t use reason or that the evidence is not GOOD and STRONG.

    My conclusion is based on how incredibly bad the arguments christians employ are; in those cases where they bother to employ argumentation rather than emotional appeals.

    Naturally, you disagree with my opinion. As you are more than welcome to do.

  244. david ellis

    In the end, all we can expect is for you to present your arguments for your religion’s claim and for us to present our criticisms of those arguments.

    And each must judge for themselves to the best of their ability which does the better job of making their case.


    Furthermore, the claim that Christians don’t use reason is disproved by the fact that we weight the evidence and put forth arguments that the evidence is GOOD enough and STRONG enough to support the conclusion.

    Its not my intent to imply that christians don’t employ reason at all. There would not be such a field as christian apologetics if that were the case. I’m only saying that I find the arguments so obviously bad that its difficult for me to consider them anything but after the fact rationalizations for beliefs held for reasons having little or nothing to do with reason or evidence.

    I could be wrong. But that’s my opinion.

  245. Tom Gilson

    Jacob,

    your claim in the original blog post of fulfilled prophecy rings a little hollow when you utilize the Jew’s belief of the messiah to buffet your point here, for they got their beliefs from prophecy. If they couldn’t even predict the correct messiah, then I question the efficacy of prophecy.

    What claims in my original post? That was a bullet point, not a claim. You’re jumping to premature conclusions. Why not pick up a copy of the Wright book?

    1 Corinthians was written in the mid-50s, but the consensus of scholarship is that the first several verses go back much earlier than that. I’ll get into that later in this series.

    I would be more impressed if he exhaustively provided sources or information that he appeals to.

    Are you aware of the terms “temporal chauvinism” or “historical ignorance”? Historians didn’t do that then. He wrote to recount what had happened, not to impress 21st century Westerners.

  246. Tony Hoffman

    MM,

    You seem to misunderstand my argument.

    On that note, are you really asking for letters and diaries from the illiterate?

    I am pointing out one of the vast many of ways that the type (not just the volume) of historical documentation differs between the two 19th Century American and Ancient Judea.

    Are you claiming that there were linear drawings in ancient Egypt, but none in Judea a thousand years later?

    I am asking you to refer me to the vast collection of such drawings. 1% of the magnitude of what we have documenting the 19th Century in terms of dress, social situations, entertainment, war, public spaces, private lives, occupations, etc would be a start. I await your correction pointing me to these documents.

    That a book beginning with the stated intention of collecting facts about a man for use as a reference (Luke) doesn’t count well enough as journalism?

    The book of Luke is written by religious zealots for the purposes of conversion. This does not describe journalism. It’s clear to me that the best explanation for the introduction of Luke was inserted later as a way of adding credibility to the story. (I think Craig’s explanation is snort-milk-out-of-your-nose funny. I took two years of college Latin. I don’t remember any ancient writer ever “changing” style to make a meta-cue to the reader about his ability to write to different formats.)

    Or are you hoping to find tapes from the Judean News Network’s 41 AD satellite feed before you take this discussion seriously?

    I see that you are going to ignore the substance of my point instead of address it. You could have addressed it, by the way: you could have said a) actually, we do have all or some of those things you mention, and here the are, or b) you could have said that the things I listed don’t offer a meaningful difference from the types of materials we do have, and here is why we can get as much meaning out of the documentation that exists. But that would have been engaging the argument.

    I understand, of course, that you think: “We know from good, solid, objective science what the people of that time and region felt about cultural, religious, moral, and other issues. We know what the society was like. We have historical documentation and other evidence laying it out for us, for crying out loud.

    Further, if your claim that comparison is not possible is true, then what use is your Mormon analogy anyway? You should be retracting it immediately on the grounds that, since we can’t really compare the cultures, you have absolutely no grounds for saying that Mormons experienced what ancient Christians did. Pick one or the other, or pick the assertion up off the table.

    I thought it was obvious, but I’ll say it again. It’s in human nature for people to believe in a religion without sufficient evidence. See, the Mormons, or any other religion you don’t believe in that is practicing and growing today. They all do it. In fact, more people are doing it today than there are Christians today.

    This was in response to your making an argument that Christianity grew up in a time and place where, unlike today’s religions, or any other prior ones, it was harder than any time prior or since to form a new religion, and that’s because your deep understanding of the culture of that period allows you to make this declaration.

    Of course, it appears to me that your declaration is based on scanty evidence making your comparison meaningless.

    So yes, as it pertains to the relevant details, we know plenty of what we need to know to consider how something like Christianity was received in ancient Judea.

    It appears to have been received, for decades and decades, with overwhelming indifference.

    We can compare the relevant properties of the two cultures to make that determination in a reasonable and sensible way. The pertinent details, and even the majority of the points you suggested are actually available.

    I await your listing of the relevant properties, the pertinent details, and the documentation from which you base them. Right now, it sounds like a lot of, “C’mon, we just know.”

  247. MedicineMan

    David,

    Sorry, I guess its my fault for not noticing all those passages in the Bible praising critical thinking…

    Proverbs 20:15, Acts 17:11

    …and high standards of evidence…

    2 Peter 1:16, John 14:11

    … and telling potential converts not to believe until and unless they have examined the evidence thoroughly

    Acts 2:22, 1 John 4:1, 1 Thessalonians 5:21

    To start with, anyway. So yes, it’s your fault, because apparently the Bible, like just about everything else that might disagree with you, is not something you’ve bothered to take seriously enough to actually read, consider, or think about. You don’t even understand what is being claimed before you start calling it “crackpot nonsense”, so coming for you, this…

    …I find the arguments so obviously bad that its difficult for me to consider them anything but after the fact rationalizations for beliefs held for reasons having little or nothing to do with reason or evidence…

    …is about as meaningful as Barefoot Bum’s complaining about being spoken inappropriately. You literally have no idea what you’re talking about.

  248. MedicineMan

    Tony,

    I understood you quite well. You’re attempting to defend an indefensibly bad argument.

    One of your suggestions is that there cannot be a meaningful comparison of the two cultures, so we can’t say that Judeans had it tougher than Mormons. This is foolish. And you’re the one who said you wanted diaries and letters from more than just the literate. You wanted sound recordings from 50 AD. The suggestion that we can’t grasp cultural or social structures without that level of data is ludicrous.

    “New Manners and Customs of the Bible” and “The Syrian Christ” are two collections of cultural and social information about that time. There are plenty of citations in Holding’s summary of TIF that you can check for yourself by degreed historians, archaeologists, and researchers. You’re talking about this field as though no one has ever learned anything about the topic.

    And, yes, we reject Luke for being stupid enough to believe what he wrote. Agenda or no, I guess we have to reject just about everything we have written from that time.

    My sarcasm was specifically intended to point out the absurdity of your approach. I’m not talking about what the popular opinion on blue robes vs purple robes was in the spring of 45 AD among Roman widows. I’m talking about the essential cultural and social makeup of that society, something quite accessible from the materials we have available.

    We’ve pointed towards at least some sources. And, yes, I did indicate through sarcasm that much of what you ask for is irrelevant. Breakfast foods? Really?

    Your second (contradictory) suggestion was that people can believe all kinds of things without good evidence, like Mormons, so who cares what early Christians thought. That’s completely missing the point of TIF. The whole idea was that the situation in Judea was not conducive to the rapid spread and acceptance of false beliefs. That it can happen under some circumstances is not the point – it’s that it happened under circumstances where it shouldn’t. If you can’t grasp the argument, stop trying to refute it.

    Of course, it appears to me that your declaration is based on scanty evidence making your comparison meaningless.

    Well, for starters, refute the sources Holding used. Or put a cork in this asinine skeptical habit of claiming no evidence just because you won’t look at any.

    It appears to have been received, for decades and decades, with overwhelming indifference.

    Yes, so much indifference that within 30 years of the crucifixion, people were willing to die in the arena rather than recant. That people with everything to lose and nothing to gain, like wealthy Romans, were converting. That enough people followed it to give Nero the idea of blaming them for the fire.

    I await your listing of the relevant properties, the pertinent details, and the documentation from which you base them. Right now, it sounds like a lot of, “C’mon, we just know.”

    I have a better idea, since resources for all of those have been offered, at least in the citations given by Holding. Why don’t you start ponying up the contrary data instead of playing this sophistic game where all you have to do is say, “but I haven’t seen the evidence…show me more!” I can lead an atheist to info, but I can’t make you think. If you can’t provide some counter-evidence, and especially if you refuse to look at what is given, then the only one saying, “C’mon, we just know” is you.

    Or, you can just admit that the Mormon analogy was a bad one, and your attempt to defend it was lame, and move on.

  249. Jacob

    Tom Gilson –

    I’m quite well aware of the claims of prophecy that Christians make, of which messianic prophecies are perhaps the most pertinent, so I thought that the way in which they can be interpreted are quite important to the discussion, as many are quoted directly in the NT.

    By the time I even track down and read the book, the conversation may not even be worth regurgitating, and I already know many of the arguments. If Wright makes some exceptional points that are interesting, you should quote them or sum them up in response to my arguments.

    What Luke thought is absolutely pertinent to a 21st century westerner. If I can’t track the methodology, then I will have trouble affirming a great many things in the sense that I can’t see the logic of his claims. You’re trying to use the logic of what could or couldn’t happen, but I can’t do that if it isn’t there. All I’m left with are the claims, and I have to suppose many things about them. Thus, I find it all wanting. Many historians back then were more thorough with their work.

  250. SteveK

    david,

    Its not my intent to imply that christians don’t employ reason at all.

    That’s not the way I interpreted this comment from you: “I’m quite convinced that there is no rational basis for believing the miraculous claims made in the NT are true.”

    Explain what you mean by ‘no rational basis for believing’. I hear that phrase a lot and I always interpret it as ‘belief is irrational’ but your comment above doesn’t support that. So what does it mean?

  251. Tony Hoffman

    MM,

    I have a better idea, since resources for all of those have been offered, at least in the citations given by Holding. Why don’t you start ponying up the contrary data instead of playing this sophistic game where all you have to do is say, “but I haven’t seen the evidence…show me more!”

    I don’t believe you have offered me a single citation regarding what I have asked for.

    Why should I go search for material that supports your argument when I have already expressed my skepticism about it? This is a blog discussion, not a book club. If you can’t be bothered to support your argument, don’t expect me to try and build it for you.

  252. david ellis


    Proverbs 20:15, Acts 17:11

    …and high standards of evidence…

    2 Peter 1:16, John 14:11

    … and telling potential converts not to believe until and unless they have examined the evidence thoroughly

    Acts 2:22, 1 John 4:1, 1 Thessalonians 5:21

    What’s with the christians on this blog? Always putting up the bare minimum, if anything, in defense of their claims.

    Here’s a thought. If you want to present a bible verse as evidence: quote it.

    Or do you prefer that readers of this blog just assume that those verses provide good support for your position (which they don’t) without looking them up when you know it would look pretty thin if you actually quoted those verses.

  253. david ellis


    david: Its not my intent to imply that christians don’t employ reason at all.

    Steve: That’s not the way I interpreted this comment from you: “I’m quite convinced that there is no rational basis for believing the miraculous claims made in the NT are true.”

    Explain what you mean by ‘no rational basis for believing’. I hear that phrase a lot and I always interpret it as ‘belief is irrational’ but your comment above doesn’t support that. So what does it mean?

    Yes, the belief is irrational. That is, christian apologetic attempts to argue for their beliefs are bad ones. You apologists attempt to employ reason in support of your beliefs….but you employ it very poorly. Using arguments that are obviously weak at best and frequently flat out ridiculous.

    I’m getting tired of exchanges that aren’t dealing with anything substantive and won’t respond to anything else not actually dealing with the arguments for belief in christianity.

    If you wish to talk about any of the apologetic arguments for your religion I’ll be happy to continue the discussion.

    But if you just want to go on and on about the fact that we disagree on whether belief in christianity is reasonable….rather than actually discussing the arguments themselves then you’re conversation is going to be one-sided. I have better things to do.

  254. MedicineMan

    Tony,

    I don’t believe you have offered me a single citation regarding what I have asked for.

    Now I feel like I’m in the twilight zone. I’ve pointed you towards quite a few resources that discuss the social and cultural composition of Judea. Two books, plus the Bible, plus the citations offered by Holding. You’re expressing doubt about whether or not we really know anything about a certain topic, and I’m directing you towards sources that indicate otherwise. To ask for anything more would be nonsensical – what do you want me to do, copy-past an entire textbook for you since you’re too lazy to check and see if it even exists?

    Then again, here’s the crux of your problem:

    Why should I go search for material that supports your argument when I have already expressed my skepticism about it?

    Ahh, yes. You’ve already decided that it’s not true, so you have no reason to investigate further. At least we’re being more open, now. Tony does not agree with my conclusions, therefore he has no reason to read anything contradictory. He can’t even read the citations listed on a page one click away. And if I quoted it here verbatim, he wouldn’t read it anyway, it seems.

    This is a blog discussion, not a book club.

    Then why in heaven’s name are you expecting? That’s precisely the reason I pointed you towards comprehensive sources. You’re doubting the extent to which we know something about ancient culture. What other appropriate response is there than to offer sources that contain that very information? It’s not a topic you cover intelligently in five seconds, Tony. I think you know that, but you’re trying to cover the fact that you made an extremely weak argument through sophistry.

    If you can’t be bothered to support your argument, don’t expect me to try and build it for you.

    Let me again ask about the citations from Holding. He makes several references to authors, quotes their articles, cites their books, and so forth. I linked to his summary, and even that brief overview has a large number of such citations. I told you those were there. Are those not good enough? Is anything good enough?

    Yes, I forgot. Research is for losers. Only the truly intelligent make up their mind before they’ve read a single sentence of an opposing view. You say we don’t know much about ancient culture, I point you towards resources regarding it, and you think it’s unreasonable for you might look into them. If you can’t even click a link and scan through a document less than 10,000 words long, then you’re even more willingly ignorant than you seem. That’s intellectually lazy, at best.

  255. MedicineMan

    David,

    News flash: you are on the internet. There are literally dozens of rapid bible search sites. You could have found such a site, copy-pasted the verses given, and seen them, all in less time than it took you to type out that comically immature response.

    Or do you prefer that the other readers assume that you’re that lazy; that you can’t even take 60 seconds to look them up? Or, that doing so has inconvenienced you so much that you simply must complain about it?

    That’s pretty telling. It gives everyone a reasonably clear indication of how much effort you actually put into thinking about these issues. If looking up a handful of Bible verses is such a herculean task, we can safely assume you’re neither well-informed nor interested in becoming so. You set the bar awfully low on your threshold for effort.

    You haven’t demonstrated the slightest intention of considering what is being presented. Everything that has been mentioned has been met with drivel like “crackpot nonsense”. You so badly mis-state the claims you’re trying to refute that it’s almost embarrassing. References to – gasp! – books are dismissed, since anything you have to get out of your chair to examine is not a substantive answer, in your universe. (Second news flash: the internet is not the only source of information in the world, and having access to Wikipedia does not make you informed.) You’re more interested in whining about how hard it is to look up specific sources in the easiest book in the world to get your hands on. And in the mean time you’re actually trying to complain that the dialogue on our end isn’t “substantive”.

    I too, have better things to do, which don’t include risking the assumptions that arise when you argue with a certain kind of person.

  256. Tony Hoffman

    MM,

    Regarding Holding, you say,

    He makes several references to authors, quotes their articles, cites their books, and so forth.

    I am not having a blog discussion with Holding; I am having one with you. If not, I could cut you out because you’d just be a middle man.

    He [Holding] makes several references to authors, quotes their articles, cites their books, and so forth.

    I am bewildered as to why you will not draw my attention to the relevant passages in the relevant books by the cited authors’ that support your point. I wonder if you know how arguments are made.

    Do you have anything here, or is “Because that’s what Holding said!” going to be all you’ve got? Because if you’re only point is that someone named Holding wrote an article, and he used footnotes, then I wonder what you’re looking to discuss. (I don’t have much to say against that.)

    I think you should take a little break and try to put together an argument that opposes what I’ve said. (Hint: I offered two good options above — I think it should be around where I used the characters “a)” and “b)”.)

Comments close automatically after 120 days. Comment numbering may be incorrect due to a temporary bug.