Melanie Phillips on “The Secular Inquisition”

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From Melanie Phillips today comes possibly the most intellectually aware statement I have seen from any journalist on the Intelligent Design controversy, including this:

While materialist fundamentalists can deal with religious believers by scoffing they are in a separate domain altogether from the real ie scientific world, the suggestion that science might itself arrive at the conclusion that there are limits to what it can understand is a heresy that directly threatens the materialist fundamentalist closed thought-system — and therefore must be stamped out.

… they cannot grasp that ID is a metaphysical idea that comes out of but stands separate from science, in that science leads here to an idea with which by definition it must abruptly part company. Instead they insist that the two must be fused – and when that proves impossible, they cry victory.

As Charles Johnson asks on LGF:

If ‘intelligent design’ is really based on science, why have their advocates failed to produce any scientific evidence for that claim, despite millions of dollars worth of funding and years in which to do it? Instead, ‘intelligent design’ proponents spend all their time on public relations. Where are the peer reviewed studies? Where are the experimental proofs that can be duplicated by other scientists? Answer: nonexistent.

Well of course they are non-existent — because ID is not in itself a scientific discovery. It is rather an inference from scientific discoveries. Looking at the complexity of the created world, it says the evidence points inescapably to a guiding intelligence as the cause of that complexity. It is an idea, a conclusion to a chain of observation and thought. When people demand proof of this idea, what they are actually demanding is proof that an ‘intelligent designer’ exists. The fact that there are no peer-reviewed studies (!) demonstrating the existence of such a cosmic ‘designer’ provokes this yah-boo response. But it is obviously no more possible to prove the existence of an ‘intelligent designer’ than it is to prove the existence of the Biblical God.

ID is thus a paradox. The whole point is that it states that the ‘intelligent designer’ it posits as the only logical inference from scientifically verifiable complexity cannot be known through scientific means. This is because the essence of the ID idea is that there is a limit to science beyond which it cannot go….

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29 Responses to “ Melanie Phillips on “The Secular Inquisition” ”

  1. Kurt Goedel rocked the mathematics world with a proof of his Incompleteness Theorem. Simply stated any formal system will contain truths that are not provable within the system and contain falsehoods which cannot be proven false within the system. Therefore all formal systems are incomplete.

    To the degree that the scientific endeavor strives to be a formal system by limiting its domain and methods (all good things), it, by the Incompleteness Theorem, can never arrive at all truth or defend itself against all falsehoods.

  2. What? The secular inquisition started and no one told me?!!

    And me without my thumbscrews.


    the suggestion that science might itself arrive at the conclusion that there are limits to what it can understand is a heresy that directly threatens the materialist fundamentalist closed thought-system …..

    Can you quote any atheist thinkers who make such a claim?

    It certainly sounds like nothing any religious skeptics I’ve encountered think.

  3. Did I say atheist? The secular thinkers who make such claims include Barbara Forrest, Steve Schafersman, Robert Pennock, Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, William Provine, George Gaylord Simpson, Tom Clark, Jerry Coyne, P.Z. Myers, Paul Gross …

    Not all these thinkers would say that science strictly defined (whatever that may be) is the only viable route to knowledge, but they would say that all knowledge comes from within a closed materialist thought system. Most of them would say that all knowledge comes by something akin to science (intersubjective empiricism) if not by science strictly defined.

  4. David:

    Really—and take this to heart—what you asked reveals just how ignorant you are of the point the article makes, and of the scientism (used broadly) inherent in MOST atheists’ self-defeating commitment to it. But since you insist… here’s only ONE of many quotes one can readily find by silly atheists:

    “We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior [i.e., unscientific] commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori [i.e., unscientific] adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated [meaning: we, the Gnostic guild of scientist really know]. Moreover, that materialism is an absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.” [Richard Lewontin, Billions and billions of demons, The New York Review, p. 31, 9 January 1997]

    I have lot’s more of silly atheist quotes here and here.

    (By the way, your accusation of “snide” remarks under separate cover, apart from incorrect and a deflection from your errors, is rich coming from a moral relativist: since your moral judgment is subjective and “local” to you, it is a mere opinion. Fine: it’s duly noted… but empty of objective content, which means it can be safely ignored as an emotional response and irrelevant.)

    Don:

    Not quite: what you provided is not the full import of what follows from Godel’s incompleteness theorems.

    First, to agree with you: the significance for physics of Godel’s theorem about the incompleteness of mathematics cannot be overstated—especially regarding the so-called “theories of everything,” which claim to be all-encompassing final theories. Hawking claimed in A Brief History of Time that it was possible to work out a final theory of physics. Later, Hawking sobered up and realized that no physical theory, however encompassing, can be final. Bearing in mind that physics is a mixed science (perhaps better termed “mathematical physics” – a collection of beings of reason), the implication of Godel’s theorem of incompleteness is that ANY theory of physics that contains more than trivial mathematics is subject to Godel’s restriction. (Note: at issue here is not the indeterminacy principle or Heisenberg’s illicit imposition of bad philosophizing whereby he believed epistemological limitations determine ontological status.)

    Insofar as Godel’s theorem states that no non-trivial system of arithmetic propositions can have its proof of consistency within itself, all systems of mathematics fall under this restriction, because all embody higher mathematics that ultimately rest on plain arithmetic. Therefore, there can be no final physical theory that could be NECESSARILY true in its mathematical expression. And so, the typical expectations about a final form of physics are illusory. (Recall, for example, Murray Gell-Mann’s excited but ultimately empty claim in 1976 that HE would come up with a final theory of fundamental particles.)

    Second, the important clarification and implication beyond your point: it’s NOT that a final theory of everything is impossible to formulate (highly unlikely, but not impossible), it’s that when a TOE is in hand no one can KNOW rigorously that it IS a final theory. Godel’s theorem does not deny us the possibility of developing a complete, consistent description of physical reality. But because we cannot claim that such a TOE is final, it does counter any objection to the contingency of the universe… which of course has HUGE implications for the philosophically-illiterate Richard Dawkins. (The universe is NOT a necessary (as opposed to contingent) being, which is what atheists must have in place to eliminate God: the universe must depend on something outside for its existence.) Therefore, physics can NOT be used as an argument against the contingency of the universe—hence nailing the coffin on Sagan’s silly claim “THE COSMOS IS ALL THAT IS OR EVER WILL BE.” (capitalization his) Why? Again, Godel’s theorem kills any intention of a final theory for which the physical world is what it is and cannot be anything else. So, no TOE can ever be shown to be necessarily true. The recently passed-away Fr. Jaki (to whom I owe a large hat-tip) puts it wonderfully: “… physicists who aim at reading God’s mind will not succeed, because they cannot read their own minds in the first place.”


  5. Did I say atheist? The secular thinkers who make such claims…

    The quoted article refers to them as “materialist fundamentalists”. Materialism entails atheism (though atheism does not necessarily entail materialism….but that’s beside the point).


    Not all these thinkers would say that science strictly defined (whatever that may be) is the only viable route to knowledge, but they would say that all knowledge comes from within a closed materialist thought system. Most of them would say that all knowledge comes by something akin to science (intersubjective empiricism) if not by science strictly defined.

    You seem to have forgotten that the claim being disputed is the belief that materialists might have a problem with “the suggestion that science might itself arrive at the conclusion that there are limits to what it can understand…”

    I don’t know many who would claim that science can necessarily solve all problems and answer all questions. And the idea that this might be threatening to people with materialist or atheistic views is simply laughable.

    Now to Holopupenko:


    By the way, your accusation of “snide” remarks under separate cover, apart from incorrect and a deflection from your errors, is rich coming from a moral relativist: since your moral judgment is subjective and “local” to you, it is a mere opinion.

    Do you recall my request that you refrain from attributing to me views which I have not actually expressed?

    Apparently not, since you continue to do so. I am not a moral relativist.

    If you wish to discuss meta-ethics then I would be glad to—so long as you are willing to state what meta-ethical theory you subscribe to and argue for it. The theory I favor, by the way, is ideal observer theory—which is a far cry from moral relativism.


    Sagan’s silly claim “THE COSMOS IS ALL THAT IS OR EVER WILL BE.”

    Depends on how you’re defining “cosmos”. If you’re defining it as “everything that exists” then its a tautology.


    The universe is NOT a necessary (as opposed to contingent) being, which is what atheists must have in place to eliminate God….

    If you wish to state a formal argument that God’s existence is necessary I’d be happy to discuss it.

  6. David:

    Please accept my apology for interpreting some of your remarks as indicative of moral relativism. With respect to “ideal observer”… no comment.

  7. David,

    I had responses composed to you on three or four things you had said, but having read to the end of your comments now, I think it’s more fitting to point out publicly, once again, just what it is you are doing here. I’ll quote you, starting with the excerpt you quoted from Holopupenko:

    The universe is NOT a necessary (as opposed to contingent) being, which is what atheists must have in place to eliminate God….

    You replied:

    If you wish to state a formal argument that God’s existence is necessary I’d be happy to discuss it.

    You haven’t discussed anything yet. You haven’t begun to answer what Holo wrote here. You’ve actually changed the subject. Suppose (for the sake of argument) there were no good logical reason to conclude that God’s existence is necessary. If that were true, which I do not concede but which I offer in order to make a point, it wouldn’t answer whether (or how) the universe could exist necessarily in place of God. Whether the universe could be a necessary existent is a question that intersects with the question of God, but it also has its own independent philosophical and scientific ramifications, relating to the possibility of beginningless time, what preceded the Big Bang, how we might (or might never) have any scientific evidence for the deep history of the universe, the question of entropy, and more—and none of these require any discussion of God.

    You didn’t address those ramifications. You just shot back a billboard slogan-length rejoinder that amounted to changing the subject.

    That’s what I mean by “you haven’t discussed anything yet,” or, “you’re not spending any time on any arguments at all. If you think you are, you’re not being realistic with yourself.

    We’ve had lots of substantive discussions with people of all kinds of beliefs here, and I’ve enjoyed them all. If we had a substantive discussion with you, I think I would probably enjoy that, too. But what’s going instead is that you’re standing there saying, “You’re wrong, I’m right,” over and over again, using various creative ways of phrasing it so it’s not quite that blatant, but with no more depth than that to your arguments.

    Holopupenko, MM, SteveK, I suggest we quit pretending we’re having a discussion with David until he quits pretending to have one; until he does something more substantial than post billboard slogans.

    David, I invite you to enter into the debate here with some actual debate on your part: something more than what you’ve been doing, that is.


  8. If that were true, which I do not concede but which I offer in order to make a point, it wouldn’t answer whether (or how) the universe could exist necessarily in place of God.

    Quite true. But its not my position that the existence of either the universe or God is necessary.

    In either case, I think its more likely than not to be a brute fact….not necessity.


    That’s what I mean by “you haven’t discussed anything yet,” or, “you’re not spending any time on any arguments at all. If you think you are, you’re not being realistic with yourself.

    It’s difficult for me to criticize an argument that has been merely suggested in thumbnail form rather than actually stated explicitly. How can I criticize, as only one example of the lack of detail in the claim, the contention that the universe exists necessarily when it hasn’t even been said in what sense the term “necessary” is meant here. The term has more than one usage in philosophy and there is more than one form of an argument for the necessity of God.

    That’s why I requested a more detailed statement of his argument. Without it there can be no substantive discussion.


    David, I invite you to enter into the debate here with some actual debate on your part: something more than what you’ve been doing, that is.

    How am I to debate a claim that has not even been clearly stated? When one of you deigns to present an actual argument I’d be delighted to discuss it.

  9. David, I can say with confidence that there is a whole lot more argument being provided by us to you, than you are offering us in return.

    I see two things going on here. First, you are dealing with terminology and issues that you are not really all that familiar with. For example, the term “necessary” has multiple meanings in philosophy, as you have correctly pointed out; but in the context in which we’ve been using it here, it has a very clearly defined focus, as those who are familiar with discussions on these topics (not just on this blog, but generally speaking) would know.

    And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. I have no complaints about people getting involved, starting from the beginning, and learning as they go along. But the second thing I see going on here is that you represent yourself as knowing a whole lot more than you actually do. In that, I fear you are fooling yourself. I don’t think you’re fooling anyone else.

    My advice to Holopupenko, MM, and Steve near the end of my last comment here still stands.

  10. MM,

    Thanks for your last response, but I think this thing has been running into a dead end for some time now. I’ll just go over your last post briefly to show why I’m not inclined to try and keep this one alive.

    Quick note, before anything else: on what basis can you call them ‘dramatically different’? On one hand, you’re trying to tell me that we don’t know enough to say that Mormons and Judeans were in different situations…

    Yeah, no. Actually, what I wrote was…

    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).

    It’s a two level argument.

    One, Holding is mistaken in some of his conclusions.

    Two, (too) much must be inferred about Ancient Judea for us to make declarations like “it was the hardest, meanest time to start a religion – ever!”

    The first one could have been an interesting argument, but we got sidetracked on two.

    At any rate, you expressed an off-the-top-of-your-head doubt about an entire category of knowledge. I gave you an appropriate response to a general or categorical question: general or categorical sources. Your complaint on this issue is as puerile as David’s wrt Bible verses. (And are you, also, allergic to books, or is just a preference to get everything you know from the internet?)

    General or categorical sources?

    Actually, David’s complaint on Bible verses was substantive; your Bible quotes (I’m doing this from memory, but the first two I looked up, against my better judgment, and after that I could see that I was wasting my time), weren’t dictums or prescriptions to think critically; one was a vague sort of axiom that could be interpreted a hundred ways, and the other was typical propaganda trying to show how rigorously the Bible had once been vetted (and it was all true then!). But I digress.

    I gave you a resource full of references to studies on ancient culture and social structures. There is no “specific citation” to dispute general skepticism. You were given plenty of supporting information, so pretending otherwise is asinine.

    Yup. And the next time we have a discussion I’ll just refer you to the New York Public Library. There’s plenty of supporting information in there, so pretending otherwise will be asinine.

    You say that this:

    Archeology is indispensable in providing insights into the cultural context…

    is

    … exactly what I am saying about our ability to compare cultures.”

    What the…? That doesn’t even make sense. So I had to look it back up. Actually, the full sentence was:

    Archeology is indispensable in providing insights into the cultural context of that peasant, but does little for solving details about what that figure said or did.

    Whoops. Looks like you left out the part that contradicts your argument. Isn’t that what you accuse me of when you say…

    So this is either an expression of gross incompetence or deliberate warping on your part.

    It’s too bad – I think that we could have had an interesting discussion on where Holding’s conclusions may (or many not) overstep. And there actually are, despite my being the messenger, substantive issues about the necessity for inference, the probability of conclusions, etc., and other meta-issues in history that do come to a crux (pardon the pun) in a period as interesting as Ancient Judea. But I see that this is not the time or place to discuss them.

  11. All,

    Since Tom chose to declare this,

    David, I can say with confidence that there is a whole lot more argument being provided by us to you, than you are offering us in return.

    I have to say that to my eyes David is consistently turning accusations and off-topic remarks into requests for focusing the questions into debatable issues. The consistent lack of ability to refine the accusations into arguments does make one side look bad, however.

    Tom also wrote:

    I see two things going on here. First, you are dealing with terminology and issues that you are not really all that familiar with. For example, the term “necessary” has multiple meanings in philosophy, as you have correctly pointed out; but in the context in which we’ve been using it here, it has a very clearly defined focus, as those who are familiar with discussions on these topics (not just on this blog, but generally speaking) would know.

    And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. I have no complaints about people getting involved, starting from the beginning, and learning as they go along. But the second thing I see going on here is that you represent yourself as knowing a whole lot more than you do. In that, I fear you are fooling yourself. I don’t think you’re fooling anyone else.

    I just have to point this out as a remarkably condescending thing to say. David Ellis is clearly not starting from the beginning – “the term “necessary” has multiple meanings in philosophy, as you have correctly pointed out” admits this.

    Lastly, I don’t see David Ellis here representing himself at all. It’s amazing that you would say that. He’s consistently asking questions that cut to the chase, or reducing old saws to their deserved irrelevance (Holo: Sagan’s silly claim “THE COSMOS IS ALL THAT IS OR EVER WILL BE.” DE: “Depends on how you’re defining “cosmos”. If you’re defining it as “everything that exists” then its a tautology.”)

    Why don’t you just deal with his questions rather than impugn his motives or (assumed) lack of credentials?

  12. Tom:

    I will attempt to tackle what David is doing by introducing the topic of “just war” and drawing a parallel with the error in reasoning David makes in hyper-criticizing suffering (and by extension evil). (The ideas now straddle three posts to this blog, so it’s getting a bit complicated.)

    One cannot properly begin one’s thinking about just war thinking with a “presumption against war” any more than one can begin one’s thinking about evil with a “presumption against suffering.” There are, in fact, occasions when a first use of force—even deadly force—is objectively morally justified—for example, to punish systematic and organized wickedness (Nazism, slavery in the south, etc.), or to prevent innocents from coming to harm (terrorists, kidnappers, etc.).

    David would have us believe that all suffering is evil. (Let’s leave the question-begging (on David’s part) of what evil is ontologically [the privation of good] aside.) But if so, then no one could ever become an accomplished athlete or a Rhodes Scholar, could they? That may be a trivial case because the retort could be “an athlete chooses to suffer.” But, is it trivial thing for Christians to “suffer” the pain of fasting, or for a mother to intentionally not request pain killers for natural child birth? Should not one consider the suffering of a child being aborted, and, per David’s prescription, eliminate the suffering (of pain) and the suffering (of the loss of one’s life by someone more powerful)? Can David seriously disagree with this? How does it serve even David’s thin view of evil for human embryos to be harvested for parts in support of research for the strong to become healthy? Does David support abortion or embryonic stem cell research even as they are the raw practice of deadly force of the strong over the weak?

    In fact, does not David trivialize both suffering and joy by reducing suffering to a kind of mechanical casuistry? (More on this below regarding his morality de jure “ideal observer”.) This, in fact, is an important point: the just war tradition (and intellectual movement) have allowed critical thinkers to avoid the trap of moral muteness by thinking things through very carefully. In the same manner, moral philosophy and theology have permitted thinkers to avoid the trap of moral muteness when it comes to suffering by, at the very least recognizing the three components of a moral act: the object, the intention, and the circumstance. (Much more can be said, but I have to cut this short.) David permits almost none of this.

    David’s starting point against suffering is incorrect: what does it mean for something (like suffering) to be “wrong” if the nature of the entity (a human being) is not understood or taken into consideration? While this is a trivial example, it does shed some light on what I mean: a rock does not “suffer” being thrown off a cliff because it’s not in its nature to suffer; a human thrown off a cliff does suffer being thrown off a cliff because it is in the nature of a human being. Now surely, if this is admitted, then could not one also admit that the human experience of suffering is much more nuanced that David would lead us to believe? Does this not presuppose we understand human nature before mechanically eliminating suffering? And, if it presupposes we understand human nature, does that not obligate us to understand the origin or creator of human nature?

    David is thinking (if you forgive me the pejorative) in a black-and-white “fundamentalist” fashion that permits little if any flexibility in thinking through the existential complexity of the human experience. Why? Because he can’t tell us what a human being is—apart from some mechanically-biological description. (That’s why, admittedly, there is a lot of unstated baggage of David’s that I try to highlight as animating his errors.)) To draw another parallel: nuclear weapons were not the primary threat to peace during the Cold War; communism was. Suffering is not the primary threat to happiness and well-being to human beings; sin is. Suffering—even if unmerited—offered up for someone else is heroically virtuous. Suffering understood merely to be eliminated is a coldly-mechanical and hence disordered anthropology.

    The starting point of a “presumption against war” in just war thinking is just as unsustainable (actually, it’s repugnant) historically, methodologically, philosophically, and theologically as the starting point of a “presumption against suffering” is in moral philosophical discourse. I can’t provide the details here (way too long!), but surely what I’m saying makes at least some sense.

    The “ideal observer” theory David (currently) ascribes to is a close cousin of utilitarianism because it presupposes an “ethical neutral” observer is one who is “fully informed,” and can hence make a moral decision or judgment mechanically… and by “mechanically” I mean that quite literally. The incredible irony (for me) in the context of these discussions regarding David’s “ideal observer” theory is that it presupposes a god-like “fully-informed” judge. If there is no such thing, what possible basis could there be to follow (or think about) a non-existent ideal? (The distant echo, reflected in David’s view, of Hobbes’ cynical Leviathan state would be laughable if it weren’t so dangerous.) In fact, what possible meaning could the terms “fully informed” or “ideal” have if there is no god-like entity? (Isn’t this the criticism similar to the one David throws in the face of believers, i.e., that it’s irrational to believe in God?) And what of human freedom—the sine qua non of moral acts—if only the “ideal observer’s” opinion counts? Worse, which fallible human being (or group of human beings) can correctly interpret what the non-existent “ideal observer” believes is morally good… especially when it comes to human rights? Aren’t laws, in David’s view, reduced to an imposition of the “ideal observer’s” will upon the rest of us poor saps… as opposed to the Christian notion that laws are the impression of divine wisdom on the very nature of the created rational being?

    Tony:

    Setting aside your errors in reasoning on other issues, didn’t you claim to be a moral relativist? If so, you ought to stop whining: your moral criticisms are your own only: local, subjective, empty of content, and hence irrelevant.


  13. First, you are dealing with terminology and issues that you are not really all that familiar with. For example, the term “necessary” has multiple meanings in philosophy, as you have correctly pointed out; but in the context in which we’ve been using it here, it has a very clearly defined focus, as those who are familiar with discussions on these topics (not just on this blog, but generally speaking) would know.

    There are two primary senses in which the term necessity is used. Both of which have been used in arguments by theists.

    One is logical necessity as described by Theism.info in its article on divine necessity below:


    Contemporary philosophers tend to think about possibility in terms of possible worlds. Any world that can be described without contradiction is a possible world, whether it actually exists or not…..To say that something is necessary is to say that it exists in all possible worlds. If God is a necessary being, then in every one of those world that can be consistently described, God exists.

    The other sense in which it is commonly used to describe God is that of ontological necessity. That is, that the universe and all in it is dependent for its existence of the existence of God (just as a sword’s existence depends on the existence of and could not have existed without, swordsmiths).

    The problem is that both senses of the term seemed to come into play in the usage of the term as it has appeared in this discussion. For example this statement:

    “Therefore, there can be no final physical theory that could be NECESSARILY true in its mathematical expression.”

    seems to be about logical necessity while this one:

    “The universe is NOT a necessary (as opposed to contingent) being, which is what atheists must have in place to eliminate God: the universe must depend on something outside for its existence.”

    seems to be about ontological necessity. And the one below:

    “Therefore, physics can NOT be used as an argument against the contingency of the universe—hence nailing the coffin on Sagan’s silly claim “THE COSMOS IS ALL THAT IS OR EVER WILL BE.” (capitalization his) Why? Again, Godel’s theorem kills any intention of a final theory for which the physical world is what it is and cannot be anything else. So, no TOE can ever be shown to be necessarily true.”

    Seems to start out talking about ontological necessity in the first sentence and to end up talking about logical necessity in the last sentence in a way that seems rather muddled—its far from clear how a TOE not being able to be shown to be necessarily true relates to the universe being ontologically contingent (which has merely been asserted and not argued for).

    So I don’t think a request for clarification and, preferably, a formal statement of the argument that was intended was out of order. It seems to me that what is intended is an argument about the universe being ontologically contingent on God. But there are many forms such an argument can take and its hard to criticize the argument intended here until its been actually stated explicitly.

  14. The parenthetical near the beginning of my third paragraph should read:

         (Let’s leave the question-begging (on David’s part) of what evil is ontologically [the privation of good] aside, and let’s forget for the moment David’s attempt to skirt the issue by qualifying suffering and introducing the morally-loaded term “endure” [some suffering].)

  15. David:

    I’m sorry but I won’t spend the time unpacking the amateurish way you responded to the Godel points: you don’t get it, and you quickly cherry-pick the Internet to support that ignorance to deflect from what was actually stated… and, more importantly, the implications of what was stated. The “clarification” you seek should be directed toward yourself in incorrectly bandying about the terms “ontologically contingent” and “logically necessary,” etc. I think I should have heeded Tom’s earlier advice…


  16. David would have us believe that all suffering is evil.

    Again attributing to me opinions I have not expressed and do not hold.

    In fact, the problem I have is with extreme suffering. That a compassionate person would allow someone to suffer a paper cut is no obstacle to believing the person is, in fact, compassionate. That they would stand by and allow someone to get their arm cut off in a piece of industrial equipment when they could have easily prevented it, however, does.


    Let’s leave the question-begging (on David’s part) of what evil is ontologically [the privation of good] aside.

    When I refer to “evil” in the context of the POE I’m talking about extreme suffering. Suffering is not the absence of happiness. Pain is not simply the absence of pleasure. I assume, we all being human beings that I don’t have to define the words “pain” or “suffering”.


    David is thinking (if you forgive me the pejorative) in a black-and-white “fundamentalist” fashion that permits little if any flexibility in thinking through the existential complexity of the human experience.

    Why? Because I think compassionate people don’t want others to undergo extreme suffering?

    Surely that is not a matter of contention.


    Suffering is not the primary threat to happiness and well-being to human beings; sin is.

    Tsunamis and the pain of terminal cancer are a rather significant obstacle too.


    The incredible irony (for me) in the context of these discussions regarding David’s “ideal observer” theory is that it presupposes a god-like “fully-informed” judge. If there is no such thing, what possible basis could there be to follow (or think about) a non-existent ideal?

    While no human being can fully achieve the state of being an “ideal observer” they are quite capable of working to cultivate, to the best of their ability, the traits of the ideal observer. And we are capable of studying the question of whether people who do prize and cultivate those qualities tend to converge toward similar values.


    The distant echo, reflected in David’s view, of Hobbes’ cynical Leviathan state would be laughable if it weren’t so dangerous.

    Would you care to support that contention? My meta-ethical views have led me to nothing remotely resembling the values expressed by Hobbes and I see no reason why you would draw such a conclusion.


    Aren’t laws, in David’s view, reduced to an imposition of the “ideal observer’s” will upon the rest of us poor saps… as opposed to the Christian notion that laws are the impression of divine wisdom on the very nature of the created rational being?

    Actually, I would say that the superiority of my approach lies in the explicit awareness that no human perfectly embodies the ideal observer and, therefore, that we are all capable of error.

    The notion, though, that one’s values are handed down from high makes one both resistant to moral progress (how, after all, can the will of God be improved on) and resistant to the idea that one’s values might be mistaken (how, after all, can the God’s commands be in error).

  17. Holo wrote in this thread:

    how ignorant you are of the point the article makes

    your accusation of “snide” remarks . . . can be safely ignored as an emotional response

    The “ideal observer” theory David (currently) [=trivially?] ascribes to

    If so, you ought to stop whining

    let’s forget for the moment David’s attempt to skirt the issue

    the amateurish way you responded

    and, yet:

    David is thinking (if you forgive me the pejorative) in a black-and-white “fundamentalist” fashion

    Please accept my apology for interpreting some of your remarks as indicative of moral relativism

  18. Tony,

    (All: This is actually valid both to the question of evidences and atheistic fundamentalism.)

    I assume you meant to say all of this on the other thread.

    At some point, the only thing worth trying to keep alive was your intellectual and personal credibility. You made a bad argument, and in an attempt to play gotcha instead of dropping it, you engaged in some of the most pedantic, and, frankly, pathetic complaining that I’ve seen on a site like this in some time.

    I made an effort to give you the benefit of the doubt, but I can’t force myself to think that someone as intelligent as you thinks that your complaints are valid. Worse, you’ve admitted to ignoring the very thing you spend so much time pretending you never got.

    Your argument has two levels; both are wrong.

    Both of the following are exactly the kind of mindlessly vapid nonsense that derailed the original conversation:

    Two, (too) much must be inferred about Ancient Judea for us to make declarations like “it was the hardest, meanest time to start a religion – ever!”

    And the next time we have a discussion I’ll just refer you to the New York Public Library. There’s plenty of supporting information in there, so pretending otherwise will be asinine.

    In the first case, as David did, you display an inability to understand the argument being presented. That’s not the flavor or contention of TIF, nor what was stated by myself or others. If making silly exaggerations to soothe your aching ego is what it takes to help you sleep at night, then have at it…alone.

    In the second case, I had thought you couldn’t get more immature or deliberately obtuse. Serves me right for doubting you, I guess. I pointed you towards information pertinent to the topic at hand. That you continue to carp and whine about being forced to click a link to see sources, rather than having them spoon-fed to you shows just how weak your interest in honest dialogue really is. Then again, (as I show below), you admitted as much yourself.

    General or categorical sources?

    Yes, as in sources appropriate to the level of the inquiry. “What do we know about topic X,” should be responded to with general / categorical sources about topic X, which is exactly what I did. Responding, “you didn’t give me a specific citation” is not only ridiculous, but borderline falsehood.

    I’m not sure how “dictums” or “prescriptions” are defined in your version of reality, but I’d say the phrase, “test everything; hold fast what is good,” sounds fairly prescriptive to me. But you’d need to read the verses to know that.

    So thank you, I guess, for your honesty in reference to the Bible verses. As you said,

    …but the first two I looked up, against my better judgment, and after that I could see that I was wasting my time…

    So what purpose is there in giving you any sources or citations at all?!?! You’re so biased, so closed-minded, so admittedly lazy that you only look up two of seven verses. Two of seven! And don’t try to wriggle out of that, either. Those are your words, and the rest of the paragraph you wrote emphasizes your shallow checking of the citiations.

    This isn’t deep, obscure, or time-consuming reading. You can get to all of those verses in less than two minutes. Yet, by your own admission, you couldn’t even bother to check half of them out. And yet, you still claim that David was right about them. That’s as clear an example of willing, deliberate, overt refusal to consider evidence in favor of naked prejudice as one could ask for.

    You not only can’t read your own sources, but my rebuttals as well. I did indeed use this quote:

    Archeology is indispensable in providing insights into the cultural context…

    And you accused me of “leaving out” this:

    …of that peasant, but does little for solving details about what that figure said or did.

    Whoops what, Tony? I referenced that very idea right here:

    MM: This person indicates that information about specific persons can be hard to find (”figures and incidents”).

    As I said, your source drew a distinction between the difficulty of knowing specifics about a person or their actions, and the general context of the culture; i.e. that we can more easily know the context than the specifics. That was the point, one which I even mentioned a second time right after my quote:

    MM: He draws a direct distinction between the difficulty in learning about specific people, and the difficulty in learning about the culture in general; the difference is not kind to your absurd argument.

    What you are accusing me of “leaving out” I talked about before and after I gave the quotation. The issue of cultural context is the one relevant to comparing Judeans to 19th century Mormons, and, as I said, we have such context from science, history, and archaeology.

    I don’t know how to respond to this, at this point, frankly. You responded to a charge of incompetence/dishonesty with another example of the same thing.

    I wish I could agree with this…

    I think that we could have had an interesting discussion on where Holding’s conclusions may (or many not) overstep.

    …but I can’t. You clearly showed that you were far more interested in looking for ridiculous, imaginary gaps in references than admitting when you said something…well, stupid…and got called on it. You admitted that even when citations are given, easy, simple ones at that, you won’t read them – but you will believe what a skeptic says about them! You complained about my linking to a page full of quotes and references on ancient culture by carping about the New York Library. That’s not just silly, it’s pathetic. If that’s how you approach issues like these, then there simply is no time or place to discuss them with you, because you are immune to that which you don’t want to consider.

    You are embarrassing yourself, and wasting the time and space of this blog. For the sake of your own self-respect, and what little I or anyone else here has left for you, please knock it off. You’ve sunk to a level where there is literally no value in engaging you any further.

  19. …back to the original article.

    Philips’ claim strikes me at patently false.

    …that ID is a metaphysical idea that comes out of but stands separate from science…

    …because ID is not in itself a scientific discovery. It is rather an inference from scientific discoveries.

    I don’t think it’s reasonable to defend ID on the grounds that it’s a metaphysical conclusion standing apart from science, when (a) its poster-child is Behe, who claims that complex systems with interlocking parts cannot evolve by mutation and selection alone, and (b) various organizations are trying to put textbooks saying the same into science classrooms.

    Science and non-science don’t exist in isolation from one another, and there’s too much overlap in the scientific process to claim that ID is metaphysical conclusion only.

    Of course, you’re free to define ID2 in this way. I’d have no quibble with that…but ID2 is really nothing new, just the well-trodden theological speculations around mind, fine-tuning etc.

  20. Tony,

    Why don’t you just deal with his questions rather than impugn his motives or (assumed) lack of credentials?

    Because his questions are drive-bys. He really doesn’t seem to understand the issues, yet he repeatedly does the “I’m right, you’re wrong” thing. His question about the term “necessary” indicated to me that he had no familiarity with the topic we were discussing, yet he kept declaring victory in it anyway. He has especially been declaring victory in the question of the problem of evil, and in one case his argument for that case was, “I think we’re all familiar with the problem of evil.” I did deal with that question, by the way. I notice that in comments overnight he stepped up the level of his answers slightly. I’ll have to take a further look at that, and at the responses that might have ensued from others.

    And then to top it off, just before I made the recommendation I did, he complained that nobody was presenting any arguments to him. I think one objective way to show him wrong would be to compare the length of the paragraphs written to him by Holo, MM, Steve, or me to the length of his paragraphs; and to compare how many paragraphs we wrote in response to a certain point he raised up to that time. His were billboard slogans; ours were arguments, but he said we weren’t giving him any. That’s just wrong, and it’s a game I suggested we pull out of until he quits playing it. I hope he does quit playing it; the invitation to engage in real discussion is still open.

    I am not impugning any credentials, I don’t care what degrees he has. I’m not impugning his motives per se. I don’t care why he’s engaging in discussion, or why anyone else is, for that matter. But when someone keeps smugly declaring victory in a discussion they don’t appear to understand, but slinging slogans at us, I think it’s worth pointing out to them and to others that that is what they’re doing, and to recognize that discussion of that sort is not likely to go anywhere.

  21. @snafu:

    I’m having trouble seeing where you actually disagree with Phillips. She says that ID “comes out of … science.” You say, “Behe, who claims that complex systems with interlocking parts cannot evolve by mutation and selection alone.” That statement in itself is a statement within the realm of science. If it is true, it is a scientific truth arrived at by scientific means.

    ID is a conclusion that one may move to from there, but when one moves to that conclusion, one is taking a philosophical step. That’s what Phillips is saying, I think. It’s what I’ve been saying for a long time. I don’t know see the disagreement between this and what you’ve just said.

  22. MM emailed me about comment 19, letting me know about the tone of it. I’m in the middle of a bunch of things right now and I won’t be able to respond for a while. My first impression, not having read the context at all, is that everyone gets a reminder about the comment policies if they need it, and this would be a good time for his.

  23. In a sense, I am agreeing with Philips, but in a narrow sense. To the extent that ID is scientific (Behe, Dembski, Dover, textbooks etc) it’s by-and-large discredited by the scientific community*. To the extent that it’s non-scientific, it offers little that hasn’t already been discussed in philosophical circles for decades.

    My point is that a large part of the criticism of the “scientific” arm of ID is appropriate, particularly to prevent bad science getting a foothold in schools.

    ================

    *Of course, you can dispute this, or argue that the scientific community is systematically biased against it. I’m not addressing these points here. It’s sufficient to note that ID-friendly views amongst people doing actual science are a tiny minority; most theistic scientists would claim their theism comes from philosophical arguments.

  24. Tom Gilson –

    Wait, we’re dealing with equivocating terms here. Intelligent Design, as it is often used, is dogma wrapped in science. Intelligent Design proponents want it that way, as it attempts to appeal to literal Biblicists and paint evolution as atheist science. Evolution, however, says nothing about a designer. So we’re talking about two different things: a designer and a specific designer who acts throughout history in specific ways and designed a young earth and all of creation as is. Both are described as Intelligent Design, but they mean vastly different things. For instance, I’m opposed to the latter but not the former. I realize that both impact philosophy and life in different ways. But because the terms are often conflated, you can get somebody going on one argument, while you yourself are discussing something very different, and neither side realizes this. Even a lot of atheists don’t rule out the idea of a designer completely. It’s just more of a belief that even if there was a designer, he wouldn’t necessarily announce himself and involve himself in human affairs. So when I hear this argument about how science is elevated to religion in a naturalist system, I wonder if that itself is often a strawman. I know I don’t believe it, and a lot of others don’t either. But such naturalists are opposed to a personal God, and that’s the belief that is often attacked.


  25. His question about the term “necessary” indicated to me that he had no familiarity with the topic we were discussing

    I’ve debated arguments from necessity many times and encountered quite a few very different variants of the idea—forgive me if I ask for clarification but its only so that I don’t end up criticizing a different variant of the argument than was intended and so end up attacking a strawman. Its not a rhetorical tactic to deflect discussion. Quite the contrary.


    But when someone keeps smugly declaring victory in a discussion ….

    I don’t believe I’ve done this. Can you quote where I do this?

    ——————

    I’m going to be away from home for about a week and may not have much opportunity to get on the internet. I’ll try to get to any responses to my comments when I’m able—or rather, any that address the issues. That doesn’t seem to be happening much so far so this particular discussion may be at a standstill.

    However if anyone would care to discuss the issues that have so far been raised in this particular discussion, the question of theistic vs naturalistic meta-ethical theories, some variety (as yet not clearly formulated) of the argument for the necessity of the existence of God, or the problem of evil, then I’d be glad to carry on when I can.

    Though, to be honest, I’ve had so many long discussions on the POE that it wouldn’t be my first choice for a topic of discussion—but if anyone wants to I will.

    If so, I think its particularly worth focusing on what seems to me the central bone of contention between christians and skeptics: the question of how one makes judgements about the plausibility, or lack thereof, of the idea that there is some unknown, but morally sufficient, reason why God allows such extreme suffering.

    Issues involving the assessment of unknown factors are inevitably a thorny epistemological problem and well worth thinking through together.

  26. @david ellis,

    “Smugly declaring victory” was too strong a wording for it. What I thought was bothering me was that you were making your points as if they are final, as if the argument is finished, but without an argument to back that up. Now, we all present our views with conviction, so on further reflection I have no problem with you writing that way also. It has been the 70mph billboard aspect of it that has caused me consternation. So I will withdraw that charge, with apologies for making it.


  27. It has been the 70mph billboard aspect of it that has caused me consternation.

    I can only talk at length about someones position when I know what that position is. I am not inclined to guess—I’m not psychic and would only be attacking a strawman if I did so.

  28. Several of the statements Holo made in regard to God’s necessity and the universe’s contingency, it seems to me, are open to more than one reasonable interpretation (as I’ve said before I’ve encountered more than one version of such arguments and I don’t believe in making assumptions about the specifics of anothers views—doing so never seems to lead to anything but misunderstandings). That being the case, there is little that I can profitably do but ask for clarification. If he doesn’t wish to formulate an argument for the necessity of God’s existence then a link or quote of the version of the argument he considers the best one he’s encountered would be fine.