“Atheism Is Not A Belief”

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[Update: I updated and republished this material on August 14, 2013)

“Atheism is not a belief,” atheists often say, “it’s just a lack of belief in a God.” Today it came up in this form:

And, in addition, I would point out that atheism is not my ideology. It simply refers to my not subscribing to a particular belief (theism). It makes no more sense to treat my being an atheist as my ideology than it does to treat your being a non-Muslim as yours.

What I AM is a humanist.

This is disingenuous at best. To say that atheism is just “not subscribing to a particular belief” is to deny everything that atheism entails (requires as part of its package).

Atheism entails that the universe is impersonal and amoral.

Atheism entails that there is no ultimate good (though some atheists will allow for contingent, local, or particular goods).

Likewise and with the same kind of condition attached, atheism entails that there is no ultimate meaning, no ultimate morality, no ultimate beauty, no ultimate purpose for anything.

Atheism entails that the end of physical life is the end of existence.

Atheism entails that all human experience is neuronal/electrical/chemical; and though some atheists have proposed ways to rise above that (some kind of epiphenomenalism, for example), they have never been able to explain it.

Atheism entails the same specifically for human consciousness and rationality.

Atheism entails that if any sense of meaning or purpose is to be found in human life, it is found in the contingent and accidental experience of humans—for even the existence of humans is contingent and accidental.

Atheism entails that what I do today will not matter for very long, a few generations at most.

Atheism entails that every religion is wrong.

Atheism entails that the universe will one day be empty.

Atheism entails that humans and animals and plants and bacteria and rats and pigs and dogs and boys (google the last four) are ontologically the same thing.

Atheism entails that if one chooses humanism as one’s form of atheism, that choice is made for entirely contingent reasons, probably related to one’s nation and culture of birth and upbringing, and that there is no better reason than that to choose humanism as one’s ideology, since atheism provides no reason to choose humans as having any particular value.

So to David Ellis who wrote the quote above, I say go ahead and claim your humanism, but please don’t try to tell me your atheism doesn’t carry any ideological freight with it.

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160 Responses to “ “Atheism Is Not A Belief” ”

  1. Atheism doesn’t “entail” any of those propositions. Perhaps what you meant to say was that atheism doesn’t entail their antitheses — e.g., atheism doesn’t entail that the universe won’t one day be empty, or that the universe isn’t impersonal or immoral, etc. But then, neither does theism, per se…

  2. I would disagree with several of those things you say atheism entails (though certainly not all of them).

    However, I would ask what you think atheism entails which is relevent to one’s attitude toward genocide (the issue that sparked this discussion).

    Is there anything about atheism or what it entails that would make those holding it more likely to find mass murder acceptable? If so (and it certainly would seem you think so) then which of the things you think it entails yield this result?

    That, if you are to find a humanist even marginally, in any sense, guilty by association for communist atrocities is what needs to be addressed.

    The only things you claim atheism entails that seem like they might be relevant are:


    Likewise and with the same kind of condition attached, atheism entails that there is no ultimate meaning, no ultimate morality, no ultimate beauty, no ultimate purpose for anything.

    Depending on how you’re defining “ultimate morality”, you seem to be implying that atheism entails there being no moral truths. Something I disagree with and which we’ve discussed at length previously so I won’t rehash that discussion here.

    The other “entailment” that seems relevent is:


    atheism provides no reason to choose humans as having any particular value.

    Which is another thing I disagree with and I’ve already stated my views in previous discussions as to questions of value, morality and inherent worth so, again, I won’t rehash them here—especially since I don’t see any burden on my part to refute what is merely an assertion rather than an argument.

    In the end I point out one hard fact:

    that you can’t point to any humanist atrocities. You are forced to attempt guilt by association to smear us. Christians, on the other hand, have provided us with abundant examples of atrocities committed by themselves….we don’t have to search out other theist religions to find examples.

  3. Tom

    Your conclusion of what “atheism” entails is quite erroneous, if this does not reflect prejudice on your part. One can find atheists who reject every one of of your entailments and knowing someone is an atheists gives you no clue as to whether they endorse any of those entailments. This is because atheism is not a worldview. Consequently knowing someone is an atheist is a useless guide to drawing any of the entailments that you do, and is a dangerous form of argument.

    If you want to know what someone believes and what entailments such as these that they support you need to find out the worldview that they have.

    Criticising someone for a worldview of your own construction that you have involuntarily assigned to someone based on their position on one issue, which is grossly insufficient to draw any other such conclusion, is prejudice. I note you have not entailed communism and stalinism which is what has been done in the other thread and what triggered this post. I do not recall if you made that association but whoever did is clearly guilty of bigotry too.

  4. David Ellis,

    Maybe I should have said (as I did in my first draft, and edited it out) that this is a topic I’ve been thinking about for a long time. I posted this separately because it’s a separate topic from the genocide question.

    fg, you wrote,

    Your conclusion of what “atheism” entails is quite erroneous, if this does not reflect prejudice on your part. One can find atheists who reject every one of of your entailments and knowing someone is an atheists gives you no clue as to whether they endorse any of those entailments. This is because atheism is not a worldview.

    I disagree. I think the entailments of atheism are what they are, whether or not the atheist accepts that they are. If atheism is not a worldview, as you say, then it is because atheists do not accept the whole package that logically, necessarily, attaches to it. It is perfectly possible to be inconsistent in one’s views. I know that in many ways I am inconsistent myself, though I certainly try to be open to listening to others’ correction.

    Note that I was speaking of “atheism,” not “atheists.” I was not criticizing someone for a worldview that they do not hold as much as I was stating what atheism entails. One can hold a philosophical position about atheism’s, say, moral entailments, without concluding that any atheist is amoral or immoral.

    I was the one who mentioned Communism and Stalinism in the last post, but I certainly did not (and would not) say that they are entailed by atheism. Communism in particular, in its hope of progress for the future and its high ideals for sharing, could be considered an offshoot—a heresy—of Christianity. It is a heresy in that it jettisons the concept of sinfulness and makes mankind into mankind’s own savior, which makes it a very, very large error (there’s more to it than that, but I’m not going to spend time on it). But the Christian roots of some of its thinking are quite apparent (Acts 2:42-47, for example).

    But it’s not bigotry in any case to associate Stalin with atheism, unless one makes that a universal statement about what atheists are like, because Stalin himself associated himself with atheism: he was the last century’s most influential atheist.

    And look at it in context. David Ellis was saying that something in Judeo-Christianity’s deep history thousands of years ago might permit someone to draw a wrong conclusion and commit genocide. I said there was something not in atheism’s history, that might permit someone to draw a wrong conclusion. That seems fair, doesn’t it? Then I pointed out that in the case of atheism, there actually has been such a someone. That seems fair, too.

  5. I think the entailments of atheism are what they are, whether or not the atheist accepts that they are.
    Then you are mistaken. Scott Pruett when criticised for the same thing recognised this and took it back. You seem to be going the other way and you are forcing to revise my view of whome deserves more intellectual respect.

    If atheism is not a worldview, as you say, then it is because atheists do not accept the whole package that logically, necessarily, attaches to it.
    All atheism says is that there is probably a god is false or some equivalent. You cannot infer any other aspects of anyone’s worldvierw from that neither their politics, economics, psychology, ethics, science, spirituality, physics, cosmology and other aspects of a worldview. It is not a worldview because none of this is logically, necessarily attaches to it. Your logic is not only deeply flawed but inexcusable, this is not the first time you have discussed this. To repeat mistakes like this is not the action of someone who wishes to engage in chartable and honest debate.

    It is perfectly possible to be inconsistent in one’s views. I know that in many ways I am inconsistent myself, though I certainly try to be open to listening to others’ correction.
    This is besides the point. Noting the inconsistency in anyone’s or everyone’s worldview still does not warrant asserting that atheism is a worldview. It simply is not.

    Note that I was speaking of “atheism,” not “atheists.” I was not criticizing someone for a worldview that they do not hold as much as I was stating what atheism entails.
    This was directly addressed to a self-procliamed humanist and you were insisting his claim was “disingenuous”. What else is one to presume from this that you yourself are being disingenous with such an argument as this! What gives you the right to assert of someone else then in the same breath make the same move? Pot meet kettle.

    One can hold a philosophical position about atheism’s, say, moral entailments, without concluding that any atheist is amoral or immoral.
    Oh how very kind of you. I have a simple test for anyone who claims their morality is objective – regardless of their (a)theism. If they promote and defend prejudice and bigotry, rather then condemned it, then they have refuted their own claim to objectivoty. The fact that you done this only confirms that your morality is relative, since it is only a relative morality that can justify prejudice and bigotry, this is not possible for an objective morality.

    I was the one who mentioned Communism and Stalinism in the last post, but I certainly did not (and would not) say that they are entailed by atheism.
    Then why mention it?

    But it’s not bigotry in any case to associate Stalin with atheism, unless one makes that a universal statement about what atheists are like, because Stalin himself associated himself with atheism: he was the last century’s most influential atheist.
    The maybe you should study both pro- and anti-communist analysis of Stalin. The issue of atheism, even from the most conservative academics, does not come up. He was, arguably, the last centuries most influential communist. I do not know of anyone who is an atheist who was influenced in any way by Stalin with respect to their atheism. There was no justification in bringing this up. Now if you knew of a humanist that caused such evil as Stalin and other tyrannts (theistic or not), then you would have been justified in bringing up that humanist. But you cannot so you clutch at straws.

    And look at it in context. David Ellis was saying that something in Judeo-Christianity’s deep history thousands of years ago might permit someone to draw a wrong conclusion and commit genocide. I said there was something not in atheism’s history, that might permit someone to draw a wrong conclusion. That seems fair, doesn’t it? Then I pointed out that in the case of atheism, there actually has been such a someone. That seems fair, too.
    No this is a very bad category error. Either you are comparing atheism and theism – not your theism but theism in general – but then neither is a worldview, or you are comparing worldviews. If the latter then you need to justify the relevance of bringing up Stalin, and just because he was an atheist is the typical ploy of bigot. There are different worldview base don different premises and you can compare and contrast them. If there was acommuist in the position of Dave Ellis then you would have been justified in referring to Stalin. You had no justification in this case.

    Your list is not only not an atheist worldview but many of its items are quite silly, irrelevant, wrong or absurd.

  6. It is likely that there is not going to be much more productive debate. Anyway thanks for spending the time in this correspondence, regardless of how futile and disappointing the outcome has become.

  7. fg,

    I would be interested in seeing where Scott Pruett retracted his position. I was not impressed with what you wrote about him earlier; maybe I missed something later.

    You cannot infer any other aspects of anyone’s worldvierw from that neither their politics, economics, psychology, ethics, science, spirituality, physics, cosmology and other aspects of a worldview

    I did not mention politics, economics, psychology, or science including physics and cosmology. Thank you for agreeing with me that those cannot be inferred from atheism. But why did you think I was talking about those topics? I didn’t mention them. Are you stereotyping my opinions? If not, then where did you get this version of them from? Because it wasn’t from me.

    As to ethics, what can be inferred from atheism is what I wrote above, and as to spirituality, what can be inferred is that whatever spirituality atheism allows for, which could be of many forms, it is not the sort of spirituality that involves any sort of connection to a personal spiritual realm (i.e. God and other spiritual beings like angels or demons).

    It is not a worldview because none of this is logically, necessarily attaches to it.

    Most of the list you just supplied does not attach necesarily to atheism, but the list I supplied does.

    Your logic is not only deeply flawed but inexcusable, this is not the first time you have discussed this.

    The logic of what you attributed to me as my opinions is certainly flawed, but what you have discussed in this comment are not my opinions. So if you want to show that what I have done is inexcusable, please do me the courtesy of at least talking about what I have done.

    Noting the inconsistency in anyone’s or everyone’s worldview still does not warrant asserting that atheism is a worldview.

    Of course you’re right about that. I didn’t say that inconsistencies in atheists’ worldviews warranted calling it a worldview. I said that atheism is a belief (I didn’t use the term worldview, by the way); but I didn’t based that conclusion on “atheists have inconsistent worldviews.” I based it on the entailments in the blog post.

    Why then did I bring up the inconsistencies? It was answering an objection that had been raised to my conclusions. In that context it fit.

    Note that I was speaking of “atheism,” not “atheists.” I was not criticizing someone for a worldview that they do not hold as much as I was stating what atheism entails.

    This was directly addressed to a self-procliamed humanist and you were insisting his claim was “disingenuous”. What else is one to presume from this that you yourself are being disingenous with such an argument as this! What gives you the right to assert of someone else then in the same breath make the same move? Pot meet kettle.

    What I was saying was that his claim that atheism is not a belief is disingenuous at best. I was certainly taking a stand against his statement or his opinion, but I was also addressing it to the many others who have said the same thing. The topic was not humanism but atheism, and the entailments I listed are not entailments of humanism, but entailments of atheism (though there is overlap there, in the case of atheistic humanism).

    Oh how very kind of you. I have a simple test for anyone who claims their morality is objective – regardless of their (a)theism. If they promote and defend prejudice and bigotry, rather then condemned it, then they have refuted their own claim to objectivoty. The fact that you done this only confirms that your morality is relative, since it is only a relative morality that can justify prejudice and bigotry, this is not possible for an objective morality.

    I think you’re the one who stereotyped me, fg: see above. You attributed beliefs to me that I do not hold. And I’ve just about had it with you accusing me of bigotry.

    I was the one who mentioned Communism and Stalinism in the last post, but I certainly did not (and would not) say that they are entailed by atheism.

    Then why mention it?

    I think my previous answer already covers this, if you know what entails means.

    He was, arguably, the last centuries most influential communist. I do not know of anyone who is an atheist who was influenced in any way by Stalin with respect to their atheism.

    He was an atheist, he was very, very highly influential; he was perhaps the 20th century’s most influential atheist. I stand by my statement.

    . There was no justification in bringing this up.

    I think in context there was. See above, and see the original comment.

    Your list is not only not an atheist worldview but many of its items are quite silly, irrelevant, wrong or absurd.

    I still think the list you’re referring to is your list, not my list. I have no confidence whatever that you noticed what was on my list, since you started out by talking about an entirely different list altogether, concocted from who knows where?

  8. I could simply negate all your claims since they are logically incorrect. I see no argument that any of your entailments are true. Atheism does not entail any of the items on your list that look coherent, with the possible exception of the universe being impersonal but then that depends on what degree of atheism you are addressing and a catch all generic atheism does not have to exclude pantheism that is arguably a far stronger claim than atheism.

    Not sure of your point over meaning since as far as I can see your theism entails life is meaningless. Note I am not saying that your theism is meaningless, can you see the difference?

    As for:
    “Atheism entails that humans and animals and plants and bacteria and rats and pigs and dogs and boys (google the last four) are ontologically the same thing.”
    I will only repeat Barefoot Bum’s analysis “moronic” or maybe I shouldn’t. Utterly bizarre is my response. Certainly, as usual, atheism entails nothing about animal rights.

    Your humanism point looks utterly confused, looks like any argument to chose a theism as far as I can see, so I do not know what your issue is.

    All in all a big ZERO on what you think atheism entails.

    Now, it is your insistence on asserting that this is what every atheist holds, regardless of what they believe, that sure looks you are prejudiced in your understanindg of this topic (I will leave B word out of it).

  9. Tom, is there an excluded middle here? That is, is there no conceivable way, even hypothetically, for the universe to be moral than through a personal god?

  10. A minor point of correction in regard to:


    “Atheism is not a belief,” atheists often say, “it’s just a lack of belief in a God.” Today it came up in this form:


    And, in addition, I would point out that atheism is not my ideology. It simply refers to my not subscribing to a particular belief (theism). It makes no more sense to treat my being an atheist as my ideology than it does to treat your being a non-Muslim as yours.

    What I AM is a humanist.

    I am, in fact more than happy to refer to atheism as a belief I hold (that is, I believe theism is a rationally unwarranted position). It can be phrased as not believing X or believing X is a rationally unwarranted position.

    Either phrasing accurately reflects my views.

    My point was not that atheism isn’t a belief but that atheism isn’t my ideology. I have many beliefs but few of them are ideologies in and of themselves.

  11. Regarding Scott Pruett he had the honesty to concede “I will have to agree that “materialist” is probably a better word for what I describe here, and that this represents a subset of the “atheist” population.” I was not impressed with your implied or explicit answers either. Given our difference here there should be no surprise either way about that. I am impressed with his response compared to yours here.

    Regarding “[Stalin] was an atheist, he was very, very highly influential; he was perhaps the 20th century’s most influential atheist. I stand by my statement.” I am sorry when I was interested in the topic of atheism many years ago I read virtually everything available then. Stalin was never ever mentioned in the slightest in any single argument for atheism, never. The only mention of Stalin was not surprisingly in the Christian canard you are repeating here. You can stand by your statement all you want, but that only blatantly shows your prejudice.

    Indeed your list in the post is a very good example of prejudice, it is simply not the case, whether any of those points you list are regarded as important or not, that god was necessary for any of them, as even a basic level familiarity with the philosophers and other great thinkers in history easily demonstrates.

  12. fg:

    You’re incorrect on many points. I’m not going to spend time chasing them here, and I’m fairly sure you’re not committed to proper due diligence and hence won’t consider the following links… but, for the record, here they are anyway:

    Atheism directly inspires the deadliness of communism:
    (1) http://reasoningrepaired.blogspot.com/2007/11/atheism-directly-inspires-deadliness-of.html
    (2) http://reasoningrepaired.blogspot.com/2007/11/communism-atheism-us.html

    Here’s the connection of Nazism to Marxism…which is, of course, atheistic by definition:
    (3) http://reasoningrepaired.blogspot.com/2007/11/atheism-one-ideology-to-rule-them-all.html

    The murderous nature of atheism:
    (4) http://reasoningrepaired.blogspot.com/2006/11/murderous-lie-that-is-atheism.html
    (5) http://reasoningrepaired.blogspot.com/2008/04/berlinski-goes-medieval-on-new-atheism.html

    Atheism’s contribution to civilization is genocide:
    (6) http://reasoningrepaired.blogspot.com/2007/11/atheisms-contribution-to-civilization.html

    Answering Atheists’ Arguments:
    (7) http://reasoningrepaired.blogspot.com/2006/12/this-is-your-brain-on-atheism-any.html

    Atheists and the Fallacy of Special Pleading:
    (8) http://reasoningrepaired.blogspot.com/2008/03/atheists-and-fallacy-of-special.html

    The following series addresses the canard that atheism is the “default position”:
    (9) http://reasoningrepaired.blogspot.com/2006/12/canard-of-atheism-as-default-position.html
    (10) http://reasoningrepaired.blogspot.com/2006/12/shadow-of-atheism.html
    (11) http://reasoningrepaired.blogspot.com/2006/12/shadow-of-atheism-ii.html

  13. fg,

    We disagree on many things, but this is outrageous:

    Now, it is your insistence on asserting that this is what every atheist holds, regardless of what they believe, that sure looks you are prejudiced in your understanindg of this topic (I will leave B word out of it).

    I have not insisted that this is what every atheist holds. See my comment #4 to you above where I categorically say that I do not believe that.

    You said you were “leav[ing] “B word out of it,” but you implied the word strongly just by saying that, and by repeating the near-synonym “prejudice” in both your recent comments—without, by the way, answering my question as to where you got your own apparently stereotyped list of what you claimed I believe. As I warned, I’ve had enough of that kind of name-calling and accusation.

    It’s not just that I think it’s wrong, or that it bothers me personally or violates the Starbucks standard, though all of that is true. It’s also that name-calling is not what I came here to do, or to get subjected to. It’s not what this blog is for.

    Your opportunity to comment here has ended.

  14. Tom:

    I realize fg has been banned from commenting on this post, but I think one of his comments deserves a follow up. The following is a good example not only of the fact that he misunderstood your point, but also exposes fg’s ignorance of the matter:

    “Atheism entails that humans and animals and plants and bacteria and rats and pigs and dogs and boys (google the last four) are ontologically the same thing.”
    I will only repeat Barefoot Bum’s analysis “moronic” or maybe I shouldn’t. Utterly bizarre is my response. Certainly, as usual, atheism entails nothing about animal rights.

    The only edit I would make to your point is to add the italicized word “kind of” between “same” and “thing.” In any event, fg missed the point of ontological monism: that there is only one kind of existent–material entities and their associated physical phenomena.

    This is why I find David’s position fascinating… incorrect, but nonetheless fascinating. Atheism is indeed a monistic ontology because it doesn’t merely indicate non-God but non-immaterial. (For heaven’s sake, Aristotle knew that from his philosophical demonstration of the immateriality and immortality of the human soul 2400+ years ago.)

    Saying that atheism “tends” toward humanism, secularism, naturalism, materialism, rationalism but that it holds to no particular ideology is truly a dodge. It is also a dodge to claim that atheists can be Buddhists because, generally speaking, Buddhism doesn’t hold to a picture of a supreme being. All these after-the-fact qualifications (from which, I conjecture, atheism–like positivism–will die the death of a thousand qualifications) are all cases of special pleading (“yes, well those atheists who mass-murdered aren’t real atheists: we humanists are real atheists”) that violate the core meaning of atheism and its citing “lack of evidence” of spiritual or immaterial verities.

    Atheism, especially these days, is struggling with the plethora of explanatory problems it faces. Unfortunately, its adherents (generally speaking) either descend to scientism for epistemological and ontological comfort or keep qualifying away from the core meaning of atheism so as to avoid difficulties.

  15. Paul’s being silly again: hypothetically there can be a giant flying spaghetti monster… but there isn’t, is there? Critical thinking and reasoning ordered to truth leads to such a sane conclusion; edited speculation for speculation’s sake leads to, well, atheism. If only Paul would share with us exactly what he means for “the universe to be moral”–especially in light of his reductionist “it’s all neuron’s anyway” whereby free will and the ability are reduced away in the first place… Sigh… Don’t hold your breath.


  16. Atheism is indeed a monistic ontology because it doesn’t merely indicate non-God but non-immaterial.

    I’m not sure where you get this idea. Can you explain why the nonexistence of God entails the nonexistence of immaterial things?

    There is no obvious contradiction in the concept, for example, that God doesn’t exist but that immaterial spirit beings, ghosts or, for that matter, numbers and ideas do.

    It would be credible if the existence of immaterial things could be shown to require the existence of God. If, as you seem to think, Aristotle conclusively demonstrated this could you tell us in which of his works this is to be found? Or, even better, post the relevent section here or on your own blog for discussion.

  17. David:

    The response is disarmingly straight forward: the Principle of Sufficient Reason must be honored. Therefore, the existence of immaterial entities must be explained. (Immaterial does NOT mean supernatural: rigorously speaking the ONLY supernatural Being is God.) The existence of immaterial entities canNOT be explained as arising in any way from material entities (what possible efficient or material cause could there be?). What caused (meaning not just as a causal chain, but the very existence of the chain itself) immaterial entities? I’ll let you take it from there.

    With respect to Aristotle, strictly speaking the question of the immortality of the human soul is not considered. However, he does demonstrate that the intellect, which is one of the soul’s specific powers, is immortal because it is immaterial. (Immaterial things can’t be destroyed: they have to “parts” to “rip apart”.) See near the end of the Physics, Metaphysics, and the De Anima. The whole person (hylomorphic “combination” of body and soul) is much better developed by the Fathers culminating with Aquinas. I’m not trying to be evasive, David: human psychology (in the philosophical sense) is a HUGE topic.

  18. The only immaterial things that I’m strongly convinced of the reality of is minds. As to the sufficient reason for their existence….for why mind exists when functional brains exist, I don’t know.

    But. of course, not knowing the answer to a question doesn’t entail that God is the only possible, or even most likely, answer.

    Also, I’ve found more than one version of the PSR stated. Below are three:

    Each true proposition that entails that some contingent concrete object (body or mind) begins to exist has a sufficient reason why it is true.

    Each true proposition that entails that some concrete object exists has a sufficient reason why it is true.

    Each true proposition has a sufficient reason why it is true.

    You haven’t told us what version of the PSR you’re referring to.

    Also, you state the the PSR “must be honored” as if this was a universally agreed on philosophical truth. However, Quentin Smith in an essay actually defending one version of the PSR says:

    The Principle of Sufficient Reason has very few contemporary defenders of any of its versions…. This is particularly true of some of its stronger versions, such as the principle that there is a sufficient reason why there are true propositions that entail that some contingent concrete objects exist. Most if not all contemporary philosophers believe this strong version of the principle is necessarily false….

    Personally, its not an issue I’ve considered in any depth so I won’t at this time take any definite position on the issue. But even if accepted it has not been shown (at least not in anything stated in this discussion) why God would be the only sufficient reason for the existence of immaterial entities.

    If one could do so it would go a long way toward convincing me that theism was true since I find it difficult to dispute that minds exist and are not material (though they may be, and I suspect are) dependent on physical entities (brains, or something like them).

    But I doubt a sound argument for this claim can be mounted. However, I’m willing to be convinced otherwise if you know of a good one.

  19. Hi all

    Atheism entails…

    What I find facinating is the parallels and contrasts between the two great atheistic systems of philosophy. Materialism and Buddhism are two sides of the same atheistic coin, one asserts that matter (now the E=MC2 matter/energy continuum) is the ultimate reality and idealism is illusory; the other asserts that the ideal is ultimate reality and all matter is illusory. These are the two ends of a continuum, like a great horizontal beam, materialism at one end and idealism at the other, in between there is a miscellany philosphical attempts to explain ultimate reality. In the middle, bisecting the beam, is Christian theology which acknowledges the substantial reality of both body and spirit, matter and ideal. Ultimate reality is spirit (God) who made the very real material world in which we live, and endowed some matter with spiritual (ideal) properties.

    Buddhism entails much of what materialistic atheism entails, for the same reasons, and while I wouldn’t construct a list identical to Tom’s, I agree with most of it. Atheism also entails irrational belief, because there is no reason, in an atheistic universe (reality), to believe in the existence of truth or in a mind capable of knowing truth. This is why modern education has deteriorated to the point where it is little better than indoctrination.

  20. David:

    The PSR–as the other First Principles–has a logical, ontological, and epistemological formulation depending on the material [philosophical sense] object and formal object [subject matter]. They may also be formulated along the lines of the transcendentals (being, truth, unity, good, beauty). The formulations are explaine here (http://reasoningrepaired.blogspot.com/2006/08/first-principles-1.html) and here (http://reasoningrepaired.blogspot.com/2006/08/first-principles-2.html).

    It has to be this way, if you think about it: in a deductive argument (syllogism) you have the material cause (the premises), the formal cause (the syllogism’s structure), and (assuming true premises and valid form) the conclusion as a new truth. The truth obtained is (analogously speaking) “caused” by the premises and structure… hence the syllogistic truth is subject to the PSR: it has a sufficient reason for “existing”.

    Now apply the same reasoning to explain the existence of a pot of boiling water. The material cause is the water and transferred energy (the “stuff” out of which it is made); the efficient cause is the flame (how the water can boil); the formal cause is the boiling water itself (i.e., what it is); and the final cause is either teleonomic (a geyser is a natural process with no intention or purpose but certainly a physical “end”) or teleological (a pot of boiling water is a natural process put in place by my wife’s goal or “end” of making tea). (Note the syllogism also has an efficient cause and a final cause: my setting it ordered to the end of obtaining truth.)

    So, coming back to your issue: you still need to explain the existence of immaterial entities like the mind. I’m not going to chase you on this… except to suggest you cannot rest until a sufficient explanation is on hand.

    Quentin Smith is one of the “philosophers” (actually, I’m happy to label him a sophist) I respect the least. Smith knows very well how ultimately destructive the PSR is to atheism, and so with the a priori goal of supporting atheism he sets out in the vain attempt to undermine it. What utterly amazes me is that Smith also knows any attempt to undermine the PSR actually validates it because such an attempt must circle back to a “sufficient reason” to support the existence of the very attempt to undermine the PSR. Go ahead: try to deny it… and you’ll see you’re depending on it–you appeal to it.

    Finally, Smith is also known to say really, really outrageous (actually, stupid) things like, “There is sufficient evidence at present to justify the belief that the universe began to exist without being caused to do so.” One may have to read this assertion several times to realize how incoherent it is. Not only does Smith fail to provide the “evidence” to support his assertion, but what possible “evidence” could Smith provide that would demonstrate that the physical universe was not caused, i.e., that there is no—nor does there need to be any—reason for its existence? The very ability to reason about anything rests firmly upon the ontological form of the Principle of Sufficient Reason: Whatever exists or happens must have a sufficient reason for its existence or occurrence either in itself or in something else; in other words that whatever does not exist of absolute necessity—whatever is not self-existent—cannot exist without a proportionate cause external to itself. Here’s another example of Smith’s disordered thinking: “I argue that the timeless, uncaused, simple, independent, necessary and transcendent being that causes space-time’s beginning to exist is not God but a spatially zero-dimensional point.” Yeah… right. Go ahead either Google it or find it on his site… and try to make sense of the “argument” he presents to support this crazy assertion.

  21. I’ve read lots of Quentin Smith’s essays. And I often disagree with his arguments. But the only point from his essay that I brought up was one which you failed to comment on:

    Is the PSR something that’s generally accepted by modern philosophers?

    You speak of it as if it was a near universally accepted idea. He says, on the other hand, that most contemporary philosophers reject it.


    So, coming back to your issue: you still need to explain the existence of immaterial entities like the mind. I’m not going to chase you on this… except to suggest you cannot rest until a sufficient explanation is on hand.

    I’m obligated to solve one the the great philosophical mysteries? Obligated or not, I don’t know the answer to that question. I don’t think any of us do.

    And you have not addressed the most important question I raised. Why, if the PSR is valid (something I’m not yet convinced of), is God the only logically possible sufficient reason for the existence of immaterial things?

    Why, for example, can not immaterial spirit beings of many varieties simply exist eternally? Why can’t numbers and ideas? Why can’t there be a dualist reality with no God but in which matter and mind are eternal and infinite? Why can’t a nontheistic panpsychism be true?

    There’s no obvious reason to think these and many other explanations aren’t feasible options.

  22. quote 1:

    There is no obvious contradiction in the concept, for example, that God doesn’t exist but that immaterial spirit beings, ghosts or, for that matter, numbers and ideas do.

    quote 2:

    I am, in fact more than happy to refer to atheism as a belief I hold (that is, I believe theism is a rationally unwarranted position). It can be phrased as not believing X or believing X is a rationally unwarranted position.

    quote 3:

    If one could do so it would go a long way toward convincing me that theism was true since I find it difficult to dispute that minds exist and are not material (though they may be, and I suspect are) dependent on physical entities (brains, or something like them).

    Atheism is believing God is rationally unwarranted position.
    Atheism does NOT entail materialism
    The Atheist is rationally warranted to believe in the non-material (like ghosts or spirits)
    Ghosts/Spirits exist.
    Ghosts/Spirits are immaterial.
    Ghosts/Spirits are NOT contingent on the material
    Ghosts/Spirits have minds.
    Minds exist.
    Minds are immaterial.
    It is rational to believe in other minds.
    Minds are NOT contingent on a material anchor.
    It is rational to believe in minds that are NOT contingent on a material anchor.
    God is non-material
    God has a mind
    It is rational to believe in the mind of God.
    It is rational to believe in God.
    The Atheist is rationally warranted to believe in God.

  23. David:

    I’m sorry–I won’t be baited: you’ve twisted my words a bit. I’ve tired to explain my points and I’ve provided plenty of links in post (you don’t have to follow them). The tone of your last comment, while fairly polite, seems to me to betray “crack are appearing” frustration. I’m not going there.

    “Validity” in logic applies to the form (formal structure) of an argument: you’re applying it incorrectly to the PSR. Why is the PSR universally (logically, ontologically, epistemologically, transendentally) true? Because you can’t deny it without undermining what you set out to deny. No one is going to give you a proof… or even demonstration: First Principles are not subject to that. Have at it.

  24. Luke, what you have posted are a series of assertions many of which are not logically connected. It looks as if you think you’ve posted an argument or chain of reasoning using premises I grant—at least I don’t know what you could have intended other than that.

    But there is no actual argument here. And, in fact, I DON’T grant several of those premises which you seem to be stating as one’s I’ve assented to. In particular, the 3rd, 4th, 11th or 12th. Also the last 3 assertions, which you seem, unless I misunderstand you, to be taking as following from the previous premises–although, in fact, they don’t follow from them.


  25. I’ve tired to explain my points and I’ve provided plenty of links in post (you don’t have to follow them).

    I followed the two links you posted regarding the PSR. The first only briefly mentions it (it gives your definition of it) the second link goes to “page not found”.

    You have stated that your position is that the nonexistence of God entails the nonexistence of the immaterial (apparently as God is, in your opinion, the only sufficient reason possible for the existence of immaterial things).

    But you haven’t stated an argument for this position. Nor do I find any such argument in the post you linked to (maybe its what you meant the broken link to go to).

    Your definition of the PSR was “Whatever exists or happens must have a sufficient reason for its existence or occurrence either in itself or in something else.”

    But its evident that there are other sufficient reasons for the existence of immaterial things than God—that they are eternal for example. This would fit with a non-theistic panpsychism and even a non-theistic dualism.

    That being the case I must regard your assertion of God as the only option and therefore necessarily existent if minds exist to be false.

    I would still be interested in seeing a formal argument for what you’ve asserted, though; either your own or a link to one by a philosopher who has defended it. It seems an interesting and unusual approach to attempting a proof of theism.

  26. @de

    I’m not saying that you in particular assent to everything. I’m saying that you should find everything here rational (in a tongue-in-check sort of way).

    You deny (3) that the Atheist is rationally warranted in believing in non-material entities like ghosts/spirits/numbers/ideas/minds? I am confused by what you’re arguing then when you say that these could exist. Can they or can they not — according to the atheist position (remember you assent to (2) which admits that non-material entities could exist — Buddhism is non-material but atheistic)? (4) would follow from (3) as a possible, rationally warranted position, for an Atheist (see Buddhism) to hold (I don’t mean to say that Ghosts/Spirits in fact actually do exist but that it is possible assuming that non-material entities could exist and it’s rational to believe in them).

    If an Atheist, under the broad definition of (2), is allowed to rationally believe in Spirits and, as far as I understand, Spirits and Ghosts have minds, that would mean that Minds are not tied to the material.

    Sure the last 3 follow. You accept (10), that it is rational to believe in other minds, and if God has a mind then it is rational to believe it. If I believe that other mind then I can believe in God.

    Argument simplified:
    (1) Buddhists are atheists
    (2) Buddhists have no problem accepting a theism as being a rational position (though they ultimately disagree).
    (3) The de definition of Atheism is inadequate.

  27. David:

    You have stated that your position is that the nonexistence of God entails the nonexistence of the immaterial.

    Where? Also my definitions of the PSR?!? Please, David, you’re giving me way too much credit. And: I must regard your assertion of God as the only option and therefore necessarily existent if minds exist. What “assertion”? Where? Hint, perhaps? Suggestion, perhaps? Stop it, David… it’s getting annoying on the level of what fg tried against Tom today.

    Sorry… it’s been a long night. Follow the logic. I’m not going to think for you. Here’s another hint, though: there is a metaphysical relational principle that bind effects to their causes. Another way of saying this is that effects preexist in their cause only in the mode of being of that cause. There is an immaterial mode of being–you admit that. Try to modify the First Cause or “perfection” arguments of Aquinas to fit this principle, and you may get somewhere. I could also speak of Divine Ideas as exemplar causes to add some more insight and suggest you keep the modes of causality straight, but I fear we’re straying off topic and I don’t want to appear pedantic. So…

    … with apologies to Joshua: as for me and my house, we’re going to bed…

  28. “Where?”

    You stated that “Atheism is indeed a monistic ontology because it doesn’t merely indicate non-God but non-immaterial.”

    If I misunderstood your meaning in this statement then please clarify. Or not. Whichever you like.


    And: I must regard your assertion of God as the only option and therefore necessarily existent if minds exist. What “assertion”? Where? Hint, perhaps? Suggestion, perhaps? Stop it, David… it’s getting annoying on the level of what fg tried against Tom today.

    That’s how I understood your statements like “the Principle of Sufficient Reason must be honored. Therefore, the existence of immaterial entities must be explained.”

    If you do not think that God is the only sufficient reason for the existence of immaterial entities like minds then please explain what your intent was in bringing the PSR into the discussion.

    If I have misunderstood you it is less a defect of mine but a lack of clarity on your own part. Unfortunately, since you have not deigned to present actual arguments in support of the assertions you’ve presented on this issue I’ve had to do my best to interpret your comments so as to infer some coherent chain of reasoning or argument which might be behind them. Its becoming clear that trying to do that is a waste of time. In the future if you fail to clearly present your position and arguments in support of it I will simply ignore your post as unworthy of commenting on.


    Follow the logic. I’m not going to think for you. Here’s another hint, though: there is a metaphysical relational principle that bind effects to their causes. Another way of saying this is that effects preexist in their cause only in the mode of being of that cause. There is an immaterial mode of being–you admit that. Try to modify the First Cause or “perfection” arguments of Aquinas to fit this principle, and you may get somewhere.

    I’m not going to spend my time creating your arguments for you. When you decide to present an argument for the assertions you’ve made then discussion can continue. Until then I’m satisfied to leave your assertions as just that, mere assertions, and move on.


  29. You deny (3) that the Atheist is rationally warranted in believing in non-material entities like ghosts/spirits/numbers/ideas/minds? I am confused by what you’re arguing then when you say that these could exist.

    I presented the existence of ghosts and spirits in a nontheistic universe as merely a logical possibility in contradiction to Holo’s statement that “is indeed a monistic ontology because it doesn’t merely indicate non-God but non-immaterial.”

    I never said, or in any way intended to imply, that belief in ghosts and spirits is rationally warranted. That something is logically possible is worlds apart from it being rationally warranted.


    I am confused by what you’re arguing then when you say that these could exist.

    That something MIGHT exist is not sufficient for belief in it to be rationally warranted….I think we would need some actual evidence in support of the claim that they exist before rational warrant for the belief was achieved.


    Argument simplified:
    (1) Buddhists are atheists
    (2) Buddhists have no problem accepting a theism as being a rational position (though they ultimately disagree).
    (3) The de definition of Atheism is inadequate.

    I think I see what you’re saying:

    1. X doesn’t believe in God.

    2. David defines an atheist as someone who doesn’t believe in God or who believes theism isn’t rationally warranted.

    3. X believes theism is rationally warranted but still doesn’t believe in God.

    Therefore the part of the definition of an atheist as “someone who believes theism isn’t rationally warranted” is problematic.

    OK. I doubt there are many atheists would actually are describe by 3 but I’ll admit its at least possible some hold that view. So we can simply drop that second section of the definition and simply say an atheist is someone who doesn’t believe in God. Although, in my case, the statement that I believe theism isn’t a rationally warranted belief is still true. And that probably goes for most other atheists as well.

  30. David:

    Yes, you did misunderstand: read my statement and then your interpretation of it. As for the rest, I decline to pursue: lots of links, hints, explanations, etc. have been provided. I hope you’re also catching the subtext: there may be quite a bit of which you’re unaware in peoples of faith reflecting upon such issues over the past 2000 or so years. I also told you earlier this is a HUGE topic (I’m not amenable to sound-bites) and that I’m not being evasive. I say that in the best spirit–no pedantic undertones implied or intended. I’ve spilled way too many electrons on this stuff over the past few days. Whatever conclusions–warranted or not–that you draw from all this is up to you.

  31. Two little points for all (the first primarily for Tom, the second for Holo):

    1. The word “atheism” is used in a variety of ways, and thus it seems to me that, in the context of a discussion such as this, one should distinguish its senses. One ought not talk of atheism simpliciter here but of this or that variety. I think that we should make at least a three-fold distinction (the labels are my own, and are perhaps not the best):

    Strong Atheism: the belief that there is no God.
    Skeptical Atheism: the belief that theism is unwarranted.
    Weak Atheism: lack of belief in God.

    Now, by my lights, it would be a bit better to call the second Agnosticism, but as a matter of fact “atheism” is used of it. Notice that it is perfectly compatible with the existence of God. What it denies is knowledge of God’s existence.

    And by my lights, it seems a bit strange to call the third atheism, for it entails that newborns are atheists of a kind. Strange. But the plain fact is that “atheism” is used of the third sense, and if we ignore that fact, we do violence of common, accepted usage.

    I take it that by “atheism” Tom means “strong atheism”. He should, I think, make distinctions of the sort I recommend and then say that he means to speak of only of variety of atheism.

    2. I would have thought that the Christian must deny the PSR. Here’s why. Christians must believe that the will is free, and must believe that this freedom is of the incompatabilist variety. But if so, if I freely do a thing, there is no reason why I did just that when I did and not another thing or nothing at all; for if there were a sufficient reason, that reason would have been and cause and thus the act would not have been free.

  32. I think we can say that any denial of another’s beliefs entails a belief on the part of the denier.

    ex. [My wife believes there are aliens, but I believe she is wrong]
    ex. [Dada art is the destruction of art, but becomes art as well]
    ex. [Someone told me about a god, but they are incorrect]
    ex. [I do not accept the hypothesis that x, because I believe the evidence is y]

  33. Consider also, if religious belief is brought about through evolution, as some scholars and writers have said, then how can the position which rejects this “natural”, “first” belief be the default position?

    If we are naturally religious, one must possess a means to “overcome” religion.

  34. Franklin:

    In fact, it’s quite the opposite: it’s atheists that fear the PSR while Christians embrace it.

    First, if you survey the discussions out in blogdom in which atheists are involved (take for example Dr. Logic of old here) or if you review atheists’ sites (take for example Quentin Smith), you’ll notice a lot of mental contortions in trying to avoid the PSR–especially as a First Principle.

    Second, we Christian know the universe as created by God is regular, predictable, and knowable: without the PSR woven into the fabric of reality this would be impossible. In fact, science–a uniquely Medieval western European Christian development–would have been impossible without the work of Christian philosophers and theologians and pre-scientists prior to the so-called Scientific Revolution. Without the PSR science is literally dead and useless. Science is ALWAYS searching for causes–that’s it’s job description.

    Third, there are (as I hinted to David) modes of causality: material causes don’t have to be limited to the physico-material… as the example of premises in a syllogisms shows. The formal cause of a human being (the soul) is certainly immaterial. The efficient cause of a ball rolling down and incline may be the force of gravity acting upon the ball, while the efficient cause of a syllogism is my setting it up per the art and science of logic. Don’t limit causality to efficient causality. In fact, a fair synonym for “cause” is “explanation”: why does this thing exist? Be-CAUSE… The word “because” is the beginning of an explanation.

    So, it’s not the “reason” (to which you refer) that is the cause but YOU the person who is the cause. A human being’s capacity to reason and capacity for free will are “part” of his/her nature. It is “in” your nature to choose freely (within the bounds of your nature: you can’t “choose” to jump 150 meters into the air). In other words, “choice” is not a reason: YOU are the reason because at the end of the day there MUST be an explanation for your choosing one course of action or another. It’s the way you’re using the word “reason” that’s throwing you off.

  35. For the record I find the list more than a little silly (and offensive) myself. I imagine the crowd reaction here if I posted my list of entailments of Christianity (Who am I to define Christianity for Christians!? How could I ever imagine claiming that Christians must accept God’s existence without empirical evidence?! How dare I define rationality to serve my purposes! etc.)

    I completely agree with Franklin that strong atheism is a tiny subset of those who would agree to being atheists. I also know that I would stop being an atheist the second that God appeared in real life, or that religious movements were better explained by God’s personal involvement than by predictable human behavior and politics, etc. I remain devoted to my atheism the same way I remain devoted to my inability to fly. You can say that my belief in my inability to fly entails my not soaring from the tops of high buildings, but that’s merely describing a property of the reality to which I subscribe, and is not a contingency of my beliefs.

    I haven’t gone through it in great detail, but I am struck by the fact that I could remain a skeptic about the claims of every religion and yet still hold true the entailments you say my atheism requires of me.

    I’ll start with the first one: “Atheism entails that the universe is impersonal and immoral.” I don’t know what it means for the universe to be impersonal (is this a philosophical term of art?), but I don’t know why I would be required to not hold that Morality exists as a discoverable, immaterial component of the universe similar to Mathematics.

    The second one states, “Atheism entails that there is no ultimate good (though some atheists like yourself will allow for contingent, local, or particular goods).” If Morality exists, then I don’t see why there could not be an ultimate good.

    Etc. In other words, I take the position of a juror who allows that the defendant might be guilty, but that your prosecution has so far not risen to the level where I don’t find other explanations more plausible.

    Atheism is, I think, better described as a position about our knowledge, and the admission that given the existing data the evidence of a theistic God is better explained otherwise.

    Along this line, I wonder what you might hold to be more incorrect as a position – that of a Mormon, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, or atheist. Is there a sliding scale for these positions, or are they all equally wrong in the eyes of a Christian?


  36. Consider also, if religious belief is brought about through evolution, as some scholars and writers have said, then how can the position which rejects this “natural”, “first” belief be the default position?

    It depends on the sense in which one means that a position is the default one.

    Does one mean by the default position the one that people in general are naturally most inclined toward? In that case something may be the default position but still be an irrational one.

    Or does one mean the default position in the sense that for any proposition “X exists” assent is unwarranted until one has good grounds for believing the proposition. It seems that atheists generally have this sense in mind when they call atheism the default position.

    As for myself I’m not much inclined to use the term “default position”. It seems clearer simply to ask which is the more reasonable position and why rather than which is the “default position”. The latter seems more easily capable of misconstrual in exactly the way Frank mentions. There’s no point in using terminology that will promote mutual misunderstanding when one has at one’s disposal a way of putting the question far less subject to such problems.

  37. Franklin:

    As a follow on to the second paragraph of my previous respons, here’s another example of the ridiculous lengths to which atheists will go to avoid God. This one, by Victor Stenger, is a tour-de-force in anti-intellectual nonsense: “… we can avoid an infinite regress. We can just stop at the world. There is no reason why the physical universe cannot be it’s own first cause. As we know from both everyday experience and sophisticated scientific observations, complex systems develop from simpler systems all the time in nature—with not even low intelligence required.” Stenger should be arrested for intellectual murder. Think about what his line “There is no reason why the physical universe cannot be it’s own first cause” implies: that the universe existed before it existed in order to cause itself. There is no other way to characterize this apart from stupid… and yet the gullible purchase his books heaping fawning praise on a “brave” man for “disproving” God. You can’t make this stuff up. I could continue to rip his assertion with further points… but it would waste everyone’s time.

  38. Your position on the “default position” is correct, David… but that’s why (among other reasons) I’m fascinated you’re still an atheist. Please don’t chase me on this: there’s a lot left unsaid… and I mean it charitably.

  39. Holo,

    I do agree that it is I who bring about my free acts. It is I who do them. But there are still facts here that have no sufficient explanation. Why, for instance, did I do what I did and not something else? The I by itself cannot explain this, for no matter what I had done, it would have been I who did it. Another example: why did I do what I did just when I did it? Again the I by itself is insufficient to explain this, for no matter the time at which I did what I did it, it would have been I who did it.

    The I is an explanation of sorts for free acts. But it is hardly sufficient to explain all facts to do with free will, and thus I stand by my claim that the Christian should likely reject the PSR.

    This rejection is of course quite consistent with the claim that the PSR has a wide scope of application, and that it is, in some sense, woven into the fabric of the universe. But it is not exceptionless.

  40. Franklin:

    You continue to view the issue incorrectly. Are you worried that the PSR somehow limits or elminates your free will? It doesn’t.

    Your choices are determined by you, but not in the sense of physically determined. A billiard ball “obeys” certain physical laws when it imparts momentum to another billiard ball to cause [efficient causality] it to go off with a certain velocity. It has no “choice.” The cause of the target ball’s trajectory is the impact of the colliding ball.

    No one needs to explain what you didn’t do: it doesn’t exist except as an a posteriori hypothetical in your mind–there was no action). Let’s say you’re just about to make the choice of what action to take: does the choice or any of the resulting options exist at that point? No, of course not. So why are you trying to explain nothing?

    What needs to be explained is the existence of what you did do. The PSR is about explaining the existence of things that DO exist–no matter their mode of existence. The PSR is NOT about explaining non-existence. (What’s there to explain? There’s nothing there!) Once you actualize your choice, the resulting action MUST be explained. Are you suggesting you need to explain something that doesn’t exist?

    So, to reiterate: your choice is not the explanation–YOU are the explanation for your choice and the resulting action as actualized through your choice.


  41. So, to reiterate: your choice is not the explanation–YOU are the explanation for your choice and the resulting action as actualized through your choice.

    X calls his wife, tells her he has to work late and then takes his secretary to a hotel room and commits adultery with her.

    What is the sufficient reason for his making this choice?

    According to Holo, X is the sufficient reason.

    The reason X decided to do deed Y is X.

    But does this actually provide any information about the reason X did Y? It doesn’t seem to. It just looks like wordplay. I don’t know anything more after being told that’s the sufficient reason for his action than I did before being told it.

    Lets look at a different explanation for why X did Y:

    X betrayed his wife because his urge to give in to the pass his secretary had made at him was stronger than his urge to stay faithful to his wife.

    Or:

    X wanted to get back at his wife for cheating on him with the pool boy and any sense of fidelity or commitment to marriage in principle had less psychological pull than the urge for payback did.

    Or any of countless other things.

    What I’m getting at is that it doesn’t seem enough to simply say X is the reason X did Y. Something about what’s going on in X’s mind, his psychological state, would, on examination, seem the more sensible choice as the sufficient reason.

    I’m not sure I agree that this would entirely rule out the possibility of free will—but it seems, at least, to point more to determinism.

    Which is all I have to say on free will. I find the topic fairly dull (because insoluble, in my opinion) so I’ll leave it to the two of you to hash out anything further on the subject.

  42. But does this actually provide any information about the reason X did Y? It doesn’t seem to. It just looks like wordplay. I don’t know anything more after being told that’s the sufficient reason for his action than I did before being told it.

    Of course! But it’s anything but wordplay: you forgot about the final cause, David. The reason (i.e., X’s goal or intention or purpose) for committing adultery is the final cause. All four causes need to be accounted for to obtain a full explanation for the existence of any contingent existent. The only thing we were discussing was Franklin’s confusion over the role of the PSR.

    Take the example of Michelangelo scuplture of the Pieta. The Pieta exists, therefore its existence must be explained. Since it actually exists, the PSR demands there must be a sufficient explanation (“reason” as part of the name of the Principle is used as a synonym for “explanation”). So…

    … the material cause is the marble. The formal cause is the form of the statue, i.e., what it is. The efficient cause is Michelangelo working on it. The final cause is the intention he had for sculpting the Pieta in the first place: to give glory to God or to have the Vatican pay him a hefty retainer or whatever… it doesn’t matter.

    We could also add, for more exactness, an exemplar cause–sometimes called the “design” in the mind of the sculptor as intended by him, and we could have added the instrumental cause or the “by which” the efficient cause was carried out, i.e., the hammer and chisel and brushes and scraping tools used in sculpting the Pieta. These latter two causes are really subordinate to the efficient and final causes, so typically are not included except for concreteness. The four primary causes account for the existence of the Pieta.

    The point is for the final cause Michelangelo had some purpose–some reason–in mind. The final cause is the one that “leads” the others. Of course, Michelangelo could have had a choice before him: before the sculpture was actualized, he could have either sculpted the Pieta or David or a gargoyle. But since none of them exist until they actually exist (Yogi Berra was a great philosopher, by the way: “It aint’ over until it’s over” is tremendously insightful), there’s no reason or explanation for the existence of a non-existent. Of course, you can go ahead and explain the existence of the ideas of the various sculpture choices Michelangelo had in mind… but that’s NOT to explain the non-sculptures but the ideas.

    That free will is a difficult topic goes without saying. That it’s insoluble is a bit of a stretch. To suggest it’s a “dull” topic is an evasive personal opinion. To understand free will you must (per the PSR) at least explain the fact that free will exists in human beings. You are free to employ science, philosophy, theology, any relevant field you like. BUT… it must be explained. And, this brings up an interesting final point…

    From the perspective just presented, if , as atheists claim, God doesn’t exist (leaving aside the obvious huge problem for them of not being able to prove a negative), why are they trying so hard (so viscerally, so fearfully) to explain-away a non-existent? Seems to me the joke is on them.

  43. My pleasure.

    It would be cool if people jettisoned their a priori ideological commitments, actually observed reality, followed its clues without fear, and used sound arguments (philosophical, scientific, and theological) to come to new knowledge… instead of speculating “hypothetically” (idealistically trapped in their minds) about what might be.

  44. Of course, Michelangelo could have had a choice before him: before the sculpture was actualized, he could have either sculpted the Pieta or David or a gargoyle.

    Gaahh! My mind is thinking back to DL’s theory that choices are either random or determined. Randomness, as an explanation for some outcome, gets way too much credit.

  45. SteveK:

    Randomness is not an explanation for anything. First, there is nothing in nature that is truly, essentially random… and this quantum mechanic will cross swords with anyone who thinks otherwise (epistemological limits do not impose ontological status). Second, so called “chance events” are really the intersection of two (or more) independent lines of causality. Third, if something were essentially random or if processes were indeed stochastic by their nature, that would mean there would be no cause for them to exist: random literally means “without cause”. Fourth, we employ probablistic/statistical mathematical formalisms to describe “average” (rougly speaking) behaviors of systems. In fact, because we are forced to rely on such formalisms, it reveals more about what we don’t know about such system than what we do.

    DL is not only philosophically ignorant (and hence doesn’t understand the limitations of science), he doesn’t understand the “physics” he spews. Also, for him to claim choices are “determined” is a contradiction in terms.

  46. A very comprehensive survey of this subject can be found here

    http://creation.com/atheism

    TOC
    Table of contents
    Definition of “Atheism”
    1.1 Variations of Atheism
    Atheism as nature worship or neo-paganism
    2.1 Atheist religion
    Why Atheism is chosen
    3.1 Natural born Atheist
    Atheism and ethics/morality
    4.1 Atheism and the “problem of evil”
    4.2 Atheism and the “Euthyphro Dilemma”
    4.3 Atheism’s “problem of evil”
    4.4 Atheism’s Euthyphro Dilemma
    4.5 Theism’s reward and punishment versus Atheism’s pure motives
    Religion as child abuse
    Atheism’s arguments against theism, or Atheism’s “atheology”
    6.1 Who made God?
    Arguments for God’s existence
    7.1 Forms of the cosmological argument
    7.2 Argument from cosmological natural theology
    7.3 Forms of the teleological argument
    7.4 Forms of the ontological argument
    7.5 Forms of the moral law argument
    7.6 Dostoevsky’s argument from the consequences of positive Atheism
    7.7 The argument from religious need
    7.8 The argument from joy
    7.9 Ronald Nash’s argument from numbers
    Atheism and science
    8.1 Atheism and miracles
    8.2 Origins
    Atheism in the public school classrooms
    Atheism as “scientific” story telling
    Atheism and physical, mental, emotional, spiritual and societal health
    11.1 Atheism and charity
    11.2 Atheism and suicide
    11.3 Atheism and adult mortality
    11.4 Cause of death
    11.5 Attitudes towards abortion
    11.6 Christmas and happiness
    11.7 Atheism and superstition
    11.8 Society
    11.9 Atheism, abstinence and STDs
    11.10 Incarceration
    11.11 Atheism, marriage and divorce
    Atheism and Communism
    G. K. Chesterton’s Conclusion

  47. I’ve just read the post, but am a little baffled. Does anyone know if Tom Gilson recognizes the distinction in meaning between the following two statements?

    (1) I don’t believe that God exists.

    (2) I believe that God doesn’t exist.

  48. Two days ago my two teenagers had their last day of school, and yesterday we put them both on airplanes from two different airports to two different destinations. If you’re wondering why I’ve been out of the conversation for a while, that might help explain it.

    Anyway, thank you, Franklin, for your comment 31. You are correct in saying that I had “strong atheism” in mind here. It may or may not be David Ellis’s or Tony Hoffman’s atheism, or that of any other commenter here. I wrote it not so much in response to them as to the larger crowd of New Atheists out there, many of whom are strong atheists (or the nearly synonymous philosophical naturalists). David Ellis said something that triggered my writing it, but it’s been lurking in the back of my mind for many weeks.

    So you are correct to say that I should have clarified that, and I appreciate the reminder. (I hope that, in combination with Franklin’s comment #31, answers Janice’s question just now.)

    I’m learning a lot from the discussions on PSR here, and I appreciate that from all involved.

  49. Tony, you asked,

    Along this line, I wonder what you might hold to be more incorrect as a position – that of a Mormon, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, or atheist. Is there a sliding scale for these positions, or are they all equally wrong in the eyes of a Christian?

    Good question. I heard a talk by William Lane Craig yesterday where he was asked something very similar, and I thought he could have answered differently, so you’re giving me a chance to say what I wish he had said. (He wasn’t wrong; I just thought he answered a different question than what had been asked.)

    Religions have multiple facets and aspects, including the social, cultural, cultic, moral, theological (broadly defined), metaphysical, and (in Christian theological terms) soteriological. That last word is probably not familiar to all. Broadly speaking, it has to do with what it means to reach the final desired state of existence, and how that can happen. For Christians it is “what does it mean to be rescued from sin, and how can I be rescued?” Other religions wouldn’t ask that question, but all of them generally look to some final desired state to be achieved, and have their own ways to get there. “Cultic” refers to the broad range of specifically religious customs and practices, ranging from lighting candles and saying regular prayers, to temple prostitution and child sacrifice practiced by many pagan religions in times past (if not currently).

    There is no unidimensional scale for religions with respect to their social, cultural, cultic, or even moral goodness. Mormonism, which is the nearest offshoot to Christianity you mentioned, has many desirable social, cultural, and moral positions associated with it, especially since they dropped their open polygamy and more recently their doctrinally enshrined racism. Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam all have their strong and their weak points in terms of these aspects. So does Christianity as actually practiced by us, its imperfect adherents. We can and should seek out, and honor and respect, that which is good in these dimensions of any religion or culture.

    In terms of their definitions of God, I would certainly hold the monotheistic religions (Judaism and Islam) more nearly correct than Buddhism, Hinduism, or Mormonism (which is quite polytheistic). There are degrees of accuracy discernible in that aspect of religion.

    In soteriology, nothing comes close to Christianity. The way of Christ is utterly unique among world religions. Only Christianity speaks of humanity’s problem accurately: that we have a sin problem that no amount of religious effort or striving can overcome, that God is the only one who can solve it, that he has done so through Jesus Christ, that we have nothing to offer God in exchange for that solution other than to accept and receive his loving mercy, and that the result of accepting it is to experience his love and to grow in life eternally.

    No other religion starts from the same place, no other has a solution like Christ. All of the others place the burden or the initiative on the human to do what it takes to achieve the desired final state. None other comes close to Christianity on this most important aspect of religion.

  50. I would like to point out that when discussion soteriology, Christians (myself included) only tend to talk about ordinary means of grace. I would like to point out that there are also extraordinary means of grace. Ordinary means of grace are like ordinary means of care, the stuff we do everyday: eating, drinking, showering, brushing our teeth, etc. Extraordinary means of grace are like extraordinary means of care, one can receive nourishment from a feeding tube, hydration from an IV, etc. I make the distinction because Christians see baptism, confession and forgiveness, and the Eucharist as ordinary means of grace. But, ordinary means of grace does not explain the election of the Jews. At least for me, this is a big one. I have to believe in extraordinary means of grace (ie the salvation of the Jews) to trust that God will be faithful to the promises I received in the ordinary means of grace (baptism). In other words, if God is not faithful to His covenant with the Jews (which came before the covenant in baptism), how can I be secure in the promises I have from my baptism? (I’m not looking for an answer, just pointing it out).

  51. Holo,

    I’ll try again. If I fail, I wont continue to beat the dead horse.

    1. Reasons give us explanations. They give us the Why of a thing. But quite often (some philosophers say always) when we explain a thing, we explain why it is as it is and not some way else. “Ella, why didn’t you paint the sky blue?” When she answers, she will of course explain why she painted it the color she did; she won’t explain why she painted it a color she did not (for as you say, there is plainly no need to explain the non-real). Thus when I asked for explanations of why a thing was chosen and not something else, it is a request for an explanation of the real; and that explanation will, once given, give the reason why other possible courses of action were not taken up. Explanations such as these – explanations that quite explicit give the reason why alternate possibilities were not actualized – are called contrastive explanations in the literature on the subject. What I asked for were contrastive explanations, not explanations for what does not exist.

    2. The PSR, at least in its strong forms, concerns not only objects but facts too. It says that for every fact that obtains, there must be an explanation why it obtains. Now, assume that I freely do x and not y. (This is a perfectly good fact, for it is quite true and I did x and not y.) What is the explanation of the fact that I do x and not y? Is it simply me? Is the I alone sufficient to explain x? I contend not. For let us assume that the I alone is sufficient (as Holo seems to contend). Any explanation of x here must simultaneously explain why I did not do y, for the fact to be explained is “doing x but not y”. But if (contrary to fact) I had done y, the I alone (given our assumption) would suffice to explain why I had done y. Thus the I cannot provide the required contrastive explanation – it will be the explanation no matter what I do and so cannot explain the differences in my possible choices. The I cannot explain “x and not y”, for to mention the I alone does not rule out y. Contrastive explanations rule out. Explanations that are identical through all possible alternatives do not.

    Holo, let me emphasize that I do not require explanations for the non-real. I don’t want an explanation of y above. Rather I wan’t an explanation of a perfectly real fact – that x and not y was done. Notice the “not” in front of the y. I want (in part) an explanation of the non-actuality of y; and I take it that that non-actuality is a perfectly good fact (as was the fact that Ella did not paint the sky blue).

  52. Franklin:

    There’s not much more I can add to my 3:46 and 5:18 responses from 17 June. You’re using the terms “explanation” and “reason” non-rigorously (i.e., loosely) which tends to confuse things, and you’re not tracking on the “not” issue you raise. Sorry.

  53. Holo,

    Dead horse, prepare for another beating!

    I’ll do this Socratically. Does the PSR require that, for every fact that obtains, there must be a reason why it obtains?

  54. The horse is now rotting…

    😉

    The PSR is a First Principle–one that cannot be denied. Perhaps you should start from that: try to deny it, and you’ll see you appeal to it because you yourself are providing a reason!

    Also, please be excruciatingly clear in what you mean by “every fact that obtain,” and what I mean by that is parse every single word. I’m doing this to make sure I understand exactly what you mean.

  55. Holo,

    Facts are like states of affairs. They are things that obtain (or not) as the case may be. A horse is an object. The horse being swift is a fact. It involves an object (the horse) as a component. But it is not identical to the horse. Rather it is the attribution to the horse of a certain characteristic. As such in includes both the horse and its swiftness.

    Facts are what get expressed by true assetoric sentences. Objects, on the other hand, are the referents of such locutions as names and definite descriptions.

    The PSR as commonly formulated says that every fact that obtains has an explanation for its obtaining. It does not say merely that every object has an explanation of its existence. This statement of the PSR is terms of facts is quite closely related to that in terms of true propositions. The proposition-truth form of the PSR tells us that every true proposition must have a reason for its being true. But true propositions express facts, and thus this form of the PSR entails that for every fact there must be a reason for its obtaining.

  56. A horse is an object. The horse being swift is a fact

    You might wish to consult the ‘tree of Porphyry’
    http://pennance.us/home/downloads/porphyry.pdf

    The definition and usage of the term ‘fact’
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fact

    The term ‘horse’ is a ‘factual’ definition of a particular species of animate body that has substance. “Swift” is a property or accident of the animate body we identify with the term ‘horse’.

    The Ten Categories and how they are applied

    http://faculty.washington.edu/smcohen/320/cats320.htm

  57. Franklin:

    Dave is correct. Permit me to elaborate, and to point out a large error one must avoid: philosophy is not about focusing on words as the objects of study. Philosophy is a reflection upon reality as a whole. It is not the words you know (except in a secondary “reflective” sense) but the objects you know. This error is closely linked to the Idealist error by which it is wickedly incorrect to claim we know ideas rather than the objects themselves. We only know ideas as second intentions, i.e., by reflection back upon them. The first intention is the object we know. Be awfully careful about this. You are approaching the subject burdened by these kinds of errors: the errors are not yours—they crept into philosophy as philosophers (starting with Descartes, but getting worse with Hobbes and Hume)—but you are “carrying” them in a kind of “wordy” symbolic calculus.

    Facts are not like states of affairs. In fact (no pun intended), do not use the term “fact.” Use, rather, “proposition”: a proposition is a statement about reality, and that proposition can either be true or false. So, you may state, “That horse is swift.” Either the horse is or is not swift. The horse is the object of knowledge—it literally objects (from the Latin “to throw at”) to your mind. The proposition “That horse is swift” either corresponds to the reality of the horse as object (and then is a true proposition) or it does not correspond (and thus is false).

    The horse itself is not a component of the statement. The word “horse” is a “component” of the proposition, but the horse itself is not. The horse is the object of knowledge. Also, the statement “That horse is swift” does not attribute anything to the horse, i.e., propositions don’t actualize reality. It’s quite the opposite: objects object to the mind, and the mind (hopefully) forms a proposition that corresponds (“reflects” if you will) to the reality of that object.

    The term “certain characteristic” is very sloppy the way you use it. As Dave points out, swiftness is not an essential aspect of the horse. Its swiftness is accidental (i.e., non-essential) to the horse… because, after all, the horse can grow tired after a few minutes and slow to a trot. The particular horse is a concrete substance. “Substance” is that thing that exists on its own without dependence on accidents (quality like swiftness or the color brown, quantity like large, position, age, etc.). Accidents cannot exist independently of the substance in which they inhere: I can place a penny in my pocket, but I cannot place the color “copper” on its own into my pocket. The SUB-STANCE is the “what” we UNDER-STAND. The “essence” of an object is the intelligible aspect—that which the mind grasps. The “nature” of an object is a kind of dynamic vision of substance, i.e., what the object “does”. Accidents “inhere” in substances, and the sum total of the accidents is not the object itself.

    Objects, on the other hand, are the referents of such locutions as names and definite descriptions.

    That’s not quite correct. A “name” is not just a pointer to a referent. A name (“what” the thing IS) is the meaning of the thing: it is an expression of the formal cause of that thing—it’s “whatness”. We grasp the meaning of the object when we understand what it IS.

    Also, your parsing of the PSR is not correct. Please refer to my two earlier links: (http://reasoningrepaired.blogspot.com/2006/08/first-principles-1.html) and (http://reasoningrepaired.blogspot.com/2006/08/first-principles-2.html). You’re not drawing proper distinctions in how the PSR is applied to logical constructs (propositions), the real objects themselves (ontological perspective), or the knowing of objects (epistemological perspective). Please also refer back to my earlier comments to you regarding the PSR.

    Finally, I’m still trying to understand why the PSR is a problem to you.

  58. Franklin:

    Upon reflection, I likely will not pursue this further: Tom’s blog is not really the venue for such details… even though they are important. I hope you understand. Thanks.

  59. Holo,

    There’s no hope, I suppose. (A little side note. I don’t spend as much time in philosophy as I once did, but I do hold a PhD in the subject. I’ve studied Aristotle extensively – in fact I began a disssertation on his metaphysics – and am familiar with the development of his views at the hands of Thomas. Your little primer in the metaphysics of substance was not necessary. I am not a student and you are not my teacher.)

    I fail to understand the little comment about idealism (was “wicked” th description? I’d understand “mistaken”, but “wicked”?). I’m no idealist; I’ve been a realist to the bone for the whole of my life, and nothing I said about the ontology of facts or the PSR suggests anything otherwise. But even so, idealism is quite beside the point. Once could be an idealist and believe in the existence of substance and in the truth of the PSR.

    The idea, again, was this: there are objects out there in the world (substances if you like), there are the properties they exemplify (whether accidental or essential makes no difference to the point I wish to make – I mean to speak of all properties no matter whether an object can lose them or not). But, I wished to say, there is a third sort of entity here – the object’s exemplification of a this or that property. This is what I called a fact (and the usage is not my creation – its common in the literature). It has the object as part, and the property too. But it is identical to neither. It is rather a complex sort of entity in which object is bound to property (whatever sort of metaphysical analysis we wish to give to the relation whereby object is bound to property). Now, some do reject the existence of entities such as these. But many accept them. (As I read Aristotle, he did. The best current defense of their existence comes from D.M. Armstrong and his work on universals.) And if one does accept them, the PSR applies to them too. But, it seems to me, if we are free in the incompatabilist sense, there are facts that cannot be explained. (Indeed I had thought that it was precisely the compatabilists who thought each act of will, whether free or not, was completely explicable.)

    You seem thoroughly Aristotelian in your metaphysics (though I suspect that you’ve picked it up through Thomas and other medievals). Here’s a little tidbit for you. Aristotle rejected the PSR too (indeed he seems to have thought it of little importance, given how sparse his discussion of it is). He asks us to consider a perfectly homogeneous human hair of uniform thickness. He says that if its ends were gripped and pulled apart, the hair would most certainly break at some point. But he says that there could be no explanation why it would break just where it does (recall – it is uniform in composition and thickness). Thus he concludes that there could be things that happen for which there is no explanation.

    Good day, and I’m out on this thread.

  60. ** After a delay I return — migraines **

    Quoting Franklins Definitions of Atheism:

    Strong Atheism: the belief that there is no God.
    Skeptical Atheism: the belief that theism is unwarranted.
    Weak Atheism: lack of belief in God.

    Now, by my lights, it would be a bit better to call the second Agnosticism, but as a matter of fact “atheism” is used of it. Notice that it is perfectly compatible with the existence of God. What it denies is knowledge of God’s existence.

    @de
    Rolling with the definitions of atheism given by Franklin I would take it you fall into the Agnostic/Skeptical Atheists system of thought. My question is, and I apologize if you’ve answered this in some other thread, what does it take to make a belief rationally warranted, in your view? What does it take to make belief in God rationally warranted, how about belief in minds, or belief in objective moral standards? This is just a genuine curiosity.


  61. Rolling with the definitions of atheism given by Franklin I would take it you fall into the Agnostic/Skeptical Atheists system of thought.

    Yes, that accurately describes me. Of course, I’m also a weak atheist (I lack belief in God as well as thinking that belief unwarranted).

    However, I’m really not that far from strong atheism either. I’m not 100% convinced no god of any sort exists—but I find it implausible to a high degree.

    Whether you’d label that strong atheism or not depends on your particular definition. Personally, I’m not in the least interested in or concerned about semantic orthodoxy concerning the terms for nonbelievers.

  62. Franklin:

    “Wicked” was used for emphasis only–there was no moral implication.

    Yes, regarding your background–that’s why I did not want to be pedantic about this whole thing, i.e., I did not want to lecture you.

    I disagree with you regarding Aristotle for a number of reason, not least of which are the following: surviving texts vs. your adjective “sparse”; the period of time (Zeitgeist if you will): Aristotle and the Ancient Greeks in general was were opposed to scientific verification as we understand it today: experimentation was seen as a kind of “beneath contempt” vision of manual labor–passive observation was the name of the game, and that’s why his natural philosophy is so good; regarding the strand of hair example, (a) I think you’re misinterpreting Aristotle’s point: while there was no science as we understand it at the time (so Aristotle didn’t look for molecular-level stresses)… but he would never claim there was “no explanation” in the ontological sense: the break occurred (it exists), therefore it must be explained. That Aristotle may not have developed the PSR (again: extant texts are all we have) is no argument against the PSR: philosophical principles, among other things, withstand the test of time… and this has been a long work in progress. The PSR holds quite well, thank you… and neither have you tried to turn your criticism back against itself in the context of the PSR, nor have you addressed why you find it to be a problem.

  63. Luke,

    I think your question is interesting in that it helps define that the difference between (most) Christians and (most) atheists is not based on the conclusion but on the process from which that conclusion is reached.

    I think that most Christians want to define atheists as strong atheists, because that’s how most Christians think of their own theism — a conviction that defines how they view everything else. My guess is that Christians have trouble grasping that most atheists have come to their conclusion inductively, because Christians themselves tend to view reality deductively based on God’s existence. In that sense, I think a strong atheist has more in common with a theist than he/she would with me, a skeptic who, among other things, finds the Christian God to be (far) less plausible than other explanations.

  64. I think your question is interesting in that it helps define that the difference between (most) Christians and (most) atheists is not based on the conclusion but on the process from which that conclusion is reached.

    I think that most Christians want to define atheists as strong atheists, because that’s how most Christians think of their own theism — a conviction that defines how they view everything else.

    Or maybe it’s the squeaky wheel that gets the grease or the loud person in the quiet theater is the one thing you remember about the play. So when you have people condemning you for being stupid, irrational, abusive — very loudly it’s probably more apt to stick in your mind (maybe stereotyping to some degree). As for Strong, vs Skeptical vs weak Atheist vs Theist etc, etc… I would say everyone’s “worldview” or culture definitely shapes how they view everything, it’s not unique to one group (sub-group) of people. I think that may have been the point of Tom’s post, his attempt to define what he views as the generalized predominate characteristics of Strong-Atheists. Now with everything that’s “culturally” defined not everything applies specifically to everyone of that group but it’s fairly representative of that group (whether we all agree with Tom’s observations in general we might say is up for debate).

    My guess is that Christians have trouble grasping that most atheists have come to their conclusion inductively, because Christians themselves tend to view reality deductively based on God’s existence. In that sense, I think a strong atheist has more in common with a theist than he/she would with me, a skeptic who, among other things, finds the Christian God to be (far) less plausible than other explanations.

    I don’t know about that, I think Christians (and I’m speaking of Western Christians cause in all honesty I don’t have much contact with other culturally distinct Christian groups) are savey enough to understand why their neighbor doesn’t believe in God. The answer I’ve heard the most is “because I haven’t seen any evidence to make me believe.” Not that they’ve really sloughed through all the philosophical material and said “All these arguments for God are bad because of these reasons (list of sound reasons),” it’s more along the order of what I think is termed “Divine Hiddenness.” Such that they’ve gone through life just fine (for the most part maybe) and they’ve never heard the booming voice from the sky talk to them so they don’t care and find no reason to care.

    What I not sure I agree with saying that one group starts inductively and another from purely deductive. Taking my previous example I would say that’s a fairly inductive conclusion — said atheist has spent 30 some years of their life without any contact from God nor any reason to think there’s a God thus there must not be a God. But what about the theist? Some will say they had contact with God while hiking through the mountains, it lead them to believe there’s something out there beyond themselves — beauty, creation, designer… etc (inductive). Or, the universe began to exist, something caused it that’s beyond the physical (inductive). Or, I take my belief in God to be properly basic because most people in the world have some “connection” with the divine thus there must be some sort of sensus divinitatis (inductive). After we both reach our inductive conclusions (theist and atheist) I think we both reason from our respective “base.”

    Cheers

  65. Franklin:

    Sorry… one more thing. I’m not doubting you’re a realist, but I do take issue with the following: One could be an idealist and believe in the existence of substance and in the truth of the PSR. Well, one may be able to believe in the extra-mental existence of substances and the PSR, but that person will never be able to actually know it. There is no way for an idealist to escape his own mind to know the actual objects of the real world. If ideas (or images or concepts) are the only things an Idealist knows, there is no way for him to confirm their correspondence to the outside world. In fact (and this cannot be stressed enough) ideas are not that which by which we know (except reflexively) but that which we know. Your “exemplification” reflects (to whatever degree you’re employing it) one of the failures of modern philosophy, and does start down the slipperly slope to Idealism. If we truly know the mind-external object, then what real point is there with exemplification? (I’m intentionally trying to downplay the technical language to bring out and emphasize the point.) Maybe you’re putting too much emphasis on the \exemplification\ formulation when good old-fashioned logic does a very good job… but I could be wrong.

  66. Holopupenko –

    What reason do you have for saying that the material cannot cause the immaterial? More specifically, the mind. It’s one thing if you define it as something totally abstract like the soul, but wouldn’t the soul exist outside of the confines of the material space? Why, then, do we see the material effect the immaterial in this specific case? Damage to the brain or various mental diseases effect personality, emotions, and decision making. This suggests a causal relationship: the mind is merely the projection of the material forces behind it. At the very least, we are closer than ever to peeling back the curtain and discovering these particular forces. But I suppose that’s a question for science, not philosophy.

  67. Of course the material can affect the immaterial, as well as vice versa. My moment-by-moment spiritual condition can be affected by material things as mundane as how long it has been since my last meal. The question is whether the material can be the sole efficient and sufficient cause for the immaterial; whether the immaterial can exist just as a product of the material alone.

  68. Do you think this isn’t a viable option? If so, what’s your reason for thinking that?

    This seems to me one of those issues on which no real progress has been made and about which we can only speculate. But property dualism is not an obviously false hypothesis nor one against which we have any evidence—so I find it difficult to see why the idea that the mental is entirely dependent on physical states can be ruled out; or even judged implausible.

    I’m loath to jump in on these sorts of debates concerning metaphysics other than to point out when it seems to me an idea is being illegitimately ruled out or in some other way a clear error is being made. In the end, we’re simply going to be left with a lot of logically possible options and no strong reasons to prefer one to the others.

    More and more I begin to think there may be some philosophical problems that are simply insoluble in principle—and continue to hope I’m wrong.

  69. What reason do you have for saying that the material cannot cause the immaterial? More specifically, the mind.

    Do you think the immaterial (God) can cause the material (universe)?

  70. That seems rather counterproductive. If what Christians define as evil can sometimes be at the sway of material causes beyond the choice of the individual, then how can God expect anything from us? I would further say that our minds simply aren’t very good truth-processing machines. It’s not a matter of evil obscures/truth is goodness. We are limited by perspective, material knowledge, and beliefs that are so engrained in us throughout a lifetime that they are almost impossible to shed. I think that Christians, even well-meaning ones, are just as prone to delusions or falsehoods.

    So which part of a person isn’t effected by material causes? Our entire consciousness is contingent on a working brain. If we don’t have that, then we don’t have intelligence, abstract thought, rationality, decision making, memories, or stable emotions. And what then if we totally prove that each of these have all possible physical causes accounted for? What role would the soul have? Would it be relegated to an abstract thing that exists so far outside of the material space that it’s only applicable in the supernatural sphere? What’s the point of believing it then? Personally, I’d be much more impressed if we were totally immaterial: souls inside of physical vessels. It would make it nearly impossible to believe in anything else but God and manifest his unmistakable power. Instead, it’s just one more reason to believe that we exist totally within a physical realm.

    P.S. We are closer than ever to actually explaining the brain, and this idea of a soul lacks just about any explanatory power these days except to describe what happens to the consciousness after death. However, it seems to me that consciousness is merely a state, one that can be altered, not an eternal and unchanging form. What are we really when we take that away? What does the soul actually explain?

  71. Do you think the immaterial (God) can cause the material (universe)?

    That depends on a lot of things. How do you define God and immaterial? Is there a way for the immaterial to be quantified somehow? It seems to me like a totally different question.

  72. … our minds simply aren’t very good truth-processing machines… We are limited by perspective, material knowledge, and beliefs that are so engrained in us throughout a lifetime that they are almost impossible to shed.

    Hmmm… then Jacob’s assertion itself (which arises from his “not very good truth-processing machine”) is also not true. Here we are again, being treated to the usual self-serving and self-refuting postmodernist nonsense. It seems that only what Jacob asserts is true: everything else is suspect… and he’s certainly finding it “impossible to shed.” Isn’t it chaos [a state of extreme confusion and disorder] that Satan loves?

  73. For the sake of charitable interpretation of the opposing view one should consider that Jacob may have meant that we aren’t NATURALLY good at truth processing—rather than calling his comment “self serving and self-refuting post-modernist nonsense” without even having followed up to be sure that’s what he meant. Its possible that he simply slightly overstated his view.

    That rationality, objectivity and critical thinking skills are something that must be worked at, quite hard, to develop, especially concerning issues that are drilled into one from an early age, rather than being natural to humans isn’t a very controversial idea.

  74. David:

    This blog’s history with Jacob is not a pretty one: I’ll let Tom provide the links to bear out Jacob’s postmodernist and deconstructionist nonsense. Permit me to exaggerate to make a point: your comments are ORDERS of magnitude above Jacob’s attepts to eliminate truth as such.

  75. Atheism entails that the universe is impersonal and amoral.
    I’m not sure what you mean by “impersonal.” If you mean that the universe (which I understand to mean, all that is) is not interested in or directed toward humans as individuals or as a species, then yes, I believe that the universe is impersonal. I also believe that the universe is morally neutral. Neither of those ways of thinking is upsetting to me in the least, because I believe that people create their own meaning and their own morality, sometimes as individual and sometimes as social groups.
    Atheism entails that there is no ultimate good (though some atheists like yourself will allow for contingent, local, or particular goods).
    I believe that the ultimate good is peace. I fail to see how believing that requires belief in God.
    Likewise and with the same kind of condition attached, atheism entails that there is no ultimate meaning, no ultimate morality, no ultimate beauty, no ultimate purpose for anything.
    I believe that the ultimate meaning is to find and/or create meaning in one’s life: in other words, our reason to be is to find reason to be. I believe that mutuality is the ultimate morality—no God needed to practice that. The ultimate beauty is a peaceful world—again, no God needed, just highly evolved humans. And the ultimate purpose is to work toward manifesting all these things in one’s life.
    Atheism entails that the end of physical life is the end of existence.
    Well, yes, but I don’t see a problem with that.
    Atheism entails that all human experience is neuronal/electrical/chemical; and though some atheists have proposed ways to rise above that (some kind of epiphenomenalism, for example), they have never been able to explain it.
    Probably true, and yet, isn’t that miraculous enough? Isn’t it awe-inspiring that we are so much, that neurons and electrical impulses and chemicals can create something as beautiful and complex as human life?
    Atheism entails the same specifically for human consciousness and rationality.
    Yes, and again, isn’t that awesome?
    Atheism entails that if any sense of meaning or purpose is to be found in human life, it is found in the contingent and accidental experience of humans—for even the existence of humans is contingent and accidental.
    I would say, if any sense of meaning or purpose is to be found in human life, it is to be found in the “contigent” and “accidental” relationships between people—for the very existence of humans is dependent on relationships, not only among people, but also in regard to every other living being on the planet, and at least some of the non-living things as well.
    Atheism entails that what I do today will not matter for very long, a few generations at most.
    Ah, here is where we disagree the most, perhaps. I believe that what I do today, in every relationship I have, not just with other people but with every part of the world I encounter, matters forever. The relationships I have with my children will in large part determine the relationships they have with their children, and so on through all the generations. The way I interact with people through my work and in other areas of my life matters; whether I treat people well or poorly, matters, even more so if I practice what I believe is moral excellence, mutuality.
    Atheism entails that every religion is wrong.
    Not Buddhism or Unitarian Universalism.
    Atheism entails that the universe will one day be empty.
    I don’t hold that belief. I don’t understand why you think that atheism entails this.
    Atheism entails that humans and animals and plants and bacteria and rats and pigs and dogs and boys (google the last four) are ontologically the same thing.
    Yes. What’s the problem with that? Why do humans have to be more special than we already are, simply by being the most highly evolved form of life?
    Atheism entails that if one chooses humanism as one’s form of atheism, that choice is made for entirely contingent reasons, probably related to one’s nation and culture of birth and upbringing, and that there is no better reason than that to choose humanism as one’s ideology, since atheism provides no reason to choose humans as having any particular value.
    Um, the same goes for religion: an individual’s religion depends in large part on his or her nation, culture of birth and upbringing. And, humans are more valuable to me than, say, zebras. After all, they’re my ingroup. I wonder how zebras feel, though—I suspect they would kill a person sooner than another zebra.

  76. I’ll just cite one of OS’s statements from the list he provides that exposes ignorance of terms he bandy’s about

    Atheism entails that humans and animals and plants and bacteria and rats and pigs and dogs and boys (google the last four) are ontologically the same thing.
    Yes. What’s the problem with that? Why do humans have to be more special than we already are, simply by being the most highly evolved form of life?

    “Special” is a term of valuation, “ontological” (which OS just doesn’t get) is a philosophical term. The mixing of apples and oranges really is amateurish. Apart from that does OS make a sound argument that counters Tom’s point? Of course not: it’s an emotional appeal (a fallacy) for a disordered vision of “equality.”

    I’l let others pick roast OS’s other chestnuts…

  77. Sorry… one more… this is like shooting fish in a barrel:

    …an individual’s religion depends in large part on his or her nation, culture of birth and upbringing…

    That’s utterly irrelevant: OS employs the genetic fallacy to focus on one’s origins that on the truth of what one holds.

  78. I have to thank you, Tom, for post this and giving me the opportunity to articulate my beliefs. It’s been awhile since I’ve done that, and it was centering to do it again. Also, I learned from this post more about what makes belief in Christianity so important to you and (some)(many, I suspect) other Christians. It seems that the idea of there being no transcendent authority, no transcendent authority figure who is actively intervening in your life, and/or no afterlife is abhorrent to you. There have been times when I have wished for these things, times when I have wished that I could believe that the pain in my life and the losses I’ve experienced have all been orchestrated by some omnipotent figure for my ultimate good. I can understand that. Also, in reading this and experiencing my own beliefs misunderstood and treated pejoratively, I had a better sense of how it is for you when your form or Christianity is devalued.

    I don’t see how we—Christians of your type and non-believers—will ever understand each others’ views to each others’ satisfaction. I have a question for you, however: Do you think that any of the beliefs I mentioned in my previous comment are in line with what Jesus taught?


  79. Tom: Atheism entails that the end of physical life is the end of existence.

    OS: Well, yes, but I don’t see a problem with that.

    No, OS, strictly speaking, that isn’t the case. Many varieties of Buddhism, for example, believe in rebirth but not God. And there’s nothing about nonbelief in God that precludes an afterlife. Most atheists are naturalists but atheism doesn’t entail naturalism. Atheism and the existence of the soul are not mutually exclusive concepts—even if most atheists find souls as implausible as deities.

    For that matter, even naturalism doesn’t entail, necessarily, the nonexistence of an afterlife. One of my favorite science fiction writers, Peter F. Hamilton, has a habit of taking ideas that are usually associated with supernaturalism and giving them a naturalistic basis —in THE REALITY DYSFUNCTION he did this for souls and possession.

  80. See the correction that Franklin Mason already gave above, and which I welcomed and agreed with. I was writing with “strong atheism” in mind, i.e. anti-supernaturalism, the conviction that there is no God. If there’s a form of naturalism that allows for the afterlife, allow me to suggest that it is rather distant from the philosophical mainstream. If a rigorous and believable argument for it that can be mounted, well, I’m all ears. I admit I have not read Hamilton.

  81. @ordinary seeker:

    It seems that the idea of there being no transcendent authority, no transcendent authority figure who is actively intervening in your life, and/or no afterlife is abhorrent to you.

    You left out most of my list. You’ve also done some definite psychologizing. My response: if this list constituted the whole of my reasoning for rejecting atheism, then you might be able to draw these conclusions appropriately. But this is not filed under “evidences,” is it? My purpose for writing it was not to explain why I’m not an atheist. My purpose was to show why I don’t accept that “atheism is not a belief.” (And of course—need I say it again?—I was careless in not specifying what kind of atheism I was thinking of.)

    Now, do I think those implications of atheism are abhorrent? Sure. I know better, and I know that life is better than that. If I thought they were the truth, then I would have to live with them, no matter how abhorrent.

    There is an existential argument for God: that the implications of (strong) atheism are unlivable in practice, and this provides a defeater for belief in atheism. I have not mounted that argument here (Medicine Man has, on his blog, in the past). If I were actually to mount that argument, which by the way I’m not doing now, then be assured I would give it at least a recognizable attempt.

  82. Holopupenko –

    I’ve responded to you many times in the past, giving you ample time to refute my refutations, and you haven’t bothered doing it once. Post #76 is unwarranted, seeing as how you have yet to show me anything. In fact, you barely responded to anything I said.

    My worldview makes a very simple assertion: truth is important for survival, but truth can be distorted by our imperfect minds. Our brain power allows for testable assertions. Assertions lead to predictions. Predictions lead to success. Success is ultimately desirable. On the other hand, our minds are just imperfect enough and tend to fill in gaps when they are unsatisfied (which is why people swear they remember things that never happened). Delusion often exists to stratify systems of belief, allowing things to be accepted without question (one can see the benefit of a snap judgment from an evolutionary perspective). But certainty is often the enemy of the greater rationality regardless of whether that certainty exists in religion or not. Fortunately, our ability to carve out greater systems of truth is very useful.

    Unbelief as a source of delusion, however, isn’t a very good explanation. Obviously knowledge itself is necessary for an informed decision. Therefore, knowledge would keep us from sin, as morality means that we understand a situation and the way in which it effects each recipient. But I would argue that God-fearing men have committed sins because they lacked knowledge or thought that they had knowledge. Of course, it’s easy to say that anybody who disagrees is not Godly, but I say that there are wildly divergent opinions because no one has an idea about what God really wants. Does he want war? You can justify that. Bush did. So did many fundies.

    If truth and morality are supposed to be intuitive, then I wouldn’t know who to believe: the young earth creationists who are certain that nothing can contradict the literal words of the Bible (or even the old earth creationists, who diverge from them) or the majority of the educated Christian biologists who believe in evolution. both of whom can be loving, humble, honest, God-fearing believers. Now both can’t be true: they can’t be Godly and yet delusional. But I see problems with both: either the truth requires greater knowledge, and all those without the knowledge or those who refuse the knowledge are delusional, or greater knowledge tends to beget delusion. Either truth is not intuitive, or greater knowledge is not needed. I don’t think that one can be a part of God and yet believe lies.

    I say that God needs to make himself clear. In particular, it would make sense if our minds were designed to intuitively grasp the truth when we’re willing to embrace it. But then again maybe we’re not guaranteed to know any supernatural truth, and maybe our minds are just imperfect enough to be prone to delusions regardless of religion. Maybe religion is a component of knowledge and culture, and Native Americans couldn’t believe in the Judeo-Christian God because they didn’t have a single conception of him. Maybe their religions were filled with assumptions – assumptions that were horribly wrong. I try to make room for the notion that I could be wrong. Religion, however, doesn’t tend to allow that, so I see a natural conflict. Since I have to chose, I chose the former, as I find that Christianity offers no greater benefit in discovering truth or exemplifying the better portions of my “soul”. Instead, I see people who are just as prone to failure on every level. So I say that delusion often exists merely because of a failure of our natural minds. If a God wants us to discover him, then such a thing is antithetical to his purpose and ultimately defeats the entire concept of Judeo-Christian truth.


  83. If there’s a form of naturalism that allows for the afterlife, allow me to suggest that it is rather distant from the philosophical mainstream.

    No argument there. But to say X entails Y, as I understand the meaning of “entails”, makes the very strong claim that Y follows from X as a matter of logical necessity. Not simply that Y is more probable on X than on A, B or Z.

  84. A very basic mistake made here:

    Um, the same goes for religion: an individual’s religion depends in large part on his or her nation, culture of birth and upbringing. And, humans are more valuable to me than, say, zebras. After all, they’re my ingroup. I wonder how zebras feel, though—I suspect they would kill a person sooner than another zebra.

    Atheism (strong atheism), if true, entails evolution as far as anyone knows, since no credible alternative has been put forth. Evolution entails gradualism between species, and it provides no basis for belief in any ontological difference between species. You had just got done saying that yourself.

    So “humanism” is considered by many (rightly so, under strong atheism) to be “speciesism,” and no more intellectually justifiable than racism. I think this is a good philosophical conclusion to draw from strong atheism. Your choosing humans as your ingroup has no more moral basis than choosing white males as your ingroup (if you’re a white male).

    Now, as a matter of philosophical entailment, religion does not entail that there is no reason to choose religious values on the basis of religion. Even though it’s true that one’s choice of religion is strongly influenced by one’s upbringing, that has nothing to do with the question at hand, which is whether it is true that some religion, if true, provides a basis for choosing values.

    Back to some of your prior notes:

    I believe that the ultimate good is peace. I fail to see how believing that requires belief in God.

    Well, it doesn’t. You can believe anything without believing in God. I’m not talking about what any particular atheist believes, I’m talking about what atheism (strong atheism) entails. And I believe that your choice of “peace” as the ultimate good, since it comes from you alone, is not ultimate, since you are not ultimate. Even if everyone in the world agreeed with you it would still not be ultimate, since none of us even in the aggregate are ultimate.

    The same goes for your next point.

    If you don’t have a problem with physical life being the end of existence, fine. I didn’t say you would. This was not about you, I repeat. This was about atheism.

    Your points about mental life (ain’t it awesome anyway?) miss the implications: these are very hard philosophical problems that won’t go away by saying “isn’t it grand?”

    If you disagree with me about the length of your effect on the earth, I acknowledge that is the least rigorous of my statements. Your effect may last as long as humanity. How long witll that be?

  85. Your effect may last as long as humanity. How long witll that be?

    Is anything short of forever equal, in the end, to nothing?


  86. So “humanism” is considered by many (rightly so, under strong atheism) to be “speciesism,” and no more intellectually justifiable than racism.

    To be clear, many humanists reject speciesism. I’m not one of them—I don’t consider speciesism like racism. If its true that speciesism is no more intellectually justifiable than racism then a person who rushes into a burning building to save a dog while leaving a human to die has done no wrong.

    I, and most people, christian and atheist alike, reject this idea. My reason for doing so, in brief, is that I consider species with a richer and more complex mentality more important than those with less complex minds.

    Regardless, ethical issues associated with animals involve thorny problems. I’ve written a couple of posts on my blog about such issues:

    http://dbellisblog.blogspot.com/2009/06/moral-status-of-animals-thought.html

    http://dbellisblog.blogspot.com/2009/06/animals-and-personhood.html

  87. Os, I think your question was,

    I have a question for you, however: Do you think that any of the beliefs I mentioned in my previous comment are in line with what Jesus taught?

    Some of what you have affirmed is consistent with things he might have affirmed, yes, except that it misses the core of his teaching entirely, which is the Kingdom of God; and apart from that, any surface agreement is, well, on the surface only. All that Jesus taught flowed from that, and from his own place as the Son and the Lord in that Kingdom.

    Why do you ask?

  88. Tom,
    I asked because I am looking for common ground, for paths toward understanding each other. I’m somewhat surprised that you seem to be saying that agreement in regard to the values or morality that Jesus taught is a surface issue. Let’s say that an atheist agreed with all that Jesus taught, save for the Kingdom of God–would that person’s morality be less moral in some way?

    In my earlier comment I was trying to say that whereas beings may be (and are, I think) equal ontologically, that doesn’t require us to value them equally. I may value my own group more than another group, regardless of whether I they are or I consider them to be ontologically equal.

    You wrote,

    “Now, as a matter of philosophical entailment, religion does not entail that there is no reason to choose religious values on the basis of religion. Even though it’s true that one’s choice of religion is strongly influenced by one’s upbringing, that has nothing to do with the question at hand, which is whether it is true that some religion, if true, provides a basis for choosing values.” I can’t make sense of this. Could you clarify?

  89. Regarding OS:

    I believe the ultimate good is peace.

    This betrays a lack of disciplined reflection similar to the error of thinking happiness is the ultimate good… or wealth, honor, fame, power, etc. One does not pursue peace or happiness as a goal: one achieves happiness (and peace of mind, etc.) as a by-product when one rests in a proximate or ultimate good (summum bonum). One is proximately happy and at peace when one sets out to and succeeds in painting a nice picture or learning quantum physics. One is ultimately happy and at peace only in the presence of the Ultimate (the source of all proximate goods and perfections and beauties and truths): the Way, the Truth, and the Life. God wants us to be happy, but we can only be happy in Him.

    Regarding Jacob: no need to refute him–he’s doing a great job himself: decrying truth and hoping in vain we’ll believe he’s doing so… well, truthfully.

  90. OS,

    As far as whether morality is less moral without the teaching of the Kingdom, I refer you first of all to my comment above, which I hope sheds light on this.

    If the question is just about behavior, then I would say that morality is morality, regardless of the water it springs from, and immorality is immorality. There is a morality that is inaccessible to those who choose (and continue in that choice) not to accept the Kingship of Christ: it is the morality that is inherent to regarding and relating with the God of the universe in a manner appropriate to his Godhood and Kingship.

    So there is some common ground there, to be sure, and I affirm it as far as it goes.

    WRT your second paragraph, you’re right, ontological equality doesn’t require you to value different beings equally. It also gives you no reason to do so. Your choice is arbitrary, as far as I can see; or if it is not arbitrary, its moral basis (on strong atheism) is no stronger than the moral basis undergirding racism. Which is to say, it’s very shaky.

    On that last paragraph, I’m sorry I was unclear. The question is about entailments. My position is that if (strong) atheism is true, humanism is an arbitrary choice, or else if not arbitrary, it is conditioned strictly by accidents of one’s upbringing, because (strong) atheism denies ontological specialness of humans. The humanistic belief does not flow from the metaphysical belief at all. More on that below.

    You wrote back (earlier, at 5:48 pm) that the same could be said of religion. My point is that if religion—Christianity, to be specific—is true, then to affirm specialness of humans is not arbitrary, or just conditioned by one’s upbringing. One may affirm it because one has discovered that it is true.

    More (briefly, of course) on the relation of humanism to atheism:

    Humanism is not entailed by atheism; that’s the obvious statement. I would go further and say that it is foreign to atheism. In saying that I don’t mean it’s necessarily contradictory, but that it comes out of some other country of origin than atheism: that to choose humanism is to choose something that fits with a view of humanity that seems strange, a poor fit, having a lack of correspondence with atheism. If one is a humanist it is not because one is an atheist, for (strong) atheism provides no ontological basis for affirming that humans have special worth.

    The strongest connection I see between humanism and atheism is a more-or-less sociological one. There are many people who affirm special value of humans. I am one of those. I affirm it on the basis of my religious beliefs (humans created in God’s image). David Ellis is another one, and he does not, cannot affirm it on the basis of his atheism, for (strong) atheism denies ontological specialness of humans. But he affirms that human specialness anyway, and he is an atheist anyway, and those who hold those two positions simultaneously typically call themselves humanists.

    Humanism is a belief. Atheism (strong) entails beliefs, noted here on this page. Humanists and atheists overlap in a sociological Venn diagram. Humanism and atheism do not, except in their common denial of confidence in the existence of God.

    (There is actually also a Christian humanism, going back at least to Erasmus, but that usage of the term has faded away, and humanism today is typically understood as that described by the 20th century humanist manifestos. That’s the humanism of which I speak here.)


  91. If one is a humanist it is not because one is an atheist, for (strong) atheism provides no ontological basis for affirming that humans have special worth.

    Similarly, if one is a christian it is not because one is a theist. Christianity is one of many options available to a theist which he selects for whatever reasons he find it to be the most convincing theistic worldview (in most cases, if we are to be honest, due to childhood conditioning more than any other factor).


    My position is that if (strong) atheism is true, humanism is an arbitrary choice, or else if not arbitrary, it is conditioned strictly by accidents of one’s upbringing….

    My upbringing was conservative christian. It is implausible in the extreme that I have come to be a humanist as a result of my upbringing.

    And, in fact, after I had stopped believing in Christianity I did not simply embrace humanism as the default atheistic philosophy of western society. I remained open to theism and supernaturalism for some time—exploring various varieties of mysticism from Neo-Platonism to Hinduism to Buddhism to Taoism. I also drew in my views on Stoicism and several other philosophies so numerous it would strain people’s attention span to list them all.

    It was far from a forgone conclusion that I’d end up a humanist. I came to humanism,to the degree that I claim that label—and I do so only as the nearest fit to my views that people would know anything about— because years of study and reflection resulted in my thinking it the most sensible philosophy available.

    As to the status of humans you partially misunderstand my views:


    There are many people who affirm special value of humans. I am one of those. I affirm it on the basis of my religious beliefs (humans created in God’s image). David Ellis is another one, and he does not, cannot affirm it on the basis of his atheism, for (strong) atheism denies ontological specialness of humans.

    I do NOT, in fact, view humans as having a “special” status. I just view intelligent life forms as having more intrinsic worth than less intelligent ones.

    That is, I’d save a human from a burning building over a chimpanzee. A chimpanzee over a dog. A dog over a gerbil. Etc.

    That doesn’t mean I think humans have a special status (indeed, there may be higher life forms than humanity out there in the universe). They’re simply the most intelligent species I’m aware of and, moreover, MY species and therefore have my strongest loyalties just as my family has stronger loyalties over human’s I have less strong bonds with (I’d save my sister from a burning building over a stranger). Other comparably intelligent species, if I knew of any that exist, would have, in my eyes, the same worth as humans (though, as I say above, humans would have my loyalty first, in general—that could vary—I might, theoretically, become such close friends with an alien that I’d save him from the hypothetical burning building over a human who was a stranger).

    So you misunderstand me when you assumed that I think of humans as having a special status because I think higher life forms have more worth and call myself humanist (I hate the species prejudice implied by the term, by the way—I’d call myself an extropian but few have heard of that philosophy or would know what I was talking about).

    Max More’s version of humanism (the aforementioned “extropianism”) is very close to my own values (more so than mainstream humanism, in fact):

    http://www.maxmore.com/extprn3.htm

    How much of the transhumanist goals More embrace are actually feasible only time with tell. I make no claim that the radical transformations most transhumanists (another term that accurately describes me) hope for are inevitable or even will turn out to be possible.

  92. Holo:

    You misunderstood me. I meant peace as in world peace, as in that state that would be reached were the needs of all beings met without conflict. Imagine: every person fed, sheltered, educated, and able to access health care, every nation working cooperatively to maintain that standard, and every living being treated humanely. What people would have to become in order to achieve that goal would ensure that we were, all of us, practicing moral excellence.

  93. I’m off to a visit to Crabtree Falls in Virginia today. I won’t be blogging until late today.

    When I get back to blogging, I plan to post a new entry on what I’ve learned through this process. There are some corrections I need to make in the list, based on what all of you have said here, and I will be glad to make them. That will be sometime tonight or tomorrow.

  94. I meant peace as in world peace, as in that state that would be reached were the needs of all beings met without conflict. Imagine: every person fed, sheltered, educated, and able to access health care, every nation working cooperatively to maintain that standard, and every living being treated humanely.

    See Matthew 16:26 and Mark 8:36. Your personal John Lennon vision of peace, without God, will result in what all previous utopian visions attempt and failed to achieve: a dystopia based on coercion in rivers of blood. (The irony is, these dystopian states were all atheistically animated.) The empirical evidence–even now–is indisputable… with elimination of persons through abortion as only one example. John Lennon offers you a coerced brain-dead “peace,” Christ offers you peace of heart by asking you to pick up your own cross. I’m not buying what you’re peddling.

  95. Holo,
    I don’t think your biblical references apply to what I’m saying; I think they refer to greed or the pursuit of power. I think Jesus/God (if either did/does exist) would be pretty darn pleased with the kind of peace I’m talking about, and that such a peace would strengthen and support peoples’ “souls.”

    You are simply wrong when you say that the result of all previous utopian visions has been “a dystopia based on coercion in rivers of blood.” There are utopian communities active and thriving today, although of course, since I was responding to a comment about ultimate good, those communities do not manifest the totality of my vision of peace.

  96. It’s not surprising that Holopupenko lacks a response. I already deliniated the place that truth and reason have. They are very important as a means of manipulating the environment for survival, and so since it makes sense that the human mind can discern truth, I can posit arguments about the truth – not self-refuting at all. I even used this ability to correctly predict that Holopupenko wouldn’t offer me a substantative reply. Of course, my worldview is irrelevant here if Holopupenko can’t defend his own worldview. Christianity isn’t necessarily true unless it can be backed up. And since the overwhelming majority of my posts have been talking about the ambiguity of the soul and the difficulty of the human mind in a natural capacity to see past bias and limitations, Holopupenko still must answer on those grounds if he wants to be taken seriously.

    Anyway, there is a reason to be a humanist. It’s because we evolved with the idea of self worth and self preservation. Attempting to see beyond that is futile because we can’t escape from that perspective. Keep in mind that a term like “special” can only be qualified by a conscious being. It’s not like we’re special or non-special in the scheme of things. It’s more like we’re aspecial. Only another conscious being can make a judgment like specialness. If we think we’re special, then fine. In fact, it’s a part of us as social creatures to seek favor from other beings so that we can be better in tandem. Bonding and self-worth are very important pieces of social organization. Even some animals have that trait. It stands to reason that we’d grow so intelligence and grasp the world to such a degree that we’d start seeking favor on a more cosmic scale: from God himself. If there is a God, I don’t think that he’d care about us in that sense, but that’s a different discussion.

    David Ellis was saying that higher beings have more worth. I’d like to qualify that by saying that complexity in the brain naturally leads a being to an understanding of its own condition. It’s this quality that humans appreciate, and so we tend to “scale” beings based on it. Beings that have a greater capacity to reflect on values like happiness or pain also have more worth in our eyes. Even many intelligent animals have a similar capacity. It’s a reason why different species can bond in the first place. All species have their limitations, of course, but understanding that is a part of respecting other creatures. I also think that we’re very close to a time when we can begin improving ourselves and making up for nature’s failings. Of course, that’s a very dangerous thing, but in theory it would be nice to have a superbrain that can do the sort of thinking that isn’t even possible right now. If we can do it, then why couldn’t God do it?

  97. Keep in mind that a term like “special” can only be qualified by a conscious being. It’s not like we’re special or non-special in the scheme of things. It’s more like we’re aspecial. Only another conscious being can make a judgment like specialness.

    Which is the whole point. If only conscious beings can make a determination as to “special” and we are the only conscious beings known in the galaxy then that makes us unique if nothing else. It’s a short bridge that spans from unique to special.

  98. @ordinary seeker:

    Jesus is not looking for the kind of peace you are speaking of. See Luke 12:49-53. He is looking for peace based on the Kingdom (the rulership) of God, founded in truth, built on himself as the foundation.

    In Ephesians 2:11-14, where it speaks of reconciling historic animosity between Jews and Gentiles, it says, “He [Christ] himself is our peace.” (See also Ephesians 4:1-6.) He is called the Prince of Peace in the prophecy of his coming, Isaiah 9:2-7. He brings inner peace (Phillipians 4:6-7) and he is the way to peace with God (Romans 5:1).

    The Kingdom of God is among us, he said (Luke 17:20-21), and yet it is also coming in its complete fulfillment in the future. Following Bible students more knowledgeable than I, I take that to mean that there is a coming Kingdom of God that will fill all the earth; but for now, there are early tastes of it, early “breaking ins” of the Kingdom, for those who follow Jesus Christ. Thus followers of Christ have a foretaste of the coming peace in that we can experience peace with God and inner peace through relationship with Christ, and even interpersonal peace through Christ.

    International/interracial/intertribal peace can also “break in” early to our present age through Christ. Rwanda is a great example. I’ve seen it firsthand myself as I’ve spent months in countries that were historic enemies of the United Nations, and as I’ve met elsewhere with citizens of yet other historic enemy nations. There is an immediate sense of brotherhood and unity there, the product of a shared love and purpose, that you would have to experience to be able to grasp.

    That’s not to say that this early “breaking in” of the future Kingdom is perfect, for there are still divisions among Christians; nor is it to say that only Christians can experience interpersonal peace, for God gives “common grace” to all, so all have access to at least some of his good work in their hearts. I don’t want to turn this into an issue of “Christians do better than non-Christians” (that’s a current issue on another thread, and we can leave it there). I recognize one does not have to be a follower of Christ to be a pursuer of peace.

    Rather, the point I started with and would like to emphasize is that there is a kind of peace that Christ offers, and that he intends to bring about on earth in the end. It is not just cessation of hostility, and end to violence, the stopping of war. It is peace based on truth, based on his Kingship, based on relationship with Christ himself. Based on the passage I quoted at the beginning here, he is willing to place the practice of truth and the priority of his Kingdom above simple cessations of hostility. This is because he knows that true peace runs far deeper than that; and that it can only come from himself as the author of true peace.

    There can be no true peace, in the end, that is not built on Christ: the inner peace and peace with God he offers, and the interpersonal peace that flows from there.

  99. Tom, you wrote, “…he is willing to place the practice of truth and the priority of his Kingdom above simple cessations of hostility.” This is horrifying to me. This is not a God I want to believe in.

    As for that connection you feel with other Christians, I have felt the same whenever I meet others who are part of one of the groups I am part of.

  100. @ordinary seeker:

    The horror you feel would make sense if simple cessations of hostility were true peace, but they can only be peace on a surface level. Without the peace of God, without peace with God, there is no true peace. How can there be true peace in a condition of hostility toward one’s maker, the one who created us for love and for relationship, the one with whom we have broken relationship, the one who sacrificed his life in order to restore that relationship? He laid down his own life for the sake of true, total peace.

    And how can there be world peace without truth? Would you build peace on a lie? How long has anything ever lasted that was built on a lie?

    You have a good goal that you seek: world peace. But you have set your sights too low. Jesus Christ is building a far deeper, better, further-reaching peace.

  101. @ordinary seeker

    If you’re not opposed to reading a Christian perspective, I would recommend Just Peacemaking: Transforming Initiatives for Justice and Peace by Glen H. Stassen, which is his early work on a just-peace tradition (as opposed to just-war) and has influenced the emerging just-peacemaking tradition in the church as well as the established just-war and pacifist traditions.

  102. Luke,

    Thanks for your thoughtful response to my last comment.

    For the record, I think that the philosophical arguments for God, although usually very interesting and clever, are at best an argument for a deistic creator. In other words, I don’t think the philosophical arguments are likely to have much (any) persuasive power concerning the existence of a theistic God.

    Regarding your last paragraph I want to highlight the problems I have with some of your statements.

    Taking my previous example I would say that’s a fairly inductive conclusion — said atheist has spent 30 some years of their life without any contact from God nor any reason to think there’s a God thus there must not be a God.

    I see where you’re going here but I think that this statement betrays what I think is a fundamental distinction between induction, which really only ever reaches a probable conclusion, to deduction, which is more definitive. In other word, the inductive conclusion of a skeptic above would properly be that there isn’t probably reason to suppose that the Christian God exists (not that there must not be a God). I would only (ever) go that far.

    Some will say they had contact with God while hiking through the mountains, it lead them to believe there’s something out there beyond themselves — beauty, creation, designer… etc (inductive).

    Your example above isn’t really what I understand induction to be. How does one test, inductively, for beauty, creation, etc.? In other words, it seems like a conclusion based on deduction to me.

    Or, the universe began to exist, something caused it that’s beyond the physical (inductive). Or, I take my belief in God to be properly basic because most people in the world have some “connection” with the divine thus there must be some sort of sensus divinitatis (inductive).

    Again, these aren’t really testable (inductive) conclusions. The last one, for instance, doesn’t survive inductive scrutiny– the sensus divinitatis, ESP, future prediction, etc. have all failed to survive testing, and even taken as a deductive argument I think it would fall prey to the fallacy ad numerum.

  103. Tom,
    I can understand from your perspective how any good thing that happens in this life is not good enough without the inclusion of God. But, how is the peace I described based on a lie? It does not require atheism.

  104. Further, please look back at the original question. You said there was something horrible about a God who would place truth and the Kingdom of God as a higher priority than the cessation of conflict. My answer included,

    And how can there be world peace without truth? Would you build peace on a lie? How long has anything ever lasted that was built on a lie?

    This actually puts two issues on the table. One of them you responded to in your last comment: is the kind of peace you are speaking of based on a lie? I gave a short response to that already.

    But that leaves me wondering about the other issue. What would you say about this: “World peace (i.e., cessation of international, intertribal, inter-religious etc. violence) is to be strongly desired, regardless of whether it is founded on truth,” or (related to that) “To value truth above world peace is to have one’s values seriously upside down.”

  105. Pragmaticism or consequentialism without regard to the underlying truth supporting it is, what? Narcissism, perhaps?

  106. I think it would become relative based on the individual’s beliefs. What constitutes world peace (without God) to me might not the same for ordinary seeker. When God’s truth is added into world peace, in my opinion, it no longer is relative. There is one definition for peace.


  107. I think it would become relative based on the individual’s beliefs. What constitutes world peace (without God) to me might not the same for ordinary seeker.

    When defined in a way that has a clear and objective meaning like “world peace constitutes the complete absence of organized violence in the world and a low rate of individual violents (a “low rate” being here defined as less than one victim of violence per 100,000 per year)” the meaning isn’t relative. This situation either holds in our world or doesn’t.

    Of course, there are ways for such a situation be hold true that wouldn’t be particularly desirable: the extinction of the human species being one obvious example.

  108. David:

    Come on… really! Peace as the “absence of organized violence”?!? Do you want a whole book of regimes throughout history who defended their peaceful status quo with no organized violence? That’s the classical disordered operational defintion of peace that is utterly lacking in justice. Peace must be ordered TO SOMETHING TRUE–not to a privation or absence. What immediately comes to mind is the ante bellum south… but there are plenty of others. Now, of course, you’ll likely change your definition to include such terms as “potential” or “implied coercion” or whatever… but that just buttresses the point we’re all making… and then there’s the uncomfortable issue of the secular world’s current cowardly war (which includes you as a sideline combatant) against the most innocent and defenseless person of all: the unborn.

    “Peace, in the sense of absence of war, is of little value to someone who is dying of hunger or cold. Peace can only last where human rights are respected, where people are fed, and where individuals and nations are free.” (the 14th Dalai Lama)

    “Peace is the work of justice indirectly, in so far as justice removes the obstacles to peace; but it is the work of charity (love) directly, since charity, according to its very notion, causes peace.” (Thomas Aquinas)

    I also can’t believe you threw a number at us (an arbitrary “definition,” by the way)… so, if the rate is “low” it’s okay, right? Then we “really” have “peace,” right?

  109. david ellis:

    I would say that your definition of low rate of individual violence is also very relative. The same with the number you gave us. I think you just proved my point for me. When tied to Christ’s command of “love of God and love of neighbor” all numbers are relative because the only acceptable number is 0. When we love our neighbor as ourself, there is no need to commit any acts of violence. Anything less than that is just relative.


  110. Come on… really! Peace as the “absence of organized violence”?!?

    You conveniently left out half of my definition (which included a low level of violence in general). This sort of misrepresentation is why I no longer take your comments seriously.

    And you also responded as if I hadn’t made the remark about there being forms of peace which aren’t desirable. Regimes which have a stranglehold on the populace are a good example. Peace is one thing sensible people desire. Not the only thing—and we can all think of scenarios where we have peace in the sense of the absence of violent acts but in which the world is a nightmarish place none the less.

    I see little basis for argument. Sensible atheists and theists alike can agree that vastly reduced levels of violence would be, in and of itself, a good thing.

    Or am I wrong? Is anyone here actually disputing that?

  111. … can agree that vastly reduced levels of violence would be, in and of itself, a good thing.

    No, for at least several things are missing: (1) justice ordered to truth, (2) at best only a proximate good, (3) peace is not an end (“in and of itself” as you incorrectly term it): it’s an outcome that results from a good to which a situation (society, family, individual) are ordered. Hitler, at the beginning of his regime, brought peace and stability to Germany. Was it a “good” peace? So, yes, you are wrong.

    Also, not only are you incorrect to assert I left out half of your so-called low rate “definition” (the numbers comment at the end… did you “conveniently” miss that?), it wasn’t even a proper definition (genus and specific difference). It was, per your usual approach, an operational defintion: lower numbers “define” peace.

  112. Did you not notice that I just said that we can all imagine scenarios in which we have peace but the world was a nightmarish place none the less?

    Again, all else being the same, you wouldn’t want a reduction of violence?

  113. David:

    I think you’re being just a bit disingenuous.

    First, because you’re hiding behind general situations (a world in which unborn persons are killed is nightmarish, for example), so you need to be specific. But being specific would pin you down to introducing the concept of justice, wouldn’t it? And, this is the point where we would ultimately head back to your subjectivist moral stance (no, I don’t want to rehash that).

    Second, “all things being equal” is a bit of a dodge, isn’t it? All things are “not equal,” are they? If they were, proximate goods would be ultimate goods… but that would be an inhuman nightmare, wouldn’t it? (My proximate good could, only through coercion and force, trump your ultimate good.) Moreover, of course we can agree on an academic level that, given “all things being equal,” reducing violence would be good… but so what? What have you gained? In fact, you’ve opened the door to a nasty leveling of “all things being equal” (which will only happen through coercion and force) to achieve “less violence.” Life is not an academic, abstract game subject to the thin gruel of operational definitions and reduction to numbers.

    That’s why you atheists have such a hard time with faith—especially Christian faith: it’s not reducible because it’s about a relationship with Someone. God does not fit in your box, David.

  114. Again, all else being the same, you wouldn’t want a reduction of violence?

    Yes…how about we start by limiting ‘choices’ to protect violence done to innocent, unborn humans?

  115. Holo, your Dalai Lama and Aquinas quotes actually support my position. I wrote:

    “I meant peace as in world peace, as in that state that would be reached were the needs of all beings met without conflict. Imagine: every person fed, sheltered, educated, and able to access health care, every nation working cooperatively to maintain that standard, and every living being treated humanely. What people would have to become in order to achieve that goal would ensure that we were, all of us, practicing moral excellence.”

    I do not define peace as the cessation of conflict, but as a state that is made manifest through other acts, those acts that define the Golden Rule.

  116. OS:

    Fair enough… but my recent comments were directed to David, not you.

    I wonder whether you guys realize just how “thin” your justifications for peace are: you raise up “peace” as the goal (which, I repeat, is not a goal [just like happiness is not a goal] but an outcome of justice, charity, etc.), and then try to qualify what you meant by employing proximate goals/goods. That’s backwards.

    Moreover, when we try to unpack all that, we find inherent conflict: what peace is to you (say permitting the killing of innocent unborn persons) is warfare to Christians (stopping abortion). There’s no middle ground: either a person is killed or isn’t killed… so the only way for peace to be had is for one side to “win” by coercion and imposing its vision upon the other. But is that really “peace.” Of course not.

    We MUST seek a basis for peace external to ourselves, and that peace must be ordered to the truth of what reality is. But we never get to that in these discussions. In fact, if we take your moral relativist world view, there can be no objectively-based discussion. Why? It’s defeated from the get-go: justice is reduced to a morally relative concept. Who’s to say what is just?

    Even if an atheist agreed that morals, in order to really ultimately mean anything, must be grounded in something external to ourselves, upon what will that atheist ground it? On group concensus? No, not only is that not external but it’s relativist. On the motion of the stars? No: you can’t go from an material is to an moral ought. The modern empirical sciences? No, because the MESs do not even consider teleological questions, without which moral questions become empty… and you’re still left with the sticky problem of crossing the “is to ought” divide.

    Consider mathematics: there is no conflict (there is “peace”) when certain rules are adhered to: the “answer” to a problem is the same for everyone. But those rules are based upon a reality external to us: an object in one hand and an object in another hand means you have two objects… that it doesn’t matter which number base you’re working in.

    But what about moral goods or virtues such as justice, charity, bravery, etc.? Does it follow that because these do not obtain mathematical certitude that moral reality is therefore “less” certain or utterly “relative”? No, that doesn’t follow at all. In fact, moral goods, evils, virtues, and vices are not “like” numbers: they must be dealt with on their own ontological and epistemlogical terms. And therein lies the rub…

    … You must ground moral categories, imperatives, obligations, etc. in something objective and external to ourselves. Christians “have” that grounding: ultimately it is God in Revelation, but some objective goods and principles can be known through reason–hence the Natural Law. What do atheists have? Well, I posed some of those questions just above: ultimately they have nothing. But if there is no ultimate objective grounding, then surely moral relativism is correct. But if that’s the case, then you cannot deny might will triumph over right… because there is no “right”… there’s not even the Golden Rule. I, frankly, fail to understand how you can propose the Golden Rule if your moral worldview is relativist: what Golden Rule? At best, is a relative principle more akin to a suggestion than a rule? What is the basis for the rule… emotional appeal? Because it works? Okay, why does it work? Is its efficacy dependent on us? No.

  117. Holo, you wrote, “…you raise up ‘peace’ as the goal (which, I repeat, is not a goal [just like happiness is not a goal] but an outcome of justice, charity, etc.), and then try to qualify what you meant by employing proximate goals/goods.”

    I did not do this. I specifically stated that peace would be created through meeting the needs of all people. I think we are actually in agreement that peace is an outcome of “justice, charity, etc,” and I have not changed or “qualified” what I mean since I defined it for you originally.

    I believe that if everyone’s needs were met in the way that I imagine in my vision of peace as the ultimate good, then there would be significantly fewer abortions and those that occurred would be for medical reasons.

    Can we not agree that meeting everyone’s needs is just?

    You write, “… You must ground moral categories, imperatives, obligations, etc. in something objective and external to ourselves.” You have not convinced me of this.

    Isn’t the Golden Rule completely relative: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Sounds relative to me.

  118. OS:

    I understand your points, and while I don’t agree with them, I’m begging out of the discussion. There’s still a lot to unpack (most centering about our natures as human beings–as persons); I’ve been involved in these kinds of discussions (not to mention formal training) far more than I care to admit. I’m not being evasive, just a bit mind-tired. Peace. (No pun intended.)

  119. Isn’t the Golden Rule completely relative: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Sounds relative to me.

    Jeepers, OS, how about actually reading the passage in Matthew 7 and figuring out the context. There’s nothing relative about it, unless you mean relative to God’s objective standard.

  120. SteveK and Craig,
    You’ll have to be more explicit. I read the passage but I don’t understand why you referred to it as indication that the rule is not relative.

  121. The application of the rule may be relative in this sense: what I would want someone to do for me, and what the rule therefore says I should do for others, may depend on what I prefer. It doesn’t take much imagination, though, for me to enlarge my understanding of the rule. If my wife said to me, “Tom, feel free to spend the next hour reading and writing,” I would take it as a gift to enjoy. If I were to therefore conclude that I should tell her to spend the next hour reading and writing, that would be just stupid. She enjoys reading, but she doesn’t write just for the pleasure of it the way I do. The larger understanding would be, “Give your spouse time to do what he or she enjoys.” So there we see something that is a lot less relative.

    And this part of it is not relative at all: there is an absolute instruction or command that we are to seek out what best fulfills the meaning of “do to others what you would have them do to you.” The application may be a relative thing in many ways; to seek the appropriate application is an absolute command.

  122. Tom wrote, “The application may be a relative thing in many ways; to seek the appropriate application is an absolute command.” Okay, so, the command to seek the “appropriate application” is absolute (in your view), but that still leaves the rule itself relative.

  123. os,

    You seem to wish to explain your idea of peace in terms of satisfaction of needs. But note that this seems to depend upon a prior moral scheme that would determine just which needs should be fulfilled.

    I have two sorts of case in mind. Case 1: People find themselves with needs that ought not be fulfilled. Indeed, I would think that they don’t even have a prima facie claim to be fulfilled. Think here for example of the needs of a pedophile (which seem often to be of quite extraordinary strength). But how do we know that some needs have no legitimate claim to be fulfilled? Reliance upon a prior moral scheme, I would say.

    Case 2: Needs often conflict. I have a need for water to irrigate my crops. You have a need for that same water to mine gold. There is not nearly enough for both; if enough water is given for one so that it might succeed, the other will fail. In cases such as these, we must have a way to adjudicate between needs, and this it seems would imply the need for some sort of moral scheme to sorts needs in order of value.

    The upshot of this is that we cannot define the final or ultimate good in terms of peace understood as need satisfaction. The ultimate good must include as well the idea that we must adhere to some moral scheme independent of because prior to the idea of need satisfaction.

  124. Franklin,
    You make good points, however I think agreement could be reached on what are basic human needs. Are you familiar with the UN Declaration of Human Rights? I suppose there is a “prior moral scheme” attached to those rights, but again I think it’s basic enough to be virtually universal.

    Basic needs (water for drinking) would have to be met before any other needs (water for mining.) I think agreement could be met on that, also.

  125. os,

    I’m not at all confident that agreement could be reached among all parties. Consider the disputes here in the US about, say, the right ways in which to provide health care. There may be agreement about the need for it, but there’s not much about how best to meet them given the cost and how this will impact upon the fulfillment of other needs. Given limited resources, there will always be dispute about which needs to meet and how best to meet them.

    And then of course there are those people who care nothing about the needs of others, those who prey upon others. Part of the Christian response to views such as your will be a kind of profound pessimism about our ability to put the world right on our own. I share this pessimism. There is much good in humanity, but much evil too; and if we’re on our own, though there may be the occasional bright spot, for the most part life will be (to borrow a phrase) nasty, brutish and short. Humanity left to its own devices is a train wreck.


  126. There is much good in humanity, but much evil too; and if we’re on our own, though there may be the occasional bright spot, for the most part life will be (to borrow a phrase) nasty, brutish and short. Humanity left to its own devices is a train wreck.

    Is it? Humanity is imperfect and struggles along. But it is not a foregone conclusion that humanity, in the long run, will be a train wreck if there’s no God—though the conviction that humanity is a train wreck could very well help to insure that this is exactly what the future will hold for humanity.

    Whether God exists or not it seems more sensible to do what we can to make our world a better place with no pessimistic assumption that its all going to go to hell in a handbasket—because, after all, it very well might not. Many human societies have managed to improve drastically in terms of both overall justice and well-being for its members as compared to societies in the past (and, unfortunately, many societies in the present—who’ve lagged far behind).

    What the future may hold: destruction or growing prosperity, peace and justice only time will tell.

    But to assume we can’t reasonably hope to build a better future is to aid in preventing it from occurring.

  127. You are a man of great faith against all empirical evidence, David:

    Humanity is imperfect and struggles along. But it is not a foregone conclusion that humanity, in the long run, will be a train wreck if there’s no God.

    Our record is not one of continual improvement. It’s not even one of discontinuous improvement. We’re not any less violent, any less crime-ridden, any more loving in our families and communities, than we were a few hundred years ago.

    But to lose hope for a better future is a aid in preventing it from occurring

    Similarly, to blind one’s eyes to the real situation of humanity is to prevent one from seeing the real solution. Hoping or wishing for better won’t do it. Neither, as far as we have any evidence to indicate it, is moral reform. It’s been tried, and we’re not getting much better, on the whole. There are pockets of improvement, like race relations in some countries, for example. But slavery is still alive and (in its deadly way) well, wars and terrorism continue, poverty is still a huge global problem, families still fall apart …

    To lose hope is not anyone’s counsel here. To hope in the wrong—to hope that we can improve without God— is also a serious mistake.

  128. Our record is not one of continual improvement. It’s not even one of discontinuous improvement. We’re not any less violent, any less crime-ridden, any more loving in our families and communities, than we were a few hundred years ago.

    I was thinking the same thing. We’ve improved on the technology front, meaning we now have cool gizmos that help us carry out our virtuous and/or evil traditions all the more efficiently. In the end though, there’s nothing new under the sun.

    David:
    To Tom’s point about hope in Man….I thought this summed it up well. History demonstrates that genuine moral progress ususally occurs when hope in Man is abandoned.


  129. Our record is not one of continual improvement. It’s not even one of discontinuous improvement. We’re not any less violent, any less crime-ridden, any more loving in our families and communities, than we were a few hundred years ago.

    In fact, the number of deaths due to violence has, according to an article I read some while ago on a related subject, gone down every decade for the past half century. We live longer and by more than a few other measures our lives are considerably better (at least in most of the stable, democratic nations) than they were in the past.

    Read about the conditions for the average factory worker of a century ago. Look at the treatment of racial minorities in the US today as compared to a hundred years ago. Look at the number of diseases that were a death sentence a century ago as compared to today. These are not minor improvements. I wish people who think things haven’t gotten better could travel into the past and live for a year in the same place they now live but a century or two ago—they’d find they have much to be thankful for living in this time that they’ve failed to appreciate.


    To lose hope is not anyone’s counsel here. To hope in the wrong—to hope that we can improve without God— is also a serious mistake.

    The existence of God is not a necessity for reasonable hope for the possibility of improvement in human societies. Merely some knowledge of history and a commitment to work for worthwhile goals.

  130. I wish people who think things haven’t gotten better could travel into the past and live for a year in the same place they now live but a century or two ago—they’d find they have much to be thankful for living in this time that they’ve failed to appreciate.

    You fail to distinguish between modern conveniences and the human condition, which by it’s very nature has limits. Your hope in Mankind is a hope with a limited result – or do you believe we can become like gods to save us from ourselves? Christian’s believe that our hope is rooted in the hope God gives us as creator of all reality.

    You seem to believe that an *actual* heaven-on-Earth scenario is possible given enough time – no violence, no tears, no immorality, etc. Does the evolutionary mechanism predict this, or are we detached from evolution and driving the mechanism to the outcome we seek?

  131. David,

    The “we” you speak of are the current residents of the U.S. But if we wish to speak of the condition of humanity, that “we” should include not just those here but all everywhere. I wonder what our judgment must be about the “progress” the world has made if we so widen our judgment.

    Moreover, if we wish to speak of the condition of humanity, we must speak of it not only now, but in the future as well; and I have precisely zero confidence that even here, even in the “enlightened” West, we won’t slip back into barbarism. Many Jews refused to leave Europe even after Hitler’s Germany had by its actions made its intentions clear. They believed that “it” could not happen here. They were wrong. Darkness descends where once there was light. Perhaps for us too the light has begun to fade. The Earth warms b/c of the pollution we spew. Can you be confident that this won’t so stress economies that the whole world will be thrown into chaos? Islamist extremists seeks to destroy the West. What if New York or LA were to disappear in a mushroom clould? What would be our response? What would be the response to the response?

    Even where there is progress, it is fragile. It might be lost. Who can judge the probabilities here? Where in the mundane can you place any trust?

  132. Our record is not one of continual improvement. It’s not even one of discontinuous improvement. We’re not any less violent, any less crime-ridden, any more loving in our families and communities, than we were a few hundred years ago.

    I guess this depends on your values. I see equal marriage rights for homosexuals as moral progress, whereas others do not. I see access to safe and legal abortions as progress, whereas others do not.

    Certainly we are making more progress in ensuring that all people have basic human rights in more developed countries than we are in less developed countries.

  133. I guess this depends on your values.

    Moral relativism destroys any ‘we’ve made real moral progress’ argument so you guys are going to have to take a stand here one way or the other.

  134. What does it matter if I suffer injustice? Would I not have deserved even more severe punishment from God if God had not treated me with mercy? Is not justice done to me even done to me a thousand times over even in injustice? Must it not be beneficial and conducive to humility for me to learn to bear such petty ills silently and patiently?

    Dietrich Bonhoeffer

    On what metaphysical basis does an atheist (or humanist) support his claim to morality and justice? I don’t doubt that you have an intuitive and sentimental sympathy for morality and justice, I think most, if not all people share that sentiment. My question is not “Do you have moral sentiments?” but “How do you know those moral sentiments are anything more than sentiment?”

    http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/sentiment

    Let us suppose that you are confronted by someone who does not share your moral sentiment and whose intent to act is contrary to your concept of justice. How would you convince this person that his/her chosen action is morally objectionable?

    It is not sufficient to say “I think…” or “I feel…” or “I believe…” X is reprehensible. Nor is it enought to say “Everybody thinks /feels /believes…” X is reprehensible. Unless there is some rational foundation, something more than sentiment, for your claim to moral discernment then he/she is perfectly justified to respond with “sez who?”

    Morality and justice are reduced to words that express preferences, no different than saying “I like ice cream” or “I prefer fresh strawberries”.

  135. Dave,
    We’ve been over this ground before.

    1. It’s okay that my moral sentiments are nothing “more than” moral sentiments, although I would call them moral convictions. I don’t believe that anyone’s moral convictions are “more than” their own moral convictions.

    2. I don’t necessarily need to convince another person that his actions are morally reprehensible. I may need to stop him from doing them, but I don’t need to convince him that he needs to stop doing them because they’re “wrong.”

    3. A believer may tell a non-believer (or a believer who believes differently than he does) that “God sez,” but the non-believer’s answer will be, “so what?” Reference to what one person considers a higher authority will not be convincing.

    4. Morality and justice ARE preferences: They are the preferences of a social group.


  136. You seem to believe that an *actual* heaven-on-Earth scenario is possible given enough time – no violence, no tears, no immorality, etc. Does the evolutionary mechanism predict this, or are we detached from evolution and driving the mechanism to the outcome we seek?

    I believe nothing of the sort. What I claimed is that its not a foregone conclusion that the future will be nightmarish if there’s no God.

    Not nightmarish does not equal perfection.

    What I think is that humans have managed to improve many of the societies now existing over what they were in the past and that its therefore not unreasonable to hope that we might make further improvements.

    What you’ve attacked is a mere caricature of my position.


    Can you be confident that this won’t so stress economies that the whole world will be thrown into chaos?

    I never claimed to be confident that the future would be better. I said its not a forgone conclusion that the future will not be better.

    It could very easily become worse. To which fact the intelligent response is not despair but determined effort in support of those things that are best in society and against what’s worst.


    Even where there is progress, it is fragile. It might be lost.

    Yes, it might be lost. In the real world things are not guaranteed to work out for the best.


    Moral relativism destroys any ‘we’ve made real moral progress’ argument so you guys are going to have to take a stand here one way or the other.

    I’m not a moral relativist—and have already explained by views on meta-ethics.


    On what metaphysical basis does an atheist (or humanist) support his claim to morality and justice?

    Again, a topic I’ve covered before.

  137. Keep in mind that there are two components to the question of moral relativity because one effects the other. The first question is what has already been said: how do you impose normative morality? And by the other question, of course, I mean: does morality necessitate a moral law giver? If there is no moral law giver, and the blind natural forces could build (and did not care about building) man into his current form, then we have no choice but to deal with a universe that does not care about our morality.

    And such a thing is built on more than sentiment because there is a rational foundation. Morality is kind of like having a philosophy. And in my mind there is a perfectly good reason to hold to a particular axiom because I believe that conflict is inherently unsustainable. Nature seizes upon conflict, using it to destroy the old and build up the new, and certainly it has helped along the human race at times, but I think that the evolution of man is at its last gasp, as we are beginning to circumvent nature itself. If we no longer have to engage in nature’s bloody fight for survival, then that removes a major roadblock in the struggle of mankind. SteveK mentioned the human condition, and it’s important with morality to understand the human condition, as it’s simply human nature that a more educated, well-to-do, affluent, and healthier population will be more at peace. Begin removing sources of conflict and humanity will generally stop engaging in most of the conflict within itself. Of course, no matter how many problems are removed, you will always have small, personal conflicts, but I also think that people who grow up or live in stable, educated neighborhoods are also more likely to be stable throughout a lifetime. This is predictable because human behavior is ultimately predictable. I see little reason why people continue to fight for silly, myopic ground. Even the bully can be beaten up. Those who try to exercise their power indiscriminately are merely sowing conflict, and their ideas rarely last.

    So yeah, I think we can use those tenets as grounds for a system of morality. I don’t know if humanity will ever reach a better state, and even now these ideas can’t be perfectly exercised. Conflict is a part of life. However, I think that it makes the idea of original sin irrelevant, and justice can hardly spring from some sort of objective source. I think that upholding justice is a human concept that is applied to a conflict that we think is rational. Is self-defense just? Is war just? These are often applied so subjectively that general guidelines become quite vague. We merely try to explain it by saying that a conflict must solve more conflict than it creates. These are all based on ideas anchored in our universe. Justice does not need an objective source, and a lack of objective source does not mean that they are reduced to mere preferences.

    On the other hand, what good is a law giver who doesn’t appear to enforce his laws? I could at least understand the God of the Bible in that he really let you know what he wanted. Unfortunately, I think that the writers of the Bible were just people trying to interpret what they saw around them through the lens of God, as people tend to do now. One can fault a naturalistic worldview because there may not be anything in an impersonal universe that truly stops someone from acting in a certain way, but I don’t see any God correcting the truly unreachable either, even if they are religious. In fact, many additional problems are created because people think they know the will of God.

    There was a discussion earlier about hostility within the context of Christianity. I do think that there are problems with the idea of a God who expects belief and this strange, mercurial world often working against belief. This is where the idea of justice is very vague. For example, those who live longer might be more likely to become inundated with Christianity and believe. Those who meet specific circumstances might be more likely to believe. One must have this incredible faith that God always works toward the greatest good, whatever that really is, but many people look at the world and are repulsed by that sort of thing because there is this conflict in the idea of a God working toward good and things just playing themselves out in an often unfair way. God can’t control everything, according to Christians, but if he doesn’t, then randomness ensues, and you don’t play dice with souls. So which one is it?

  138. Regarding Holopupenko specifically –

    What makes might? Isn’t might accomplished with a group? But then must not might itself conform to the golden rule? If people combine into groups in order to become strong, then they must live with the ideas of others. But they could perhaps be annihilated by stronger groups and stronger groups…or perhaps the group itself is weakened by its own conflict. These groups might then realize that their ideas are too uniform and exclusive. By being more inclusive, groups become more tolerant, and might grows. Thus tolerance has some correlation to survival. The golden rule almost has some sort of weird fixture within the naturalistic approach. I say again that contiguous conflict is not sustainable. Ultimately it must diffuse into some kind of tolerance if we want to remove ourselves from this constant struggle. Some sort of equalized “fairness” is the logical outcome.

    Now, of course, your example of abortion doesn’t quite work because one of those worldviews must be faulty (or perhaps both are). That’s why reality is important in dealing with morality. I would further argue that everybody, regardless of religion, foments beliefs based on their views of reality. It’s just that humans do share quite a bit of reality together, and so beliefs can intersect. Even many pro-lifers might see the argument of making an exception when the mother’s life is at risk. We take our views of the universe, the “human condition”, our own life experiences, and the inner workings of our minds and package them as a set of values that we hold to and use. The problem, then, is that these are very subjective and contingent on perspective and who they benefit. That’s why we ultimately make appeals and arguments. I might say that the Iraq War was wrong. According to a naturalist perspective, it’s totally relative, right? Well let’s examine this statement. Why does it seem bad? It destabilized the region, and the conflicts we hoped to put an end to actually intensified. It potentially hurts us in the long run, as we sow discontent in the Middle East. It was based on a faulty reality (bad intelligence). I use these reasons that anybody can understand and make a judgment call. Since most humans by their very nature strive toward some form of intellectual integrity (because it’s integral to their continual functioning and survival as they interact with reality), these are things that can form an appeal to others.

    This idea cuts to the very heart of what morality is. It’s a system of beliefs that speak to the very way in which we harm people and their values. There’s no objective basis, but they are very, very powerful suggestions. Besides, this supposed objective basis can be a little wonky. If George Bush says that the Iraq War is a Godly war, and people believe that he’s Godly, and God doesn’t actually weigh in here, then traditional reasoning is completely short-circuited. This might work if there is actually a God telling people how to act. It’s not so great if people merely think that they’re obeying God’s will, for they can justify anything. After all, obey God is the number one rule. Killing is just if God wants to work it for good. I have seen even some good-hearted Christian fall prey to these black and white views. It can hurt more than help sometimes. Justice becomes another word for rationalization. I never want to see that again, and as a former Christian I never want to be that again. Paradoxically, a naturalist worldview has actually led me toward a more “tolerant” position. I know Christians will quibble over the idea of tolerance, so I’m trying to say that with no real objective basis, I try my best not to impose my views on someone else. I am less likely to wish for force to be used, and I’m more likely to stick to virtues, even if they are difficult.

    In a general sense people can see what kind of actions or virtues are beneficial, and we have certain tendencies in how we apply that, so a system of morality comes out of it naturally. Perhaps there isn’t always a middle ground in terms of beliefs, but there is middle ground in terms of rationality, and with it usually comes the possibility of capitulation given the proper weighing of the facts. I say that I am short-sighted, that I am prone to failure, and I think that everybody should recognize that in themselves. Everybody is so desperate to impose their own values on others, but I say that it usually hurts them and other people in the long run because they cannot quantify the effects of their actions. Even worse is a short-sighted person who is certain that he has omniscience on his side. Oftentimes certainty reflects urgency and not the actual certitude of the formulation process of beliefs, and it is this certainty that is often the enemy of decision-making. So I certainly don’t know what’s “just”. I do know, however, that I’d rather let people explore that by themselves, and I think that such a normative “suggestion” is definitely the most beneficial stance in a general sense.

  139. William Bradford –

    I was merely trying to make the distinction between the Christian thought – that the very essence of and reason for the universe considers us special – and the notion that we are special in a sort of relative sense – only to us and perhaps any other creatures that can and want to recognize it.

  140. Hello ordinaryseeker

    We’ve been over this ground before

    I’m painfully aware of that fact

    It’s OK that my moral sentiments are nothing “more than” setiments…

    Then they cannot be “normative” in the sense of judging, to return to the initial cause of this discussion, the moral culpability of God for enjoining the Hebrews to commit genocide. Warfare, piracy, robbery, murder, etc. are equally virtuous for those whose moral sentiments lead them in that direction.

    I don’t necessarily need to convince another person his actions are morally reprehensible. I may need to stop him from doing them…

    Without some rational, or at least rationalized, moral standard then we are constrained to fall back on force as the ultimate moral standard. I dislike (preference) that which you do and wish to stop you from doing it. Since my preference (sentiment) is ultimately irrational then I have no argument (reason) with which to change your preference (sentiment). Therefore, my only recourse, should I find your preference offensive, is force.

    With a rational moral standard, even a false standard, I can offer an argument for the utility of this common standard. Force is no longer the only recourse.

    A believer may tell a non-believer… Reference to what one person considers a higher authority will not be convincing.

    I suppose that depends upon what is being communicated and the receptiveness to reason of the parties involved. We will all, at times, refer to ‘higher’ authority, whether it is a transcendent authority or a temporal authority.

    Trancendent authority may be God or the gods, reason, sentiment, the stars, spirit, number, etc. Temporal authority may include some international body, a state, the law or constitution, the tribal leader, of the family patriarch or matriarch or your employer. The question is not whether we shall refer to authority, but to which authority should we refer?

    Mortimer Adler, architect of the Great Books and one of the great thinkers of the 20th C. said, “”Articles of faith are beyond proof. But they are not beyond disproof. We have a logical, consistent faith. In fact, I believe Christianity is the only logical, consistent faith in the world. But there are elements to it that can only be described as mystery.”

    http://hi.baidu.com/asting521/blog/item/757fa01c87f5ad8286d6b6cd.html

    Morality and justice ARE preferences…

    Are they? If so, you have no reason to ‘prefer’ one standard over another, nor to complain should someone else have the power to impose their standard upon you. Even the belief that you have a ‘right’ to your own standard is an objective moral claim, if it is nothing more than preference, then there is no injustice should you be prevented from actualizing your sentimental preference. “Peace and justice for all” is reduced to nothing more than an impassioned cluster of sentimental syllables stripped of semantic significance.

  141. Since my preference (sentiment) is ultimately irrational then I have no argument (reason) with which to change your preference (sentiment). Therefore, my only recourse, should I find your preference offensive, is force.

    An important point worth repeating. Given the premise, there can be no valid reasons behind any morality. But moral relativists ask for reasons anyway. In the case of God, the relativist asks God to give a valid reason to justify the moral law. Strange.

  142. “The terrible disorder of the cross (the killing of the Son of God) is addressed, not through an explosion of divine vengeance, but through a radiation of divine love. When Christ confronts those who contributed to his death, he speaks words, not of retribution, but of reconciliation and compassion.

    Mind you, the awful texture of the disorder is not for a moment overlooked — that is the integrity of the judgment — but the problem is resolved through nonviolence and forgiveness. What appeared rhetorically in the Sermon on the Mount (“Turn the other cheek,” “Love your enemies”) and more concretely on the cross (“Father, forgive them, they know not what they do”) now shines in all of its transfigured glory (“Shalom”).

    The gods who sanctioned scapegoating and the restoration of order through violence are now revealed to be phony gods, idols, projections of a sinful consciousness, and the true God comes fully into the light.

    It is in this way that Jesus “Takes away the sins of the world.” The old schemas of handling disorder through vengeance restored a tentative and very unreliable “peace,” which was really nothing but a pause between conflicts. Evil met with evil only intensifies, just as fire met with fire only increases the heat, and an “Eye for an eye,” as Gandhi noted, succeeds only in eventually making everyone blind.

    But what takes away violence is a courageous and compassionate nonviolence, just as water, the “opposite” of fire, puts out the flames. On the cross, the Son of God took on the hatred of all of us sinners, and in his forgiving love, he took that hatred away. By creating a way out of the net of our sinfulness, by doing what no mere philosopher, poet, politician, or social reformer could possibly do, Jesus saved us.

    Psychologists tell us that a true friend is someone who has seen us at our worst and still loves us. If you have encountered me only on my best days, when all is going well and I am in top form, and you like me, I have no guarantee that you are my friend, But when you have dealt with me when I am most obnoxious, most self-absorbed, most afraid and unpleasant, and you still love me, then I am sure that you are my friend.

    The old Gospel song says, “What a friend we have in Jesus!” This is not pious sentimentalism; it is the heart of the matter. What the first Christians saw in the dying and rising of Jesus is that we killed God, and God returned in forgiving love. We murdered the Lord of Life, and he answered us, not with hatred, but with compassion. He saw us at our very worst, and loved us anyway.

    Thus they saw confirmed in flesh and blood what Jesus had said the night before he died: “I do not call you servants any longer, but I have called you friends” (John 14:15). They realized, in the drama of the Paschal Mystery, that we have not only been shown a new way; we have been drawn into a new life, a life of friendship with God.”

    More of this essay at http://payingattentiontothesky.com/2009/06/24/jesus-as-judge-and-savior/

    I don’t think (in view of the above) that Christian morality or justice is a matter of “preferences.”

  143. Spencer –

    Veering a bit off topic, but Jerry McDonald’s argument is kind of underwhelming. He consistently quotes from modern day encyclopedias, as if they hold any value to the discussion, and he doesn’t lay the Josephus quote in context: merely that we should believe it. I’m not doubting Josephus, of course, nor the historicity of Jesus, but there are important questions: what does the quote say about Jesus? How much would Josephus truly know? He also doesn’t really attempt to defend the Biblical accounts themselves. Can they be trusted? Was it possible to spin myth out of Jesus’s life? Instead, he spends some time attacking the less likely argument: that Jesus wasn’t, in fact, dead. Of course, part of his rebuttal is to once again quote scripture without establishing its veracity.

    The counter-point is sort of a novel argument, but it would be much easier to go after the first one (whether Jesus rose from the dead) and not the second (whether there was a supernatural force behind it). I didn’t read the entire argument, but I think that it’s more improbable to accept that this supposedly defining moment in human history was something beyond what it was purported to be, especially since we get the claims of divinity or supernatural essence from the Biblical accounts themselves (if we are to believe them). So he would also have to explain that in addition to his other arguments, placing the burden further on his shoulders.

  144. Dave –

    It’s also important to define preference in this context. I would prefer not to eat cardboard, for instance, which may not be important in the cosmic sense, but such a thing comes loaded in the human mind – certain things could be seen as good or bad depending on their consequences. In this case I could starve. I know you were responding to ordinaryseeker, but I think most would concede that a moral foundation is endemic to a rational human mind, regardless of whether it’s objective or not. There are reasons for doing everything. You can even say that bad reasons might lead to bad judgment, which leads to bad decisions, which we may define as a moral decision. Yes, the way in which we balance reasons in our individual minds is often subjective, but anybody can recognize the privation of someone else’s values. As I have stated before, there are beneficial reasons for why “injustice”, if we are to abide by a typical definition, should not be done. Injustice invariably leads to conflict, which is destructive. And so it’s not that people have a right to a certain standard. We develop a system of rights that leads to the least possible amount of conflict (and also why modern Western morality is largely secular in nature) so that stability exists. Peace and justice, then, become ideals defined by human standards. I suppose there is nothing to stop the imposition of standards, but then it just becomes an infinite regress, and the imposer can always be imposed upon. There is a good reason why this myopic regress should be stopped. Some personal actions might be limited, but it would also allow many other actions without threat of imposition, and from an impersonal perspective this is a solid idea since ultimately we’re all responsible to each other anyway. If we ignore this, then conflict will inevitably tear everything apart. And since the world has gotten much smaller, there are many good reasons to expect such solidarity now. We are much closer and have to answer to each other.