Then God Must Be Very Much An Atheist

Then God Must Be Very Much An Atheist

Atheists love to tell Christians we’re just about as atheistic as they are. We’re atheistic about millions of gods; they’re atheistic about millions plus one more.

Okay, it’s silly, but I’ll address it one more time.

If God exists, then God is an atheist toward all gods but himself. Therefore God, if he exists, is very nearly (within mere millionths of a percent or less!) as atheistic as atheists are.

He’s actually atheistic about many more gods than any human, since he knows about more supposed “gods” than any human. Therefore by the percentages he is considerably more atheistic than any Christian has ever been.

That’s where their logic goes. The mind reels.

136 thoughts on “Then God Must Be Very Much An Atheist

  1. A friend on Facebook said that recently. He just seemed to be saying something we both already knew: that he doesn’t believe in any gods and I believe one God. So? We already knew that! Of course, it isn’t correct to call me an “atheist” in any sense of the word, but otherwise it just states the obvious.

  2. What would you suggest is the correct term for denying that a deity exists or at the very least lacking belief in said deity?

    I’ve always heard it called “atheism”. By that standard, Christians are atheists in regards to every other of the at least 2,000 other deities that have been recorded in human history.

    But as I said…. maybe you have a better term for “I don’t believe in deity X”.

  3. If you believe that a deity exists but not in deity X, then the term for you is “theist”.

    If you don’t believe a deity exists, irrespective of which one, then the term for you is “atheist”.

    Does this help Sault?

    That’s how I see it anyway.

  4. Sault,

    The argument is vacuous because it shows a complete failure to understand the arguments for theism and treats God as just another being among beings. The vast majority of the 2000 other deities are of the polytheistic or pagan variety, that offer nothing in the way of an explanation for existence, the orderliness and intelligibility of the universe or morality. In that respect they have more in common with atheism than theism. I agree adding a god entity into a naturalistic worldview contributes nothing in way of explanation but, as you should be well aware of by now, that’s not what we’re talking about.

  5. Good grief, Sault. Atheism is not the disbelief that some deity X exists, it’s the disbelief that any deity exists.

    Why does there have to be a term for “I don’t believe in deity X,” when “I am a Christian” tells you what I do believe in, and what I do not, both at the same time?

    Most of us, my friend, are not going around defining our ultimate beliefs strictly by what they are not. Some of us define our ultimate beliefs by what we believe.

  6. I’ve renamed my beliefs (generally) so to be more current with the devolution of the English language. I’m now an “aatheist”.

  7. Yes. This is a good way to put it. It’s a testament to the Jews who were a jealous people with their jealous God. Their was no Jehovah-Ammon but there was a Jupiter-Ammon. Jehovah did not mingle with the other gods. He did not trade his crown for a seat the table of Olympus. And for that reason, owing to the jealousy of the Jews, we have our western world as it is. So much rode of the Jews keeping him separate.

    It’s also a testament from the atheists that they have to specify they only go “one God further.” And it is as if with this one act, they wipe away the entire horizon. It shows how different God is to all the other gods. Jehovah did not believe in the other gods because they were shadows of the real thing, and a kind of foreshadowing of he who was to come. God does not fall under the classification of comparative religion for he does not differ in degree but in kind.

    It was once said that all the gods and all the men and all the world were just the dream of Brahmin. This statement is illustrative of the difference between God and gods; for there is no more comparison between them than a man and the men who walk about in his dreams. If someone imagines that the difference is that some people have one God and others have a few more, he would do much better to return to Brahmin cosmology as Brahmin stirs from his sleep about stars, gods, and men; and his eyelids open like the dawn upon the death of all.

  8. “Very nearly an atheist” works about as well as “very nearly pregnant”; it’s that tiny difference that makes all the difference in the world. Of course, if the Christian god did exist, then (being omniscient), he would know (not simply have faith) that he existed. Indeed, he would be the only being capable of knowing with certainty that he, and not some trickster demi-god, was the one talking to Moses (etc.).

    For me, of course, the inverse of your question is a bit more interesting. Atheists are told that without a god to serve, we have no purpose; that serving god is what gives our lives meaning. God, of course, does not have to serve god–by the same logic, does that make his existence meaningless?

    Fortunately, as an atheist, I think our lives have purpose without serving another. Good thing, too–livestock have the purpose of serving as our food; having a purpose in serving another is not all it’s cracked up to be.

  9. Atheists are told that without a god to serve, we have no purpose;…

    I think the correct version of this argument is that naturalism, by definition, entails that there exists no purpose to life. The fact that you are able to invent a purpose using your mind doesn’t change the fact that you dreamed it up.

    Fortunately, as an atheist, I think our lives have purpose without serving another.

    Since naturalism doesn’t provide you with any reason to think this is actually true, where do you get it from?

  10. Naturalism posits no *external* purpose to life. It by no means prohibits us from creating our own.

    Money, for instance, has no *intrinsic* value–its value is a human construct. That does not make it worthless.

    I value my family and friends, and the human construct of “community” has (mostly successfully) encouraged us to widen the circle of “us”, even to all humanity or all life. Cooperation, it turns out (and there is both anecdotal and experimental evidence to support this), is a successful strategy; it allows us to survive and thrive, even if it is a completely artificial “purpose”.

    Cooperation is so useful that many different strategies to encourage it have been selected for. Religion is one of them. Your belief in a god is perfectly consistent with cultural evolution by natural selection.

    As an analogy–seeing faces is important, so important that it is more useful to occasionally see faces in clouds (or grilled cheese sandwiches) than to miss a face that is actually there. So our brains have feature-detectors that are biased (because those organisms with hyperdetection out-reproduced those without). An illusion that has a positive effect is sometimes actually more useful than accurate perception. A false belief in “purpose”, if it helped us cooperate, would be selected for, even if illusory.

    It’s really not that hard.

  11. @Cuttlefish:

    Naturalism posits no *external* purpose to life. It by no means prohibits us from creating our own.

    There is a name for that: it is make-believe.

    The ensuing joke writes itself.

  12. G. Rodrigues,

    Not so funny if people are punished for not cooperating with a purpose that atheists freely admit is make believe.

  13. G. Rodrigues–I agree. Gods are make-believe. Religious “laws” are make-believe. The “value” of money is make-believe. All of fiction, all of acting on stage and screen, is make-believe. Is it without value? It is only because of social agreement that these things have “value”. But we *do* pretend they have value, and this pretense has been useful.

    If you want something to have value over and above what we give it, then nothing–not even religion–has value. Fortunately, that standard is not what applies in the real world.

  14. Let me put in a call here for more philosophy, and less ideological advocacy.

    If anyone is unfamiliar with the distinction, read more philosophy that isn’t written by an evangelical apologist. The distinction will eventually become clear.

  15. I have read more philosophy that hasn’t been written by an evangelical apologist.

    Now, I have a question before the group here. What is your answer, bryan?

  16. cuttlefish, your “false belief in purpose” argument is one of a suite of illusion conclusions that undermine humanness badly. Purpose within is an illusion, purpose without is an illusion, consciousness is an illusion, free will is an illusion…

    Why? Why would you take away all that we are? What is the purpose? (I use that word advisedly.)

  17. Further, cuttlefish, if “An illusion that has a positive effect is sometimes actually more useful than accurate perception,” then how do you distinguish useful illusions from accurate perceptions? Careful: for the same organism that is subject to “useful illusions” is the one to whom I am addressing this question.

  18. Fair enough; I don’t either. It was a quote from cuttlefish.

    Was your comment #16 in response to #15, or to something else? I’m unclear on that.

  19. Tom Gilson, I would take away nothing that is not an illusion. Why would you prefer an illusion?

    A teacher of mine, decades ago, spoke of a cherished heirloom, a silver spoon covered with tarnish. The process of examining the world is the process of removing the tarnish from that spoon. When we remove tarnish from a silver spoon, it gleams more brightly; if we remove all the tarnish and it turns out there was no spoon there at all, merely spoon-shaped carbon, have we lost a silver spoon?

    You are arguing in favor of tarnish. I would, yes, take away that tarnish. For what purpose? To make our lives better. And yes, I use the word “better”, knowing that there exists no external standard of good, and that “better” and “worse” are defined by agreement, and that the conditions that make something better or worse may change, such that yesterday’s better is tomorrow’s worse.

    Absolutes are for thought problems. The real world includes variability.

  20. Tom @#20–that is an excellent question. You might want to read or watch Jacob Bronowski’s chapter “Knowledge or Certainty?” (you can search for it on youtube, if you like). The question you ask presumes a degree of certainty that simply cannot be had–science recognizes this, and religion denies it.

    More pragmatically, though, to answer the question, I would not rely on any individual’s judgment (even my own), as we are notoriously subject to bias. A self-correcting community, though, with methods in place to correct for bias, is a better bet in the long run. This, of course, is science. There are *no* sure bets in the short run, although there are better and worse bets. We may examine the history of examination of a concept, and learn much more than any one player did.

  21. It was addressed to the general tenor I sense in the these discussions about atheism, not simply in the OP here, but also in the prior OP, as well as in the combox discussion under the most recent post (“Atheism and Atheism”).

    Let me concede at the outset that I think that advocacy has a legitimate role to play. I just draw a distinction between, on the one hand, advocacy, which tends to involve arguments aimed primarily at defending a position, influencing others, and scoring points against opponents, and, on the other hand, philosophy, which seems to be geared more towards truth-seeking, improving one’s own ideas, thinking hard in order to making up one’s own mind about difficult issues. Discussion with others, including others who disagree, may be important to either pursuit, but advocacy-driven discussions tend to have a different feel than philosophy-driven discussions. There aren’t black and white divisions here; any good intellectual discussion with others will tend to have elements of both. My point is that, from the little I have been observing here, we’d do well to intentionally try to shift more to the philosophy end of the spectrum, IMHO.

  22. BTW, Tom, I have shown you the courtesy of capitalizing your name; please do the same for me. It’s trivial, but I’m sure you don’t wish to be rude.

  23. Cuttlefish, I do not prefer an illusion. Rather I accept that humanness is real, and doubt that which would tend to deny it. (By “humanness” I mean to include all those capacities I mentioned previously.)

  24. “Absolutes are for thought problems. The real world includes variability.”

    Which real world? The one that really exists in the form in which it exists, and in which some things are quite true (absolutely).

  25. I would argue that a series of accidents – or purposeless events – cannot create something with purpose. Think of a series of accidents in the kitchen. You may end up with a cake, but you cannot say the cake was made on purpose, or with intent. For the mathematician’s out there, a sum of zero’s cannot create (or sum up to) something non-zero. Same thing.

    Thus, under naturalism, nothing can have a purpose.

    I would go on to argue the fact that we KNOW we’ve created things with purpose (machines, money, etc) means naturalism must be false. Purpose is the only thing than can create purpose, and naturalism does not fit that model.

  26. Tom @#28 No worries

    @#29 I suspect I see “humanness” very similarly, if not identically, to you. But those values are given by us, and do not and cannot exist independently of our agreement that they exist. (which leads to…)

    @#30 which real world? There is no “objective” real world (or rather, if there is, our vocabulary is wrong in approaching it), but rather an “intersubjective” real world. You see what you see; I see what I see; others see what they see. To the extent that we agree, we claim to understand one another (though sometimes we do not), and to the extent that we disagree, we call what each other claim “opinion” rather than “fact” or “real”.

    You talk about a world “in which some things are quite true (absolutely).” The odd thing is, so many religious claims make absolute truths of things which are disputed by other religious claims. A unitary god, or a trinity, or some polytheistic stance? Free will, or Calvanistic predeterminism? Literal or metaphorical transubstantiation? Some religions claim absolute truths that are opposed to other religions’ absolute truths.

    strangely enough, I have no problem admitting indeterminism and uncertainty. They are part of my “real world”. The question “Which ‘real world?'” implies (or perhaps not; you can clarify) that you are not comfortable with uncertainty and indeterminism. In which case, I would have to ask what magic allows you to transcend human sensory, perceptual, memory, and cognition abilities in order to have some absolute truth?

  27. SteveK–how are you defining purpose? By some definitions, I would agree with you completely; by others, I would call yours a silly argument.

    We have created things with purpose–of course we have! We have defined their purpose! Their purpose is not independent of our actions! Have we created some sort of “ultimate purpose” for them? The notion is pure fantasy.

    Again, naturalism does not prohibit us from creating our own purpose (for such things as you have listed), it simply does not fantasize purposes for which there is no evidence.

  28. Cuttlefish,

    Disagreement over issues does not preclude there being a right or wrong answer (a truth of the matter). We disagree over the question of God, but there is a fact of the matter whether God exists or not. The proposition God exists is either true or false in the real world. No one is suggesting that we perceive the world exactly as it is but we can discover truth about the real world. What you’ve written above suggests that there is no fact of the matter unless we all agree.

  29. Cuttlefish,

    SteveK–how are you defining purpose?

    A goal-oriented outcome. Intentionality.

    You disagree with me so you must think that a reality without intent can produce a reality with intent.

  30. @Cuttlefish:

    #14:

    All of fiction, all of acting on stage and screen, is make-believe. Is it without value? It is only because of social agreement that these things have “value”.

    Social agreement is itself a value and as such it is also part of the whole make-believe show you mount.

    If you want something to have value over and above what we give it, then nothing–not even religion–has value. Fortunately, that standard is not what applies in the real world.

    What is the criteria to separate the “real” from the “non-real”? If there is no criteria, it is also an all-too human value subject to the same limitations of other human valuative criteria and thus your sentence is self-refuting. If there is a criteria to separate the “real” from the “non-real”, then we do have an objective valuative criteria over and above what our minds valuate and your statement is false.

    #24:

    For what purpose? To make our lives better. And yes, I use the word “better”, knowing that there exists no external standard of good, and that “better” and “worse” are defined by agreement, and that the conditions that make something better or worse may change, such that yesterday’s better is tomorrow’s worse.

    Since by your own admission, there is no objective criteria to determine what is “better”, all we are left with are the prejudices of the various groups, trying to impose their likes and dislikes on each other. Since there is no objective criteria, there is no basis for rational debate, and the only way the issue can be settled is by force.

    #25:

    A self-correcting community, though, with methods in place to correct for bias, is a better bet in the long run. This, of course, is science.

    “self-correcting” presumes a standard of correctness to which we can compare our current values as better or worse. But you deny this, therefore there can be no self-correcting community. Science, meaning the modern empirical sciences, likewise cannot do the job, because its field of study is narrow and limited — in a nutshell, the metric, quantifiable properties of material bodies. Of course, on your worldview there cannot even be any Science, because science *presupposes* a real world against which our scientific theories can be tested, but as pointed out in response to #14, under your worldview there is no such criteria. It also presupposes a notion of Truth and the idea that Truth is better than falsehood. But just sticking to the latter, it is a valuative criterion and so according to you, it only has value because of a social shared agreement. In other words, Truth as correspondence to the real world, is a meaningless concept in your worldview.

    #32:

    There is no “objective” real world (or rather, if there is, our vocabulary is wrong in approaching it), but rather an “intersubjective” real world. You see what you see; I see what I see; others see what they see.

    If there is no objective real world, but only the particular sense, first-person experiences, then likewise there is no Truth as correspondence to the real world. There is also no objective meaning, because that presupposes the existence of extra-mental beings which are the referrents and the truth-makers for the propositions we make about them. If there is no objective truth and meaning, *all* your sentences are devoid of any real, objective meaning or Truth, including the one I quoted. We can consign all you have said to the trash bin as worthless and meaningless.

    In which case, I would have to ask what magic allows you to transcend human sensory, perceptual, memory, and cognition abilities in order to have some absolute truth?

    What magic “allows you to transcend human sensory, perceptual, memory, and cognition abilities” in order to make the *absolute* claim that there is no absolute, objective truth?

    This is probably going to be my last and only response to you, because you can hardly utter a single claim without contradicting yourself. Under your worldview, rational discussion is both futile and meaningless; in more prosaic terms, a waste of time.

  31. Just to echo one thing quickly: When G. Rodrigues says, “We can consign all you have said to the trash bin as worthless and meaningless,” that’s not an emotive or moral statement. He’s not saying Cuttlefish is worthless, or his opinions are awful and must be discarded for that reason, or that he’s upset at Cuttlefish. In this context it’s a purely cognitive assessment.

    That is, Cuttlefish ought to recognize that if it were true that there is no objective meaning, then his or her own statement to that effect could not have any meaning. It could not signify anything. It’s meaningless in the most literal sense, and therefore not worth paying attention to.

    But of course neither G. Rodrigues nor I think that objective meaning is lacking in the world. Cuttlefish’s opinion is only worthless if Cuttlefish’s opinion is correct. That’s contradictory, of course. But it is merely the converse of, If Cuttlefish’s statement is correct then Cuttlefish’s statement signifies nothing and is meaningless.

  32. G. Rodrigues (and Tom, for that matter)– an analogy. In time-space, all directions and velocities are relative to one another. I am sitting still relative to the table I am typing at; I am whizzing along at the speed of the earth’s rotation, relative to earth’s axis; I am hurtling through space in orbit around the sun, relative to the sun; our entire solar system orbits the center of the Milky Way, and our galaxy is in motion relative to others. Even “up” is relative; when I point up, I am pointing the opposite direction from an Australian. There are no absolutes in direction.

    This does not, however, mean that it is irrational, much less impossible, to give someone directions from Chicago to Cleveland. Social agreement is necessary, and sufficient, for guidance in this case. One does not need “objective” truth, but simply intersubjective agreement. Your claim that without “objective” truth, any agreement is meaningless, is quite simply wrong.

    BTW, your claim that science presupposes a real world is actually wrong as well. Science works on intersubjective agreement as well, and recognizes that our observations are always constrained by the methods by which we observe (again, see the Bronowsky piece for a beautiful example). If a single objective truth existed, it would be impossible for flawed human perception to know this in the first place, since we do not observe objectively. Again, science knows this, and religion denies it.

    In addition, there is the question of which religious view has the absolute truth? They can’t all be right when they disagree.

  33. @Tom Gilson:

    Just to echo one thing quickly: When G. Rodrigues says, “We can consign all you have said to the trash bin as worthless and meaningless,” that’s not an emotive or moral statement. He’s not saying Cuttlefish is worthless, or his opinions are awful and must be discarded for that reason, or that he’s upset at Cuttlefish. In this context it’s a purely cognitive assessment.

    Thanks for adding that clarification.

  34. Cuttlefish,

    If a single objective truth existed, it would be impossible for flawed human perception to know this in the first place, since we do not observe objectively.

    My friend, this itself is an assertion of an objective truth which you claim to know. Can you not see that your view is self-defeating and therefore unworthy of belief?

  35. Thanks for that, Alex.

    Cuttlefish, your relativity example fails badly. For one thing, this discussion is about the truth or falsehood of propositions. The physical world has no truth or falsehood to it; it just is. One cannot say that a galaxy’s relativistic gravitational effect is true or false unless someone says something about that effect. Then it is the statement (the proposition it expresses) that is true or false. It is never the galaxy or its effect that is true or false.

    Secondly, you could never have expressed the analogy the way you did without believing that what you were saying about relativity was objectively true. So your analogy defeats itself.

  36. Lets all describe our imaginry worlds and pick the one we like best … maybe we can vote on it.

  37. In addition, there is the question of which religious view has the absolute truth? They can’t all be right when they disagree.

    Thank you. We agree on that.

  38. In time-space, all directions and velocities are relative to one another

    What Cuttlefish fails to grasp is that the social agreement to call “this way”, up, and “that way”, down, is grounded in an objective reality where “this way” is in a particular, objective, spacial relationship to “that way”. The moment you agree to label one “this way” means the other MUST objectively be “that way” (if that is the convention you are using).

    The same can be said about morals, or desires or purpose. In order for anyone to even get off the ground with any of these concepts and formulate a social agreement, there must be something objective to work with, and agree upon.

    So in that sense there must be an objective trajectory of “this way” which we call morally good, and “that way” which we call morally evil.

  39. Bottom-Dweller (that’s what a cuttlefish is, right?) @38 apparently doesn’t know how to read, given what Tom just finished exposing about his self-contradiction @37.. and then later Alex @20 and Tom @41. He feels entitled to making absolutist pronouncements about the universe, but permits no one else the same (read: will to power), and then doesn’t get the logic @41. Amazing–simply amazing.

    Then there’s the nonsense @38 of tying of equivocating physics (which is doesn’t get) with non-objectivity (which he doesn’t get)… and his “science doesn’t presuppose a real world” is, well, stupid. Science is about “agreeing intersubjectively” about observations and measurement and correlation and…, etc. Sigh. So much for the peer-review process.

    Guess what, bottom-dweller, space-time is not a real “thing” in the sense of being a substance. Space-time is a mathematical construct (a being of reason–NOT a real being… ask Mr. Minkowski) that nicely describes physical phenomena. It’s the mathematical combination of the metric for position and the metric for change. You’re making the classic mistake of confusing the map with the territory.

    You’re not very good at this, are you? Which may explain why you’re at, ahem, the bottom.

  40. Actually, most professional scientists (especially those of us in the physical sciences) are critical realists. We affirm the existence of an objective, external reality that we can observe and study empirically, but that we experience and interpret this reality through the lens of our perceptions of it, and for the most part, our ability to perceive it is reliable and can give us ‘true information’ about it (a correspondence model of truth, I suppose).

    Cuttlefish, how do you address the fact that different experimental procedures can yield the same results when studying the same system? For example, consider the experimental observation of atomic or molecular electronic energy levels – one can design and carry out a number of different experiments that will produce data leading to the same conclusions (I’ll be colloquial in my descriptions)
    1. Photon Absorption spectroscopy (absorption of light by a cool gas)
    2. Photon Emission spectroscopy (emission of light by a hot gas)
    3. Atom+Electron inelastic collision experiments: one can observe the emitted photons and/or the scattered electrons (measuring the amount of energy lost) – in this type of experiment, the emitted photons are resolved and detected by a completely different instrument than what is used to energy-resolve the scattered electrons and detect them, yet both measurements will reveal the same pattern of atomic energy levels.

  41. Alex @#40– I am actually not making a claim about objective truth. I’m gonna guess that you have not, as I suggested, taken a look at Bronowsky’s “Knowledge or Certainty?”. If evidence comes up to show that what I am saying about human perception is incorrect, I would be happy to follow that evidence. As is, my claim is the stance of the scientific community that studies sensation, perception, memory, cognition, & belief. It is the best fit we currently have to the observed evidence.

    SteveK, you are very close to what I am saying. What you seem to miss, though, is that this “something objective to work with, and agree upon” is exactly what is missing with religion. The objective truths of one religion (whose members will agree, and pretend that these are indeed objective) are different from the objective truths of another (ditto). Is it objectively wrong to, say, eat pork? To work on the sabbath? (which day is the sabbath, for that matter? different religious groups disagree)

    Certainly, within one group, members may be convinced that their “objective truths” represent reality. Other groups must be objectively wrong. The trick is, it’s not “objective” at all; it’s purely the agreement of “us”, changing depending on the group.

    Holupupenko–cuttlefish vary by species, so some are bottom-dwellers and others are not. Again, though, you and your colleagues are attempting to apply the improper standards to my language. You seem to be using words as if they had Platonic definitions, ideal and unchanging. Try some Wittgenstein instead, and see that a word’s meaning is seen in how it is used–essentially, in the social agreement of what the word means.

    You (many of you) keep saying that my use of this word or that is impossible without an objective definition of that word, which is impossible without an objective standard, and turtles all the way down. It is an assumption that I do not share, and that is utterly unneeded.

    Victoria, I have no quibble with your claim or your demonstrations; the physical scientists I know would claim to be “pragmatists”, but of course their day-to-day actions are based on the pragmatic notion that a real world appears to exist. The “our ability to perceive it is reliable” deserves a caveat, though–we need to guard against our perceptual biases, which is what good experimental procedures do. You should be familiar with the notion of “pathological science”–if not, I’m sure it would be easy for you to find the examples of N-rays, or better yet, read Langmuir’s talk.

    We “determine that something is objectively true” by looking for agreement with other observers. This allows us to *infer* an objective truth, but what it clearly and trivially *is* is social agreement.

  42. The “have you read X?” game is easy to play but completely unproductive. I could throw book titles back at you but I won’t.. I’d really prefer it if you would stick with your argument instead. Thanks.

  43. Some of them are. I’m on my mobile now where it’s hard to manage that sort of thing. I’ll give some people time to think about what they’ve said, and then deal with it more directly later today.

    I’ve already said what I need to say to Fleegman. Some others need to do some thinking too.

  44. @Cuttlefish
    So, what was ‘ objectively true’ when all observers concurred on a geocentric cosmology, and what ‘objective truths’ changed when that model was abandoned for the one we have now?

  45. A perfect example, Victoria–in both cases, “objective truth” was an *inference*, but what was actually the case was intersubjective agreement.

    You can make the same case for different models of physics replacing one another. Do we know what is “objectively true” now? No–we simply have a model that fits the observed evidence better than previous ones did.

  46. Cuttlefish,

    You can make the same case for different models of physics replacing one another. Do we know what is “objectively true” now? No–we simply have a model that fits the observed evidence better than previous ones did.

    Then your claim is not that there is no objective truth. I would make the claim that the model fits the observed evidence better than previous ones because it more accurately represents reality. You have not shown why this is wrong.

  47. Cuttlefish,

    SteveK, you are very close to what I am saying. What you seem to miss, though, is that this “something objective to work with, and agree upon” is exactly what is missing with religion

    What evidence do you have that there is nothing objective to work?

  48. @Cuttlefish
    Sorry, not buying your unsupported assertions, which is all that they really are.

    Reason – as a Biblical Christian Theist, my worldview affirms that God created a real, objective universe that exists independently of human observers. Its properties and dynamics are established by Him.

  49. Melissa–I would back it off just a notch and claim that we do not have access to an objective truth if one exists. Nor, though, do we need it, in order for our theories to have utility. Einstein is the one, for instance, who noted that “no amount of experimentation can ever prove me right; a single experiment can prove me wrong”, and yet his theories have had incredible utility. The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle describes the limits of our ability to observe at a subatomic level; from that level to the level of cognitive biases in interpersonal perception, we are well aware of the limitations on our abilities to observe. We make no claims to understand all of the world, and so we cannot be absolutely certain that our current understanding is “objectively true”.

    That, of course, does not mean our understanding is useless (which has been my point all along). Newton’s (imperfect) laws of motion got us to the moon, after all. And it is also the case that any further refinement of our view of the world must explain everything that the current view does and then some, in order to be seen as “better”.

  50. @Cuttlefish

    Melissa–I would back it off just a notch and claim that we do not have access to an objective truth if one exists

    The Christian worldview says that objective truth does exist, being rooted and established by God Himself. It also holds that we can know, albeit imperfectly and finitely, these things.

    I guess this is where we disagree at the most fundamental level.

  51. I think the original saying is designed to make the Christian ask herself a couple of important questions:

    “Well, why do I reject the gods of Mormonism/Islam/Ancient Greece/FSM? And how could I justify that position to a Mormon/Muslim/Greek/Pastafarian/etc? Would those same arguments be effective against Christianity?”

    If they are, she has a problem.

    “Could the arguments I’m using to defend Christianity work equally as well to defend Mormonism/Islam/Greek gods/Pastafarianism?”

    If so, the Christian has a problem, or at the very least she should get some better arguments.

    It’s a call to defend your position about your beliefs with more than appeals to your holy book (you’re not going to accept quotes from the Koran or Book of Mormon at face value, right?) or spiritual experience (how much credence do you give to the “burning in the bosom” that a Mormon testifies to?).

    She certainly wouldn’t agree with me overall, but I think Melissa inadvertently gets the point I’m making (from comment 4):

    The argument is vacuous because it shows a complete failure to understand the arguments for theism and treats God as just another being among beings. The vast majority of the 2000 other deities are of the polytheistic or pagan variety, that offer nothing in the way of an explanation for existence, the orderliness and intelligibility of the universe or morality.

    Great. If you have convincing, objective arguments for the Christian God (that don’t pre-suppose the Bible, which would be circular) then lets hear them.

    I’m an atheist because I haven’t heard any that convince me. (And yes, I’ve heard the arguments regarding the Christian God being the only “explanation for existence, the orderliness and intelligibility of the universe or morality”, as Melissa put it. I’m not convinced by those arguments, although I won’t take up additional space refuting them here.)

  52. Ok, let’s take it as a given that objective truth does exist. To what extent do we have access to it? The exact same problem arises–two people, or two groups, make different claims as to what they see; assuming objective truth does exist, how do we determine which of those groups has grasped it?

  53. posted too soon–all I am doing is expanding on the “albeit imperfectly and finitely” part of your comment. That clause is the crux.

  54. Cuttlefish,

    Einstein is the one, for instance, who noted that “no amount of experimentation can ever prove me right; a single experiment can prove me wrong”,

    That quote is in relation to falsibility not whether objective truth exists. If, as you claim, we have no access to objective truth then we have no means to determine whether anything is right or wrong. I think most scientists would consider a scientific theory right in so far as it accurately represents reality.

    We make no claims to understand all of the world, and so we cannot be absolutely certain that our current understanding is “objectively true”.

    No one here was claiming we do. What has this got to do with whether there is objective truth?

  55. Melissa–we do have the ability to determine whether a given model is a better or worse fit to the observed evidence. A theory is not so much right or wrong, as it is better or worse at explaining the observed data.

    What has it got to do with whether there is objective truth? As I wrote to Victoria, if objective truth does exist (that is, if we take that as a given) but we cannot know if our current model is that objective truth, we are left with the exact same problem as if objective truth does not exist. Different people will make different claims, and each label them their God’s revelation. They disagree; if one of them is literally true, but our current understanding cannot know that, how are we to determine which is the true one?

    I am already positing that an objective truth exists for the purposes of this question, and I note that both you and Victoria admit that we do not have perfect access to this truth. So. How do we evaluate that which we cannot access?

  56. Cuttlefish

    posted too soon–all I am doing is expanding on the “albeit imperfectly and finitely” part of your comment. That clause is the crux.

    So this whole time you have appeared to be arguing that there is no objective truth you have really been trying to convey a point that we all know and accept?

  57. Cuttlefish,

    I am already positing that an objective truth exists for the purposes of this question, and I note that both you and Victoria admit that we do not have perfect access to this truth. So. How do we evaluate that which we cannot access?

    You said it yourself. We evaluate them according to which fits the observed evidence.

  58. Cuttlefish @48:

    You’re dealing with a physicist and a philosopher, so stop with the silly (and incorrect!) Platonic ascription. Wittgenstein? Do you really understand what he said, or are you merely hanging on to his positivist days?

    Finally, you keep decrying objective truth, but you appeal to it as you spout your nonsense. Like you can be taken seriously? Really? So anti-objectivity is subjective… so why should anyone give a fly? I know, I know… you’ll come back, “but… but… I’m right (objectively!) that objectivity sucks!”

    And the gerbil continues to go nowhere in its mind-numbing carousel…

  59. Thank you, Melissa. We do not need to have the objective standard in order to evaluate this. We take a look at what fits the observations. Better and worse, without need for knowing an absolute truth. Observing data is done intersubjectively–we cannot literally see through each other’s eyes–and we come to agreement.

    It’s quite simple. As you say, it’s a point that you all know and accept. And yet I have been told here that without an objective standard, I cannot know anything (say, comment #36, or #45).

    Of course we can make those determinations without access to “objective truth”. I am glad you agree.

  60. Holopupenko– One of my favorite undergrad teachers was a Wittgenstein scholar, and two of my classes were focused on his later works. In grad school, I also used his blue and brown books in seminars. But let’s say you understand better than I do–how would you demonstrate this truth, other than by getting others who claim to understand him to agree with you?

  61. Cuttlefish,

    It’s quite simple. As you say, it’s a point that you all know and accept. And yet I have been told here that without an objective standard, I cannot know anything (say, comment #36, or #45).

    No you haven’t and neither of those comments suggest that.

    Of course we can make those determinations without access to “objective truth”. I am glad you agree.

    I think your use of objective truth is confusing the conversation. How about we use objective reality, which will hopefully be less confusing. We can only make those determinations because our subjective experience is related to and gives us evidence to of objective reality.

  62. I think I’d profit from a distillation, by Cuttlefish, of the main points at issue here. I expect that a lot of the controversy is a matter of talking past one another. Most claims can probably be given plausible realist and anti-realist interpretations alike. So here’s a humble suggestion (from someone who doesn’t think he has a dog in this fight):

    Maybe it would help if Cuttlefish, who seems to know the territory here and who can best explain his own position, would identify where it is that his position (regarding objectivity and what not) is in necessary conflict with Christianity.

    This suggestion is motivated by two thoughts. First, I think it would be helpful for everyone to clarify what is at stake here. Second, I expect it is easier for Cuttlefish to understand what’s important to Christianity than for anyone else to understand what’s important to Cuttlefish. Probably more clarifications will still be needed (at least for novices like me), but maybe this would be a start.

  63. Melissa–Interesting that our subjective understandings of those comments disagree.

    I kept going back to objective truth because that was the original jumping-off place, and I did not want to drift too far from the original arguments.

    “Evidence of objective reality” is, of course, one way of putting it; I simply note that that *is* an inference, not a necessary truth. Intersubjective agreement is the same thing, without the inference. (it does not deny that the inference may be made, but does not require it either.)

  64. @Cuttlefish:

    But let’s say you understand better than I do–how would you demonstrate this truth, other than by getting others who claim to understand him to agree with you?

    This is so bizarre that I had to read it several times to see if I can understand it. Still am not sure if I do.

    Are you asserting that establishing the truth of some claim is the same as “getting others who claim to understand” to “agree with you”?

  65. Cuttlefish:

    YOU ascribed the “Platonic meaning” thing @48, and now you suggest not? Liar?

    And now to deal with the cowardly deflection: it was YOU who asserted there’s no objective truth, so the onus is on YOU to, heh, “objectively” convince us through well-reasoned, sound, and referenced arguments of the, heh, “truth” of your assertion. Do it now, or keep you yapper shut… and, by the way, as soon as you make the assertion you will NOT be permitted to appeal to that which you just asserted away.

    Finally, I don’t care if you actually read Wittgenstein. What matters is whether you understood him and the evolution of his thinking. Clearly not. Yet, heh, wouldn’t you (cue: tired old music box) again be appealing to objectivity to convince us you understand Wittgenstein? Hey, how are the turtles you’re stacking working for ya?

    Here’s a little joke Soviet citizens used to tell about themselves that fits you well:

    Q: What a communist? A: Someone who has read Marx, Engels, Lenin, etc.

    Q: What’s an anti-communist? A: Someone who has read Marx, Engels, Lenin, etc… and understood them.

    A little knowledge in the hands of a fool is dangerous indeed.

  66. [email protected] 75– What I have described (albeit in terms you are unaccustomed to) is exactly the processes we use in science–in peer review, in dissertation defenses, and even in academic testing. An answer is called wrong because the experts disagree. (note that I am not appealing to an absolute truth here–the experts could be wrong themselves, which we will only accept in hindsight, after evidence convinces us to a new consensus). Within my lifetime, I have seen this happening with quantum mechanics. By this point, I would have hoped that you’d have seen that my view does not hold the goal of “establishing the truth”.

    I’ll cut to the chase. As Victoria (in #47) and Melissa (in #66) have noted, we infer a real world because our separate, subjective observations converge, and allow us to (reasonably, but not necessarily in the logical sense) infer that an objective real world exists. We have (probably) all experienced illusions, so some may be less convinced than others, but it’s a fairly reasonable inference. (but see Einstein’s “Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.”)

    Science converges. Religion splits. There are thousands of religions; actually, there are thousands of denominations within Christianity alone, at least some of whom consider the others to be dead wrong.

    If there is a reality, and if we approach that reality by converging evidence from multiple perspectives, then between science and religion, one is doing a much better job of approaching reality.

    I’ll give you a hint: it’s not the one that pretends to know the mind of God. (sorry, nearly forgot to capitalize–your house, your rules.)

    I have been polite. I have not been reacted to politely. I know when I am not wanted. You may all feel free to claim victory now. I’m sure you’ll think it is the Truth.

  67. You are wanted, Cuttlefish, and the intent here is to get you to understand and to think.

    Science converges.

    Converges on what? The Truth(tm)? I thought you said that we could not know it? But to say it converges is to say you know that it is converging upon something. What?

  68. Given Tom’s absence, Christians might consider a little more self-monitoring. Some of the comments I’m reading are downright poisonous. The perpetrators are quite clearly not going to receive correction from either me or Cuttlefish. So here’s the option: discipline someone from your own faith community or turn a blind eye. If you choose the latter please don’t expect my eager support when a non-theist starts getting rude.

  69. Cuttlefish,

    I’ll cut to the chase. As Victoria (in #47) and Melissa (in #66) have noted, we infer a real world because our separate, subjective observations converge, and allow us to (reasonably, but not necessarily in the logical sense) infer that an objective real world exists

    I’ve noted we infer a real world but not because of converging experience. If the world is not real then neither are you and your converging experience.

    If there is a reality, and if we approach that reality by converging evidence from multiple perspectives, then between science and religion, one is doing a much better job of approaching reality.

    Science is concerned with a very limited portion of reality. To rely just on the findings of science would give us a very strange view of reality, in fact we can’t just rely on science because science itself relies on philosophy.

    You’re right that there is no consensus on worldviews but why separate out what you would term religion as opposed to the non-religious worldviews such as atheism, naturalism etc. Seems like special pleading to me.

  70. bryan,

    Given Tom’s absence, Christians might consider a little more self-monitoring.

    Question: Is this an attempt to achieve a social agreement for utilitarian purposes, or are we converging upon some Truth if we do this?

  71. @Cuttlefish:

    What I have described (albeit in terms you are unaccustomed to) is exactly the processes we use in science–in peer review, in dissertation defenses, and even in academic testing. An answer is called wrong because the experts disagree. (note that I am not appealing to an absolute truth here–the experts could be wrong themselves, which we will only accept in hindsight, after evidence convinces us to a new consensus). Within my lifetime, I have seen this happening with quantum mechanics. By this point, I would have hoped that you’d have seen that my view does not hold the goal of “establishing the truth”.

    First, I would appreciate if you refrained from commenting on what I am accustomed to or not as you do not know me from anywhere.

    Second, you are very, very wrong. No, an answer is not wrong if the experts disagree. You are a very confused man if you cannot distinguish the establishing of the truthfulness of a claim and the process of peer-review or of granting a Phd degree.

    Third, I do not know what you have seen “happening with quantum mechanics”, but given the rivers of foolishness that have been written about QM, I am not even going to ask.

    Fourth and lastly, with a bow I will retreat to my position as stated at the end of my post #36: I find rational dialogue with you impossible. Contra principia negantem non est disputandum.

    @bryan:

    Given Tom’s absence, Christians might consider a little more self-monitoring.

    I do not know about you, but Christians here are grown-ups. Debates get testy; sparks fly; barbs are traded. If the lines get crossed, our gracious host will issue the warnings to the people who need to be warned. I can only speak for myself, but honestly, I dispense your condescending tone about monitoring my brothers in the faith, especially when you shot the first salvos with the oh-so-usual “fundy” digs. Please, do not misunderstand me, I am not mentioning your past behavior as some sort of excuse for the bad behavior of others — even because to your great credit, apart from those relatively few digs, your general behavior has been stellar. To repeat myself, my judgment is completely irrelevant; as I said, the final say is up to our gracious and wise host.

  72. Melissa, for whatever it is worth, wouldn’t you concede that there is a kind and quality of consensus and progress in the empirical sciences and in mathematics that stand in rather clear contrast to anything we find in religion?

  73. Question: Is this an attempt to achieve a social agreement for utilitarian purposes, or are we converging upon some Truth if we do this?

    Not that I consider this a game, the ramifications are too serious for that but …

    Well played Steve.

  74. Bryan,

    Melissa, for whatever it is worth, wouldn’t you concede that there is a kind and quality of consensus and progress in the empirical sciences and in mathematics that stand in rather clear contrast to anything we find in religion?

    Do you understand the the consensus and progress of science is due to it’s carefully delimited scope.

  75. What does utilitarian purpose or convergence have to do with comment #80? That comment regards the tone of the conversation, not its content. As for the content, I don’t know that I have a dog in this fight, as I’ve said.

  76. Do you understand the the consensus and progress of science is due to it’s carefully delimited scope.

    Melissa, it’s certainly due in part to carefully delimited scope. But let religion carefully delimit its scope; would religion then exhibit a comparable kind and quality of consensus and progress? If not, then it seems that it would be a mistake to credit the consensus and progress of the empirical sciences and mathematics only to its carefully delimited scope. Is that right?

    (Again, I’m not exactly sure what’s at stake here.)

  77. G. Rodrigues, I will comment just a bit further (fortunately, I didn’t say “I’m leaving and I won’t come back!”) since you were so kind as to reply.

    “First”…you are right; I don’t know you. I can only infer from the data (your comments) available to me. I am well aware I could be wrong. Yes, it’s a metaphor.

    “Second”… I did not say the answer was wrong, I said it was “called wrong”. Which it is. I described the process, and specifically noted that I was not establishing truth. It was right there; I don’t know how you missed it.

    “Third”… We are likely in complete agreement, and that is why I chose that example. It is a notion much abused (by, say, Deepak Chopra). Would you say it is more, or less, complicated than understanding the mind of God?

    “Fourth”…Certainly I question foundations. Back when I was a born-again Christian, my pastor encouraged me to do so, with the faith that such questioning would confirm, rather than disconfirm, his view of biblical truth. If I must presuppose a laundry list of assumptions, my conclusions are worthless. A lack of questioning allows bad* ideas to flourish.

    *by this point, I hope I don’t need to talk you through this again.

  78. bryan,

    That comment regards the tone of the conversation, not its content.

    Question: Would changing the tone result in a convergence (or divergence) upon some Truth(s), or is this your attempt to achieve a social agreement for utilitarian purposes?

    If it’s the former, then I’m interested in talking about what should be done. If it’s the latter, no thanks. Let us know.

  79. SteveK, I’m too unfamiliar with this talk of “convergence upon some Truth(s)” to be confident that I know what you are asking. Maybe you can put you question in more ordinary language? (When I think that someone is behaving badly, I ordinarily don’t think of this in terms of someone’s failure to converge on some truth–whatever that means.)

  80. Cuttlefish, I’m still waiting for an answer to my question in #15. I understand how it got set aside for a while but I do want to come back to it.

  81. The non-theists on this thread have mentioned “religion” over a dozen times. The theists have mentioned it not at all, except in reference to what the non-theists have said.

    There is a reason for this. We don’t defend religion. What is there to defend? What is “religion”? Who has even been able to define it successfully?

    All of the theists on this thread are Christian theists. We agree on essential points of belief, even while differing on certain sub-points. We have no interest in discussing religion (not in this context, at least). We represent Christian belief in specific.

    Cuttlefish, you said (and the sneer was palpable),

    Science converges. Religion splits. There are thousands of religions; actually, there are thousands of denominations within Christianity alone, at least some of whom consider the others to be dead wrong.

    If there is a reality, and if we approach that reality by converging evidence from multiple perspectives, then between science and religion, one is doing a much better job of approaching reality.

    I’ll give you a hint: it’s not the one that pretends to know the mind of God. (sorry, nearly forgot to capitalize–your house, your rules.)

    I suggest you forget about “religion” and speak to us about the same thing we are talking about: Christian theism. Otherwise you are either batting at a cloud, this ephemeral “religion,” or else attacking something we would disagree with as much as you.

    Now as to their relative success in explaining reality, science is, as has already been said here, very successful within very carefully circumscribed limits. No problem there. But when you start talking about “reality,” even you resort to Wittgenstein. Tell me, please, what happens when you replace “religion” with “philosophy” in the segment of yours I just quoted from. It works equally as well, in one sense, for philosophers have not come to agreement: yet you call upon them anyway!

    As you must, for nothing in science makes sense except through philosophical lenses; and it is certainly not science that tells us whether science’s object of study is objectively real or not.

    But as I said, science has been successful in its limited scope. How successful has it been, though, in explaining humanness? The best I see from you and others who claim to place all faith in science is that it explains humanness away. Some success that is: Science is great–it explains everything! Whatever it doesn’t explain, well, we’ll just agree it doesn’t exist!” And we’ll agree it even though we all know from first-hand experience that it does.

    You wonder, and rightly so from your perspective, how fallible human perception can come to the knowledge of anything whatsoever. (I note in passing that even as you wonder, you keep relying on knowledge.) You err, though, when you try to make that a point against Christian theism, and specifically against the potential knowledge of God. For your argument is against the knowledge of some god who is so pathetically limited he cannot make himself reliably known to humans. Fine. We don’t believe in that god either. We believe in God whose mouth is not stopped, who is not unable to speak so that persons who hear him can know he has spoken.

    So undoubtedly you will come back to me and ask why there is so much disagreement among those who believe they have heard God. Before you do that, remember that confusion and disagreement among some people does not entail that all are confused. Bear in mind, too, that those with whom you are having this conversation are in very substantial agreement on the major issues. Bear in mind as well that Christian theology explains the answer to this question at great length. Do you want to hear that explanation?

    So your major points here are either irrelevant or points we would agree with (where you argue against “religion”), or they are irreparably weak (where you argue for the success of science as a reason to reject other sources of knowledge), or question-begging, where you assume that God cannot speak. Meanwhile as you keep insisting we can know nothing for certain you keep relying on knowledge as if you were certain of it.

  82. As you must, for nothing in science makes sense except through philosophical lenses…;

    Tom, I wonder if you are not giving too much credit to philosophy here. Or, in your view, does anything make sense apart from philosophy? Arithmetic? A simple children’s story? The claim that the sky is blue? What? (I’m asking these as diagnostic questions, to better understand the meaning of your claim.)

  83. As you work on that, Cuttlefish, I want to thank you for conversing respectfully here. It’s in sharp contrast to the way you act on your own turf.

    I’m thinking about the Starbucks Standard, as I’ve called it in the discussion policy. Does it mean a reasonable standard of civility when you only insult a person behind his or her back—and yet publicly, where they can easily discover it?

    When religions make war over quarrels,
    And they claim that their god is the source
    Can a person have humanist morals?
    Of Course!

    You can call your standards humanistically moral if you like. You can call anything anything you like. That’s the beauty of your non-objectivity for you, isn’t it?

    Oh, and by the way, what on earth was the point of your “very nearly pregnant” line? I think you think it meant something witty.

  84. P.S. If you think Christians claim there is no moral thinking outside of Christian or biblical thinking, you are desperately uninformed on the topic.

  85. Bryan, thanks for that question. No, I’m not giving too much credit to philosophy. Science depends absolutely on a foundation that can only be described as philosophical. Take for example Occam’s Razor: it’s a philosophically derived principle. Take scientific ethics for another example: they are not the fruit of science but of philosophy (or theology, if you can handle that). Many more examples could be adduced.

  86. How is Occam’s Razor “philosophically derived”? I would rather think that it is a principle inferred from the practice of science, or proto-science, itself. It is of course a philosophical question how Occam’s Razor should be formulated and how it can provide justification, but that’s not necessarily the same as “deriving” it. And, even then, why should the meaning of a simple claim of science (e.g., “some birds eat insects”) depend on such a derivation? Even if the meaning depends on Occam’s Razor, the meaning may not depend on the derivation of Occam’s Razor.

    Likewise, I might have a theory about how children’s storybooks work and how children find meaning in them. Some of these theories might look distinctively philosophical, but it seems like a stretch to say that nothing in a child’s story book makes sense except through a philosophical lens.

  87. Science could not have been practiced without something like Occam’s Razor, Bryan. And proto-science also depended very fundamentally on philosophically and theologically derived expectations that the world would be understandable, that it was the kind of thing that was worth investing time in studying, that matter is not inherently evil, and so on. None of these were conclusions of science at the time. Even today they have strong philosophical components along with scientific.

  88. Strictly speaking, too, “some birds eat insects” isn’t much of a scientific claim. It’s a claim of observation but not of understanding, and science claims to move past observation toward understanding.

  89. Children’s storytelling could not have been done without reliance on brains. Brains are the domain of neuroscience. One can, however, understand a lot of children’s storytelling apart from the lens of neuroscience. Right?

    Replace “Children’s storytelling” with “science”; replace “brains” with “Occam’s Razor”; replace “neuroscience” with “philosophy”.

  90. Bryan, no.

    I don’t know what children’s stories have to do with science; you haven’t shown the applicability of your analogy.

    Empirically you are wrong with respect to science: historically speaking, even biographically speaking in the lives of scientists, it depends on philosophical considerations.

    I don’t care to defend the obvious any further. Please pick up a good intro to the philosophy of science. Wikipedia’s article isn’t bad for starters.

  91. Let’s just disagree on this one Tom. I don’t think you need to be condescending though. If you want condescension, present your current arguments before the faculty of a philosophy department.

  92. Tom, the point (re: comment 96, last paragraph) of “very nearly pregnant” was to point out the utter silliness of the original post. The intelligent and well-read commenters here will have no problem with the concept of a privative–a negatively defined category. Atheism is a privative, defined as “none of the above” when it comes to beliefs in gods. Your own comment #5 speaks to this. A non-Christian is (or was, historically ) a “heathen”, and this would apply to, say, Muslims and Jews as well as atheists. A non-Muslim is an “infidel”; I suspect that you and I are both infidels, as well as all other non-Muslims. You and I are also both Goyim, I suspect; we are not Jews. “Atheists” are simply the “none of the above” intersection of heathens, infidels, goyim, and whatever other categories exist for non-believers.

    I have no doubt you already know this. (I could be wrong; I am perfectly willing to admit this if evidence is provided.) So the “mere thousandths of a percent” in the opening post is not trivial; it is 100 percent of the difference between an atheist and a believer. (likewise, one is either pregnant or not; nearly pregnant cannot come to term, whereas a little bit pregnant is pregnant.

    Yes, explaining jokes often removes the humor.

    Yes, I behave differently on my own blog; I did my best to abide by your rules in your house. Had you posted your opening post as a comment on my blog it would have been laughed at, and deservedly so.

    BTW (while I am here), your comment on #94 is pure presupposition. An argument for your particular theistic view (and, as you might guess from my “privative” argument above, I see “theism” as an artificial category as well, as–it would appear–do you) depends on at least one god existing–if the arguments for and against “at least one god” are different from the arguments for and against your God, please let me know. I was giving the benefit of the doubt.

    Your strawman of science (conveniently italicized in comment 94) does amuse me. In the following paragraphs, your special pleading is noted. Could you explain to me, please, how it is that you can discriminate between the god (that is, God) of your bible, and a very powerful (but not omnipotent), very knowledgeable (but not omniscient) trickster (you may infer not omnibenevolent) demon bent on feeding you a lie? Again, I earlier noted that the current evidence fits a view that includes biases, illusions and distortions in our thinking. You need to overcome those, not just to see things that others can agree on but to see things that are arguably beyond understanding (unless you can verify omnipotence and omniscience yourself, which is quite a trick!).

    Lastly, re: comment 97, I hope you are willing to accept that a great many Christian writers are also desperately uninformed on the same topic. You can’t swing a cat these days without hitting half a dozen people who believe that Christian or biblical thinking is the only route to morality. Some of them are in Congress. Those of us who believe otherwise would be quite grateful if folks like you would occasionally call them out on it.

  93. Okay, humor me once again, Cuttlefish. Yes, I understand the privative. I understand everything you said, except you haven’t said which of these you intended in your little joke upon my joke. (You did realize my OP was intended to be ridiculous, right?)

    If your point was that, building upon my OP, God is partly atheistic, therefore he is atheistic, then you missed the point quite desperately.

    If your point was that because God is nevertheless a teensy bit theistic then he is therefore theistic, you got the point but you missed the joke.

    I couldn’t figure out, as I said, which was the case.

    Anyway, if I had posted my OP and you had laughed at it, I would have laughed with you. That was the intent. It was meant to be funny, while at the same time showing how ridiculous is the idea that Christians are almost as atheistic as atheists.

    BTW (while I am here), your comment on #94 is pure presupposition. An argument for your particular theistic view (and, as you might guess from my “privative” argument above, I see “theism” as an artificial category as well, as–it would appear–do you) depends on at least one god existing–if the arguments for and against “at least one god” are different from the arguments for and against your God, please let me know. I was giving the benefit of the doubt.

    Wow.

    Can you tell the difference between presenting one’s own presuppositions and countering others’ (question-begging) presuppositions? Not that I would have a problem arguing the coherence of my presuppositions, it’s just that I wasn’t doing that, and I wasn’t imposing presuppositions upon the argument, either. I was clearing yours away.

    You can cut this kind of crap:

    Your strawman of science (conveniently italicized in comment 94) does amuse me.

    Drive-by laughter without supporting argument is intellectually lazy and interpersonally offensive.

    . Could you explain to me, please, how it is that you can discriminate between the god (that is, God) of your bible, and a very powerful (but not omnipotent), very knowledgeable (but not omniscient) trickster (you may infer not omnibenevolent) demon bent on feeding you a lie?

    Special pleading? No. Good grief.

    What I did was identify a certain circularity in your position. I see how conveniently you ignored that. If you’d like to acknowledge that for starters, and think through how it affects your position, I’ll be glad to answer the follow-up question you’ve just asked. But don’t slam me with accusations of a fallacy when you’ve ignored the one I was identifying in your own writing.

    And if you don’t realize that “folks like us” have been frequently calling out others on mistaken moral theology, don’t blame me for your unawareness. My goodness, it’s all over the place these days.

  94. Cuttlefish,

    ) So the “mere thousandths of a percent” in the opening post is not trivial; it is 100 percent of the difference between an atheist and a believer.

    Which is exactly the reason why statements of the type made by atheists as referenced by Tom in the first paragraph of the OP are so ridiculous. This was the point of the OP. Did you not understand that?

    I see “theism” as an artificial category as well, as–it would appear–do you) depends on at least one god existing–if the arguments for and against “at least one god” are different from the arguments for and against your God, please let me know.

    More correctly theism involves a creator God. The arguments for theism are therefore not arguments for at least one god but entail that there can only be one God. Any other being is obviously not God. They also rule out your trickster demon.

    Also I’m still waiting for a response as to how your philosophical views escape the criticism you level at religion.

  95. Let me explain further why that wasn’t special pleading. I wrote:

    You err, though, when you try to make that a point against Christian theism, and specifically against the potential knowledge of God. For your argument is against the knowledge of some god who is so pathetically limited he cannot make himself reliably known to humans. Fine. We don’t believe in that god either.

    Notice that there’s no argument in favor of Christian theism there. If there’s no argument, there can be no fallacious argument. Rather there was a rebuttal of yours. Now, I did go on to say,

    We believe in God whose mouth is not stopped, who is not unable to speak so that persons who hear him can know he has spoken.

    That’s a statement of a position to be sure. But in the ensuing paragraph I anticipated an objection and offered to answer it. Is it then special pleading if I did not anticipate and offer to answer every objection?

    Gimme a break. You know better. I hope.

  96. Tom @ 106–Happy to humor you once again. Of your two options, my point was your second—I did not realize you were joking (Poe’s law and all that; I have read nearly identical posts that were not joking at all). Mind you, the construction “This is how stupid group X is—ha ha, only joking!” (or, more accurately, “that’s where their logic goes. The mind reels [silent: ha ha, only joking!]”) is not exactly the moral high ground.

    Anyway, if I had posted my OP and you had laughed at it, I would have laughed with you. I did laugh at it. But not with it; I think that is the distinction you might be looking for. But some things are only funny from the perspective of the ingroup. A joke at the expense of atheists, at a Christian site? I am genuinely glad to hear I was wrong; I was quite disappointed that you (I thought) honestly felt that way. It’s so much better to hear that you joke about it.

    For the rest, I think I can safely just stand pat. Your “countering others’ presuppositions” is a false equivalence. And your strawman of science was exactly that, whether you like it or not.

    [email protected]–see above for my mistake. I got the point, but not that it was intended to be a joke. Again, I have seen too many instances where it was not. (not at this site, I hasten to add, though I cannot claim to be intimately familiar with this site.)

    “Only one God” is a subset of “at least one god”. And since you are the one who pointed out that we test theories by how well they fit the available evidence, how does a trickster demon not fit that same evidence, without requiring nearly the assumptions of one creator God? Or we could assume that there is indeed one creator God, and that my trickster demon is not that God—how do you know which one is talking to you? Ockham’s razor and all that, since others have brought that up.

    Back to [email protected]—I am glad you are not arguing in favor of some impotent god, but rather for an omnipotent God. You don’t believe in “some god who is so pathetically limited he cannot make himself reliably known to humans”, but rather “in God whose mouth is not stopped, who is not unable to speak so that persons who hear him can know he has spoken.” When you say “reliably known”, what percentage of agreement does your God command? I’ve seen lots of people who are 100% certain, but I have not seen 100% of people who are certain. And some of the people who are 100% certain are not Christians, let alone your denomination.

    I eagerly note your “ensuing paragraph”—indeed, it is precisely the point. Your “substantial agreement on the major issues” has not, in practice, made you allies. Is God unitary or trinitary? Is that trivial? Was Jesus a prophet, or God made flesh, or neither? Is that trivial? Was there a literal Eden; a literal Adam and Eve? Is that trivial? Is the Qur’an divinely inspired? Is the Book of Mormon? Are these questions trivial? And (I’m sure you will have noted) I have not stepped beyond the Abrahamic faiths. I could.

    When you find “substantial agreement on the major issues”, where do you draw the line? Why there? Would “substantial agreement” let the majority of Christians (or you, or whatever subset of Christians you like) be perfectly comfortable with US money saying “In Allah We Trust”?

    It’s easy to get “substantial agreement” when allied against atheists. Ronald Reagan made the point (twice, according to Gorbachev) that all the world’s political foes would unite against aliens. Fine, but are you allies in the absence of a common enemy? You can answer that for yourself.

    Lastly (back to Tom Gilson @ 106) if it is indeed “all over the place these days”, then A) I am grateful, B) I have not seen it, C)”all over the place” is certainly vaster than I have been able to explore. Again, though I have not seen any instance of “calling out”, I will take you at your word and sincerely thank you for it.

  97. Cuttlefish,

    “Only one God” is a subset of “at least one god”. And since you are the one who pointed out that we test theories by how well they fit the available evidence, how does a trickster demon not fit that same evidence, without requiring nearly the assumptions of one creator God? Or we could assume that there is indeed one creator God, and that my trickster demon is not that God—how do you know which one is talking to you? Ockham’s razor and all that, since others have brought that up.

    You asked about the difference between the arguments for at least one god and for God. The arguments for God are not a subset of the arguments for at least one god. We do not assume God, we reason from sense data ( and I’m not talking here about special revelation) to the existence of God. Funny you mention Ockham’s razor. Why postulate an extra being (your demon) in the world when the data is explained without it?

    … and I’m still waiting for an answer as to why the lack of consensus in respect to your pet philosophies doesn’t seem to concern you and yet you think that should be a major stumbling block for us.

  98. Your joke might be poking fun at this quote:

    “I contend we are both atheists, I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.” — Stephen Roberts

  99. Dave X,

    Personally, I have had people use the “argument” in the first paragraph of the OP in discussion. It has probably developed as a riff on the Stephen Roberts quote. A very stupid riff, by people who almost always are also championing their superior rationality.

  100. Some of the commentary seems to suggest that Christianity isn’t usefully grouped with religion, where religion contrasts with empirical science, mathematics, and other non-religious matters. This suggestion strikes me as hasty.

    Even if it is impossible to satisfactorily formulate a certain kind of definition of “religion” (e.g. necessary and sufficient conditions for qualification as a religion), we might usefully pick out a central characteristic, or set of characteristics, of an important class of religions–characteristics which can be used to draw a potentially informative contrast with empirical science, mathematics, etc. For example, we might use the following characteristic: the deliberate reliance on supposed “special revelation” for guidance.

    Claims, epistemic pursuits, or systems of thought that deliberately rely on supposed “special revelation” might be usefully contrasted with empirical science and mathematics.

  101. Bryan,

    Some of the commentary seems to suggest that Christianity isn’t usefully grouped with religion, where religion contrasts with empirical science, mathematics, and other non-religious matters. This suggestion strikes me as hasty.

    Generally the people who are doing this kind of grouping to put science against religion have an axe to grind against either science or religion. They want to score cheap rhetorical points without putting in the hard work of addressing the particular claims of each.

    Id we wish to compare things generally they need to be alike in some respect. Science is one way we can investigate the world. There are other ways, philosophy, historical enquiry to name a few that we use to answer the kind of questions that science can’t. Religion is not a method of inquiry so I’m not sure in what way you’re intending to compare it with science even if you were able to nail down a useful definition.

    I think the real thrust behind your questions is whether it is legitimate to rely on special revelation for guidance and the answer to that would be that it depends on whether the revelation is trustworthy. To answer that question you would need to turn to philosophy and history.

  102. Melissa,

    It seems to me that bodies of supposed knowledge that deliberately rely upon supposed special revelation for guidance can be usefully compared to empirical sciences and mathematics. A contrast can be seen in the kind and quality of progress and consensus.

  103. Bryan,

    It seems to me that bodies of supposed knowledge that deliberately rely upon supposed special revelation for guidance can be usefully compared to empirical sciences and mathematics. A contrast can be seen in the kind and quality of progress and consensus.

    To what purpose? If we made the comparison what would be the significance of your findings? You would need to consider carefully the reasons for the differences for starters. Finish this sentence: Using the method of science human knowledge of how material things change has progressed to a much greater degree and the findings enjoy a greater consensus than those of religion(however you want to define it) therefore …

  104. …there is prima facie reason for thinking that this trend will continue, and that the former methods are more reliable regarding claims about how material things change.

  105. Science is certainly more reliable with respect to material things, and can be expected to remain so as long as nothing extra-natural introduces any discontinuities, for which see here.

    To assume that humans are 100% material entities is to beg the question of theism, the imago dei, etc., so one must be cautious to overinterpret the above.

  106. But one needn’t make such an assumption. It may, however, be instructive to contrast positions that currently encourage assumptions based on special revelation and those which currently don’t. Most of religion would belong to the former category; empirical science and mathematics to the latter.

  107. Bryan,

    …there is prima facie reason for thinking that this trend will continue, and that the former methods are more reliable regarding claims about how material things change.

    Which is something that as far as I am concerned was never under question. Is there some other point you were trying to make in this discussion?

  108. Melissa, I’d just have to ask you to review the comments I made. Is there anything in them that you disagree with?

  109. Bryan,

    If the only point you are making is the one above then no. If you were trying to make another point I don’t know what it is that’s why I asked the question.

  110. I haven’t gone back and counted my points, but I assume there’s more than one. I’ll let you tally them :).

  111. Bryan,

    I’ll rephrase for you. Is there any further point, other than the one in #117, that you believe hasn’t been refuted and you would like to pursue further.

  112. Melissa, I noted earlier in the thread, I think the interchange got a little unruly and difficult to follow. Some hasty claims were made, and I pointed out a couple of those. I’m not looking to disagree with people, but rather to make small improvements where I can.

    If you have a summarization of the main points or accomplishments of this thread, I’d love to hear it. I lack such a general perspective.

  113. Bryan,

    I’m not looking to disagree with people, but rather to make small improvements where I can.

    Really? See #104 for evidence to the contrary.

    BTW You are obviously wrong on this point, I suggest you rethink your position.

  114. I think that disagreement was unfortunate. Let’s be fair though, Melissa: just because one occasionally finds it best to leave a discussion in disagreement doesn’t reveal that one approaches discussions looking to disagree with people.

    Isn’t that right?

  115. Bryan,

    I have no problem with you disagreeing. I do have a problem with you failing to acknowledge when you are wrong. I do have a problem with your thinly veiled scientism. I’m pushing you on this because beliefs about what science is and isn’t and what science can and can’t do is a major source of errors in a lot of Internet atheism. Until that faulty thinking is cleared away, discussion does not progress.

  116. Sorry pressed publish accidentally. I’ll take your word that you weren’t looking to disagree. I’m not sure which are the hasty claims that you were thinking about but it does not improve the conversation for you to make hasty claims that are clearly wrong and then not back down from then when it is pointed out to you.

  117. Melissa, what is driving your assertion about this “thinly veiled scientism”? What do you mean by “scientism”, and where do you find me endorsing it?

    Also, maybe I could clear up some misunderstandings if you made more precise the way in which you think that I am clearly and obviously wrong. It doesn’t strike me as obvious as it does you (you’ll just have to take my word for that), so perhaps you could take another stab at articulating where it is that I go wrong. But let’s this time also try to avoid condescension, if we can (otherwise, I’d rather just drop the point).

  118. Under that definition, I am no proponent. Where, I wonder, does Melissa find me endorsing it?

  119. Bryan,

    There is also what could be termed soft scientism which would see the privileging of scientific claims over the claims of other methods of inquiry no matter what the question that is being answered. It seems to me this is what you have been pushing for in our conversation.

    In practice we also see this attitude manifested in the dismissal of claims due to lack of scientific evidence and a failure to distinguish what is and isn’t a scientific claim. This second one could be due to ignorance (easily possible these days due to the confusion on this even among scientists) but it also can come across as a tactic to insulate your own claims from criticism.

    Which leads me to where I think you are wrong:

    How is Occam’s Razor “philosophically derived”? I would rather think that it is a principle inferred from the practice of science, or proto-science, itself.

    I quick google will show you that is wrong.

    You are wrong here:

    Tom, I wonder if you are not giving too much credit to philosophy here. Or, in your view, does anything make sense apart from philosophy?

    Science can tell us important facts but it can’t tell us what they mean, what their significance is for us, for that we need philosophy.

    This:

    It may, however, be instructive to contrast positions that currently encourage assumptions based on special revelation and those which currently don’t.

    In what way does, for instance Christianity, encourage assumptions based on special revelation? It may just be sloppy language, I don’t know, but Christian claims are not assumptions based on special revelation.

  120. Sure, if you take it in the human sense which includes things like looking to God for guidance, praying, etc. I intended it in the minimal sense, where “atheist” just means “believes there is no God.” God does not doubt that God is.

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