Happy 100th Birthday, Piltdown Man!

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One hundred years ago today the most infamous science fraud of all time was presented to the world: Piltdown Man, a “missing link” skull that turned out to a creative composite, a human skull attached to an orangutan jawbone. Some researchers were immediately suspicious, yet still it took until 1953 until the scientific community reached consensus that it was a hoax. In the meantime, it was taken to be solid evidence supporting apelike animal-to-human evolution.piltdown2.jpg

Piltdown Man represented one of the great failures of science, and as such it has real historical significance. That’s not to say we should draw the wrong conclusions from it. It doesn’t mean that evolution is a hoax, or that evolutionary theory is built on false pretenses. It doesn’t mean that evolutionary scientists can’t be trusted, or that there’s something inherently wrong with science itself.

Science as a Human Enterprise
The real message of Piltdown Man is that scientists are human, and science is a human enterprise. Science is therefore subject to all the pitfalls and failings of humans, one of which is deceit. While this episode certainly doesn’t show that science (or evolutionary science in particular) is essentially fraudulent, it is nevertheless our most salient reminder that science, like every other human endeavor, cannot always automatically be trusted. Its mistakes are not all in the distant past, either. Just two months ago the NY Times reported on widespread misconduct in scientific research (see also the report in Nature).

Piltdown1.jpg

Checks and Balances…
While fraudulent science is both wrong and tragic, often it gets caught, which is testimony to one of the great strengths of science: objective, independent confirmation. If only such a thing were possible in every discipline! Suppose for example that when one person said, “I believe our country—its economy, its defense, its national character and ethos—would be strengthened by an increase in taxes,” teams of researchers in Japan, Nigeria, and Russia could run tests to confirm or disconfirm it. What a simpler world this would be!

In fact one of the reasons science has been so successful is because it is essentially simple. I don’t mean easy. I mean simple, or in other words, the modern natural sciences focus their attention on those aspects of nature that behave themselves consistently while in consistent conditions. That’s true especially for the “hard sciences.” Sociology, anthropology, and psychology are relatively less firm in their findings, because their subject matter is people, who stubbornly refuse to practice the same kind of consistency in behavior. Economics and politics are even worse. When we move into truly creative disciplines like art, music, and literature, science has virtually nothing to contribute. Then there is theology, the study of God, who by definition cannot be made subject to controlled study.

It would be all too easy to conclude that because science is successful, it is a superior form of knowledge to all others. The better way to view it is that science is successful because it limits its subject matter to that which can studied so successfully.

… And Why We Need Them
And yet there is something to be learned about science from the study of theology, specifically theological anthropology, the theological study of man. Scriptural revelation provides a strong theoretical background for what we already know: that humans are subject to temptation. Some of us commit fraud. Our best defense against it is independent checking by disinterested others. In spite of our flaws, though, there is such a thing as good to be reached for, and one form of the good is increasing knowledge. I’m not aware of any other belief system that so thoroughly endorses the reality of the good, which so supports the value of investing our lives in attaining the good, and which so comprehensively explains how and why we undermine ourselves in the pursuit of the good. It’s all based in our creation in the image of the only good God, our fall away from God, and yet our retained remembrance of the good we have fallen from.

Science is an explanatory discipline whose success rests on checks and balances against human error and deceit.* The importance of those checks and balances is best explained from outside of science, in what revelation teaches us about human nature.

For some forty-one years or so the world believed Piltdown Man was a real missing link. More recently, Marc Hauser’s frauds lasted for years, as did Hwang Woo-suk’s.

It’s not the fault of science. It’s the fault of humans doing science. Our best defense against it is caution, self-checking, a healthy respect for our own failings, and a commitment to the very Scriptural principle of honesty.

*Of course there are also other reasons for objective independent research confirmation, having to do with the possibility of chance results, local effects, inconsistencies in materials and supplies, instrumentation error, etc.

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115 Responses to “ Happy 100th Birthday, Piltdown Man! ”

  1. Tom,

    I’m glad you noted the self-correcting nature of science; it is indeed one of science’s greatest strengths. For a minute I was wondering if you were going to be bashing science for the whole piece. It’s a shame there is no way the events in the Bible can be correlated with objective, independent sources or physical evidence; we will probably never know how much of it is fraudulent.

    You also said:

    Then there is theology, the study of God, who by definition cannot be made subject to controlled study.

    The only way you could hold this view, is if you don’t believe that God has any measurable effect on the material world. For example, if prayer statistically altered outcomes in any way, this could be tested.

    That is of course fine, and I agree with you. The difference is that we hold diametrically opposing views on the reason why this is the case.

  2. Fleegman, is it then your position that the only you to know anything about a person is by subjecting him or her to controlled scientific research?

    Is it your position that if God exists, then by definition he is necessarily the sort of God who cannot make himself known by means other than controlled study?

    Is it your position that if God exists, he is required to submit to experimental parameters in prayer studies?

    Is it your position that the thousands of miracles reported around the world in the name of Jesus (see Keener, Miracles) constitute no reason to recognize God at work–since his work only counts if he does it under experimentally controlled conditions?

    Is it your position that God’s effect on the material world is only discernible if he does something out of the ordinary in it?

    If you hold all of those positions, then you could conclude without self-contradiction that “the only way [I] could hold this view, is if [I didn’t] believe that God has any measurable effect on the material world. If you hold all of those positions, however, then all of your positions on those matters would be demonstrably in error; so even though there is no internal self-contradiction there, there is a whole boatload of erroneous thinking.

    And it’s pretty sad that you think the events of the Bible can’t be correlated with physical evidence. If you mean physical evidence like documentation and artifacts, why then it can be. If you mean anything else, then you don’t understand how history is known.

  3. BTW, I’m disappointed you were expecting this to be a science-bashing piece. You don’t know me as well as you should, having been around here as long as you have.

  4. Tom,

    You asked lots of questions, but this is the important one:

    Is it your position that if God exists, then by definition he is necessarily the sort of God who cannot make himself known by means other than controlled study?

    Not at all. I was simply responding to your claim that God can’t be tested “by definition.” The implication being that He has no measurable effect on the material world.

    And it’s pretty sad that you think the events of the Bible can’t be correlated with physical evidence. If you mean physical evidence like documentation and artifacts, why then it can be. If you mean anything else, then you don’t understand how history is known.

    We’ve been over this many times, and the short version is that you have different standards of evidence than I do.

    I would also add that the bar for “miracle” is disappointingly low.

    BTW, knowing you as I do, I didn’t really think you were going to be bashing science. I unfortunately left out a winky after that sentence.

  5. “It’s a shame there is no way the events in the Bible can be correlated with objective, independent sources or physical evidence”

    The Bible is already a collection of sources. Surely, if we found some compilation of documents about non-Biblical events or persons, one wouldn’t be so dismissive and demanding of additional literature before taking it seriously. Perhaps if the original compilers of the Bible had chosen to leave the various books as separated, distinct publications, they would suddenly gain credence? At any rate, much of the Bible does mention historical figures and places, at least, that are known elsewhere.

    As for physical evidence, I have seen the occasional documentary on biblical archaeology. As with much ancient historical research, evidence is spotty, and there is no way to empirically confirm many past events or processes (evolution included), but there have been some rather interesting findings nonetheless. Ones that provide evidence for some Biblical accounts.

  6. Where did I imply God has no measurable effect on the real world? Oh, yes, I remember: it was when I agreed with you that measurability requires experimental controllability.

    Now… hmm… I’m trying to think of where I agreed with that.

    The “bar for miracle” is low in some quarters: “I found my keys! It’s a miracle!” If you read any of Keener’s book, though, you’ll find that it is quite seriously high. It’s also high in the Catholic Church’s research into persons potentially canonizable as saints.

    Just because some people quickly proclaim miracle doesn’t mean that all miracles are that way.

    Thanks, though, for your additional word about the wink you intended to include.

  7. @Fleegman:

    I was simply responding to your claim that God can’t be tested “by definition.” The implication being that He has no measurable effect on the material world.

    So how do you propose to “measure” God’s physical effects in the world?

    You gave one example:

    For example, if prayer statistically altered outcomes in any way, this could be tested.

    What exactly are you asking here? Presumably, the ability to concoct a test and ask for a certain outcome that would lend support to the existence of God. For the outcome to come from God (e.g. God “supernaturally” granted the prayer request) we have to rule out all possible natural causes like psychological delusions, placebo-type effects, chance natural occurrences, etc. How do you propose to do that? Let us assume that we could rule out all such plausible natural explanations. Then we would end up with a state of affairs (a prayer that was answered) with no natural explanation, that is, one in terms of physical causes. Presumably, only then we could inferentially conclude the existence of God as The Answerer of prayers.

    In other words, you are asking for a gap argument. Gap arguments are fallacious. So there are two options.

    1. You ask for a gap argument not knowing that they are fallacious, in which case you are ignorant and clueless.

    2. You ask for a gap argument knowing full well that they are fallacious, in which case you are intellectually dishonest.

    So which is it?

  8. Fleegman:

    You are truly a Biblical sense fool—a self-serving, straw man bashing fool. You have no clue what you’re talking about as you incessantly try to define what God is on your own terms, and then like an egotistical coward you angrily reject God because he doesn’t fit that narrow-minded “controlled study” nonsense. Here’s a real charmer:

    It’s a shame there is no way the events in the Bible can be correlated with objective, independent sources or physical evidence… The only way you could hold this view, is if you don’t believe that God has any measurable effect on the material world.

    “physical evidence”?!? Are you that chowder-headed to keep playing such self-serving games? You have issues, pal: deeply-unmet emotional needs for God to be a physical object like all physical objects or a cause among other causes who fits your egotistical demands. And, when God doesn’t fit your tests, you go off on cute little temper tantrums.

    Atheism at its best: temper tantrums leaving heaps of bodies in its wake.

    You appear not intellectually capable of understanding the fact that concepts (universals) such as “justice” or “scientific method,” or extra-mental things such as natures or essences, cannot be put on the table as subjects for your loaded scientistic inquiries. In other words, none of these are accessible in any way for you to touch, see, smell, feel, or hear. Yet, you have no problem using these invisible things to serve your selfish purposes. Worse, you then quite hilariously try to domesticate God to a position even lower than these—to the physical level.

    Is it that hard to understand that God does not affect our level of reality like some billiard-ball player or puppeteer to which you love to reduce Him? Is it that hard to understand that God has no potency, i.e., no lack of anything, i.e., ultimately actualized… and because of this He is changeless? If he were to affect things like you want Him to, He would be reduced to your little game: He would change—which means there’d be a before “state” (in which He “has” a privation) and an “after” state (in which He has gained something). Duh! That’s impossible: He’s “got” everything because, again, he’s 100% actualized existence.

    So how does God affect the world He created? By “making” Himself the object of our desire… better put: by Being LOVE itself. He condescends against Himself because He loves that much. He affects everything in the realm of contingent beings because everything is drawn to Him… because He created (creation is not a change!!!) natures—natures that act out their ends. Things are not puppets in His hands: they move freely within the contexts of their natures… ultimately toward Him. Are you that daft not to be able to understand this?

    Do you want an example from everyday life in which object A is truly affected/altered/moved by object B in such a way that object B does not change? This example will likely embarrass you because I suspect you’ve never really been in love or loved in the sense of full surrender directed at making the other person happy… or, more likely, you’re too Oedipus-level blind to have noticed what love means.

    Here’s the example: at the moment I fell in love with my wife, she didn’t change. Without batting an eyelash, she moved me—she affected me, she altered me—in ways I didn’t think were possible. I started doing things that earlier I would have thought were nuts. Why? Because, my only desire was to make her happy and to be closer to her. The whole of my reality started orbiting about her… and all she had to do was to be herself, i.e., not to change. Then, my intellectually-unsophisticated interlocutor, you play the game of “prove to me your love exists”… sheesh! You want a physical measurement? G. Rodrigues nicely dispatched that nonsense.

    So you’re implicitly telling us—and demanding of God—that He “move” or “change” in a physical way to serve your ego? Then you pout and yell: “No test, therefore no God!” What immature nonsense! You can’t understand that He moves everything at every moment of their existence “toward” Him simply have having created them? It’s only rational agents that can make a choice of desiring (or not) the summum bonum, and that choice is fully their responsibility.

    And, by the way, that’s precisely why atheists can’t understand the First Way (Argument from Motion)—because it leads to an UNMOVED Mover: you intentionally turn reality on its head, and then pout triumphantly there is no God! The focus of the First Way is NOT on the conclusion, but on the fact that change manifests itself in the universe, and therefore must be explained… and physics ain’t gonna do it nor can it. (In the interests of disclosure: I’m an associate professor of physics.) The UNMOVED Mover causes movement because He created things that move of their own accord, being drawn toward Him… which applies as well to “the very rocks and stones [crying] out”. My wife, by not batting an eyelash, reflects this in a small way: by not changing she moved and continues to move me.

    You’ve a priori (meaning: no reasoned argumentation) and intentionally chosen (yes, you have the capacity for free will within the context of your nature) not to pursue your Lover, which means you’re turning into the angry, bitter darkness of your own shadow… which means you have no face for anyone to see.

  9. David,

    I realise the Bible is a collection of sources. Are you familiar at all with the process of canonisation that those sources went through over the centuries?

    At any rate, much of the Bible does mention historical figures and places, at least, that are known elsewhere.

    Yes, but so do works of fiction like Spider-Man. I will agree that New York is a real place, but I don’t believe there is or ever was a man climbing walls fighting crimes in a spandex suit.

    G. Rodrigues,

    1) I’m encouraged that you consider gap arguments fallacious.

    2) You misunderstood what I was saying.

    I’m not saying that good evidence for answered prayers was proof of God; only that it would indicate perhaps further study was required.

    I mean one would at the very least expect that if there were a god that answered prayers, the group of people doing the praying would be measurably better off than those that weren’t, no? And if you can’t say this, then why bother praying in the first place, when the outcome appears to be exactly what would have happened if you hadn’t?

  10. It would be so refreshing to have just one atheist show up here that could pass philosophy 101 or theology 101 or Biblical studies 101 or just show that they respect themselves enough to present cogent arguments for their positions. Unfortunately, we regularly get the same stuff that Fleegman has thrown out here. Warmed over nonsense from the Gnu camp or claims that the Bible is fiction (see above) that have been refuted over and over. Sad, really.

  11. I won’t speak for David, but I am familiar with the canonization process. What does that have to do with the question at hand?

    If you’re thinking about the documents that were rejected from the canon, then you forget that those documents have not been rejected from historical inquiry. They are still part of the documentation you seek. As it turns out, for fully objective reasons, according to normal historical standards of inquiry, they are regarded as considerably less reliable than the documents that comprise the NT.

    Your Spider-Man analogy is hilarious. It’s also irrelevant. I think all it would take for you to understand that would be for you to frame your question more carefully: what exactly is it you seek with respect to objective collaboration. Before you do that, though, would you do yourself the favor of making an intellectually honest commitment that you’ll deal with the strength of your opponents’ position, in context, and not just pick out little sentences you can make fun of out of context?

    We’ve had occasion in the past to wonder about your intellectual honesty, Fleegman. I’m imploring you now to step up and do better this time.

    And you should know by not that Christians actually do better than unbelievers in a huge variety of ways, ranging from physical to emotional health.

  12. BillT,

    I can’t help thinking that your spoken concern there has something to do with mine about his intellectual honesty. The two are almost certainly connected.

  13. Further: what I see going on here is a complete failure on Fleegman’s part to live up to his espoused ideal of letting knowledge be knowledge, and letting new information (new to him, at least) correct older (to him) false information.

    Fleegman, do you really believe in the checks and balances of science? Do you recognize their purpose? It’s to keep people from continuing to believe what is false, after it has been shown to be false.

    If you don’t take a lesson from that and bring it to discussions like this, then your support for the self-correcting methods of science is revealed to be self-servingly selective; or in other words, hypocritical.

    I have no qualms about being hard on you over this. You need it.

  14. @Fleegman:

    I’m not saying that good evidence for answered prayers was proof of God; only that it would indicate perhaps further study was required.

    Now you are not making sense. If answered prayers are not good evidence for the existence of God, then why did you mentioned prayer studies? And if they are not evidence for God, what further study could there be that is relevant to your request to measure God’s activity in a controlled setting?

    And if you are not asking for a gap argument, then what exactly are you asking for? What sort of evidence short of a gap argument or a +personal miraculous intervention of God in your life would convince you that God exists?

    I mean one would at the very least expect that if there were a god that answered prayers, the group of people doing the praying would be measurably better off than those that weren’t, no? And if you can’t say this, then why bother praying in the first place, when the outcome appears to be exactly what would have happened if you hadn’t?

    I misunderstand you and then you go on repeating the same request for a gap argument. Right.

    So your conception of prayer is a petitionary one, that makes the petitioners “measurably better off”?

    You really have not got the faintest idea of what Christianity is or how Christian theology conceives of prayer. Nevertheless, let me ask you what do you mean by “measurably better off”? Wealthier on average? Healthier on average? What is the measure that you are employing?

  15. Hollow,

    You have issues, pal: deeply-unmet emotional needs for God to be a physical object like all physical objects or a cause among other causes who fits your egotistical demands. And, when God doesn’t fit your tests, you go off on cute little temper tantrums.

    The only one having temper tantrums is you “pal.”

    Atheism at its best: temper tantrums leaving heaps of bodies in its wake.

    Yep, that’s atheism alright. Heaps and heaps of bodies. I don’t consider it a productive day if I haven’t created a decent sized heap of bodies before bed.

    Ultimately, though, your characteristically lengthy and vitriolic word salad was essentially a long winded and “sophisticated” way of admitting “no, God doesn’t have a measurable effect on the world.”

    What you are saying is that all the people in the world praying for those afflicted with cancer, for example, are doing it with absolutely no belief that God will do anything about it to cure them, or at least ease their suffering. This is patently absurd. In fact, you view it as reducing God to “playing [their] little game.” Lovely.

  16. Fleegman, your mistake is in your terribly limited understanding of “effect.” You require it to be “measurable,” meaning that we can compare what happens with God’s intervention to what happens without God’s intervention.

    First of all, the idea of “intervention” is very problematic. It’s God’s world through and through. That’s one place you go wrong.

    Second, we can’t control for a non-intervention experimental condition. We can’t x God out of one of the conditions and leave him in another. That’s true if there is a God, and it’s true if there is no God; so whether or not there’s a God, your demand is impossible.

    Third, those who pray do so knowing that God will choose to answer in the manner he wills, and that frequently he answers in the manner requested: healing. I’ve seen it happen often. What we can’t do is compare any outcome to what would have happened without God, for reasons already stated.

    Fourth, there are medically documented miracles going on all the time. I know of many solidly documentable instances.

  17. Tom,

    Fleegman, do you really believe in the checks and balances of science? Do you recognize their purpose? It’s to keep people from continuing to believe what is false, after it has been shown to be false.

    No, it’s really not, Tom.

    I also only mentioned Spider-Man to point out the obvious problem when attempting to use the mention of real places or people as some kind of evidence that the rest of the book is therefore true.

    G,

    Now you are not making sense. If answered prayers are not good evidence for the existence of God, then why did you mentioned prayer studies?

    I said “proof of.” I thought I said that answered prayers would be evidence for God, didn’t I? Of course they would.

    Nevertheless, let me ask you what do you mean by “measurably better off”? Wealthier on average? Healthier on average? What is the measure that you are employing?

    What would be the point of praying for something if you wouldn’t consider yourself or your group “better off” in some way if the prayer is answered?

  18. “Vitriolic” That’s the word I was thinking about Holopupenko’s post.

    Fleegman, God loves you, you Oedipus-level blind, daft, self-serving, chowder-headed, straw man bashing fool! Ya big lug! 🙂

  19. Tom,

    Third, those who pray do so knowing that God will choose to answer in the manner he wills, and that frequently he answers in the manner requested: healing. I’ve seen it happen often. What we can’t do is compare any outcome to what would have happened without God, for reasons already stated.

    Fine, then it should be no problem to show that Christians as a group have less instances of cancer than say Muslims, or atheists.

  20. Fleegy:

    Like I said, you have no measurable face in your own self-imposed darkness…

    … little more than cowardice: not wanting to face squarely a HUGE aspect of reality–that some things are utterly not measurable and not sensory-accessible by their very natures.

    You’ve divorced yourself from happiness, have taken the bus back to the grey world, and are in hot pursuit to overtake and surpass Napoleon’s bitterness, hatred, and loneliness.

  21. Fine, then it should be no problem to show that Christians as a group have less instances of cancer than say Muslims, or atheists.

    Fine, then it should be no problem to show that atheism as a whole has inspired less brutality and outright murder than, say, Muslims, or Jews, or Christians.

    (Hint: I would recommend you run away from that one like you’ve run away from other difficult issues.)

  22. Fine, then it should be no problem to show that atheism as a whole has inspired less brutality and outright murder than, say, Muslims, or Jews, or Christians.

    Good luck attributing the atrocities to which you are no doubt alluding to atheism itself as the motivating factor.

  23. @Fleegman:

    I said “proof of.” I thought I said that answered prayers would be evidence for God, didn’t I? Of course they would.

    I am using the words interchangeably; evidence for is evidence to back up the premises in some proof or argument. The argument may be deductive, inductive, abductive, etc.

    So you are indeed asking for a gap argument. So what is your excuse?

    And I repeat my question: what exactly are you asking for? What sort of evidence short of fallacious arguments or a personal, miraculous intervention of God in your life would convince you that God exists?

    And as I am on a roll, since your epistemic stance about the question of God’s existence is to ask for physical, measurable evidence, reproducible in a controlled setting, I presume that that is a requirement to answer any and all questions? And if it is not, what makes the question of God’s existence special in this regard?

    What would be the point of praying for something if you wouldn’t consider yourself or your group “better off” in some way if the prayer is answered?

    If you want to learn why Christians pray or what is the real, serious purpose of prayer then you are better off reading a book (hint: it is not to “change” God to stoop down to our level and answer our every whim and desire but to change us to become more like Him).

    You have not answered my question of what do you mean by “better off”. It is you who brought up the issue, so if I am to understand what it is you are requiring, you have to tell me what is the measure of “better off” and how do you propose to measure it.

  24. David –

    Surely, if we found some compilation of documents about non-Biblical events or persons, one wouldn’t be so dismissive and demanding of additional literature before taking it seriously.

    Taking the Bible seriously doesn’t automatically mean thinking everything in the Bible happened exactly as described, though.

    Herodotus, the ‘father of history’, records that Pheidippides, on his famous run that gave us the term “marathon”, encountered and spoke with the god Pan. Archaeology has found much that agrees with Homer’s Iliad; that doesn’t mean we think it therefore likely that the Greek pantheon actually intervened or participated directly in the battles.

  25. (“hint: it is not to “change” God to stoop down to our level and answer our every whim and desire but to change us to become more like Him)”

    Or as C.S. Lewis is reported to have said:

    “I don’t pray because it changes God, I pray because it changes me”

  26. G,

    And if it is not, what makes the question of God’s existence special in this regard?

    The claim that God has a measurable effect on the material world. This lays squarely in the realm of science.

    You have not answered my question of what do you mean by “better off”.

    I have already answered that. Please see my previous comments. If you don’t think that prayers have a measurable effect on the material world, then we are in agreement.

    @BillT

    So prayers for the needy are for your own benefit, rather than the benefit of the people you’re praying for? Okay.

  27. G. Rodriguez –

    For the outcome to come from God (e.g. God “supernaturally” granted the prayer request) we have to rule out all possible natural causes like psychological delusions, placebo-type effects, chance natural occurrences, etc.

    Well, we wouldn’t have to eliminate causes if the initial goal was to see if prayer had any scientifically-detectable effect on the world. If such an effect were detected – and even in the case of healings, to my knowledge it has not – the next step might be to work on figuring out causes.

  28. “Taking the Bible seriously doesn’t automatically mean thinking everything in the Bible happened exactly as described, though.”

    This is true though your comparison to Greek mythology isn’t a valid one. The Bible uses many types of literary genres to explain what happened. It’s important to understand what literary genre is being used to understand the passage. However, no matter the genre, the Bible sets out to explain history. That is, the Bible is explaining real events in different ways depending on what is trying to be explained and to whom it is being explained. Greek mythology is just that mythology. It was written as mythology. It was and is expected to be read and understood as mythology.

  29. Fleegman, I am coming to the unhappy conclusion that you cannot or will not read. It has been explained to you repeatedly that “squarely in the realm of science” is incorrect.

    You are a hypocrite with respect to the value if knowledge correcting knowledge.

    And you are (as I observed once before) incorrigible in it.

    Doesn’t it get boring, never changing in the face of new information? It gets boring interacting with you that way.

  30. Holo,

    The UNMOVED Mover causes movement because He created things that move of their own accord, being drawn toward Him… which applies as well to “the very rocks and stones [crying] out”. My wife, by not batting an eyelash, reflects this in a small way: by not changing she moved and continues to move me.

    I appreciate this. I’ve tried many times to get people like Fleegman to see that many inter-subjective experiences have objective realities ‘driving’ them.

    Time and time again we hear that love, beauty, etc are entirely subjective, in an attempt to dismiss them in favor of the *real* reality that can be measured by the sciences. But these things cannot be claimed to be entirely subjective experiences, because the person will admit that the objective thing “caused” them to have the subjective experience. Science cannot measure or quantify this cause-effect reality because it’s not equipped to do so.

    If a person is beautiful then either (a) you are saying there is something about that person that “causes” you to experience her beauty, or (b) you are saying it’s entirely an imagination that you invented out of thin air and that the person has nothing to do with your experience.

    Everyone knows it’s (a), and still we get into these dumb discussions.

    Good and evil alter physical reality in detectable ways. We are literally drawn toward goodness – unless we choose to actively, willfully resist. If that isn’t evidence for God, then what is?

  31. “So prayers for the needy are for your own benefit, rather than the benefit of the people you’re praying for? Okay.”

    Do you really think God needs our prayers to know who the needy are and that they need help? Okay to you, too.

  32. The claim that God has a measurable effect on the material world. This lays squarely in the realm of science.

    The physical effect can be measured. It’s the God part that cannot be detected by empirical means. Heck, science cannot detect rationality and I’m sure you believe in that reality, right Fleegman? We can measure its physical effects though (bridges, debate teams, philosophy papers). How much does rationality weigh, or what energy does it have Fleegman?

  33. @22 Good luck attributing the atrocities to which you are no doubt alluding to atheism itself as the motivating factor.

    Feast yer eyes upon this, laddie (in the interests of disclosure, I have an Ivy League graduate degree in Soviet Studies):

    “Communism begins where atheism begins…” (Karl Marx)

    “The Soviet Union was an officially atheistic state. The stated goal was control, suppression, and, ultimately, the elimination of religious beliefs. Atheism was propagated through schools, communist organizations, and the media. The Society of the Godless was created. All religious movements were either prosecuted or controlled by the state and KGB. Somewhere between 80 to 90% of the general population were Russian Orthodox. Tens of thousands of churches were closed. Laymen, priests and Bishops were executed. Religious activities could and were prosecuted under article 58. Untold millions lost their lives for their religious convictions. The persecution of religions faith under the Soviet Union was the largest in history. (excerpt from the “Freedom of Religion” section of Wikipedia’s article “Human Rights in the Soviet Union”)

    Marx’s famous “opium of the people” epithet is actually part of a fuller, more compassionate passage written in a tone of pity: “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature,” he wrote, “the hearts of a heartless world, the spirit of soulless stagnation. It is the opium of the people.” Lenin was harsher: “Every religious idea, every idea of god, even flirting with the idea of God, is unutterable vileness,… vileness of the most dangerous kind, ‘contagion’ of the most abominable kind. Millions of filthy deeds, acts of violence, and physical contagions are far less dangerous than the subtle, spiritual idea of a God decked out in the smartest ‘ideological’ costumes.’”

    “The first requisite for the happiness of the people is the abolition of religion” (Karl Marx)

    “I wish to avenge myself against the One who rules above.” (Karl Marx)

    “The hellish vapors rise and fill the brain, till I go mad and my heart is utterly changed. See this sword? The prince of darkness sold it to me.” (Karl Marx)

    “With disdain I will throw my gauntlet full in the fact of the world and see the collapse of this pygmy giant. Then will I wander god-like and victorious through the ruins of the world. And giving my words an active force, I will feel equal to the Creator.” (Karl Marx)

    “Karl Marx is a monster possessed by ten thousand devils.” (Frederick Engels)

    Karl Marx “had the devil’s view of the world and the devil’s malignity. Sometimes he seemed to know that he was accomplishing the works of evil.” (Robert Payne, a friend of Karl Marx)

    “Atheism is the natural and inseparable part of Communism.” (attributed to Vladimir I. Lenin)

    “Our program necessarily includes the propaganda of atheism.” (V.I. Lenin)

    “There are no morals in politics; there is only expedience. A scoundrel may be of use to us just because he is a scoundrel.” (V.I. Lenin)

    “We do not fight against believers and not even clergymen. WE FIGHT AGAINST GOD to snatch believers from Him.” (Vechernaia Moskva, a Soviet newspaper)

    “Let us drive out the Capitalists from the earth, and God from Heaven!” (early Soviet slogan)

    “With an iron fist we will drive mankind to happiness!” (Soviet slogan)

    “Hatred is an element of the struggle, a relentless hatred of the enemy transforming him into an effective, violent and selective, cold blooded killing machine. A people without hatred cannot vanquish a brutal enemy.” (Che Guevare)

    Lenin: “Freedom is a bourgeois prejudice. We repudiate all morality which proceeds from supernatural ideas or ideas which are outside the class conception. In our opinion, morality is entirely subordinate to the interests of the class war. Everything is moral which is necessary for the annihilation of the old exploiting order and for uniting the proletariat. Our morality consists solely in close discipline and conscious warfare against the exploiters.

    “To put it briefly: the dictatorship of the proletariat is the domination by the proletariat over the bourgeoisie, untrammeled by the law and based on violence and enjoying the sympathy and support of the toiling and exploited masses.” (Joseph Stalin, speech of April 24, 1924)

    “Without mercy, without sparing, we will kill our enemies in scores of hundreds, let them be thousands, let them drown themselves in their own blood… let there be floods of blood of the bourgeois.” (Red Army Newspaper proclamation, September 1918 from George Leggett “The Cheka: Lenin’s Political Police.”)

    “Proletariat coercion, in all its forms, from executions to forced labor, is, paradoxical as it may sound, the method of molding humanity out of the human material of the capitalist period.” (Nikolai Bukharin)

    The Extraordinary Commission is neither an investigating commission nor a tribunal. It is an organ of struggle, acting on the home front of a civil war. It does not judge the enemy: it strikes him… We are not carrying out war against individuals. We are exterminating the bourgeoisie as a class. We are not looking for evidence or witnesses to reveal deeds or words against the Soviet power. The first question we ask is—to what class does he belong, what are his origins, upbringing, education or profession? These questions define the fate of the accused. This is the essence of the Red Terror. (M.Y. Latsis, senior official in the “All-Russian Extraordinary Commission” better know as the “CHEKA”, or Soviet political police as quoted in Harrison Salisbury’s Black Night, White Snow: Russia’s Revolutions, 1905-1917.

    “Hard towards himself, he must be hard towards others also. All the tender and effeminate emotions of kinship, friendship, love, gratitude, and even honor must be stifled in him by a cold and single-minded passion for the revolutionary cause. There exists for him only one delight, one consolation, one reward and one gratification—the success of the revolution. Night and day he must have but one thought, one aim—merciless destruction. In cold-blooded and tireless pursuit of this aim, he must be prepared both to die himself and to destroy with his own hands everything that stands in the way of its achievement.” (Sergei Nechayev, Catechism of a Revolutionary)

    The official journal of the Soviet Academy of Pedagogical Sciences published a government directive Atheistic Education in the School as a resource on how to separate God from human society. The opening paragraph is revealing: “The Soviet school, as an instrument for the Communist education of the rising generation, can, as a matter of principle, take up no other attitude towards religion than one of irreconcilable opposition; for Communist education has as its philosophical basis Marxism, and Marxism is irreconcilably hostile to religion. ‘Marxism is materialism,’ says V. I. Lenin; ‘as such, it is as relentlessly hostile to religion as the materialism of the Encyclopedaists of the eighteenth century or the materialism of Feuerbach.’” Another excerpt reads: “‘Religion’,” Marx said, “is nourished not on heaven but on earth, and with the annihilation of that perverted reality, of which capitalism is the theory, religion will perish of its own accord.’”

    “The World has never before known a godlessness as organized, militarized and tenaciously malevolent as that preached by Marxism. Within the philosophical system of Marx and Lenin and at the heart of their psychology, HATRED OF GOD is the principle driving force, more fundamental than all their political and economic pretensions. Militant atheism is not merely incidental or marginal to Communist policy; it is not a side effect, but the central pivot. To achieve its diabolical ends, Communism needs to control a population devoid of religious and national feeling, and this entails a destruction of faith and nationhood. Communists proclaim both of these objectives openly, and just as openly put them into practice.” (Alexander Solzhenitsyn)

    The primary task of the course “Foundations of Scientific Atheism” is to assist young people to develop a scientifically atheistic worldview, and to understand the deceit of religion and its criminal injunctions. In support of this goal the course “Foundations of Scientific Atheism” will familiarize the participant one the one hand with the religious worldview and expose its deceit and its antiscientific nature, while on the other hand it will show the nature and content of atheism, is consistencies and how it arose, its truly humanitarian directivity, and the bases for its historical stages of development. (first two paragraphs from a 1975 Soviet textbook, The Foundations of Scientific Atheism)

    “1. Hang (hang without fail so the people see) no fewer than one hundred known kulaks, rich men, bloodsuckers. 2. Publish their names. 3. Take from them all the grain. 4. Designate hostages—as per yesterday’s telegram. Do it in such a way that for hundreds of versts [one verst is about one kilometer] around, people will see, tremble, know, shout: they are strangling and will strangle to death the bloodsucker kulaks… P.S. Find… truly hard people.” (memorandum by Lenin on 11 August 1918)

    Lenin viewed utter ruthlessness as a virtue in dealing with his enemies, and especially with the Russian Orthodox Church. “The greater the number or representatives of the reactionary clergy and reactionary bourgeoisie we succeed in executing the better,” he wrote to his assistants, and he wanted to be kept informed on how many clergy had been killed each day. In a 1918 directive demanding more executions, Lenin insisted that they be carried out in a way that would strike terror among the populace (quoted above): “Do it in such a way that for hundreds of versts around the people will see, tremble, know, shout.” A 1922 letter to the Politburo sets forth Lenin’s view of the campaign against the church: “For us this moment is not only exceptionally favorable but generally the only moment when we can, with ninety-nine out of a hundred chances of total success, smash the enemy and secure for ourselves and indispensable position for many decades to come. It is precisely now and only now, when in the starving regions people are eating human flesh, and hundreds if not thousands of corpses are littering the roads, that we can (and therefore must) carry out the confiscation of church valuable with the most savage and merciless energy, not stopping [short of] crushing any resistance… We must, come what may, carry out the confiscation of church valuable in the most decisive and rapid manner, so as to secure for ourselves a fund of several hundred million gold rubles… One wise writer on matters of statecraft [Machiavelli, The Prince, Chapter eight] rightly said that if it is necessary to resort to certain brutalities for the sake of realizing a certain political goal, they must be carried out in the most energetic fashion and in the briefest time because the masses will not tolerate prolonged application of brutality… Therefore, I come to the categorical conclusion that precisely at this moment we must give battle to the… clergy in the most decisive and merciless manner and crush its resistance with such brutality that it will not forget it for decades to come.” (The Unknown Lenin, Richard Pipes)

    Genocide: Atheism’s greatest contribution to humanity:

  34. Tom,

    It has been explained to you repeatedly that “squarely in the realm of science” is incorrect.

    The very reason for me commenting in the first place is because I don’t agree with that statement. Stating it again doesn’t change anything. What I need to know is why.

    You claim that God does have an effect on the material world, and you talk about miracle headings. You then go on to say that it cannot be measured. When I suggest ways in which it could be measured, you claim I’m being a hypocrite for reasons I cannot fathom. Yes it does get boring.

    In addition to you claiming prayers can result in miraculous healings, I’ve got BillT saying that prayers are for the person doing the praying with no intention for God to step in to help the prayee. So you claim prayers do result in miracles, and BillT claiming that’s not what they’re for. I’ve also got G. Rodrigues refusing to accept that anyone or group is better off for praying, because he/she doesn’t know what I mean by “better off,” which seems evasive at the very least. And on top of all that, I’ve got Holopupenko telling me I don’t have face.

    It would seem, in fact, that everyone who’s posting on what prayer is actually for has a different opinion on it.

    And then I’m told I’m not listening to what’s being said.

    To clarify, what I’m saying is this: If something has a material effect on the world, yet that effect cannot be measured or detected in any way, then it is precisely the same as if there were no effect at all.

  35. G. Rodrigues,

    Everyone knows it’s (a), and still we get into these dumb discussions.

    So if someone thinks person X is beautiful, but someone else thinks they are ugly, then what are they? Beautiful or ugly?

    Good and evil alter physical reality in detectable ways.

    Excellent! What are these ways?

    SteveK,

    The physical effect can be measured. It’s the God part that cannot be detected by empirical means

    Precisely what I’ve been saying all along. I’m very glad you agree. How do we measure the physical effects?

    Holopupenko,

    That was lovely, really, yet you fell at the first hurdle. Please explain to me how atheism itself decrees anything about what you wrote. Sure, that was some pretty bad stuff alright; how is atheism responsible? How can you possible say “he was an atheist, therefore…?”

    Do you think maybe, possibly, his hatred of religion had anything to do with fear of the power of the church? You know, maybe?

    I’ll give you a C+ for effort, though. It was well written, after all.

  36. For what it’s worth, I don’t think Hitler’s Catholicism had anything to do with the atrocities he committed, other than as a political tool. Bad people do bad things, and they will do them regardless of their personal beliefs. They’ll simply make their beliefs fit.

  37. Fleegman,

    You seem to think prayers are one thing or another. That they can’t have more than one effect, use or purpose. Of course prayers change us not God because God is omniscient. He doesn’t change because there is nothing new to Him for Him to change in reaction to. Of course, God answers prayers. He answers all prayers by giving us what we would have asked for if we knew as much as Him. And God allows us to participate in His answers by including us or working through us in His answer. Nothing contradictory in any of this.

  38. @Fleegman:

    The claim that God has a measurable effect on the material world. This lays squarely in the realm of science.

    Ah, now we get to the nub of it. I am sorry, it is *you* who is making the claim that the question of God’s existence is a scientific question, not me, so it is you who has to defend it.

    I have already answered that.

    No, you have not. In the first quoted sentence, *you* (not me) claimed that God’s existence is a scientific claim, so let us proceed scientifically. You mentioned prayer studies. So what is the scientific measure of “better off”? What would count as evidence of “better off”? What is a “supernatural” cause? Define it for me and in a scientific measurable way, if you please — after all, that is your criteria. Since you are asking for what amounts to a miraculous intervention of God and since miraculous events are by definition extraordinary and rare, how do you propose to get a good enough sample? Since miracles are not repeatable what do you propose for lab tests? How do you propose to separate the cases of real, bona fide evidence for God’s intervention and the ones that have all sorts of naturalistic explanations?

    And you still have not enlightened me how is this not a case of asking for a gap argument. And since you are asking for gap arguments, there are already plenty of them. Most creationists and IDers (frankly, you should be talking to them not to me) would consider the origin of life, the beginning of the universe, and the origin of the human mind to be plagued with massive gaps. Why are not they good enough that you have to go around and ask for what effectively amounts to miracles? If you think you can scrounge a materialistic explanation for life and consciousness, ok, I will throw you that bone and will not argue with you. What you cannot do is scrounge a physical explanation for why the whole (multi-)universe exists, so there you have it. The biggest, most massive gap there is, one that cannot be explained in a physical way, not even in principle. Unless you will chicken out on me and say it is just a brute fact that the (multi)universe exists.

    Come on Fleegman, it should not be too hard for you, an expert on all things scientifick.

  39. Hitler a Catholic because he was born into a Catholic family? That’s like claiming you’re a car if you find yourself in a garage… which is like claiming you yourself are a Christian or a Jew or a Muslim or a Hindu simply because you were born into such a family: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religious_views_of_Adolf_Hitler.

    Please explain to me how atheism itself decrees anything about what you wrote. You’re kidding with this deflection, right? The onus is on you, dude: YOU are the one claiming atheism is a viable worldview (and implicitly suggesting it does no harm). Yet, when faced with clear and direct examples (look closely at the “first hurdle” upon which you claim I stumbled: Communism begins where atheism begins. Karl Marx) you reject it as not representative of atheism but of communism. Again, the chowder head characterization is perfect: Marx and the other minions looked specifically to atheism as one of the pillars upon which to build their political ideology, while the genocide and atrocities were direct and natural outcomes of atheism put into action with the help of a political ideology.

    Atheism by its nature is deadly idea because of its disordered anthropology (view of human nature) as a consequence of its rejection of the Ultimate Cause of all things.

    I’m not about to give you a lesson in the history and development of atheism, because you will again reject everything that doesn’t fit your plan or embarrasses you. You seem to be quite clueless about atheism’s history and the development of ideas stemming from atheism… much in the same way you’re extremely ignorant of what Christianity is… much in the same way that you don’t read (per Tom’s correct assessment) what is offered, because you’re a priori emotionally committed to your world view.

  40. Fleegman,

    So if someone thinks person X is beautiful, but someone else thinks they are ugly, then what are they? Beautiful or ugly?

    Opinion doesn’t create reality. My response is that a logical contradiction cannot exist as a reality. Hope that helps.

    Excellent! What are these ways?

    People physically move to help their neighbor in need. That’s one way good ’causes’ us to act/change. People physically move to arrest a killer. That’s one way evil ’causes’ us to act/change.

    BTW you attributed my comment to G. Rodrigues by mistake.

  41. Holopupenko –

    creation is not a change

    I’ve read up on Aquinas and all, and I still just don’t get this claim.

    at the moment I fell in love with my wife, she didn’t change

    Actually, I experienced falling in love with my wife as a process, not a distinct moment. But in any case, I don’t see how I could love something that didn’t have thoughts as such, that was essentially static. Appreciate, be awestruck by, etc. – sure. Have a relationship with, though… not sure I grasp that.

  42. Holopupenko – I was unaware that atheists were obligated to regard Marx or Lenin as a prophet.

    How’s this syllogism for you?

    Muslim terrorists base their ideology on a monotheistic religion. Christianity is a monotheistic religion. Therefore the Lutheran church is guilty of suicide bombing.

    Just possibly, there’s room for more than one kind of atheism, just as there’s room for more than one kind of monotheism?

  43. Fleegman,

    Precisely what I’ve been saying all along. I’m very glad you agree. How do we measure the physical effects?

    How? The way all physical effects are measured, of course.

    This doesn’t change the fact that you cannot see God in those measured effects. Did you read my comment about rationality and it being undetectable by science? God is a rational being so why do you expect God’s rationality to be detected by science when it cannot detect human rationality?

    Start with the easy stuff first, Fleegman, before you go looking for God. Tell me what human rationality looks like to an empiricist.

  44. Ray:

    Change is reduction from potency to act, insofar as the thing changing is in potency. What this means is that there is a “before-state” and an “after-state” (or succession of after-states). Creation has no “before-state”: a thing does not exist in any way (including no potency) and “then” (non-temporally) it exists. The “ex” in “ex nihilo” does not mean “from” in the way the English translation reads, because the word “from” is loaded with the implication of a prior state. Annihilation is also not change because there is no “after-state” for the thing: to assert that a thing IS no more “following” annihilation is an incorrect predication, because utter privation of beingness precludes the use of the verb “is”. It’s most certainly precluded univocally.

    On the “process” thing, come on—get with the reading program: there is no ontologically ultimate “static” sense in any contingent being except for its essence—it’s whatness (nuance irrelevant to your failed point notwithstanding): I was Holopupenko the day I was born, Holopupenko now, and will be Holopupenko until the day I die—completely irrespective of whether any or all of my cells or atoms change over the course of my life. What you missed in your “reading” of Aquinas (boy, if I had a penny every time I hear that!) is the distinction between static and dynamic aspects of change (including consideration of formal and material causality)—a question that was nicely solved by Aristotle over 2,450 years ago when he put Heraclitus and Parmenides to rest. So… you’re WAY behind the curve on this one, dude. Looks like you’ve got a LOT more reading (and perhaps a little thinking, n’est-ce pas?) ahead of you.

    I was unaware that atheists were obligated to regard Marx or Lenin as a prophet. That’s an idiotic grasping-for-straws claim… and you know it… and it was on the level of your fallacious syllogism—or the implication that I used the same syllogism. You mean there are other kinds of atheism… like ones that kinda admit to God? You’re not a very serious interlocutor…

  45. G.Rodrigues,

    Ah, now we get to the nub of it. I am sorry, it is *you* who is making the claim that the question of God’s existence is a scientific question, not me, so it is you who has to defend it.

    Swing and a miss. I’m not claiming God’s existence is a scientific question. I am absolutely not saying that. What I am saying, once again, is that if God has measurable effects on the material world these effects should be detectable. The cause of these effects isn’t detectable by science, but the effects themselves should be. If the effects are not detectable, what’s the difference between these so called effects, and no effects at all?

    You simply must agree, that if God favours Christians and answers prayers, however frequently, then Christians as a whole must show a detectable benefit of some kind over and above other groups. If not, why not?

    @Holo

    Atheism by its nature is deadly idea because of its disordered anthropology (view of human nature) as a consequence of its rejection of the Ultimate Cause of all things.

    Do you actually read what you write sometimes? Spare me your special pleading.

    I’m not about to give you a lesson in the history and development of atheism

    Thank goodness.

    I’m off for the evening. Cheers for now,

  46. Holopupenko –

    Creation has no “before-state”: a thing does not exist in any way (including no potency) and “then” (non-temporally) it exists.

    I’m a quasi-Platonist, though, so this doesn’t quite add up. I don’t see that, say, ‘three-ness’ is purely a ‘thought in the Mind of God’ when no one’s thinking about it.

    Looks like you’ve got a LOT more reading

    And thanks for inviting me to do so with such politeness and courtesy.

    You mean there are other kinds of atheism…

    …like ones that aren’t Communist, for example.

  47. @Fleegman:

    Swing and a miss. I’m not claiming God’s existence is a scientific question. I am absolutely not saying that.

    After having written on December 18, 2012 at 12:28 pm:

    The claim that God has a measurable effect on the material world. This lays squarely in the realm of science.

    It does not make sense to ask for a measurable effect of God in the world if you do not presume the existence of God. Since obviously you do not presume that, the reason why you are asking for measurable effects of God’s action is to be able to decide on a scientific basis whether He exists or not, that is, to reason from the effects to the cause via a scientific argument, or to prove by the absence of such effects that He does not exist, and thus yes, your position entails that the question of God’s existence is a scientific question. It is not me who is swinging and missing.

    What I am saying, once again, is that if God has measurable effects on the material world these effects should be detectable. The cause of these effects isn’t detectable by science, but the effects themselves should be.

    Are you being deliberately obtuse? I have asked you a hundred times already for you to define in a scientifically measurable way, and taking prayer studies and “better off” as an example of a detectable effect, what is “better off” and how do you measure it. I will just quote myself as it is easier:

    So what is the scientific measure of “better off”? What would count as evidence of “better off”? What is a “supernatural” cause? Define it for me and in a scientific measurable way, if you please — after all, that is your criteria. Since you are asking for what amounts to a miraculous intervention of God and since miraculous events are by definition extraordinary and rare, how do you propose to get a good enough sample? Since miracles are not repeatable what do you propose for lab tests? How do you propose to separate the cases of real, bona fide evidence for God’s intervention and the ones that have all sorts of naturalistic explanations?

    And you still have not enlightened me how is this not a case of asking for a gap argument. And since you are asking for gap arguments, there are already plenty of them. Most creationists and IDers (frankly, you should be talking to them not to me) would consider the origin of life, the beginning of the universe, and the origin of the human mind to be plagued with massive gaps. Why are not they good enough that you have to go around and ask for what effectively amounts to miracles? If you think you can scrounge a materialistic explanation for life and consciousness, ok, I will throw you that bone and will not argue with you. What you cannot do is scrounge a physical explanation for why the whole (multi-)universe exists, so there you have it. The biggest, most massive gap there is, one that cannot be explained in a physical way, not even in principle. Unless you will chicken out on me and say it is just a brute fact that the (multi)universe exists.

    You simply must agree, that if God favours Christians and answers prayers, however frequently, then Christians as a whole must show a detectable benefit of some kind over and above other groups. If not, why not?

    This is getting surreal. I will repeat myself: define “benefit” and in such a way as to be measured by lab tests in a controlled setting, then explain how do you you propose to separate those benefits that come from real supernatural intervention from those that not and have naturalistic explanations, etc. and etc. and etc. It is you who are making claims; the onus is on you.

    In a post above, you accuse me of being evasive when all I am doing is trying to understand what it is that you are claiming. But you dodge, evade and refuse to tackle the questions.

  48. Fleegman,
    The scientifically measurable effect is immediate and measurable with instruments that detect force, mass, luminosity, speed, composition etc.

    The ‘scientifically’ measurable benefit of that effect isn’t that easy. None of the same instruments can be used and often the beneficial effect can be time delayed – sometimes by years – so what does that tell you?

  49. G.Rodrigues,

    It does not make sense to ask for a measurable effect of God in the world if you do not presume the existence of God. Since obviously you do not presume that, the reason why you are asking for measurable effects of God’s action is to be able to decide on a scientific basis whether He exists or not, that is, to reason from the effects to the cause via a scientific argument, or to prove by the absence of such effects that He does not exist, and thus yes, your position entails that the question of God’s existence is a scientific question. It is not me who is swinging and missing.


    You are simply unbelievable. I know you are not stupid, so I can only conclude that it is you who is being purposefully obtuse.

    For what I hope is the last time, I did not bring up the claim of God effecting the material world; Tom did in the OP, ok? Please stop saying that I brought up this claim. Of course I don’t think this is true. I am simply saying, and I’ll just go ahead and quote myself again:

    “What I am saying, once again, is that if God has measurable effects on the material world these effects should be detectable. The cause of these effects isn’t detectable by science, but the effects themselves should be.”

    Since you quoted that yourself, I know that you are aware of what I’m saying.

    I am not, once again, saying that whether God exists or not can be answered by science. The claim that God has measurable effects on this world, however, can be answered by science. God is still perfectly capable of existing even if He doesn’t effect the material world as a result of prayer. So it is not a question of God’s existence, but whether or not… Do I really have to say it again? No.

    You then go on and on about how you don’t understand what “better off” could possibly mean. I have already explained what this could mean. I’ll repeat it for you since you appear to have difficulty reading what I have actually written:

    “Fine, then it should be no problem to show that Christians as a group have less instances of cancer than say Muslims, or atheists.”

    I’ll even break down for you what this means. This means that assuming Christians are praying for their family and friends with cancer, if prayer works – miraculous healing; remission; generally less instances of cancer – then Christian groups should be better off when it comes to cancer. If you don’t know what better off means in that context, then you are beyond help.

    If that doesn’t get through to you, I don’t know what will. Surreal? You bet.

    SteveK,

    The ‘scientifically’ measurable benefit of that effect isn’t that easy. None of the same instruments can be used and often the beneficial effect can be time delayed – sometimes by years – so what does that tell you?


    
Is there a benefit or not? Are you saying that the effects of prayer are undetectable? If so, then you’re saying that praying is precisely the same thing as doing nothing. At least as far as material effects are concerned. Sure you can claim that it benefits the person doing the praying by bringing them closer to God, but that’s not a scientific claim so I can’t really comment on that.

  50. @Fleegman:

    What I am saying, once again, is that if God has measurable effects on the material world these effects should be detectable. The cause of these effects isn’t detectable by science, but the effects themselves should be.

    You are claiming the logical equivalent (more on this below) of a conditional if P then Q where P = “God exists” and Q = “God’s effects in the world are detectable by science”. Oh wait, this was precisely what I said you claimed.

    Let us parse what it means to claim Q. There are some events X happening in the world that are detectable by science. In order for the claim to make any sense these effects must have something in them that leads us to conclude that their source is God (e.g. their miraculous nature), because otherwise we could not separate “God’s effects” from the ordinary course of nature and the claim would be vacuous. So it therefore follows that:

    (1) Such effects X as attributable to God must occur, if indeed He does exist as the Christian maintains.

    (2) Effects X are detectable by science.

    and from (1) and (2) it follows that if effects X do occur if follows that God exists. Contrapositively, since by (1) you maintain that such effects must occur if God exists (or what amounts to the same, maintain that the Christian must claim such), and such effects are detectable by science, it follows that if they do *not* occur then God does not exist. Either way, the question of whether God exists can be decided scientifically by searching for effects X. Oh wait, this is exactly what I claimed your position *entails*. Notice the word? “Entails”? Not “claim” but “entails”. Here, I will even quote myself:

    and thus yes, your position entails that the question of God’s existence is a scientific question.

    For a question to be decidable by science it only suffices that there is one scientific test that can be brought to bear to decide it, and you have just outlined one.

    It follows then from what I have said before, that what you are asking from the Christian amounts to a gap argument. Oh wait, that is what I have been saying from my first post in response to you. So what is your excuse? Are you clueless or just plain intellectually dishonest?

    I’ll even break down for you what this means. This means that assuming Christians are praying for their family and friends with cancer, if prayer works – miraculous healing; remission; generally less instances of cancer – then Christian groups should be better off when it comes to cancer.

    Since you refuse to spell out what you mean and give the proper descriptions of the required scientific tests, I will guesstimate and take it that by a scientific measure of “better off” in this particular case is to take the population of Christian cancer patients and count the miraculous healings, and then take the atheist population and count the… miraculous healings? Well, we already know that the latter is 0 since any atheist convinced (rightly or wrongly) of having been miraculously cured has converted to theism.

    This is wrong on so many levels that it is hard to know where to begin. Well, for starters, Christians do pray for the health of their loved ones (and more) but they also say “Thy will be done”. You can object that even if not all prayers are answered, *some* should be, so we should be able to see something. Ok, but since we are talking of miraculous healings, which are by definition rare events, they are statistically insignificant and fall under the statistical noise threshold, so no, Christian *groups*, qua *Christian group*, are not expected to be “better off” on average than any other group — at least not on the basis of miraculous healings. Maybe you will concede this and say but still, there should be *some* reports of miraculous healings. But there *are* such reports. Maybe you will retort that those reports are bogus. Have you considered *all* reports of miraculous healings? The Catholic Church has pretty strict standards about this type of things and they run very thorough tests with large commissions with people of all specialties (psychologists, doctors specialized in the relevant medical area, etc.) and some of these tests have given a positive result. Maybe you will say that you disagree with the ascription of “miraculous”. But if you do, then your claim of having defined “better off” falls flat on the ground because you have not deigned to present a scientifically acceptable definition of a healing that counts as miraculous. Does this answer your stupid questions?

    This line of inquiry is really stupid and completely worthless. My main reason for pursuing it is to try to understand what exactly you are claiming, since any other line of inquiry is foreclosed by your willful and invincible ignorance of even the most basics of philosophy or of what your interlocutors hold.

  51. Fleegman,

    Is there a benefit or not?

    I think there is.

    Are you saying that the effects of prayer are undetectable?

    The effects can be detectable if the effects are physical and if they occur in noticeable numbers. The impossible difficulty for the outsider is tying the effect to the prayer itself. As you will see below there are plenty of opportunities for non-praying people to get similar benefits as praying people.

    If the effects are spiritual – and I suspect most of the work is done at this level – then no, the effect will not be detectable in a measurable way as far as I can tell.

    The reason being that spiritually transformed people interact with everyone, and that effect “rubs off” on others. The lives of non-praying individuals are improved. To the casual observer, it looks like prayer didn’t do anything because non-praying people receive a similar effect. This phenomenon works in reverse too. Lives can be ruined by these same people because being spiritually transformed doesn’t mean you are perfect. Sin is an equal opportunity destroyer of lives.

    And to further emphasize the impossibility of it all, there’s God’s infinite grace. God’s infinite grace is an ocean and it affects us all – even non-praying people – because we are all swimming in its undeserved goodness.

  52. Here’s a test scenario for you Fleegman. 🙂

    Group A of uber-spiritual Christians pray 24/7 for the healing of atheist X. Unfortunately he is not healed. God’s grace is at work in his death because it results in the spiritual transformation of some bystanders.

    Atheist Y is the control. Nobody prays for her. In fact, people are encouraged to pray for her demise.

    But Atheist Y goes to the grocery store with Atheist Z. Atheist Z went to work earlier in the day where spiritually transformed person A, effected by the power of prayer, interacted with the non -praying Atheist Z in such a way as to give her hope. That hope resulted in Atheist Z encouraging Atheist Y (while at the grocery store) to go see the doctor one last time. The doctor, immersed in the ocean that is God’s infinite grace, experiences an “aha! moment” when examining Atheist Y because he has been imparted with Godly wisdom (and his wife was praying for him). Atheist Y is healed.

    False conclusion: prayer doesn’t have any effect.

  53. I’ve been moving into a new office while trying to get ready for Christmas at the same time. So as I catch up here, has anyone bothered to tell Fleegman (@19) that Christians have measurably better health, both physical and emotional, than non-believers?

    I was keeping track of those sorts of findings for a long time, and then I dropped it for some reason. Anyway, Fleegman, your challenge is met.

  54. Along with being occupied elsewhere I haven’t been keeping track of all the comments here. I said a while back I was going to hold Christian commenters to a high standard. One person here has been accused of being “vitriolic.” I apologize for letting that continue.

    Holopupenko, it’s really counter-productive to treat other people the way you are. You’ve got to recognize that. Your anger–the anger of man–is coming out, and you have to know that it does not accomplish the righteousness of God. Name-calling only raises barriers between people.

    I’m not opposed to calling someone down—I’ve done it recently enough with Fleegman—but if you’re going to do that it’s really essential to try to make a passageway through barriers, not to make them even higher, wider, and tougher.

    It’s God’s place to judge. He has delegated us some of that responsibility (it’s not true that Christians should never ever judge!), but our role in it is not to condemn but to work toward restoration of relationship with God and with others. Sometimes that requires pointing out how someone is messing up those relationships, getting things wrong, doing things wrong. That’s our role in discerning/judging sometimes. But it’s to restore, not to condemn.

    I hope that’s clear again. I really hope it’s clear again.

  55. Fleegman, I don’t know why this has to be explained so often. You wrote,

    You are simply unbelievable. I know you are not stupid, so I can only conclude that it is you who is being purposefully obtuse.

    For what I hope is the last time, I did not bring up the claim of God effecting the material world; Tom did in the OP, ok? Please stop saying that I brought up this claim. Of course I don’t think this is true. I am simply saying, and I’ll just go ahead and quote myself again:

    “What I am saying, once again, is that if God has measurable effects on the material world these effects should be detectable. The cause of these effects isn’t detectable by science, but the effects themselves should be.”

    The closest thing to that, that I brought up in the OP, is that the success of science’s checks and balances is best explained on a Christian view of theological anthropology.

    Maybe you were just forgetting what I said. Anyway, the person who brought up “measurable effects was you, in comment #1.

    Since that time I have explained to you repeatedly (#2, #6, #16) that your conception of “measurable effect” is the wrong one, in that it requires something like a statistical control on God’s actions, which is a meaningless thing to think about whether there is a God or not. Your requirement is nonsense, whether atheism is true or theism is true.

    But I wasn’t the only one to respond. G. Rodrigues (#7, #23, #41, #50) wrote virtually the same except in greater detail.

    You responded (#48),

    Swing and a miss. I’m not claiming God’s existence is a scientific question. I am absolutely not saying that. What I am saying, once again, is that if God has measurable effects on the material world these effects should be detectable. The cause of these effects isn’t detectable by science, but the effects themselves should be. If the effects are not detectable, what’s the difference between these so called effects, and no effects at all?

    SteveK added more in a couple recent comments, and so did Holopupenko.

    Now when are you going to get it?

    I’m tempted to write the following very slowly. To request, suggest, require, demand, or otherwise ask for a scientifically measurable effect of God’s action in the world is to require experimental controls on the actions of God, which is impossible. It is impossible to this extent: if there is a God, it is incoherent to make the request, and if there is no God, the request is also incoherent.

    So all your blustering about “measurable effect,” when you demand that it be scientifically measurable, is no better than demanding we catch cosmic rays in a butterfly net.

    Does that therefore mean God’s effects in the world are not detectable? Let me ask a different related question: was my very first sentence in response to your comment #1 detectable? If it was, then you already have the essential answer to that question.

    Not every detectable effect is detected through science.

    Nevertheless, see my prior comment: there is a detectable effect. The experimental controls on it are weak, they are correlational, but they do indicate that there is something positive that happens to Christians. How do you interpret that?

    Here’s my view:

    God won’t take on the role of lab rat. He won’t play the prayer-research game unless he decides to; he won’t be forced into it.

    But God does keep his promises with those who live in relationship with him. I don’t need a scientific study to show me that, any more than I need a scientific study to show that my wife keeps her promises to me. The result of God’s gracious work is that people who live in relationship with him experience the good effect of so doing.

    So scientifically measurable effects do exist, in correlational research terms. But there’s no good theoretical reason even to try to obtain them in controlled experimentation. Think of it: why do researcher practice double-blind studies? And if there is a God, can he be blindfolded? And if he can’t (as is the case), then can a double-blind study be performed? And if a double-blind study can’t be performed, can any reliable conclusions be reached?

    (I’m speaking like a madman even to go into that detail concerning what should be so obvious.)

    Anyway: it’s time for you to recognize once and for all that your call for scientifically measurable effects

  56. Doing my best to follow.

    I was raised by Christians (I won’t argue denominations at this point), but I wasn’t raised with the expectations of miracles happening in the here-and-now. What was expected was that there was a real likelihood that God would bless the faithful with tangible benefits like greater financial security and increased happiness, but that we shouldn’t be disappointed if He didn’t (Thy will be done, etc).

    Perhaps your Christian experience is different. Should a Christian expect miracles? Should a Christian expect any tangible benefit from being a Christian in the here-and-now at least? Does God favor Christians over non-Christians?

    I *think* that this is what fleegman is trying to convey.

    To my atheist brethren, if the answer to any of those questions is in the affirmative, there is the possibility that any benefits might be real but not be statistically significant. Hate to play Devil’s Advocate (so to speak) but what if we can’t ever verify God’s influence in this world scientifically? Are we willing to accept any other form of evidence or proof?

    I *think* that is one of the concepts that the theists here are trying to convey.

  57. Statistical significance, and statistical testing in general, are related both to the reality of the effect and to the research design. I’ve been trying to get Fleegman to think straight on the design.

  58. @Sault:

    Perhaps your Christian experience is different. Should a Christian expect miracles? Should a Christian expect any tangible benefit from being a Christian in the here-and-now at least? Does God favor Christians over non-Christians?

    Those are good questions. Certainly, you have read the gospels. And you surely know what Jesus Christ repeatedly told his disciples about what they should expect in this world. How would you characterize it?

  59. G. Rodrigues,

    So what is your excuse? Are you clueless or just plain intellectually dishonest?

    That’s the second time you’ve given me these options, right from your very first comment. You know you really would make more headway in discussions if you cut out this kind of thing. Point me to someone who wants to say “I’ll take option ‘A’ please!”

    You are also offering a false dichotomy, since all I’m asking for is an effect. You can’t have a gap argument – I’m not convinced I’m talking about the same thing you am: a la “God of the Gaps,” right? – if you don’t have an effect in the first place. Show me effect, and then we can talk about cause.

    Since you refuse to spell out what you mean and give the proper descriptions of the required scientific tests, I will guesstimate and take it that by a scientific measure of “better off” in this particular case is to take the population of Christian cancer patients and count the miraculous healings

    I did spell it out. I’m simply talking about general terms. In order to make your point, you reduce the material effects of prayer to such statistical outliers – which would be expected in large populations even without prayer – that you make it sound like getting an actual result for the prayee is a bit like winning the lottery, and perhaps even less likely.

    The name for that, as you rightly said, is statistical noise.

    And why do you take only the positive statistical outliers and label them miracles? What about when someone perfectly healthy drops dead for reasons science can’t explain? Is that a miracle too?

    What I would say is that what you’re describing about prayer is a far cry from both what the Bible promises, and what many many Christians think.

    Does this answer your stupid questions?

    Yes thanks, you big old charmer. I asked if Christian groups would expect to be better off in general as a result of prayer, and the short version of your answer was “No, because the effects are so tiny as to be completely indistinguishable from statistical noise.”

    I guess I just had the wrong idea as to what Christians (at least the people who frequent this site) think prayer is for, and I’ll hold my hands up to that charge. I honestly thought that Christians who prayed did so with some belief that their prayers would be answered. And I mean answered by getting what they asked for, not in the hand wavey “oh, they’re all answered, but sometimes the answer is no” way.

    How do you reconcile that with what Mark, James, and John have to say on the matter? They certainly don’t talk about prayer in a “at a level so small as to be undetectable beyond statistical noise” kind of way, do they?

  60. Hi Tom,

    So scientifically measurable effects do exist, in correlational research terms. But there’s no good theoretical reason even to try to obtain them in controlled experimentation.

    Thank you! Goodness me, that’s all I was asking for: a correlation. I don’t remember ever asking for an experiment. Science isn’t just experiments in a lab, after all. Why was that so hard?

    When I was talking about Christian Groups, I didn’t mean stick a group of Christians in a lab and perform experiments on them. I meant Christians as a whole. And as you’ve now said, apparently you believe that there is a measureable effect. So why was I subjected to such disdain for asking for evidence for it?

    Thanks for the links; the obvious problem, of course, is that most of the studies you link to are those that favour religion, or spirituality, as opposed to specifically Christian. Could there be some socio-economic benefit of living in a close knit community of cooperation and mutual respect? I’m sure there could. Do Christians stand out in some way? Probably not.

    Something else I’d like to add is that I have been told many times in this thread that God isn’t a subject for science. On the other hand, I have also been told many times in other posts on this site that the question of whether or not the events of the Bible are true and actually happened are discoverable by studying the evidence. And you maintain that you’ve done that, and the only sensible conclusion is that it’s all true. Why do you believe God’s work is detectible using those methods?

  61. After Tom’s last post, I looked back – something I should have done earlier – and realised that it was in fact I who brought up the point of material effects, in response to Tom saying that God cannot be detected by science, or words to that effect. My response was that if God has an effect on the material world, then that effect should be able to be detected in some way.

    So I apologise unreservedly for saying that Tom brought it up in the OP!

  62. Fleegman,

    My response was that if God has an effect on the material world, then that effect should be able to be detected in some way.

    That’s correct and no one else is arguing about that. What is causing the disagreement is that you want to limit “some way” to science.

    The other main disagreement is whether you can conduct any scientific study on the effect of God that would give meaningful results. Given your comments on the studies Tom pointed you to I think you know that is an impossible task.

  63. Fleegman,

    Something else I’d like to add is that I have been told many times in this thread that God isn’t a subject for science. On the other hand, I have also been told many times in other posts on this site that the question of whether or not the events of the Bible are true and actually happened are discoverable by studying the evidence. And you maintain that you’ve done that, and the only sensible conclusion is that it’s all true. Why do you believe God’s work is detectible using those methods?

    Why do you think different scientific disciplines use different methods?

  64. Melissa,

    Given your comments on the studies Tom pointed you to I think you know that is an impossible task.

    I was simply pointing out that most of the list Tom pointed me to was talking about religion in general, as opposed to Christianity specifically. He said:

    …Christians have measurably better health, both physical and emotional, than non-believers?

    I was keeping track of those sorts of findings for a long time…

    Yet as I said, most of the list appears to suggest that religion in general may offer these benefits. That’s all I was pointing out. I wasn’t attempting to debunk papers that I haven’t read; it’s simply addressing the wrong question. On the other hand, the bar at which a paper gets onto Tom’s list appears to be rather low. I took the time to dip into some of the research, and what I saw wasn’t encouraging.

    Yes, people who pray can sometimes feel happier about stuff than people who don’t. Not disputing that this is one of the potential benefits to religion in general. I can’t write that without adding that the negative psychological effects can be equally negative comparing the religious to the non-religious.

    But once again, that’s religion in general.

    Why do you think different scientific disciplines use different methods?

    What does the method have to do with it? It’s all science, right? And I’ve been told, repeatedly, that God is not detectable by science.

  65. Off topic:

    @69 Fleegman said: And I’ve been told, repeatedly, that God is not detectable by science.

    So, ID supporters and proponents, which is it? Should one accept the claims of ID theorists — like Dembski — who assert that measurable are formal and final causality (which, in combined form, are “design”), or does one employ the power of the human capacity for reason to achieve higher verities with philosophy as the bridge that gets one from sensory to non-sensory knowledge? If the former, prove it scientifically and philosophically so that both secularists and I can understand. If the latter, then please remove ID from the biology classroom.

    Back on topic:

    @57 Frustration with nonsense does cloud charity… although I’m not using that as an excuse. I apologize.

    However, Tom, permit me to remind you of something you know very well. When you ask in today’s post to meet “where we really see each other as real people” begs a hugely important question. Atheism is, by its very nature, anti-human because of its rejection of Beingness Itself. Christians are bound by the strength of their capacity for reason and the admonition of their faith to understand that man is created imago Dei. Atheists are not. It’s not directly the issue of them not believing in God; it’s their sick anti-human anthropology, lack of objective moral scruples, and every other dark thing that results from their choice.

    To reject the Ultimate source of Reason (Logos) is to reject reason. To reject the Ultimate “object” of faith is to reject faith outright. To expect such people to carry on in reasoned argumentation or in personal sharing, will only take us so far. What is needed is something beyond us.

    In other words, Tom, you’re asking for the impossible: you’re asking for Christians to “meet” with a group that, at the end of the day, rejects fundamental goodness, truth, beauty, etc., and as a result ultimately rejects the humanity of their interlocutors. On an everyday basis, of course even they have some sense of good and evil, purpose, etc. and they live it accordingly. But, it’s a parasitic sense — parasitic upon… wait for it… religious faith. It’s a sense that they conveniently abandon when confronted with challenges to their baseless beliefs. It’s ultimately a manipulative, power grab.

    Now, if your purpose is to (hopefully) have such discussions light shed on the depravity of the atheist worldview (theoretically and actually) by having atheists engage with people who’s ultimate aim stands in direct contradiction to atheist unreason, and if (even more hopefully) this approach witnesses to the source of Good, then from the perspective of evangelization, that’s good.

    From the perspective of human reason, that looks like an impossible, insurmountable problem to resolve. However, I’m still left with Matthew 19:26.

  66. @Fleegman:

    That’s the second time you’ve given me these options, right from your very first comment.

    Correct, and I also gave an argument for why those were the only options. There is a third option, which on hindsight I did not add because it is a discussion killer: you do know that it is a gap argument, but since gap arguments are fallacious, given your epistemic stance you would be then committed to say that there can be no possible evidence for God’s existence.

    You know you really would make more headway in discussions if you cut out this kind of thing.

    You know you would really make more headway in discussions if you made even a semblance of an idea of what your interlocutors hold or could even mount the semblance of cogent philosophical argument or even more modestly, responded to the *arguments* I have made. You just ignore them. So be indignant as much as you want; it is bluster and hot air and does not make an iota of difference.

    You can’t have a gap argument – I’m not convinced I’m talking about the same thing you am: a la “God of the Gaps,” right? – if you don’t have an effect in the first place. Show me effect, and then we can talk about cause.

    Right. It is not like I have not addressed this or anything. It is not like I have not given an argument to show why what you are asking is a gap argument. No siree.

    What I would say is that what you’re describing about prayer is a far cry from both what the Bible promises, and what many many Christians think.

    Giggle. As if you know what Christians think or what the Bible says. But even if you were correct in your surmise, you are addressing *me* and arguing with *me*, so it is the arguments *I* lay out that you have to respond to, not what you imagine “many Christians” think, or what you imagine that the Bible promises from your readings and hermeneutic principles, principles that most likely I will reject as unsound — it is a typical, but really bizarre and ironical fact that never ceases to amaze me, that atheists tend to put on the Hat of a Literalist, Fundamentalist Christian to argue over the Bible.

    I did spell it out. I’m simply talking about general terms.

    Did you really? After saying this, two paragraphs below you write:

    And why do you take only the positive statistical outliers and label them miracles? What about when someone perfectly healthy drops dead for reasons science can’t explain? Is that a miracle too?

    So now, you are complaining of my failing to guess at what you meant. And you go on complaining some more in the rest of your response. You have the sheer chutzpah of complaining about my bad guesstimate, when I explicitly said that I was guesstimating since you did not deign to specify *exactly* what you wanted, after your exasperation at my inability to know what you wanted, an inability you labeled as “surreal” and “beyond help”. For you example, you go on saying:

    I asked if Christian groups would expect to be better off in general as a result of prayer, and the short version of your answer was “No, because the effects are so tiny as to be completely indistinguishable from statistical noise.”

    But emphatically that was *NOT* what I said. That you construe my answer as such is just your misreading and ultimately, the end result of *your* refusal to specify *exactly* what you wanted. I am stickler for precision precisely to avoid this type of weasel, equivocated argumentation. So sorry, I am not going to answer your questions, neither these nor the ones about statistical noise and prayer and whatnot you make below. You have forfeited that right after refusing to describe the scientific measure of “better off”, of “miraculous”, of “supernatural cause”, etc. As someone asked rhetorically in this very thread (JAD I think), you are not arguing, you are being argumentative.

    Science is all you know; it is your one trick pony. It is all you have to bring to the discussion; it is all you have brought to the discussion so far, or to any discussion you and I have engaged in this blog for that matter. And not science per se, but more the instrumentalist, positivist view, a very particular *philosophical* view of human knowledge that you are unable to rationally justify. That is your brand of atheist apologetics. For someone like me, steeped in the tradition of classical theism, your gnutoid talking points are simply irrelevant. But since it is all you know, and we have to start our meeting together somewhere, and it may even be the case, and it surely is the case, that you do have some cogent points to make, I really tried to understand what you were saying. But the fact, the plain, sad fact, is that you are not an intellectually serious interlocutor. And just to prevent any misunderstandings, I am not pointing out a moral failure but an intellectual one — whether it is a moral failure it is for you to answer, not me, as I am not your Judge, just a fellow sinner. Pax Vobiscum.

  67. Thank you! Goodness me, that’s all I was asking for: a correlation.

    I thought my comments made this point fairly obvious. Guess not. I’ll try harder next time.

  68. Holopupenko –

    it’s their sick anti-human anthropology, lack of objective moral scruples,

    I disagree on both counts. You made some claims about atheism in the last thread, and I asked you about it, but you didn’t reply.

    As to objective morality, you could look here or here.

    Of course, if you’re really convinced I don’t actually mean anything I say, and I ‘reject your humanity’, then there’s no hope of an actual conversation and we might as well just ignore each other.

  69. G.Rodrigues,

    Well… That was…

    Lots I want to say in response, of course, but like you say, what would be the point?

    Don’t bother with objective morality, Ray. Although I’m not much of an intellectual interlocutor, it’s quite a simple concept that they simply refuse to grasp.

  70. Ray,
    Rules of chess are nothing like objective morals. I repeat, because you keep giving me the opportunity, that you don’t understand the moral grounding problem you face.

  71. Fleegman,

    What does the method have to do with it? It’s all science, right? And I’ve been told, repeatedly, that God is not detectable by science

    Different disciplines use different methods appropriate to the questions they are addressing. That is the answer to the question you posed to us.

    In relation to your comments on the studies, what would be the right questions to ask? How would you select the groups?What would you measure? You’ve offered no answers to those questions in spite of repeated requests to do so and you comments just illustrate the difficulty of that task.

  72. @ Holo

    I accept atheism because so far I have evaluated the claims made by theists as ultimately false or inconclusive. Perhaps a consequence of that is that I have no objective morality to cling to – well, then I must accept that and find some way to muddle through life without it. Even without it, though, it doesn’t mean that I am forced to become a mass-murdering psychopath, as you would have us believe.

    It’s funny – I get along great with the people at the church that I do sound for. They have their beliefs; I have my beliefs. Yet somehow we get along and they don’t see me as an evil, hate-filled, soul-less, mass-murdering, Being-denier.

    Is it because they aren’t as smart and educated as you, or is it because they’ve taken the time to get to know me and accept me even though I disagree with them theologically?

  73. SteveK –

    Rules of chess are nothing like objective morals.

    Speaking of ‘not understanding’ – I never said the rules of chess are like objective morals.

    I said chess strategies are analogous to objective morals. If you’ve read my stuff, can you explain the distinction between rules and strategies? What two things have to be present to give rise to a strategy?

  74. Ray,

    I read the chess analogy. Interesting. In my experience playing chess, every action has a ‘consequence’, meaning, affects the flow of the game.

    Can an action be neutral of a strategy? Or, can an action I take in life have neither a positive or negative affect on me?

    Further, in objective morality, usually actions are considered good or evil. Is there room for a neutral or amoral action? Can something be neither good nor evil?

  75. @Sault,

    “I accept atheism because so far I have evaluated the claims made by theists as ultimately false or inconclusive.”

    So have you evaluated the claims made by atheists and found them to be ultimately true or conclusive? (Or are you just using atheism as a intermediary position?)

    As just one example, how does one prove that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is ultimately false?

  76. Sault: I have no interest in engaging you further… although you have reminded me of something very important.

    Ray: I also have no interest in engaging ignorance such as this:

    Further, in objective morality, usually actions are considered good or evil. Is there room for a neutral or amoral action? Can something be neither good nor evil?

  77. Holo,

    Thanks for not addressing that question. It’s more geared towards Christians since most of them take on that philosophy.

  78. @ Holo (if he bothers to read this)

    Sault: I have no interest in engaging you further…

    Thank God (so to speak).

    I think that one of my first interactions with you was you calling me as dumb as a bag of hammers (an insult which still makes me smile). Just about every time I’ve seen you post you’ve come across as arrogant, condescending, and dismissive.

    I actually understand, to a degree. You’re a professor in the high realm of academia, and when you have so much knowledge and have honed your critical thinking skills… well, the rest of us probably seem rather ignorant and obtuse by comparison.

    Maybe you’re miserable. Maybe you’re in pain. Maybe someone or some event or series of events has prejudiced you against “us”. Maybe this is your only outlet, your only venue to vent. Hell, maybe that’s just the kind of person you are (although I would prefer not to think so).

    Call me, call “us” what you will, but you’re the one hurling the epithets and accusing us of immorality and deviance and inhumanity and all that… not us, and not me.

    I will do my best to honor your wish to not interact. Go with God, go in peace, and if we ever do interact again, hopefully it can be done more constructively than it has in the past.

    If you wish to have the final word you may do so.

  79. Ray @81,
    A lengthy discussion for another time, perhaps. Your analysis boils down to any life strategy, born of personal desire, that results in a “win” – that this is moral goodness.

    The problem I see is that this is subjective/relativistic morality, not objective morality. My strategy that results in “winning” might be to kill all Jews. Yours might be to get along with everyone and prosper.

    Now if some forms of “winning” are objectively morally evil, then we agree in principle, but we need a place to ground that objective principle. You seem to think it can be grounded in something other than the necessary being of God. I’ve never seen that magic trick performed successfully – ever.

  80. Holopupenko, you say rightly…

    Atheism is, by its very nature, anti-human because of its rejection of Beingness Itself. Christians are bound by the strength of their capacity for reason and the admonition of their faith to understand that man is created imago Dei. Atheists are not.

    But you contradict that very principle when you go on to say,

    It’s not directly the issue of them not believing in God; it’s their sick anti-human anthropology, lack of objective moral scruples, and every other dark thing that results from their choice.

    I read Romans 2 and I find that nonbelievers have objective morality in their hearts, which is part and parcel of the very imago Dei you have just mentioned. I find that even if their anthropology is anti-human, which is the case if they carry it through to its logical conclusions, they remain nevertheless just as human as God made them. In fact many atheists’ anthropology is not as anti-human as it should be if they thought it through all the way. I think what happens is their very humanness prevents them from being as consistently atheistic as they think they are.

    You go on to say something like that:

    In other words, Tom, you’re asking for the impossible: you’re asking for Christians to “meet” with a group that, at the end of the day, rejects fundamental goodness, truth, beauty, etc., and as a result ultimately rejects the humanity of their interlocutors. On an everyday basis, of course even they have some sense of good and evil, purpose, etc. and they live it accordingly. But, it’s a parasitic sense — parasitic upon… wait for it… religious faith. It’s a sense that they conveniently abandon when confronted with challenges to their baseless beliefs. It’s ultimately a manipulative, power grab.

    That manipulative search for power is the self-centeredness we all start with until we are regenerated in Christ, so in a very real sense, apart from grace, we’re all in the same condition. Some humility is called for. And when I see and hear beauty produced by nonChristians, I know that they do not reject it, except on the deep metaphysical level. It is their humanness coming through once again there. It is their recalcitrant humanness (imago Dei), as Moreland put it in a book title. Their atheism says one thing, their humanness another, and their humanness wins time and time again.

    So we are able to communicate with one another, for we are relating to fellow human beings. It is not impossible. There are barriers, to be sure, but they are not all the same barriers that you think they are. And there is no need to erect more of them.

    Matthew 19:26 is an apt reference. Let’s leave room for God’s grace. And let’s bear in mind how Jesus Christ interacted with the woman at the well, with Zaccheus, with the sinning woman in John 8, and so on.

  81. Tom:

    I’m not going to quibble over some of the points you raised. The overall summary is you’re largely correct… although I wonder if those on the other side of the bench care to notice you agree (strongly!) with the characterization of what atheism is.

    However, your very last point as it applies to this particular post and in general when dealing with atheists’ comments on this blog, is incorrect. Dare I say, blatantly so?

    Zacchaeus and the harlot RECOGNIZED and ACKNOWLEDGED sin for what it is (or, to employ a modern term of art, they recognized their acts as objectively wrong). Ryan and Sault and Ray dismiss (to whatever extent) even the notion of sin or objective morals not grounded in the Ultimate… which, among other things makes Ray’s @76 this is-to-ought fallacy so tragic. They dismiss it unless, of course, they hypocritically employ it for their own purposes.

    Worse, Tom, you know a good portion of those atheists who comment here celebrate death (e.g., abortion) deviance (homosexuality) and a denigration of human nature (free will) through scientistic nonsense as completely normal. To dare to raise one’s voice is to, well, “sin” against their own categorically-imposed (yet unsuppportable) standards.

    Maybe the latter is what you (through Moreland) referred to as their “recalcitrant humanness”. I’m not so sure. Sin denigrates human nature; an aspect of humanness which suffers is our capacity for reason. It’s not God who suffers rebuke at the hands of those who would deny Him. It’s they who denigrate their own humanness… to the point of denying it (or restricting it to their notion–again, through the nonsense of their latent, and sometimes blatant, scientism). To what specifically do you refer when you suggest a “recalcitrant humanness” on the part of those who act not like Zacchaeus or the harlot, but who deny the brokenness of human nature… not to speak of celebrating deviance and death?

    Were it that they were of the same mindset as Zacchaeus or the harlot.

  82. Tom:

    I might also add Christ’s attitude and actions were quite different in cases like (a) Zacchaeus and the harlot, vs. (b) the Pharisees and those selling in the Temple. The latter were behaving like atheist commenters on this blog, and against whom very sharp words indeed were employed. The former at least recognized their sinfulness, and upon whom mercy and love were poured out. Charitable approach notwithstanding, to lose that distinction is to lose… a lot.

    Zacchaeus and the harlot sinned, and recognized their sin, and pleaded for forgiveness and mercy… and got it… as will every repenting sinner no matter how many times they fail. Atheism, for a whole slew of other reasons, is deadly precisely because it, ultimately, rejects the very notion of sin… especially in as much as it reflects Lucifer’s sin.

    Engaging in arguments on the brokenness of humanity with atheists who deny human nature (by denying integral aspects of it) is like trying to enter into a discussion with someone who rejects discussion: it’s a FAIL from the first step. I’m not convinced it’s even humanely possible. Again, especially after being exposed to these years of atheism’s cranial emptiness and its resultant horrors and the inability to it’s own proponents to deal with those horrors, I’m left clinging to Matthew 19:26.

  83. Holopupenko –

    I wonder if those on the other side of the bench care to notice you agree (strongly!) with the characterization of what atheism is.

    Oh, it didn’t escape my notice, even before I read your post. Tom, at least, is willing to be polite about it, though.

  84. SteveK –

    My strategy that results in “winning” might be to kill all Jews. Yours might be to get along with everyone and prosper.

    But if there’s such a thing as a human nature – if it means something to say ‘this person is human’ – then there might be broad commonalities in goals. And even when detailed goals diverge, classes of strategies can apply to broad ranges of goals. As I note – repeatedly – in the various essays and discussions I’ve had, in non-zero-sum games in general, game theory has found that the most resilient and successful strategies have four things in common: they are nice, forgiving, non-envious, but willing to retaliate. That is, they don’t start fights, they are willing to let go of grudges, they don’t worry much about how others are doing, but they are ready to retaliate if attacked. ‘Killing all the Jews’ violates several of those.

    Just as it’s an objective fact that, if you want to win a chess game, you shouldn’t sacrifice your queen early in the game – it can be an objective fact that cooperating with others is in your own best interest.

    As you said, though, it’s a lengthy discussion and not amenable to soundbites. Do you think Christianity can be reasonably explicated in quick soundbites?

  85. Your “recalcitrant humanness” is showing, Ray. There is such a thing as public modesty, ya know.

    😉

    (That’s a joke, okay?)

  86. @Ray Ingles:

    But if there’s such a thing as a human nature – if it means something to say ‘this person is human’ – then there might be broad commonalities in goals.

    Aristotelian-Thomist (smiling gently): check-mate.

  87. As I note – repeatedly – in the various essays and discussions I’ve had, in non-zero-sum games in general, game theory has found that the most resilient and successful strategies have four things in common: they are nice, forgiving, non-envious, but willing to retaliate.

    I get it. You’re implying that all persons OUGHT to play the game of life this way. To repeat myself, you’re arguing for an objective moral principle that governs human living. That principle must be grounded in some reality. To repeat myself, that’s the grounding problem you face.

  88. @ Tom

    FYI – It doesn’t appear that your contact form works correctly in Firefox. Chrome okay, Firefox not. Puts me to a screen that asks me if I’m sure that I want to do this, but doesn’t give me any buttons to confirm it.

  89. SteveK –

    To repeat myself, you’re arguing for an objective moral principle that governs human living. That principle must be grounded in some reality.

    The reality of the universe and how it behaves, along with the reality of what humans are and want, isn’t enough reality? I’m willing to grant that, if humans were other than they are, what would be in their best interest would be different. But so what? I’m human, you’re human, even Saddam Hussein was human.

  90. @Ray Ingles:

    Ah, but we’ve already established that I understand ‘natures’ a bit differently than you do. Not even check, yet.

    The post you linked to was an intellectual train wreck of a response; it is hardly coherent, let alone a serious metaphysical understanding of natures. And no, sprinkling expressions like “vast multidimensional phase space” does *not* lend any serious credibility to it, quite the contrary, it being no more than a vast case of equivocation and of trying to sound science-y.

    For my purposes here, it suffices to say that either you commit yourself to *something* like the reality of formal and final causes or your “proposal” does not have a leg to stand on to objectively justify morality.

    And let us leave things at the point where the Aristotelian-Thomist is *still* smiling gently, as we are derailing off-topic. Not that the whole thread is not a giant derailment. But still…

  91. @Ray,

    And do you have complete knowledge of the “…reality of the universe and how it behaves, along with the reality of what humans are and want…?” Or even sufficient knowledge? Do you have the humility to admit that you don’t and never will? Christians, for the most part, have come to this point and have instead placed our trust in the One who does. I realize that you don’t believe or accept that this is true. But neither my affirmation nor your rejection changes the reality of what is.

    @Sault,

    I can’t speak for Holo but, to me, it appears that he is coming at this from a different direction than ‘the people at the church that [you] do sound for.’ They, I would hazard, are coming from the direction of fellowship, Holo from the direction of discipline. Sometimes discipline needs to be direct. Holo wants to get you to see the logical terminus of the worldview you’re espousing. As you say, you aren’t forced to come to that point but you have to ask, why not? What keeps you from this? Where does that sensibleness come from? How can it possibly originate from ‘Nature, red in tooth and claw’ or from purposeless, intelligence-less physical actions and reactions? It can’t so where does it originate? Is it no more than a meme or something greater?

  92. They, I would hazard, are coming from the direction of fellowship, Holo from the direction of discipline. Sometimes discipline needs to be direct. Holo wants to get you to see the logical terminus of the worldview you’re espousing.

    You don’t do that by denying someone’s humanity. So far, I’d say that the atheists here are doing a better job at treating him humanely than he is of us.

    It’s weird. There is a smaller percentage of atheists in prison vs theists. There are atheistic countries with higher levels of happiness than some theistic countries. Atheists apparently have better sex and know more about the Bible and world religion in general than most mainstream Christians.

    I’m not saying that atheists are necessarily *better* than Christians… but we’re not doing too bad at being just as good as them in many ways without needing their faith or religion.

    Perhaps we didn’t get the memo that we’re all supposed to be amoral monsters. Some say that faith is a gift from God… well, then God didn’t give us faith, and maybe He didn’t make us smart enough to realize that our atheism entails the requirement of epic douchebaggery.

    It takes a bat-s*** crazy person to take a worldview, any worldview, and start killing people because of it. Whether some form of theism (from Catholic priests giving Native Americans blankets infected with smallpox) or some form of atheism (Lenin, etc), it takes a special brand of crazy… and being crazy is an attribute of humanity, not of philosophy or even of religion.

    It is difficult for me to explain what I believe with as much rigor and fluency as someone like Holo or G or Tom. Well, that’s part of why I’m here. If I understand them, I will better understand myself.

    Unfortunately, my time available to interact here will most likely be very limited this weekend. If I’m not able to be on until next week, then I’d like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas, solstice, holiday, or at least a pleasant weekend.

  93. …but we’re not doing too bad at being just as good as them in many ways without needing their faith or religion.

    Define good for us, Sault. If you define it the Christian way, but for the grace of God. you and I are doing rather badly. If you define it the naturalistic way, then yes, your desires and your power over others have served you well.

  94. @ SteveK

    Not sure if that’s our primary motivation, but if that’s it, then we must be doing something right.

    America apparently isn’t a very happy place to live. Given that America is largely Christian, and given Ecclesiastes 2:26 , what went wrong?

    Come to think of it, every American president and almost every member of our Congress has been Christian, and I’m pretty sure that “desire and power over others” has played no small part in the practice of their politics… so if that’s what’s done it for the atheists, then why hasn’t it worked here?

    Maybe the two canceled each other out?

  95. I still don’t understand the charge of “will to power” that is so frequently bandied about these threads with reference to atheists. How can one possibly read one of Holo’s outbursts and not be hit full force in the face by the ego on display?

    Any why is it so difficult to understand that morality – subjective morality, of course – stems fromnot treating others in ways you would not want to be treated yourself? Such a simple concept, yet so impossible to grasp by Christians.

  96. Fleegman,

    Any why is it so difficult to understand that morality – subjective morality, of course – stems fromnot treating others in ways you would not want to be treated yourself?

    It’s not difficult to understand at all. Nobody here disagrees that this is one version of subjective morality – one of many versions. We know this. You obviously haven’t been paying attention and the unfortunate part is you think you know what you’re talking about.

  97. “Any why is it so difficult to understand that morality – subjective morality, of course – stems fromnot treating others in ways you would not want to be treated yourself?”

    Maybe yours does but why should my subjective morality adhere to such a standard. Why shouldn’t my subjective morality allow me to treat others any old way I please. It’s subjective after all. Such a simple concept, yet so impossible to grasp by atheists.

    And that’s not to mention that if it did have to adhere to such a standard it wouldn’t be subjective morality. Such a simple concept…

  98. Oooh, nice parting jibe there, SteveK. We’ll make a Christian apologist out of you yet.

    @BillT

    Why shouldn’t my subjective morality allow me to treat others any old awy I please. It’s subjective after all. Such a simple concept…

    …yet it continues to elude you.

    It’s called consensus, and we’ve been over this before. If you want to call a consensus of subjective morality “objective,” then so be it. But it wouldn’t exist without humans’ subjectivity.

    So no, it’s not difficult.

  99. Fleegman,
    My so-called parting jibe is not anything of the sort. It’s a factual summary of your prior comment.

    Your prior comment demonstrated that you haven’t been paying attention to the morality discussion. You said what you did because you thought you knew what you were talking about.

    If I’m wrong, please explain how I am wrong. I’m not above making a public apology.

  100. So Fleegman. Your “subjective” morality is really objective morality which, of course, wouldn’t exist without “humans’ subjectivity” even though that makes it objective. Hmmm… Ok. Such a simple concept…

  101. @SteveK:

    My so-called parting jibe is not anything of the sort.

    Methinks there is no need to appologise or justify yourself to someone who ended up his post with the parting jibe “Such a simple concept, yet so impossible to grasp by Christians”, who demonstrably does not know what he is talking about, and then when someone hits back, offers another opening jibe and continues to show to everyone’s satisfaction that he makes absolutely no idea of what he is talking about.

  102. BillT,

    I think you’ve got it! 😉

    G. Rodrigues

    Methinks there is no need to appologise or justify yourself to someone who ended up his post with the parting jibe “Such a simple concept, yet so impossible to grasp by Christians”

    Yeah, it was rather hypocritical of me, true enough. Apologies, Steve!

    Just wanted to wish you all a bloomin’ fantastic Christmas.

    All the best,

    Fleegman

  103. Fleegman:

    I appreciate your wish of a fantastic Christmas. That was nice.

    Let me ask you a few questions, though.

    What if for Christians to wish someone a Merry Christmas meant a wish from the depths of their heart based on the what they held to be deeply–if not ultimately–important… and that by offering such a wish they held the person to whom they offered the wish to be in high esteem? What if the Jews to wish someone a Happy Hanukkah meant a wish from the depths of their heart based on the what they held to be deeply–if not ultimately–important… and that by offering such a wish they held the person to whom they offered the wish to be in high esteem?

    Unless one is a real Scrooge, what exactly is wrong with someone offering a wish to someone else — publicly or privately — based on what the first holds to be deeply important? Would it not be unfair to people who are offering something from their hearts, to be stopped from making that offer/wish and, instead, limited (artificially with threat of sanction) to “Happy Holiday”?

    Do you not believe people offering such wishes are going WAY beyond the inanity of reducing it to a “Constitutional” issue? Do you honestly feel insulted if a Jew wishes you a Happy Hanukkah or a Christian wishes you a Merry Christmas? Do you honestly think people should be banned from expressing their deepest religious convictions and wishes to others in the public square? Do you really think a “religion” is being established? Is the ACLU so threatened by people wishing to others and sharing with others the best thing in their hearts?

    Just wondering…

    Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and Blessed Epiphany.

  104. (The kids brought home a bug from school that’s made its merry way through the family, so I’ve had other things on my mind, like keeping food down.)

    toddes –

    And do you have complete knowledge of the “…reality of the universe and how it behaves, along with the reality of what humans are and want…?” Or even sufficient knowledge? Do you have the humility to admit that you don’t and never will?

    Engineers don’t have complete knowledge of the universe, either. But the difference between ‘complete’ and ‘sufficient’ is significant. We do what we can with what we know. We built houses before we knew about cement and concrete (or even woodworking). As we learn more, we refine our engineering and build better stuff.

    We’ve learned more about humans and how humans can best live together, too. Early on, the practice was to kill off enemies when conquered. Then came the improvement of slavery. But slavery had its own problems, and now we have things like the Geneva Conventions and bans on indentured servitude. We can see other historical progressions in the ‘state of the social art’ – the role and rights of women, for example.

    There probably won’t ever be an ‘ultimate engineering’ that can solve every technical problem optimally. (Assuming every problem even has an ‘optimal’ solution.) I’ve compared morality to ‘social engineering’ before, and neither will we know enough to have a ‘perfect morality’. But the overall direction does seem to look something like progress.

    So anyway, I’ll keep trying to do the best I can with what I’ve got.

  105. Holopupenko –

    to be stopped from making that offer/wish and, instead, limited (artificially with threat of sanction) to “Happy Holiday”?

    Who’s been limited in such a way? Especially as “a “Constitutional” issue”? I’ve heard of some companies having policies like that, and some people not wanting government personnel to express such wishes in their capacity as government functionaries. I haven’t heard of “Merry Christmas” being illegal anywhere, though.

  106. G. Rodrigues –

    For my purposes here, it suffices to say that either you commit yourself to *something* like the reality of formal and final causes or your “proposal” does not have a leg to stand on to objectively justify morality.

    Well, your victory is quite a bit more limited than you seem to believe. In any case, hope you all have a Merry Christmas.

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