Tom Gilson

Passing Along a Quick Note From James Lindsay

James Lindsay might want you all to know

Wait until the folks over there at Thinking Christian figure out that I’ve argued that the plausibility that God exists is zero.

He tweeted that last night. I guess he did it just in case you haven’t been following his blog. That is to say, if he made that argument somewhere on this blog it must have been at least as long ago as January 13. If he argued it on his blog, well, you’re welcome to go scope it out there. I told him I was taking a pause for now, just as he is doing.

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63 thoughts on “Passing Along a Quick Note From James Lindsay

  1. It’s argued in chapter five of my first book, God Doesn’t; We Do: Only Humans Can Solve Human Challenges, and in more detail in chapters twelve and thirteen of my second book, Dot, Dot, Dot: Infinity Plus God Equals Folly, since you wonder where it comes from.

  2. The jig is up, guys. And to think all it took was 140 characters or less. Go Science ™!

    Tom, to borrow a verse, surely it’s time to shake off the dust from your feet?

  3. I wasn’t in the least bit curious. After having read the arguments from the last blog posts here it was obvious what you, Mr. Lindsay, believe about the plausibility of God existing. What is curious though is that you can’t resist coming here to pitch your books.

  4. Billy, good question.

    I’m going to interact, in my own good time with the questions James posted on his latest blog post. Whether he interacts with them, or whether I choose to direct my answers to him as such, is something I’ll decide when the time comes.

  5. I’ve been interacting with James on his blog the past few days. If I am understanding his comments correctly he thinks (and PB) that we can fully explain how/why we know God exists without resorting to discussing metaphysics.

    At the surface level that’s definitely true, but when every answer we give for believing in God is followed with “buy why?” and “but how?” it’s no surprise to me that we eventually get to discussing it.

    James thinks that it’s off topic and not relevant to knowledge. Okay, fine, if it’s off topic then please stop asking me to go there by asking more questions. Just accept that I trust that the scriptures are true for reasons I know but won’t bother to share with you because you don’t think it’s important or relevant to knowledge.

    For the apostles and others who (unlike me) have had an up-close and personal encounter with God, I’m sure metaphysics is hardly a part of the discussion regarding how they know God exists.

    If I somehow did a poor job of summarizing James’ position, I hope he will come by and clarify.

  6. I can’t believe it!

    Are you serious???

    What’s wrong with you?!?!?!

    YOU MEAN YOU CAN’T DELIVER AN ENTIRE ARGUMENT ON A SHORT BLOG POST????

    But I thought that was what you kept demanding that I do!

    For all these weeks, you and your apparently approved mouthpiece Cal Metzger have been riding me, castigating me, accusing me of hiding and running and evading, because I have been telling you that my reasons for faith are too long to post here on this blog, in the context of discussions on other topics (related, yes, but still different). You started in on ithere, and you never acknowledged my multiple explanations in response. Cal pushed on it repeatedly and you never gave nudged him toward reasonability.

    And now it turns out that the reason you’re not filling out your answer here is exactly the same reason I haven’t done so with mine!

    Except for this: I have told you repeatedly that you could find my answers with a bit of searching on my blog. I have made my answers available at no charge and without the necessity of ordering a book. Still you (or you through your proxy Cal) have acted as if that were evading your question!

    And then you posted a sly little tweet suggesting that some day we Christians will wake up and finally realize you’ve been arguing that God’s plausibility is zero–as if that argument were located somewhere that we had failed to notice through some kind of sleepiness.

    James, you scoundrel, this is enough finally for me to take Billy Squibs’s advice above.

  7. James:

    Wait until the folks over there at Thinking Christian figure out that I’ve argued that the plausibility that God exists is zero.

    I believe you James! You’ve convinced me! The plausibility that God exists is zero. That’s what you believe. You have argued it and I am convinced that you think that you are right. (And all that from a single history changing tweet!) Of course, you haven’t convinced me that God doesn’t exist… (shrug) Oh well.

    Congratulations anyway for whatever you think you have accomplished. I am amazed! Honestly, I am truly amazed.

    PS Please feel free to quote me. However, please don’t do so out of context.

  8. I originally read comment #10 as harbouring snide undertones. It would be good if I am wrong.

    Anyway, perhaps a book swap between the two parties might move things along? Just a thought!

  9. He can get mine for free. I’d send him a PDF without his registering for the blog if he wanted.

    I would accept a book if he sent me one.

  10. Tom, I apologize for not getting into more depth with #9 earlier. I was busy at the moment. I have a few minutes now.

    I feel like I’ve already said this, but perhaps I have missed it and merely thought I did. Busy-person syndrome? Maybe. Ol’ Butterbur’s “one thing drives out another.”

    At any rate, I used to be a Christian. I was a Catholic. Then I left that for non-denominational Protestantism (with evangelical and Presbyterian influences, mainly). Then I kind of walked away from literal Christianity entirely, tending more toward a Buddhist understanding of Jesus as enlightened teacher. I spent a great deal of time investigating the evidences for the Christian beliefs, reading piles, though not libraries, of books (blogs didn’t exist back then) about it. That started with Christian literature and progressed to spiritualist literature that claimed to “transcend but not reject” Christianity.

    For a long while, though, throughout that progression, I investigated Christianity very seriously. I wanted to be sure. I feared hell and considered the question of incredible importance, so I studied carefully. I routinely attended a church with my friend during much of that time (a Pentecostal church, incidentally, in which glossolalia was very much considered an attesting miracle and occurred with regularity, though I never did it). I also regularly attended (twice weekly) a Bible study, led by a professor of chemistry. I also served for three years as the chaplain for an organization I was in. There were problems, though, with my studies.

    Perhaps it’s because I was also raised scientifically, which is to say in a manner that fostered and promoted science education. I majored in physics (and had a degree in it by this time). I read pop-science books and outright scientific textbooks in other fields than physics voraciously. That presented some challenges–though ones clearly not shared by all scientists–to my assessment of the evidences for Christianity. As I studied Christianity, though, in philosophy and history, and as I read the Bible more and more, it all fell apart for me.

    This is to say that I’ve read many good treatments of the evidence for Christianity and am rather familiar with the gist of the literature, if not specific titles. I am not asking you to republish it. I’m actually asking you to reconsider it because once I did, I didn’t believe it anymore.

  11. Larry, #3: “What is curious though is that you can’t resist coming here to pitch your books.”

    I’m a bit insulted by this. I made the comment about my argument on Twitter. I did not send it to Tom, though I did mention his site since the conversation between he and I is known to many of those who see me there. Tom posted this with a speculation about where the argument might be, so I said where it is.

  12. James, I appreciate the tone of what you just wrote in #17. I have a hard time squaring it with what you let Cal Metzger say on your blog without reproach. I have a hard time squaring it with,

    Now, normally I wouldn’t care if Gilson addressed this point or that in anything I wrote except in cases like this, where it is the central point and only theme of the response I wrote. It’s one thing to dodge tiresome details, and it’s quite another to ignore the thrust of the commentary laid before you.

    You used the terms “dodge” and “ignore.” Later you said, “dancing around the periphery.” And “pedantry,” when what I was doing was remaining on topic rather than dancing to the tune you were trying to call, that tune being,

    I’d love to know how Gilson thinks that revelation is testable, or how it’s ever been tested (in a way that shows it is a reliable way to know things).

    and,

    To Gilson’s claim about faith being based upon evidence, there is no way around my conclusion, which agrees with Boghossian. One can claim that faith is built around evidence–which it may or may not be–but “faith” must be the word one uses when the confidence value one places in a hypothesis is higher than what’s warranted by the evidence. This was the whole thrust of my previous response, meaning the part of my previous note to Gilson that he decided not to respond to.

    I decided not to respond to it, I gave the reasons for it—virtually identical to those you gave here—and you thought there was something worthy of derision in that. By your loaded language (not all of which I have bothered rehearsing here) you set the tone for a prejudicial, loaded discussion.

    So as I say, I appreciate your tone here. I’d appreciate seeing some more of it. I’d appreciate your acknowledging that what you upbraided me for then is exactly the same kind of answer you gave here.

    The floor is still yours.

  13. James, I hope Larry responds thoughtfully and respectfully to #18.

    Meanwhile I suggest you review this and especially this.

    Oh, and also terms you yourself used, like “dodge,” “ignore,” “pedantry,” “obfuscation,” “hide his meaning,” and so on.

    Your sensitivity to slights against your own image is duly noted, as are the questions raised by what’s being said on your own site.

  14. James,

    I’m actually asking you to reconsider it because once I did, I didn’t believe it anymore.

    I’d ask you to reconsider your aversion to thinking about your own metaphysics. You insist on not multiplying entities unnecessarily but our contention is that your metaphysics is unable to provide a rational foundation for even science. Ultimately I think it devolves into incoherency, although if someone where able to propose a solid way to avoid that, I would definately reconsider my opinion. Brute facts are a cop out, the materialist equivalent of “god did it”. I’m afraid I’m just not as good as you at letting the foundational why questions go unanswered. I understand why you don’t want to think about your own metaphysics, you might need to revise your position.

  15. Melissa,
    And as we both know, brute *material* facts require something to get them to move and change into other brute material facts in other locations with different natural ends, so the explanations don’t stop there. Again we are back to metaphysics, and I can see why PB and James don’t want to touch it.

  16. Mr. James Lindsay wrote in #17:

    For a long while, though, throughout that progression, I investigated Christianity very seriously.

    Out of curiosity, why should we believe Mr. Lindsay? In fact, I am going right here on record and say that I do not believe him; his arguments are pathetic, his ignorance is abysmal, etc. In fact, given that on his own evaluation, Mr. Lindsay was infected with the faith virus that bogged down his mind with a false pretense of knowing what he could not know, given his doxastic closedness and all manner of hairy cognitive biases, why should we, why should *he*, believe that he is now suddenly cured of all these ills? Just because he changed opinion he is now suddenly free of them? Is he going to tells us that just because the atheism meme has occupied the void left by Christianity, that he is now free? But the mental furniture of one’s mind does not change like that; the viruses may change but the rotten furniture stays the same. And in fact, there is even *more* psychological pressure to keep himself doxastically entrenched. Think about it: one hears of one conversion in a lifetime, say from atheism to Christianity or vice-versa. But *two* conversions? Who among us has the mental fortitude and endurance to withstand it? Who can be struck first by the faith virus, then by the atheism virus, and *still* have the strength to will himself cured of this disease, more crippling than influenza, syphillys, tuberculosis and a fondness for Richard Dawkins’ writing all put together? And as Mr. Lindsay so aptly said, coherently and amply supported in the most sound scientific research, cognitive biases distort the believing mind the way evidence is assessed, tipping it unjustifiably in favor of already existing beliefs. We have all seen his irrational responses when challenged; we have all seen his pretense in knowing what he does not know. Is his atheism falsifiable? Has ever an atheistic explanation replaced a scientific one? I have argued extensively in my book “Comma Comma Comma” that I still have not written, that the prior probability of P = “God does not exist” is inscrutably low, so how will Mr. Lindsay defend his axiom that God does not exist? As he taken the Outsider’s Test for Faith for his faith, that is, his epistemically untenable position of pretending to know what he does not know? These are clear symptoms, *the* symptoms, that he suffers from a severe and acute meltdown caused by the atheism virus.

    note to Tom Gilson: I know you are a stand up guy, willing to give a moment in the spotlight to anyone who wants a venue to speak, but given the infectious, virulent nature of the atheism virus and his crippling nature (as can be attested by Mr. Lindsay himself and the horde of internet punks commenting of late), maybe you want to keep the blog in quarantine and filter out comments as a measure of public safety? I have a splitting headache, an itch in my left elbow and I am starting to entertain silly ideas; what if the atheism virus has already found its way in? Oh my Flying Spaghetti Monster!

  17. James:

    I’m actually asking you to reconsider it because once I did, I didn’t believe it anymore.

    I’m mystified. Why do atheists want mess with anyone about what they happen to believe? Isn’t the point of atheism that everything is pointless?

    As Stephen Hawking observed:

    The human race is just a chemical scum on a moderate-sized planet, orbiting around a very average star in the outer suburb of one among a hundred billion galaxies.

    STEPHEN HAWKING, Reality on the Rocks: Beyond Our Ken, 1995

    If you choose to be an atheist, fine. I’ll respect your choice, but it’s absurd to try to convert anyone to your “world view”. I mean, if we’re no more significant than pond scum, why bother?

  18. Steve, #23, actually, I don’t want to touch metaphysics because it’s all squarely in the land of stuff we don’t necessarily have the ability to claim to know. I do not find productive pissing matches about cherished takes on things that we can’t solidly know. In other words, I don’t want to talk metaphysics because I think such conversations are very often not only fruitless but obstacles to productive communication.

    Melissa, #21, I revisit what might constitute my metaphysical positions rather frequently as I’m rather entertained by questions of that kind. It’s critical to grasp that my position in my mental life now is one of constantly revising my positions–as I have time for it, of course. I’m told by others that I have a metaphysical position that is fairly sophisticated and substantially robust, but I only read on such things a little, largely for the same reasons I mentioned to Steve in the previous paragraph. Thus, it’s not that I don’t want to think about metaphysics or don’t have speculations on it (that I suspect, if I may say so, are rather sophisticated). It’s that I don’t think discussion on that topic is fruitful or even worthwhile.

  19. James,

    It seems to me that atheists need to able to prove the following:

    Naturalistic atheism assumes that natural causation alone (causation that does not involve any kind of intelligent agency–God, angels, aliens etc.) is sufficient to explain everything about the universe and life, including the emergence of self-conscious intelligent life.

    If they can’t prove it, then it means that they are pretending to know something that they cannot know. Which means that to be an atheist, I would have to accept it on faith. That’s kind of self refuting, isn’t it?

  20. JAD, #26: “I’m mystified. Why do atheists want mess with anyone about what they happen to believe? Isn’t the point of atheism that everything is pointless?”

    Two questions, so:

    1. People act upon their beliefs in ways that affect other people. Keep your beliefs mostly to yourself, and this isn’t much of a problem. How often do you hear anyone complain about the Amish (unless behind a buggy in traffic)?

    Surely this will mystify you too, as you’re likely to try to say that it’s my problem as well. But then we come back to the epistemic point that this whole discussion devolved away from. When we’re ready to go back to that, after a suitable break, I welcome it.

    2. Everything is pointless? If you think that’s the “point of atheism,” I think you’ve got a lot of work to do. Atheism is a lack of belief in God or gods, or the further conclusion that the likelihood that God or gods exist is negligibly low. It doesn’t make anything pointless except theology, and even many of the things theologians engage in (like literary analysis and moral speculation) are still valuable activities. It shifts teleology onto us in a more local frame, but that’s a long way from saying it makes everything pointless.

  21. James,

    Steve, #23, actually, I don’t want to touch metaphysics because it’s all squarely in the land of stuff we don’t necessarily have the ability to claim to know. I do not find productive pissing matches about cherished takes on things that we can’t solidly know.

    As stated on your blog, James, my guess is that this is the tactic PB is relying on. Assert that it’s clear “we” cannot know any metaphysical truth, so when people start talking about the nature of real things and how they interact and relate with each other you say that they are just pretending to know what they don’t know. Repeat the cycle as often as necessary until people give in to the brow beating.

    I don’t know if that is actually PB’s tactic because I haven’t read his book, but from the comments I’ve heard, including your comment to me about PB telling people to avoid talking about metaphysics, I suspect I’m headed in the right direction.

    If you don’t know anything about metaphysics, then on what grounds can you argue that you know that someone else is pretending to know that God is a unique kind of real being? That’s my question to you.

    “I don’t know” is a fine response if you truly don’t know, but don’t jump to the conclusion that someone else *cannot* know just because you don’t understand it to the same degree they do.

  22. James, not only is your sensitivity to slights duly noted, not only is your inconsistency duly noted, but your lack of response to a request for acknowledgment is now also noted. Agree or disagree with what I said there, your next comment permitted on this blog will not be one that ignores a direct request from your host, who I think deserves the courtesy of a response after what you have allowed to be posted about me on your blog.

    I am very comfortable with disagreement. I do not, however, appreciate it when a direct request of this sort is simply ignored as if I hadn’t even made it. See Item 9 here.

    Earlier you and Cal Metzger jumped falsely to a conclusion that one or both of you had described as “predictable:” that I had banned you from this blog without notice. I don’t play that way. I don’t ban without notice, and not without uncommon rudeness. Your rudeness, while real, is not uncommon: witness Cal himself as an example to prove that.

    It’s actually not about courtesy or discourtesy, though. It’s about whether we’re having a real discussion or a pretense of one. Selectively ignoring things like this would be a sign that you’re treating this as a sham.

    In case you’re wondering, while I’ve been popping in to say something on your blog infrequently, I’m really not pretending to be involved in real conversation there. You can ban me or allow me there, whichever you prefer–you’re very welcome to apply the same policy on me there that I’m applying on everyone here. It will make little difference to me. You see, as long as you’ve allowed one of your commenters to make it the toxic environment that it is there, I’ve been choosing my participation very selectively, very intentionally so, to keep from breathing too much of the air over there.

    Some commenters here are suggesting I disinvite you now, but I really hate to rush there. If we can have a real conversation here rather than a fake one, and if there’s an appropriate level of mutual courtesy, we can continue it.

  23. Sorry, Tom.

    Re #19, to use a sports journalism pun, I column as I see ’em.

    When I said what I said before, I documented how I esteemed the situation. Perhaps I was wrong, and I’m always willing to let water rush under the bridge, as it does, if you are sincere that you weren’t doing as I said.

    This, though, is why I recommended the pause. We’ve gone a long way from being able to talk about the matter at the center of this discussion, the epistemic points, without getting into all of this other stuff.

    I mean, I’ll keep on with this conversation, in these comments if people want, or I’ll not if they’d prefer I go. Not a huge issue one way or the other, but no productive dialogue happens when it’s not happening anymore.

  24. James,

    Thus, it’s not that I don’t want to think about metaphysics or don’t have speculations on it (that I suspect, if I may say so, are rather sophisticated). It’s that I don’t think discussion on that topic is fruitful or even worthwhile.

    Considering that metaphysics is where our real differences lie I doubt that there is any other way to have a fruitful discussion except by discussing metaphysics, otherwise you are just assessing theism according to your metaphysics which for obvious reasons will of course cause theism to be ridiculous and untenable.

    Changing your mind is good if your new beliefs line up more accurately with the truth, if not, then it’s not good. I’ve converted from being a none to a Christian (while studying science at uni), my dad is an atheist, so most of your pleas to look from an outsider’s point of view is irrelevant to my personal experience … been there and done that. I’ve also personally witnessed this year about 20 baptisms of people from Iran, previously adherents to Islam so I don’t know why you keep going on about Christianity not passing the outsider test, it’s clear that both historically and contemporarily there have been outsiders who converted to Christianity. While we’re talking about unproductive discussion your cognitive bias schtick must fall into that category, it’s a convenient way to dismiss other points of view and as G. Rodrigues has quite rightly noted could just as easily apply to yourself, in fact playing that card is evidence that you may have a problem in that direction.

  25. Well, James, that was classy. Some definite deflection of responsibility in there, to be sure, but classy deflection at any rate—almost admirably so, even. We’ll talk further.

  26. Pardon that, Melissa, that was too short. I want to say also, in the vein of sincerity that I started earlier, that my period of time during which I was most actively involved in attending Bible studies, church, etc., was during my college years, during which time I was studying physics. Though I had been raised Catholic, for much of my teenage years, though not a “none,” I would have identified religion as effectively irrelevant in my life.

    This is why I’m curious about what led to your conversion. Story sounds familiar-ish.

  27. Learning who made you, what you were made for and how to resolve the mess you are in, was irrelevent to you?

  28. James,

    I had a friend who went to church, had grown up in the church but not yet committed, and to be honest was curious because I didn’t know anyone who went to church. I went just with the intention of seeing what it was all about, what would make someone my age think it was worth spending time on. It wasn’t what I expected and just made sense, it was like things clicked into place.

    Since my conversion I’ve revised some of the beliefs I held then, life experience and exposure to different views clarifies and (hopefully) matures a person’s understanding of the great depth of the faith and an appreciation that often the various perspectives offer a broader understanding of who God is and who we are. I’m currently doing graduate studies in theology which is broadening my knowledge even more and has helped me develop the skills to critically assess theologies.

  29. “Wait until the folks over there at Thinking Christian figure out that I’ve argued that the plausibility that God exists is zero.”

    I am sorry, but when I read that Mr. Lindsay’s quote I could not get the image out of my head of Gene Wilder in “Young Frankenstein” yelling, “IT……COULD………WORK!”

    I’ve got my money on Pascal’s wager.

  30. James:

    Everything is pointless? If you think that’s the “point of atheism,” I think you’ve got a lot of work to do. Atheism is a lack of belief in God or gods, or the further conclusion that the likelihood that God or gods exist is negligibly low. It doesn’t make anything pointless except theology…

    You have have presented no argument above, James, as to why I should find in atheism any for real purpose and meaning for life. You’ve have only stated an opinion. Do you believe that simply stating your opinion is equivalent to making an argument? That won’t work on me. I want to see premises and reasons that are based on some kind of evidence.

    By the way, I have looked into atheism. It appears to me that a lot of atheists agree that when you honestly look at man’s place in the universe it’s really rather pointless. For example, in his book, The First Three Minutes: A Modern View of the Origin of the Universe, Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg writes:

    “It is almost irresistible for humans to believe that we have some special relation to the universe, that human life is not just a more-or-less farcical outcome of a chain of accidents reaching back to the first three minutes, but that we are somehow built in from the beginning… It is very hard to realize that this is all just a tiny part of an overwhelmingly hostile universe. It is even harder to realize that this present universe has evolved from an unspeakably unfamiliar early condition, and faces a future extinction of endless cold or intolerable heat. The more the universe seems comprehensible the more it seems pointless.” (p.144)

    I would suggest that Weinberg was trying to play, perhaps unwittingly, a subtle bait and switch game here. This paragraph appears at the end of a book which is purportedly a book about following the chain of scientific evidence back to the very first few minutes of the universe. I have no problem with that. Weinberg is a Nobel Prize winning physicist. By vocation he has the credentials, the knowledge and expertise to explain how the universe evolved. He is not, however, anymore qualified than anybody else to tell us what it all means. And, at least in academia, such questions are the province of philosophers and theologians not physicists.

    The paragraph did not go unnoticed and Weinberg soon became aware that he had crossed an invisible boundary line into disputed territory. Fifteen years later in another book, Dreams of a Final Theory, he admits that phrase “the more the universe seems comprehensible the more it seems pointless,” had dogged him ever since. He then vainly tries to explain what he really meant.

    “I did not mean,” he writes, “that science teaches us that the universe is pointless, but that the universe itself suggests no point.” He then adds that he doesn’t see life as pointless or meaningless but that as scientists and people we can “invent a point for our lives, including trying to understand the universe.”

    He then goes on the describe the reaction of some of his colleagues to his infamous little phrase. For example, Harvard astronomer Margaret Geller, opines, “Why should it have a point? What point? It is just a physical system, what point is there?”

    Princeton astrophysicist Jim Peebles was willing to take the implications a bit further. He says, “I am willing to believe that we are flotsam and jetsam.”

    However, Weinberg writes that his favorite response came from University of Texas astronomer Gerard de Vaucouleurs who remarked that Weinberg’s phrase was actually “nostalgic.” “Indeed it was,” Weinberg concedes, “nostalgic for a world in which the heavens declared the glory of God.”

    He then goes on to explain.

    “It would be wonderful to find in the laws of nature a plan prepared by a concerned creator in which human beings played some special role. I find sadness in doubting that we will. There are some among my scientific colleagues who say that the contemplation of nature gives them all the spiritual satisfaction that others have traditionally found in a belief in an interested God. Some of them may even really feel that way. I do not. And it does not seem to me to be helpful to identify the laws of nature as Einstein did with some sort of remote and disinterested God. The more we refine our understanding of God to make the concept plausible, the more it seems to be pointless.”

    Weinberg’s sentiment is obviously atheistic. But is his atheism the result of what he has discovered out there in the universe? Or, does he see the universe the way he does because of the preconceptions that he has as an atheist?

  31. JAD, #40

    You have have presented no argument above, James, as to why I should find in atheism any for real purpose and meaning for life. You’ve have only stated an opinion. Do you believe that simply stating your opinion is equivalent to making an argument? That won’t work on me. I want to see premises and reasons that are based on some kind of evidence.

    Wait, so you stated your opinion that life under atheism is pointless, despite the fact that almost every atheist on earth could tell you all the point they see in life, and then you assert your opinion that what I told you is my opinion?

    And you all wonder why I don’t want to talk metaphysics. Even here, where we have millions and millions of atheists alive who can tell you–many who have said so, including me–what they see as purpose in life (that purpose being local to each other, not universal or of cosmic importance), and you say, “that’s an opinion, and you’re wrong.” I’ve said so on comment threads here, and if you want, I wrote about it in my first book, in a section that is one of the best there, according to several people.

    Metaphysics literally has no evidence for it. It’s all opinion with some logical this and that tacked on for good measure.

    Until you clean up your thinking, JAD, I believe I’m going to need to go back to ignoring you. If I said that the only discernible ultimate purpose of Christianity was to be a slave to God, you’d tell me the same thing.

  32. The problem with your position Dr. Lindsay is that you still haven’t presented any argument for why an atheistic worldview gives any real purpose and meaning for life. Your “purpose being local to each other, not universal or of cosmic importance” is again just your opinion. You haven’t and I doubt you can explain why being local to each other (whatever that means) would give purpose and meaning to anyone.

    The other problem you have is that atheistic thinkers from the existentialists to the New Atheists of today don’t agree with you. It has been a mainstream theme of atheistic thought that the reality of a universe without a God is that we are merely a cosmic accident with no reason or purpose to our existence. If you want to argue that you can have purpose and meaning in an atheistic worldview maybe you should start by convincing other atheists of this. We’ll be glad to entertain your position once you can get some agreement on it from your own people.

  33. Bill, #43

    The problem with your position Dr. Lindsay is that you still haven’t presented any argument for why an atheistic worldview gives any real purpose and meaning for life.

    There are two ways to see this. Either it is a metaphysical speculation (objective teleology)–which I’m not interested in discussing–or it is an insult to every human being who finds purpose or value in many of the endeavors they engage in. I care about people, including but not limited to myself, and also including potential future people who aren’t yet. I can easily find purpose in working to make a better situation for them, to the best of my knowledge and ability, and this is but one aspect of a complex nebula of possible purposes. Do you say that there is no purpose simply to enjoying time with your spouse or children, or in the latter case teaching them as best you may?

    The other problem you have is that atheistic thinkers from the existentialists to the New Atheists of today don’t agree with you.

    This may be true, though I don’t suspect it is. I suspect you are confusing their, in many cases, denial of universal teleology with “no purpose.” If it is true, I don’t care. I don’t need authorities to tell me that my life is meaningful enough to me or why, and neither do you.

    You seem to be arguing for teleology, which is a metaphysical proposition as you’ve framed it. I repeat, then. I’m not interested in discussing metaphysics.

    Here’s why in a nutshell:
    You: “This is my metaphysics.”
    Me: “I disagree because this is my metaphysics.”
    You: “You’re wrong.”
    Me: “No, you are.”
    ::no resolution is possible::
    -fin-

    As I said, that’s a fruitless discussion, and I’m not having them.

  34. Dr. Lindsay,

    You seem to be missing another possibility. I believe that the reality of a universe without a God is that we are merely a cosmic accident with no reason or purpose to our existence. That pretty basic stuff and hard to ignore as a reality. But at the same time you tell me that:

    I care about people, including but not limited to myself, and also including potential future people who aren’t yet. I can easily find purpose in working to make a better situation for them, to the best of my knowledge and ability, and this is but one aspect of a complex nebula of possible purposes. Do you say that there is no purpose simply to enjoying time with your spouse or children, or in the latter case teaching them as best you may?

    And I believe you at least basically agree with you. I do though believe you have it backwards. You say you get your meaning and purpose from all the above things you mention. I think the reality is that you see your meaning and purpose reflected in those things. Your meaning and purpose is real and based in the cosmic reality of the universe. Those people aren’t giving you meaning and purpose they are showing you the meaning and purpose you and I and all of us actually have. That meaning and purpose can come from only one thing. You may deny Him but he’s there anyway and the meaning and purpose you feel is proof of his existence.

  35. James,

    Here’s why in a nutshell:
    You: “This is my metaphysics.”
    Me: “I disagree because this is my metaphysics.”
    You: “You’re wrong.”
    Me: “No, you are.”
    ::no resolution is possible::
    -fin-

    You missed a part. You’re wrong because your view results in incoherency here, here and here meaning that you cannot even arguedor the truth of your view without making use of concepts that you claim exist only in our head. If you want an argument to succeed the premises need to be true – and not just in your head.

    And that is why, even if I was unconvinced about the truth of Christianity, I couldn’t take atheism seriously – that is unless these problems were resolved.

  36. James,
    You say that you don’t want to talk about metaphysics, but let’s see if that’s what is really going on here.

    (a) On the one hand, you are arguing from the metaphysical view commonly held by Christian’s, that there IS a point (a purpose) to human life and hence the human mind dwelling in that life, that “pretending to know” is a problem that should be corrected.

    (b) On the other hand, you are arguing from the metaphysical view commonly held by atheists, that there IS NOT a point (a purpose) to human life and hence the human mind dwelling in that life can decide for themselves what to do with it.

    As a Christian, I agree with (a), but then that would mean there is a point/purpose to human life and human minds, and we know where that leads.

    If as an atheist you are arguing for (b) then what’s really the problem with “pretending to know” – other than it interferes with the purpose you’ve decided to pursue for your life?

    I don’t for a minute think that Christian’s are pretending to know, but for the sake of discussion, from your own metaphysical view, what’s the problem? Does all this really boil down to “James doesn’t like this”?

  37. @BillT:

    You are letting Mr. Lindsay get away too easily. There are different issues that get conflated and must be separated.

    (1) Whether Mr. Lindsay can coherently say that he (and all the rest of us, human beings) has any purposes at *all*. That we do have purposes, or that we do set purposes for ourselves, is something that cannot be coherently denied. But whether our worldview can justify and account for such raw, phenomenological data, is a different question altogether. As you notice, some atheist philosophers (e.g. eliminative materialists) affirm without even batting an eyelid that there are no such things as purposes, or even so much as selves that could have purposes in the first place; it is an illusion foisted by this bag of chemicals known as the brain. To decide the question, we would have to wade into the metaphysical battlefield, but we have already heard his cop out. Since Mr. Lindsay not only finds the discussion fruitless, but positively purposeless (heh) since no answer is attainable, I can only construe this as an admission that he believes without evidence and is pretending to know what he does not know.

    (2) The linguistic range for “meaning” and cognates such as “purpose” is very rich; but the way Mr. Lindsay is using it (and admittedly, how most people use it) involves intentions and purposes as a terminus or goal of actions. But here the question is tangled up with the moral order, with things as they are desirable or valuable. The example Mr. Lindsay uses is noteworthy. I will quote him:

    I care about people, including but not limited to myself, and also including potential future people who aren’t yet. I can easily find purpose in working to make a better situation for them, to the best of my knowledge and ability, and this is but one aspect of a complex nebula of possible purposes. Do you say that there is no purpose simply to enjoying time with your spouse or children, or in the latter case teaching them as best you may?

    Mr. Lindsay uses examples positively charged with *moral* overtones. He is not content with saying that he can set out purposes for himself, but that in some sense these purposes are valuable and even desirable. But suppose it was a sociopath speaking; of how he regales in manipulating people for his self-centered interests; that he positively revels in causing harm to people. Quite clearly the sociopath has purposes and life as the sociopath lives it is meaningful to him, since he himself posits and finds value in what he does. “Sociopath” is not a medical category, but a moral one; how does Mr. Lindsay propose to distinguish the good purposes from the bad, if in fact he even proposes such? He will probably shell out some incoherent theory, curiously evidence free, that accounts for exactly nothing, because any account is, by the very *nature* of the question, a metaphysical one. Someone say, steeped in the Aristotelean tradition, can shrug off the fact / value distinction as a muddle-headed confusion, but not Mr. Lindsay. Since Mr. Lindsay finds metaphysics distasteful, I can only construe this as an admission that he believes without evidence and is pretending to know what he does not know.

    There is a third critique I would make, which is more directly relevant to the prospects of an after-life, and thus to typically Christian concerns, to the effect that such talk of “local” purposes, local in time and finite, is so much bafflegab, but I will mercifully stop here.

  38. G. Rodrigues,

    Well, I may have let him off more easily than you did but I don’t think it was all that easy!

  39. Melissa, I find it stunning that you are certain my position on metaphysics is necessarily incoherent (which itself is a metaphysical statement that may or may not be determinable or, in the end, matter). I haven’t even said what it is. I’ve been told a name for it, and after reading a few papers about that, I don’t necessarily disagree with them, but I don’t think it matters and, as I keep saying, am not willing to discuss it because it’s an epistemic wasteland.

  40. Rodrigues, by arguing on two levels at once, you think you’re competently dismantling what I said. You are not. I said plainly that I don’t see reasons to accept cosmic purpose (without batting an eye), which isn’t quite the same as saying that I’m categorically denying them. I do see use and value in certain aspects of living, in living certain ways, etc., and that “local purpose,” is sufficient for me.

    You are right that I’m not going to discuss metaphysics with you–unless you figure out a way to establish your metaphysics via something that isn’t pure speculation (which is, of course, self-contradictory). It’s not a cop-out. It’s keeping focus on the topic at hand: how do we know, or more saliently, how can we be justified in claiming to know something? Metaphysics cannot help with this since it is, in a meaningful way, the branch of philosophy concerned with speculation only.

    On moral values, my opinion matches Sam Harris’s nearly identically, so far as I can tell. No need to get ridiculous with all that.

    Really, you’re obviously a very smart person. I think you’d do better to drop the superiority. I use better words for it, but I respect Tom’s wishes and am a bit friendlier than you seem to be, at least regarding me.

  41. You are right that I’m not going to discuss metaphysics with you–unless you figure out a way to establish your metaphysics via something that isn’t pure speculation (which is, of course, self-contradictory).

    Of course?

    ??

  42. James,
    Referring to the question/topic you say we should focus on, how do you know “pretending to know” is in any way an objective problem for humans?

  43. James,

    Melissa, I find it stunning that you are certain my position on metaphysics is necessarily incoherent

    I’ve been quite clear that I am willing to change my mind if someone (anyone) was to show how I am wrong. So far it hasn’t happened.

    Talking about what’s “better for them” is just one such area. The only thing you can mean is to satisfy their felt needs and goals but then as G. Rodrigues has pointed out it leaves you in a dilemma with respect to the psychopath.

  44. Tom,

    I want to let folks know that I just today posted a review of James Lindsay’s book “God doesn’t; We do” on amazon.com. Please publish this notice if you find it appropriate to do so. My hope is that it will prompt a fruitful discussion of the book

    Thanks. JB

  45. Here it is. Thanks, Jenna.

    Of course the book is available for purchase there, and there are other reviews from other perspectives. For my part I’m still waiting to find out if James wants to do a book exchange 🙂 .

  46. @James Lindsay:

    I do not know what you imagine you are responding to, but it certainly was not to anything I said.

    Three points though:

    Really, you’re obviously a very smart person.

    Whether I am “very smart” or not, I do not know, neither do I care very much for various reasons, among which (1) Intelligence is not a virtue (2) I met people far more intelligent than me, and in sufficient numbers, that even if what you say were true, it would invite only a shrug of my shoulders. But the real reason for this detour is to say that, if you want to insult me I have no problems with it (you have done so in your blog), but please, please, keep the hollow flattery to yourself.

    I think you’d do better to drop the superiority.

    What you call “superiority” is something else entirely. And no, I am not going to “drop it”, in part because I am just fighting fire with fire. Also:

    I use better words for it, but I respect Tom’s wishes and am a bit friendlier than you seem to be, at least regarding me.

    Yes, you are trying to pass off as one (as P. Boghossian advises his disciples in his book), but no, you are not “a bit friendlier”, not even “friendly”, not even someone engaging in dialogue in good faith. Which is why, as you cannot help but have noticed, I addressed BillT, not you (not that I am averse to do it, just that I am not very inclined to).

  47. James,

    Let me repeat one of the Steven Weinberg quotes that I included above @ #40:

    “I did not mean,” he writes, “that science teaches us that the universe is pointless, but that the universe itself suggests no point.” He then adds that he doesn’t see life as pointless or meaningless but that as scientists and people we can “invent a point for our lives, including trying to understand the universe.”

    Basically, as far as I can tell, James, you agree with that. All I was saying earlier was that from a cosmic perspective human existence is pointless or meaningless, but of course, you like Weinberg, can have a purpose in life from a “local, not universal or… cosmic” perspective. Fine, the existentialists have a similar view. But that purpose is your opinion. It has no bearing on me or anyone else, anymore than my personal opinions have any bearing on you.

    You made a good point that I don’t know anything about the beliefs of “millions and millions of atheists.” That’s true. But neither do you know anything about the beliefs of millions and millions of Christians. I am sure that you will agree that you don’t have the right to force your personal opinions or beliefs on Christians, or any other religious group, because they are just your personal beliefs… right?

  48. Either it is a metaphysical speculation (objective teleology)–which I’m not interested in discussing

    Every time you write concerning how you find meaning and purpose in your life you are making a metaphysical statement. ” Universal teleology” and “local purpose” provide no more shelter for you than would a newspaper in a hailstorm.

    –or it is an insult to every human being who finds purpose or value in many of the endeavors they engage in.

    1. “…finds purpose or value…” This is a metaphysical proposition.
    2. There’s no reason to be insulted.

    I care about people, including but not limited to myself, and also including potential future people who aren’t yet. I can easily find purpose in working to make a better situation for them, to the best of my knowledge and ability, and this is but one aspect of a complex nebula of possible purposes.

    Metaphysics.

    Do you say that there is no purpose simply to enjoying time with your spouse or children, or in the latter case teaching them as best you may?

    Do you say there is? Because if so, you’re making a metaphysical statement.

    I begin to suspect that what you really mean to say is “I refuse to discuss metaphysics in any way that might put me at a disadvantage.”

    Melissa, I find it stunning that you are certain my position on metaphysics is necessarily incoherent…

    We can only work with what you give us.

    If it is true, I don’t care. I don’t need authorities to tell me that my life is meaningful enough to me or why, and neither do you.

    Then why, in the earlier discussion, did you cite Phil Vischer as if his agreement with that spectacularly dishonest definition of faith should somehow carry any sort of weight?

    On moral values, my opinion matches Sam Harris’s nearly identically, so far as I can tell.

    That’s nothing to brag about. On the contrary, it lends some weight to charges of incoherence on your part.

  49. Yes, you are trying to pass off as one (as P. Boghossian advises his disciples in his book), but no, you are not “a bit friendlier”, not even “friendly”, not even someone engaging in dialogue in good faith.

    Yes. It brings to mind something I read on another blog discussing PB’s little book. At the risk of being modded, I quote…

    “…there is one major game-changer in it. One flash of methodological genius. “Don’t be an *******”.

    Luckily, knowing the human material he is working with, this will probably be understood as “be a condescending jerk.”

  50. It still mystifies me how an atheist, beginning from a naturalistic epistemological framework, can argue that his personal opinions and beliefs apply to anyone else but himself. (Again from a naturalistic cosmic perspective human existence is pointless and meaningless.)

    For example, in Peter Boghossian’s opinion, religious faith is dangerous a virus– a contagious pathology. He says, “When I speak to somebody of faith, I view them as a person who really is mentally ill.” I wonder, does he view these “mentally ill” persons with compassion? Does he still believe that they have rights? Apparently not, at least as far as I can tell.

    He goes on to say: “We must reconceptualize faith as a virus of the mind … and treat faith like other epidemiological crises: contain and eradicate.”

    On what basis is Boghossian’s “local, not universal” opinion applicable to anyone but himself and people who agree with him? Apparently he does, why else did he write his book?

    It appears to me that Boghossian’s reasoning goes something like this:

    (1)In my opinion all religious faith is dangerous to society.
    (2) I am confident, smart and well educated.
    (3) Therefore, my opinion should be applied to society as a whole.

    In other words, he is taking his “local” opinion and trying to apply it universally (to society as a whole) simply because that’s what he believes. I see that as problematic… anyone else?

  51. @JAD,

    Even the phrase “mentally ill” can only mean that the other person’s brain is not working the way he thinks it should. Given that he believes there is nothing objective against which to measure whether natural things are working or not, it’s hard to see how his statement amounts to anything more than “I don’t like religious belief” or possibly “religious belief interferes with what I want”.

    Edited to add: in fact any defect or illness falls to the same problem. It is not objectively defective but rather defective in relation to human values and interests. If these values and interests don’t coincide there is no truth to the matter and therefore no wrong answer. If someone does not think their defect is a defect then it is not.

  52. Melissa,

    It’ s especially true with mental or psychological states. Of course, Bohgossian’s one-size-fits-all pathologizing of all religious faith is anything but objective. How did he come to such a conclusion? Years and years of study, of millions of people and hundreds of cultures? I’d like to see the documentation. Does he include it in his book? Was his study peer reviewed?

    The irony of atheism is that atheists have no basis to make any kind of universal claim. Therefore, it’s absurd to believe the claim that even atheism is true, because any kind of claim to capital “T” Truth is a universal claim. In other words, it’s simply irrational.

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